The life you led doesn't have to be the life you have.
~ Anne Quindlen
Puerto Montt and Chiloe Island, Chile
Not All Peguins Wear Tuxedos
PUERTO MONTT and CHILOE ISLAND, CHILE - Following a lovely stay in Valparaiso and being blanket by the creativity, art and color of that city, we headed to Puerto Montt in the Lake District region of southern Chile. After a grueling night on a ‘bed’ bus, called such because you were on it overnight. No beds were to be found. There were cushioned seats that leaned back ‘somewhat’ and a foot rest with elastic straps to keep your feet in place. It was a long night of travel and sleep came in short waves.
We arrived tired to Puerto Montt, really tired. Without hardly any sleep, we made our way from the bus station to our hotel that overlooked the bay, got a bit of rest and then immediately went to book a couple of day tours. Located in Chile’s Lake District region and sitting at the gateway to the Patagonian fjords we were excited to get out and experience the natural beauty of southern Chile.
Puerto Montt, the regional capital and busy port town is located in the area of Chile known for forests, lakes, Andes Mountains, active volcanoes and Chiloe Island, the largest island of the archipelago, with historic wooden churches and a colony of penguins.
We didn’t have much time to explore Puerto Montt, other than the waterfront park, the area around our hotel and a small grouping of historic wooden buildings with a leather artist, cheese maker, flower shop and a few other shops. It was a nice little break from the main waterfront, as we waited to embark on the two tours that we booked upon our arrival.
Our first excursion was a day trip to Chiloe Island located southwest of Puerto Montt. The tour company collected us at the hotel and with a small group of other tourists we hopped into a van and headed to the ferry terminal at Puerto Vargas for a ride across the Canal de Chacao to Chiloe Island. It was a lovely ferry ride providing the opportunity to get off shore and get a perspective of Chile from the water. Large ships contrasted with colorful wooden boats dancing in the water closer to shore, and in the distance stood the majestic white capped Andean Mountains.
Our first stop upon arrival to the Chiloe Island was at an old Spanish battery overlooking the north side of the bay with rocky cliffs dropping dramatically to the ocean. The next stop was in a little village with one of the many UNESCO historical Jesuit wooden churches that were built in the 18th and 19th centuries after the island was Christianized by the Spanish conquerors.
My main reason for going on this tour was to see the Penguins of Punihuil on the north side of the island on the Pacific Coast. These aren’t the large tuxedo Emperor penguins living in Antarctica, but smaller in size. We were going to see two species, the Humboldt, an endangered species, and the Magellanie species. Chiloe is the only location where these two species cohabitate.
We arrived to what appeared to be a small fishing village. There were a few wooden buildings sitting along the beach and a good number of small fishing boats pulled to shore. We were loaded onto raised platforms with wheels and rolled out into the rough surf where a small power boat waited for us. We each carefully climbed into the boat, as it danced and bounced in the water.
Once onboard we traversed the choppy sea to a few small islands just off shore. When we got close enough we were able to see the penguins standing all over the island and I imagined the main sentry communicating to the others, “Here come the tourists again. Get into position!” It was fun to watch. There were many just hanging out on the craggy rocks of the island, while others jumped in and out of the surf in search of lunch.
A large flock of seagulls flew near the colony and came to a landing in the water nearby. We watched for sometime before returning to shore. It was amazing to see the penguins in their natural environment, especially the Humboldt species that is currently endangered.
Our last stop on the island was the town of Castro and the Plaza de Armas. There were many statues throughout the plaza that reflected the legends and myths that Chiloe is famous for, including the water god, Caicai Vilu, and Trentren Vilu, god of the earth. And then there is the Righteous Province, a coven of male witches who have long been a presence over the island. Fortunately, only statues in the plaza represented these legends.
The next day our second scheduled tour left from Puerto Vargas, famous for its German inspired architecture and traditions. Located about 20 km from Puerto Montt, this town sits in a truly stunning natural setting with magnificent views of the volcanoes from the lakeside promenade. Sitting on Llanquihue Lake, the second largest lake in Chile, it provides for perfect viewing of the Osorno Volcano and the forested mountains reflecting in the lakes, that day’s destination.
Arriving to the volcano, we took several ski lifts up to the summit where the views of the lakes and volcanoes of the surrounding Lake District and majestic Andes were both panoramic and breathtaking. Standing on the top of the Andes was truly a magical and inspiring experience.
In our short time in Chile we were only able to get a small taste of this amazing and diverse country. I hope to return at some point in time to see the northern Atacama Desert, make my way to Aguila Islet of the Diego Ramirez Islands, the southernmost point of Chile, and maybe a flight to Easter Island. But I won't be taking the bed bus, for sure!
Read about the port city of Valparaiso, Chile and the colorful street art.
Read about Santiago, Chile, a vibrant city filled with history and culture.