Parque Nacional Chiloé
South of Ancud and west of the Panamericana, Chiloé’s Pacific coast is an almost roadless area of abrupt headlands, broad sandy beaches, and sprawling dunes at the foot of forested mountains dissected by numerous transverse rivers. Much of this landscape, in fact, differs little from Darwin’s description in The Voyage of the Beagle as he rode west toward Cucao, now the gateway to Parque Nacional Chiloé:
At Chonchi we struck across the island, following intricate winding paths, sometimes passing through magnificent forests, and sometimes through pretty cleared spots, abounding with corn and potato crops. This undulating woody country, partially cultivated, reminded me of the wilder parts of England, and therefore had to my eye a most fascinating aspect. At Vilinco [Huillinco], which is situated on the borders of the lake of Cucao, only a few fields were cleared. . .
Since its creation in 1982, Parque Nacional Chiloé has protected a representative sample of the Isla Grande’s natural habitat and wildlife, while providing recreational access to growing numbers of outdoors enthusiasts, both Chileans and foreigners. For many years, Conaf administration was unsuccessful in integrating the area’s indigenous Huilliche residents into its activities—matters had changed little from the 19th century when Darwin observed that “they are very much secluded from the rest of Chiloé, and have scarcely any sort of commerce…”—but substantial areas of what was once parkland are now under Huilliche control.
About one kilometer west of the concrete bridge over the Río Cucao, rangers collect a US$2 per person admission charge at Chanquín, where Conaf’s Centro de Visitantes is open 9 a.m.–7:30 p.m. daily; they also provide an informative map of the park, in Spanish only. It contains exhibits on the park’s flora and fauna, the aboriginal Huilliche, mining history, and regional legends and traditions. The surrounding grounds contain samples of Chilote technology, including a cider press and wooden sleighs used to drag heavy loads over boggy ground.
Cucao, the park’s best known access point, is 52 kilometers southwest of Castro via the Panamericana and a gravel road (almost always passable but which never seems to improve) and 32 kilometers west of Chonchi, but public transportation now continues to Chanquín. From Castro to Cucao and Chanquín, there are 2–5 or even more buses daily, depending on the season, with Buses Arroyo (tel. 065/635604), Ojeda, and Interlagos. Normally these stop at Chonchi en route.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Chile, 2nd edition