In Chile: Going to Extremes

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Preparing a traditional curanto feast on Chiloe

Chiloe is one of those destinations best organized by a good tour operator, either on site or through a U.S. South America specialist. Tops for us is U.S.-born Britt Lewis, director of Austral Adventures, which conducts multi-day hikes along the island’s wild northwest coast as well as sea kayak trips. Additionally, the travel company now offers its clients exclusive use of The Tower, the most fanciful, one-of-a-kind seaview B&B ever, which has its own kitchen and includes a breakfast in its $80 rate. Recommend clients indulge in curanto, the justly famous Chilote meal, traditionally prepared in a hole in the ground into which mussels, clams, beef, pork, chicken, sausage and potatoes are layered over hot rocks, covered with earth and steamed for hours— similar to a New England clambake. From Castro, clients should head to the morning Feria Artesanal held in the village of Dalcahue (Thursday and Sunday), a picturesque port on the eastern side of Chiloe, backed by a misty landscape of rolling green hills, weathered shingled houses and beautiful churches. Artisans come from nearby islands to sell their goods: baskets, rugs, ponchos, socks, and mittens but especially thick, handknit wool sweaters.

From there, travelers should take the ferry ride to Quinchao Island, visiting the fi nely preserved antique houses in Curacao de Velez, eating oysters and continuing to Achao to see the region’s oldest church. A few things to do in Chiloe include kayaking along the Puntra River, hiking in the Chiloe National Park, horseback riding on the Rilan Peninsula and boating out to Punihuil Island, one of the only places in the world where Humboldt and Magellanic penguin habitats overlap. It’s also an important playground for seabirds and marine otters.

Austral Adventures’ specialty, however, is exploration of the archipelago’s inner waters and points south via the 50-ft. motor yacht Cahuella, whose exterior resembles a traditional Chilote fi shing boat but whose interior offers contemporary comforts. Two U.S. tour operators, Adventure Life and Latin American Escapes, each offers a 5-night package that includes a fi rst night on Chiloe Island for touring and visiting the Penihuil penguin colony, followed by a 4-night cruise aboard the Cahuella, sailing among the islands and fjords of the archipelago, visiting small fi shing villages, as well as hiking, birdwatching and bathing in the hot springs of Pumalin Park. Both tour offerings are priced at $1,775 pp dbl, starting and ending in either Puerto Montt or Puerto Varas and including double cabin accommodations, all meals (with beer and wine) and snacks, excursions, expert guides, taxes and limited liability insurance.