Southwest of Puerto Montt, about 630 mi/1,016 km south of Santiago, Chiloe, Chile, is an archipelago of dense evergreen forests with a fascinating history. The Amerindians who lived there were among the last to be defeated by the Spanish (and, subsequently, its inhabitants were the last Spaniards to hold out against an independent Chile). It was also among the islands visited by naturalist Charles Darwin, who explored what is now Chiloe National Park. More recently, President Sebastian Pinera has created the private Tantauco Park, now open to visitors, in the densely forested southwestern corner of the main island.
Castro, the capital on the main island, is an old town with lovely palafitos—houses built on stilts—along the shores of an inland sea. With its fading banana-colored paint job, the Iglesia San Francisco de Castro, dating from 1912, is unmistakable; it contains particularly gruesome representations of the Crucifixion. As a whole, Chiloe's shingled Jesuit churches and chapels are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Though the weather is often foggy and cool, the climate adds to, rather than detracts from, Chiloe's atmospheric beauty. Linked to the mainland by ferry, the longitudinal Panamerican Highway runs the length of the island. Chiloe is also a good place to shop for woolen sweaters and the ideal location for trying fresh seafood dishes—in particular curanto, a steaming cauldron of shellfish, dumplings and meat.
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