Chiloé is a large island in Chile’s south right near Puerto Montt. It’s got its own culture and was one of the last places in Chile I hadn’t been.
Although LAN just added a new flight into Castro, I decided to fly into Puerto Montt to check out the city, then take the bus to Castro. I left on Friday, arrived into Puerto Montt, took the bus from the airport to the bus terminal and walked around the harbor. It’s clearly a port town, a bit run down near the bus station, but I had some good food. I’m not sure I’d spend much time there if I had more time in the south, but it was worth seeing. I got on the bus and settled into the four hour trek to Castro.
After about an hour, the bus reached the channel that separates Chiloe from mainland Chile. Apparently this straight has one of the strongest currents in the world, but I didn’t feel a thing on the ferry. I got into Castro late at night and walked from the bus station to Palafito del Mar, a newly renovated hotel built in a palafito, or house with stilts, right on the water. It might be a bit expensive if you book directly, but I found a discount on booking.com.
Chiloe’s economy is based on fishing, potatoes and timber. In the summer its overrun with tourists, but when I went in April, there were hardly any tourists. The first day was cloudy and windy, but I ventured out anyway going to Dalcahue where I checked out the local artesental market and ate a traditional curanto. Curanto is a mix of sausage, chicken, pork and just about every kind of seafood you can think of cooked in broth and served with two potato based starches. The sunday lunch style meal is cooked by digging a hole in the ground, heading up stones, putting in the food, then covering it with thick leaves and left to cook. Unfortunately I was there on a Saturday so I had curanto made in a pan, but it was incredibly good. The fresh seafood was a welcome chance from Santiago’s cuisine.
I spent the rest of the day taking buses between Chilotan towns, exploring coffee shops, old town squares and the famous wooden churches. Chilotan houses are generally built out of wood and so are the massive, brightly painted churches. Everything is slower, people are nice and happy to chat for a long time. The coffee shop on the main square, right near the church, in Dalcahue is a welcome suprise. The level of cuisine in Chiloé is so much better than in Santiago and the service is impecable.
At night, I ate at El Mercadito, a locally sourced restaurant owned by some Santiagino translants. The food was great and left me wanting so much more in Santiago. Seriously, if you took Chilotan service and food and brought it to Santiago, the place would be full all the time and I’d be there a few times per week. The closest comparison is a few restaurants and cafes in Barrio Italia in Santiago.
I loved the arquitecture, the clean, crisp air, the incredible food and all of the people who are just happy to chat for as long as you’d like. I would have liked to stay longer, especially during the summer (outside of February) when the weather is nicer. But I could see spending a month there writing, hiking, eating good food and working on a new project.