Chiloé, in the southern half of Chile at the absolute end of the Pan-American Highway, is a stunningly beautiful, fiercely independent island chain hanging just off of Puerto Montt. It is a place where tales of mythological figures such as sirens and witches and ghost ships are woven into daily life. It’s a place of rolling green hills, fjords and islets, and temperate rainforests, which together, form one of the most unique collection of ingredients anywhere in South America. In the capital of Castro the iconic palafitos (stilted wood buildings) are being turned into cafes and boutique hotels, effectively preserving them. A new airport, Mocopulli, opened last year, which means you can reach Castro by flights from Santiago and Puerto Montt without the long combination ferry and car/bus commute. Like Chile as a whole, a gourmet scene suddenly is taking off. Here’s where to eat and where to stay in Castro, Chiloé:
El Mercadito: Down on the waterfront near the Plaza del Tren, this pleasant little wood shingle house has quickly become the locavore restaurant of choice in Castro, if not all of Chiloé. Aside from the regular menu – razor clams covered in Parmesan, smoked octopus with apple chutney, and pil-pil stone crab claws -chef/owner Marianne Künsemiller rotates four different main courses in each week. There’s a elevated porch and grassy yard with a firepit that are great for lounging around in. Highly recommended. Avenida Pedro Montt 210.
Mar y Canela: In the blossoming Gamboa district, Mar y Canela is a well light café focusing on local and organic in a lovely palafito overlooking the water. The dishes are mostly seafood based: pastel de jaiba, squid ink rice with crab claws, and Conger eel with blood sausage. The occasional non-seafood dishes are also quite good, such as the smoked pork leg with a quince and murta reduction. Ernesto Riquelme 1212; 56-65/531-770.
Café del Puente: Near Mar y Canela, this café is a pleasant spot for a breakfast or light lunch. Ernesto Riquelme 1180 B.
Patrimonial: For tapas, cocktails with housemade syrups, and craft beer head to this second level space on the corner of Castro’s plaza. The food menu is light: steamed mussels, tablas of charcuterie, etc. Balmaceda 291; 56-65/534-990.
The Milcao & Empanada Stand: Beside the bus station, there’s a small shack selling empanadas and milcaos, a sort of rubbery potato pancake that is a staple on the island.
Where to Stay in Castro
Refugia Lodge: For some of the best meals in Chiloé, you have to be a guest at this all inclusive, 12-room nature lodge perched atop a hill above Reloncaví Sound just outside of Castro. When not on daily excursions to Mechuque Island on their wooden vessel Williche or exploring the wood shingle churches of Quinchao, you’ll sit down to multi course meals sourced from artisanal farms and fishermen with dishes like hazlenut crusted stone crab claws or steamed mussels or grilled octopus with Chilote potato chips.
Palafito 1326: There’s no better Castro experience than sitting on the patio with a bottle of wine of this boutique hotel carved out of an old palafito in the Gamboa district. For staying in town, this is my recommendation. 1326 Calle Ernesto Riquelme, Castro; 56-65/530-053.
Lef: If you are heading south to Quellón this contemporary two level restobar inside of the hull of an overturned boat at the Espejo de la Luna lodge is one of the most interesting options on the island. There’s king crab ceviche, locally sourced lamb chops, and the stalks of the rhubarb like nalca plant used in sweets. (Read our full profile here). Km 35, Camino Queilen; 56-91/458-933
Ostras Caulin: While there are a number of great dining options in Ancud, this small wooden dining room on a remote beach sells local oysters, most of them caught that morning from the mud flats directly in front, in a variety of preparations. There’s oysters on the half shell, fried oysters, and crema de ostras. There are a few cabins on site if you want to stick around. Caulin.
Writer and photographer Nicholas Gill is the editor/publisher of New World Review. He lives in Lima, Peru and Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CondeNast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, and Penthouse. Visit his personal website (nicholas-gill.com) for more information.