Colorful palifitos, pit-cooked curanto, fabulous eco-accommodation, hiking, paddling and delightful meals overlooking the sea. Sound good? We are in Chiloe, an island off the coast of Patagonian Chile, not too far from the town of Puerto Montt. Join us to discover the highlights of Chiloe and Patagonia Roast Lamb with Chimichurri Sauce, an easy recipe celebrating the flavors of Patagonia.
Relaxed, lovely scenery, unique, over-water houses built on stilts (palifitos) and the opportunity to try curanto a unique method of cooking a feast of meat, fish and vegetables inside an underground cooking pit. For Mark, the curanto was the prime reason for visiting Chiloe! As well, the opportunity to stay at 2 very unique accommodation options, one in the town of Castro and the other on the west of the island at Chepu, an area perfect for outdoor enthusiasts.
These are just some of the reasons why you should consider a trip to Chiloe, a little off the beaten tourist path.
Another town where you could stay on the island is Ancud, which is not far from where you disembark on the ferry. We only drove through Ancud. We were pleased with our choice to stay in Castro. It has great character with the palafitos, which are a riot of different colors and dare I say it, a little dilapidated looking but full of character. Many palafitos have been or are in the process of being renovated. The palafitos provide the town with great charm. Barrio Pedro Montt features a number of palafitos that have been restored and are now used for hotels, cafes, restaurants and shops. Definitely worth a wander around through this area.
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Castro, and Chiloe in general, has an amazing array of churches well worth a visit. I don’t think I’ve seen so many churches in such a small town. Indeed, they are so impressive they are UNESCO world heritage-listed. These wooden structures are unique to Chiloe. Some of the better churches to visit in Castro are the Church of Castro and Iglesia San Francisco. There is a reasonably good information center in town for further information.
There are 3 large parks accessible from Castro, the Chiloe National Park (west of Castro), Tepuhueico Park (south west of Castro) and Tantauco Park (at the extreme south of the island). After visiting the information center, we were all set to visit Tantauco Park, this involves catching a bus to Quellon, and then arranging transport from there, so it is not easily accessible. But (luckily as it turned out) the next day was inclement and we elected not to go. The following day we shared a taxi to Chepu (see below) with an American couple who were camping. They did attempt to go to Tantauco but on arrival found the park was closed. It is a real concern the information center did not know this. Bottom line: have the information center confirm things are open before you leave! We observed misinformation more than once in Chile, I’m afraid.
Castro Dining and Accommodation
Our accommodation in Castro was just perfect. We stayed at Palafito del Mar. This self-contained accommodation is a palafito, which has been fully renovated. The living area is in the back of the house and it had a beautiful view overlooking the water. It was incredibly relaxing watching life go by! There was also a lovely patio to further enhance the experience. The owners were very helpful and the accommodation was clean and tidy.
We can recommend a couple of good options for meals in Castro. We had a great lunch at Mar & Canela. It is situated at the back of a palafito, with great views overlooking the water. What we particularly enjoyed about Mar & Canela is the menu is a little different to the standard Chilean restaurants, which can be a bit same-same. The menu featured dishes we had not seen and the quality of the food was superb.
Looking for some great coffee? Then visit Patio Palifito. Nicholas, the owner, is passionate about his coffee and it shows. I think, along with Puerto Varas, the best coffee in Chile. Not only that, but English-speaking Nicholas could not have been more helpful with advice around things to do in Castro. He also has a thorough knowledge of other things to do in Chile in a country where it is not always easy to find out information. These people are like gold so I have no hesitation recommending this café. Nicholas also recommended Mar & Canela.
How to Get to Castro, Chiloe from Puerto Montt
The main bus terminal of Puerto Montt is at the end of the walkway on the waterfront, about a 10 minute walk from the tourist information center on the main plaza. We caught a very comfortable coach from here. Note: each bus line has its own counter displaying their destinations (but not always their prices so you may need to shop around).
It is approximately 2 hours to the ferry connecting to the island of Chiloe. Once on the island it is a further hour or so to the town of Castro.
How to Get to Chepu from Castro
Unfortunately after a couple of great days, it was time to leave Castro to head for Chepu Adventure Ecolodge. But luckily for us Chepu was also a highlight and we experienced some good weather to take advantage of the outdoor activities. Armory and Fernando, our hosts at Chepu, organised a taxi transfer from Castro to Chepu as well as suggesting we share with another couple, to help keep the cost down. This is where we met the American couple of the failed Tantauco Park trip fame!
On arrival at Chepu, you feel you have arrived at a very special place. There are a number of accommodation options, all explained on the Chepu website. The accommodation overlooks the Chepu River and there are no other houses in sight. We had a full board arrangement. The food was great and the activities were even better.
We organized a dawn kayak on the Chepu River. This starts the evening before with a briefing. Early the next morning (Ok very early it is still pitch black) you meet in the dining room with coffee and a snack, you put on wet weather gear (all provided), Fernando escorts you down to the dock and casts you off. We paddled for about 90 minutes. It was a sublime experience watching the river wake up with the birds flying around.
Our other major activity was to catch a boat downstream, visit the ocean beach and then hike back to Chepu. This took around 4 hours and was another highlight. The beach is on the west coast (Pacific Ocean side) so had some decent waves rolling in. You could wander along the beach for quite a distance if you were so inclined.
Chepu has the best environmental credentials I have observed at an accommodation business. Fernando will quite proudly explain what he has built. Everything that can be measured is measured in real time. And not just the room but each electricity outlet and water faucet (tap) is measured. Fernando is passionate about it and I found it quite inspiring as to what the home handyman can do to reduce his environmental impact.
Again, unfortunately, it was time to leave. Fernando arranged another taxi to take us up to the local bus stop for an early morning departure for Puerto Montt.
Curanto Pit Cooking
But wait, what happened to the curanto pit cooking? It didn’t happen, that’s what. Unfortunately, this is a summer activity (and summers are short in Patagonia) and we were a month too early. So, dear reader, instead I will tell you about it!
To quote from Wikipedia: “The ingredients consist of shellfish, meat, potatoes, milcao (a kind of potato pancake), chapaleles (a kind of potato dumpling), and vegetables. Curanto sometimes also includes specific types of fish. The quantities are not fixed; the idea is that there should be a little of everything. Each layer of ingredients is covered with nalca (Chilean rhubarb) leaves. All this is covered with wet sacks, and then with dirt and grass chunks, creating the effect of a giant pressure cooker in which the food cooks for approximately one hour.” You can read more about Curanto here.
I was originally going to feature some form of pit barbecue recipe as part of this post in celebration of curanto. However, it isn’t practical to ask people to build a pit just so they can make this recipe of Roast lamb with Chimichurri Sauce!
So therefore we will feature roast lamb cooked over a very high heat to give a slightly charred, BBQ taste. Lamb is a staple in Patagonia. The lamb is marinated in, and served with, chimichurri sauce. This is a classic sauce you will find everywhere in Argentina and Chile (including throughout Patagonia).
So here’s to Chiloe and Patagonia roast lamb with chimichurri sauce. Match this with a Chilean carmenere wine. There is a great history behind this grape. It goes beautifully with beef or lamb. Better liquor stores will have a good range.
I hope you enjoyed the information about Chiloe. Go there in summer and you will find curanto as well!