Chonchi to Quellón

The Pan-American Highway continues south to Quellón, the southernmost port in Chiloé, with paved side roads leading east to Chonchi and west to Cucao. From Chonchi, a partially paved road continues southeast to Queilen. Winding across forested hills, this is probably the most attractive route on the island, especially in autumn; numerous tracks branch off to deserted beaches where you can walk for hours and hear nothing but the splashing of dolphins in the bay. The ferry to Lemuy sails from a port just south of Chonchi on this road.

Chonchi and around

A picturesque fishing village 23 km south of Castro, Chonchi is a good base for exploring the island. Known as the
Ciudad de los Tres Pisos
(city built on three levels), it was, until the opening of the Panama Canal in 1907, a stopping point for sailing ships. In the years that followed, it was the cypress capital of Chile: big fortunes were made in the timber industry and grand wooden mansions were built in the town. In the 1950s, Chonchi boomed as a free port but, in the 1970s, it lost that status to Punta Arenas. Its harbour is now a supply point for salmon farms almost as far south as Coyhaique.

On the main plaza is the church, built in neoclassical style in 1880. Its impressive tower was blown off in a storm in March 2002 and has been rebuilt. There is a tourist information kiosk one block uphill from here in summer. From the plaza, Calle Centenario drops steeply to the harbour, lined with several attractive but sadly neglected wooden mansions. The small Museo deTradiciones Chonchinas is located in an old house at No 116, with videos on the churches of Chiloé, including the 18th-century church 5 km north of Chonchi at Vilopulli. Fishing boats bring in the early morning catch, which is carried straight into the new market on the seafront.

In the bay opposite Chonchi lies the island of Lemuy. It covers 97 sq km and offers many good walks along quiet unpaved tracks through undulating pastures and woodland. From the ferry dock (free crossing for pedestrians), a road runs east across the island, passing a fine 19th-century wooden church at Ichuac before reaching Puqueldón. This is the main settlement on the island and is built on a very steep hill stretching down to the port. There's a post office and a telephone centre here. From Puqueldón, the road continues a further 16 km on a ridge high above the sea, passing small hamlets, with views of the water and the patchwork of fields. There are old churches at Aldachildo, 9 km east of Puqueldón, and at Detif, in the extreme south of the island.

Some 46 km southeast of Chonchi, Queilen is a pretty fishing village on a long finger- shaped peninsula. On the north side is a sandy beach, which curves round the head of the peninsula, while on the south side is the old wooden pier, which doubles as the port. There are fine views across the straits to Tanqui Island and the mainland.

The west coast

West of Chonchi at Km 12 is
Huillinco
, a charming village on Lago Huillinco. Beyond here the narrow and sinuous paved road continues west to
Cucao
, one of the few settlements on the west coast of Chiloé. The immense 20-km-long beach is battered by thundering Pacific surf and dangerous undercurrents, making it one of the most dramatic places along the whole coast of Chile.

Cucao lies at the edge of the southern sector (35,207 ha) of the Parque Nacional Chiloé. The park, in three sections, covers extensive areas of the wild and uninhabited western side of the island, much of it filled by temperate rainforest. Wildlife includes the Chilote fox and pudú deer. There are over 110 species of bird resident here, including cormorants, gulls, penguins and flightless steamer ducks.

Quellón

The southernmost port in Chiloé, located 92 km south of Castro, Quellón has suffered its fair share of misfortunes in recent years. In 2002, the arrival of the lethal
marea roja
microorganism caused the collapse of the shellfish industry, provoking demonstrations from fishermen and dockers who destroyed part of the pier. As a result, the passenger ferry services from Quellón to Chaitén and Puerto Montt were suspended and have only recently returned to normal.

There is not much to interest the traveller here, although the Museo Amador Cardenas Paredes has an odd collection of antique typewriters and sewing machines, and there are pleasant beaches nearby: Viejo, where there is an old wooden church; Punta de Lapa and Yaldad, west along a pretty road over the hills.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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