Our central Chilean travels mostly consisted of buses. After flying to Santiago from Lima we over-nighted and caught the next bus to Pucon. We used Tur-bus because it was so damned convenient to be able to buy the ticket right from their office in the Cal y Canto metro station. This was a 10 hour bus and we arrived to Pucon at 7 am. We spent two days in Pucon, and one day in Puerto Varas before finally making our way to long awaited Chiloe!
Lonely Planet makes all kinds of promises of Chiloe being a magical wonderland with fog and witchcraft. It was a pretty great place and there was some fog, but we looked all over and didn’t find much folklore.
We spent the bulk of our time mid-island in Castro in one of our favorite AirBnB stays of all time.
Castro is a great base to explore the middle of the island. We hadn’t really planned anything and so we hit up a tour office to see if we could hop on a tour to either: a) the churches or b) the national park. The lady at Turismo Pehuen was extremely kind to us. Even though all their tours were sold out for the week (total blessing in disguise because it saved us a ton of money) she pulled out a map and proceeded to tell us how we could do this all on our own! Super!
Part 1. Parque Nacional Chiloe
No need to do a tour to this little park. March yourself over to the Terminal Rural (On San Martin between Ramirez and Aldea) and get yourself a seat on a local bus! These buses run frequently all day – you can either purchase a ticket from a little booth inside, or just go out and find a bus that says Parque Nacional/Cucao. It’s about an hour ride, and it will drop you off right at the entrance. There are some paths inside that aren’t too exciting, but head towards the playa for a great trek as long as you would like it to be. Some people we met did a 3 day trek while we just walked to the beach, saw the wild horses and returned. The last bus leaves the park at 18.30 just across the street from where it dropped you off (no official stop.).
Part 2. Churches of Chiloe
The churches of Chiloe are actually part of Unesco’s World Heritage sites. They are a very specific type, style and many of them are built without nails. This is completely insane. Anyway, you can pay for an organized tour of these churches, or you can rent a car if you are really serious about seeing all of them. We saw 5 and we did it all via bus, which was very easy, albeit a bit time consuming.
We started our day back at the Terminal Rural and caught a bus to Dalcahue. In Dalcahue we hopped off and had coffee at a coffee shop/ artisan store. We walked to the church, but it is undergoing a major reconstruction, so we couldn’t really see it at all. But it’s the thought that counts right? Dalcahue also has a huge artisan market near the water. Down a bit from the artisan market is a somewhat interesting museum – here is where we found the folklore and the witches!
We walked to the ferry to go to our next destination – Achao. For some reason we thought we could walk to Achao from the ferry terminal – but you can’t, it’s really far. Luckily there was a bus on the ferry that we just hopped on. It delivered us to Achao.
The church is a bit worse for wear.
Next stop – Curaco. Curaco is another small town with a cute church.
Across the street from the church is a small tourist information centre. We were really trying to find something to eat – but in the end we just hopped on the bus back to Castro.
Summary of bus costs:
Bus to Dalcahue 1,600
Bus to Achoe 2,400 (includes ferry)
Bus to Cauraco 1,400
Bus to Castro 2,800
A lot cheaper than a tour or renting a car.
We can’t forget about the church in Castro which is amazing.
Also later in our trip we saw the church in Ancud – it’s not much on the outside, it’s actually a convent. But attached is a museum with models of all of the churches. Definitely worth a visit. Entrance is by donation.
Part 3. Palafitos of Castro
In Castro some houses are built right on the water – which means during high tide they would get quite soggy – if they weren’t built on stilts. There are two different areas in Castro with Palafitos – Gamboa and Pedro Montt. The Pedro Montt palafitos were a bit more walkable from where we were staying. All are amazing with bright colors.
Part 4. Penguins of Ancud
Ok the penguins don’t actually live in Ancud, you have to take a (somewhat expensive) tour from Ancud to where the penguins live. The region is unique because two types of penguins actually live there. As it happened the weather wasn’t great when we arrived in Ancud and we couldn’t book a tour. So we saved money that way too, and left the next day for Bariloche.
All in all I feel like we got a pretty good overview of the island and we didn’t have to spend much money!