a boutique stay a world apart
At Tierra Chiloé, a Stilted Oasis A Century Removed
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The Isla Grande de Chiloé may be less than two miles across Chile’s Chacao Channel from its daredevil southern neighbor, Patagonia, but the 3,241-square-mile island is a world apart. Where Patagonia screams no-holds-barred adventure, Chiloé basks in its old-world timelessness. Adventurers are drawn to the island’s otherworldly culture, made fearsomely inaccessible by tempestuous weather. The seafaring island can only be accessed from Chile’s capital, Santiago, by plane or ferry. Tales of ghost ships, witches and warlocks are signals of the island’s lack of modernization
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But it’s not completely devoid of the contemporary. Middle-aged Chilean tourists have long frequented the Chiloé Archipelago’s all-inclusive boutique hotel, Tierra Chiloé, for its elaborate farm-to-table meals, scenic boat tours and lazy afternoon tours of wooden Jesuit churches. New to the scene are the young, adventure-hungry American tourists on the hunt for the perfect combination of luxury accommodations and unrestricted, off-the-beaten-path adventures. To keep this new wave of young North American thrill seekers happy, Tierra Chiloé is bringing guides in from Tierra’s sister properties in Patagonia and the Atacama Desert and creating a handful of new daylong adventures — everything from sea kayaking with Magellanic penguins to hiking deep into western Chiloé’s verdant forests, the site of one of the world’s last surviving groves of Fitzroya cypress trees.
PHOTO OPP: Take postcard-worthy photographs of Castro’s iconic and colorful palafitos neighborhood.
EAT: Head to Castro’s local farmers’ market and buy a milcao, warm potato bread often stuffed with sausage.
PLAY: Chilean accordion player Sergio Colivoro Barria’s Museo del Acordeón in downtown Chonchi is home to one of the world’s largest collections of century-old accordions.
Perched on a hillside, the hotel is framed by a glistening, neon green seaweed-covered bay. Nearby, signs of civilization form a trail along a meandering tree-lined dirt road: brightly colored farmhouses, idyllic, rolling pastures, populated by sheep, cows and chickens. The hotel’s ethereal architecture mimics and modernizes the surrounding palafitos, brightly colored stilt houses, with a nearly 360-degree glass-walled first floor. The interior is adorned with artisanal housewares, sheepskin-covered chairs, simple wood furniture and lucky clay pig statues. Each bedroom shares a view of the bay and, on rare clear days, the distant snow-capped peaks of the Andes. With just 12 guest rooms, it’s a quiet, familial hotel where guests hang out near the bar, take excursions together, and unwind over four-course dinners that last until midnight.
It comes with a hefty price tag at $825 per person, but in this enclave, all-inclusive truly means all inclusive: airport transfers, breakfast, lunch, dinner, an open bar and daylong guided excursions as far as you’re willing to travel. To get your money’s worth, sign up for as many daylong adventures as your itinerary allows. Kick off your trip with Chelin-Quehui, a maritime tour of neighboring islands aboard the hotel’s traditional Chilean vessel, the Williche. Sea kayakers can launch their boats after lunch and explore the archipelago’s ocean, channels and inlets. If you’re lucky, you might even spot some frolicking penguins.
Chiloé’s raw and unprotected western coastline lies four hours west of Tierra Chiloé. The only thing harsher than the weather is the ocean. Sign up for a daylong excursion to Puente del Alma: the Soul’s Pier. A four-mile hike traverses empty farmlands and weaves through herds of skittish sheep to a towering, jagged cliff line. Near the cliff’s edge, a giant wooden pier rises out of the green and juts out towards the ocean’s furious waves. Local legend says the dead come to the pier’s edge to be judged and welcomed into heaven or hell. If you dare, climb up one of the muddy, slippery adjacent peaks for the ultimate view.
Afterward, come back and hang by the outdoor fire with a well-deserved Pisco Sour in hand. The bay looks endless from here, the horizon, bottomless. On a clear night, lights from the mussel and salmon farms bleed into the stars. You’re not quite gone from civilization. But this is close enough.