Cycling above the Clouds

Riding the Andes by Bicycle

The islands of Chiloé

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And so here we are with our little family reunion:). After what seemed like many weeks of anticipation pedalling my way down much of Chile, I finally met up with Mum and Dad at Puerto Montt airport. After 5 months or so without any physical contact, it was very nice just to get a hug!

We quickly picked up a hire car and started making our way directly to Chiloé, a collection of small islands just off the coast, the largest and our first port of call being imaginatively named ‘La Isla Grande’. This island is a favourite with Chileans who all talk about Chiloé with much affection – I think in large part to some of the unique culture which is strongly preserved there and of which the Chiloéans are very proud.

View out over the islands of Chiloe

The islands were first populated by the Chono people, who were then pushed out by the Mapuche as they came down from further north. Much of the remaining indigenous population was then wiped out in the 1570s, after the Spanish took control of the island and brought smallpox and the measles with them. In the 1800s, still under Spanish rule, many Chiloéans set sail for the coast of mainland Chile further south, to attempt to start up new settlements and lay claim to the land. It sounds like Chiloéans were heavily recruited for doing this due to their ingenuity and hard labour – especially when it came to building new communities along the shoreline. You’ll see in a later post how the influence of Chiloéans is still visible down parts of the Carretera Austral.

More recently, since the 20th century, fishing has been the islands’ main industry (with tourism now coming a close second). Today it is dominated by shellfish and salmon fishing. Government sale of fishing licences to other nations, and over-fishing and over-use of antibiotics in salmon has created many problems for the sustainability of the fishing industry, and has made a significant dent in the prosperity of the islands.

(Ref: Lonely Planet)

The Churches of Chiloé

Chiloé is particularly famous for its churches, of which about 60 remain and 16 have been declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The exteriors are quite simple – always built with wood shingles (sometimes painted in bright colours), with a single tower in the middle and slanted side roofs. But it’s the insides of these churches that are particularly impressive. Delicate carpentry work, with smooth polished wooden interiors. Very simple and soothing. The ceilings are generally painted blue suggesting a connection to heaven I guess, and sometimes they are even sprinkled in little stars.

The churches are historically significant because of the successful fusion of European Jesuit and indigenous cultures. This makes them very unique. We of course endeavoured to visit quite a few!

Iglesia de Santa Maria de Loreto, Achao

Mum heads in to visit the Iglesia San Judas Tadeo, Curaco de Vélez, refurbished and painted bright green following a fire.

La Iglesia de Nuestra Siñora del Patrocinio in Tenaún – we had to phone a local lady who came with a key to let us in. It was worth the short wait. The church here has been beautifully restored.

There were some great posters about the churches and architecture – unfortunately we didn’t find any copies to take home

A more dilapidated church, but still a peaceful spot, along the coast


Another hallmark of Chiloé is its palafito houses – wooden houses on stilts that hug the shoreline. They would give the islands residents easy access to fishing, and also to receive services by boat. I stayed in one in a lovely hostal in Castro (the main city on the Isla Grande).

Strip of palafito houses in Castro

I stayed in the yellow hostal, and we had a fantastic dinner in the little blue restaurant next door

Amazing shell fish dinner with bits of pulled pork – the island is renowned for its seafood stews.

This funny looking chap (lady?) kept a beady eye on us, looking very disapproving whilst we ate our dinner

Parque Nacional Chiloé

We drove over to the west side of the island to visit the Parque Nacional. The island’s weather lived up to its reputation, with mist and rain giving this side of the island a more rugged feeling here. Being in a car again took some getting used to – everything felt very fast! I also saw the roads from a cyclist’s perspective, and with the many hills that run the length of Chiloé combined with the variable weather, I was glad to be travelling here with engine-assistance. Having said that, we seemed to be blessed in that the rain would always stop whenever it was time to get out and explore. (Sadly that didn’t stop a bunch of parakeets raining down something else onto my head…).

The park itself was well prepared for tourists, and had a few trails, often built onto wooden walkways to help reduce damage to the flora (and avoid overly muddy feet). There were tree trunks and mosses everywhere, and everything growing super-sized as always seems to be the way in Chile.

Mum and dad walking the trail

Trees, moss and flowers all grows super-sized here!

On the wilder Pacific coast

This little chap came and kept us company whilst we took a short break. We liked his mohican.


I think the main highlight of our visit to Chiloé was visiting the little fishing town of Quemchi. Small fishing boats dotted along the shoreline announced the start of the town, and if you looked carefully you could see the Andes across the water. There was a fantastic local fish and artisanal market (where one of the ladies was quite taken with Mum and gave us both a huge hug when we left!). We also picked up some amazing seafood empanadas from a great little restaurant there to eat on the boat back to mainland Chile – much of the rest of the car ride was spent deliberating how soon we could eat them (conclusion: they didn’t all make it as far as the ferry!).

Boats anchored near the shore during high tide at Quemchi

The fish and artisanal market

Gigantic mussels and cockles on sale at the Quemchi market

Local handicrafts for sale

Overall, I’m not sure Chiloé completely lived up to all the hype we’d heard but there are some definite gems hidden away if you go out looking for them.

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