The island of Chiloe may be situated only a few kilometres off the coast of Chile, but its wet, windswept, lush landscapes and fiercely independent, sea-faring people sets the island a world away from the Chilean mainland, almost a leap back in time.
Surrounded by the Humboldt Current, which originates from Antarctica with cold, pristine water rich in phytoplankton, the seas around Chiloe are a rich source of food for the micro seaweed, the primary food for mussels. The current is driven by strong winds which displace the warm and nutrient poor surface water, allowing the cold Antarctic waters to rise to the surface, bringing with them rich nutrients from the dead and decaying matter found on the sea floor. Despite water temperatures staying year around between at 5ºC and 10ºC (40ºf to 50ºf), this abundance makes the Humboldt Current one of the most productive ecosystems in the world.
But Chiloe is not just known for its abundant and high quality seafood – it is also home to over a hundred different varieties of potatoes – some are only found here, and some European potatoes originated in the soil here.
Towns on Chiloe are also distinctive in their architecture – the wooden buildings were often constructed by shipwrights and imbued with nautical touches There are brightly painted wooden houses on stilts, called palafitos, standing out over the water, a stunning reminder of their origins as fishermen’s homes.
There are also about 60 wooden-shingled churches mostly built in the 17th century (of the over 150 originally built), 16 of which have been listed by UNESCO as World Heritage sites. Although many of them have amazing exteriors, the truly unique feature of all of them is their domed ceilings, which were modelled on an upturned ship’s hull and built from local wood without nails.
Chiloe is a place to truly feast with all your senses. As Chilotes like to say, “if you live in a hurry, you’re wasting your time.”