On my last full day in Chiloé, I experienced all of the things the island is known for: its changeable weather, its lush forests, and its privileged location on the Pacific Ocean. Waking up in Castro, the moody clouds foretold rain, but the journey to Cucao was going to take about two hours, so with any luck the skies would clear and we’d be blessed with the glorious summer sun.
With Marilene, my travel companion from my time in Puerto Varas and Ancud, we headed up the hill to downtown Castro to take the regional bus to Cucao. On the way, the skies opened up and we got completely drenched, which was more amusing than anything else. That’s Chiloé for you! We bought tickets for the next departure, waited about 15 minutes, and soon were on our way inland to Cucao.
As I mentioned, Chiloé is known for its extremely fertile land and green landscapes, some of which I’d seen during my visit to Puñihuil with its detour through beautiful fields and farmlands. But if you’re visiting Chiloé, you definitely need to visit the national park, located on the other side of the island bordering the Pacific Ocean.
What many people don’t know about Chiloé, as well as southern Chile in general, is that it used to be covered with amazing native forests filled with biodiversity. Due to the way Chile’s economy and society developed over the past few centuries, most of these native forests have been cleared away and have since filled in with new growth, or secondary forests, including species that have been imported from other parts of the world over the years.
Parque Nacional Chiloé hosts one of these second-growth forests, but it is well-worth visiting to get a sense of the lushness of nature given the right conditions – and the massive rainfall on Chiloé! Like most government-operated parks in Chile, there are clearly marked, clearly determined paths through the national park, with trees labeled along the way so that you can get a sense of what you are looking at.
After so much time in the deserts of northern Chile, I was fascinated by all the beautiful foliage, which reminded me of my native New England and Marilene, of the forests of France.
We wandered through the forests, coming out to a clearing in the marshland just as the skies themselves cleared and started revealing blue skies beneath the clouds.
In this part of the park, the landscape changes to these beautiful reeds, and you can climb on a viewpoint to get a sense of the vastness all around you.
I’m not sure exactly why the landscape changes so suddenly – were these lands left bare and filled in by other species, dried out by the occasional sun? There are ferns and forest flowers everywhere, worth inspecting closely (as you can see that I did).
The last loop of this trail through the national park leads to the tallest trees hosting the most common species found on Chiloé. The coigue, pictured above, is known as Dombey’s beech in English, and is one of the native species found in Chilean and Argentine Patagonia.
This made the rest of the day a lot more pleasant, as we had a chance to really see the colors of the national park and appreciate the views over the landscape.
Looping back along the path, we retraced our steps towards the entrance. I should mention that the paths through the national park are easy and accessible for just about everyone – and there’s even a shorter path near the entrance for the very young and people who may not be able to walk several kilometers. It’s a nice walk for a few hours, as long as you’re not expecting to go trekking!
It was totally worth climbing to the top of the viewpoint to see the views of the hills descending into the indigo blue waters. As we visited during the beginning of summer, the foliage was filled in with green leaves, making the views particularly striking.
Because the clouds had lifted, we were able to get another perspective on the farmlands in the distance. If you look carefully, you can see a bird above the silo off towards the horizon.
Of course, we had to commemorate our explorations with a selfie. Marilene is an excellent travel companion and I’m glad our journeys intersected. As two foreigners living in Chile, we had a lot to talk about – and a lot of experiences to process.
Back at the entrance to the national park, we ate our picnic lunch before exploring the other main path leading towards the ocean.
We were in for a treat; this path led through fields of cheerful yellow flowers. I was in heaven, snapping pictures left and right of the bright flowers under my much-loved blue skies.
Throughout the day, we kept spotting this giant leaf-like plant. Any idea what it is?
Of course, we can’t forget the beautiful, ever-changing clouds – Chiloé is a perfect place for cloudspotters like me.
As we approached the ocean, I heard the low hum of the waves crashing, even asking myself what that was, until we came out to a viewpoint and realized it was just the ocean from a distance!
As you can see, the route from within the national park descends to the beach along another clearly marked path. (For what it’s worth, this part of the national park is accessible from a path that opens along the main road through Cucao, although I think it’s worth paying the entrance fee to support the preservation of the forests.)
I loved the views as we walked towards the beach with the green-tinged cliffs off in the distance. For me, this was the highlight of the day.
Check out those fields covered in wildflowers and nature’s palette in all its glory!
Let’s not forget the imposing clouds towering over the wide-expanses visible all around us!
After a ten minute walk, we arrived at the beach, where we decided to relax for a while, just taking in the amazing views all around us. There were a few other people walking along the shore, but it was incredibly peaceful.
Just nature, being beautiful, no big deal. This is probably my ideal way to experience the Pacific Ocean – miles of near-empty beaches, wandering barefoot through the sand.
I loved the reflective surface of the ocean and watching other people explore the coastline. I can still remember the feeling of standing in the water and just realizing the vastness of the earth all around me. One of those unforgettable travel moments that remind you how much you have to be thankful for.
After lounging for a little while, we headed back towards Cucao to begin our return to Castro. We spotted the cows just chilling on the beach like we had been a few moments earlier.
As you can see, the national park’s path border nearby farmlands, making it impossible to get lost even if you wander up and down the shore for a while.
After a couple more glances at the fascinating colorful landscape around me, we returned through the forest on our way back to Cucao proper.
We took one final detour and ended up seeing more beautiful trees. I suggest spending a leisurely day wandering around the national park – it’s small, but it’s worth spending a restorative day breathing the fresh air and appreciating the simplicity of nature.
Back through the fields of flowers, we found our way once again to the main road and walked towards Cucao rather than back through the national park.
Lucky for us, the bus stop is actually outside one of the restaurants located outside the park in tiny Cucao, and we had just enough time for some tea and a snack. I was curious to try the other type of kuchen, this one topped with a barely sweet custard and blueberries. Mmm.
As you can see, visiting Cucao is an excellent idea for a day trip during a stay on Chiloé – just be sure to take the path to the beach as well as the paths through the forests!
Recommendations for Cucao, Chiloé, Chile:
- Buses to Cucao leave from Castro’s regional terminal on a regular schedule, about every 30 minutes to an hour. One way fares cost $2000 CLP and if you buy round trip tickets, it costs $3500.
- Cucao is tiny, and the bus drops you off in front of the national park and leaves from in front of one of the restaurants on the main road. The road continues after the last stop; this is where you can find the pathway to the beach.
- There are some lodging options in Cucao including a hostel, and it would totally be worth staying there for a night or two if you plan to enjoy a bit of a retreat from the city or want easy access to the beach. If I could do it over again, I would have gone directly to Cucao upon arrival in Castro, and then stayed in Castro on my way back.
- Parque Nacional Chiloé is run by CONAF, Chile’s national park service, and that means that it has all the installations you could need, such a bathrooms, a small visitor’s center, some facilities for kids, and clearly marked paths. Here’s the website. Admission for foreigners costs $4000 CLP.
- I suggest bringing a picnic lunch to enjoy on the beach – we would have eaten there if we had realized how close it was! You can also eat at the restaurant or just have a snack as we did. Like everywhere on Chiloé, prices are very reasonable.
[Parque Nacional Chiloé/Cucao, Chile: January 4, 2016]