Our rubbish Spanish skills managed to book us a bus from Puerto Montt to Ancud on Chiloé, a large island famous for its wooden churches and penguins. We only made plans to come here after hearing about the penguins! There is also apparently a large colony of blue whales near here too which we’d have loved to see but tours do not visit them yet for conservation reasons.
The bus from Puerto Montt was pretty cheap at $4500 pesos each way which includes the ferry trip across. The bus was a standard coach but for some reason they let people fill up the aisle standing. It was odd since anywhere else it’s usually illegal to have standing passengers in that kind of bus. I hope at least they got cheaper tickets as it looked really cramped and uncomfortable standing there for so long! We ended up staying in Ancud which is in the north part of the island and the best place to stay if you’re either short on time or just there to see the penguins as it’s close to their colonies.
We spent way too much on accommodation here. We booked in advance online and there was limited choice in the area we wanted. When we got to the island we realised how many more hotels and hostels there were which just don’t advertise on the internet. It would’ve been better to try and stay at one of the cheaper places if we were the type to be able to go to a new place without having a bed booked already. But we’re not those people… We stayed at the Galeon Azul hotel which though pricey, was very cute and had fantastic views from the picture window over looking the bay.
We stayed here in Ancud for 3 nights which perhaps was a little too long. I think if we’d hired a car and driven around, staying at different places you could easily stay longer as there’s not really much to do in each place.
The first thing we did on the island was, of course, to figure out how to visit the penguins! You’ll see all the travel agencies have signs outside basically advertising the same tours: iglesias and los penguinos (churches and penguins). We did a tour for each, though in retrospect we probably shouldn’t have done either. The penguin colonies are easy to get to by taxi (or if you’re driving yourself) and you can buy your own tickets for the boat tour which takes you close to the Magellan and Humboldt penguins that live there. The penguins are there for a few months a year so choose your travel time wisely! but there are other wildlife here too including sea otters, albatrosses etc. The penguins were of course adorable though not very active. Apparently it’s to do with their feathers changing or moulting(?) but they weren’t waterproof yet.
The church tour was not really worth it for us. We didn’t realise it would only be in Spanish! Luckily we met an Aussie on the bus who helped us out a bit which was handy! The bus took us to a few of the many wooden Jesuit churches dotted around the island and took us into Castro for a look around. We went on a short boat tour here to see the houses on stilts which line the waterfront.
From Chiloe island we took a bus up to Puerto Varas, an old German settlement turned holiday resort on the edge on Lake Llanquehue. We spent another 4 nights here at Hostel Margouya 2 waiting for the next Pachamama bus leaving to Santiago.
This is a good base for people who like to do hikes through national parks (unfortunately I’m not one of them). We did do a sunset kayak tour run by the hostel which was, frankly, a lot more work than I anticipated. It took us out onto the lake, stopping at a secluded beach, into the “magic lagoon” and back onto the lake for sunset and took over eight hours from when we left the hostel to returning- a bit longer than what I thought a “sunset” kayak would take…
On the way back to Santiago we made one more overnight stop at what appeared to be a Chilean version of Centreparcs located near a bit of a dismal waterfall called Salto el Laja… Well the local tourists were excited about it at least. It was super busy around there!
Our last day on the bus took us up to Santiago. We stopped at the Balduzzi winery on the way for a tour and a taste which was surprisingly good! Much better than the one we did in Argentina. (For people who don’t drink wine, we went on a lot of wine tastings…). I even bought a small bottle of a sweet white wine, which I think is the first bottle I’ve ever willingly purchased…
Back in Santiago we arrived at the Park Plaza Apart Hotel and were met by very rude staff who basically took a look at us (we’d just come off a really hot 5 hour bus ride) and decided we weren’t really staying there… It took us ages to convince him we had a booking!!
We definitely wouldn’t recommend this place because of that alone. Which is kind of a shame since the location was actually very good…
We did manage to stumble across the only cool place I’ve found in Santiago so far- Merced and Lastarria, where there are really cool shops, cafés and restaurants.
Unfortunately just as we find an area we really like, we were on our way to Brazil!