Cucao, Chiloé's Hidden Gem

Once one of Chile's best-kept travel secrets, the kind-spirited Chilotes (residents of Chiloé) and the uniquely beautiful landscape have transformed Chiloé into one of Chile's most popular tourist destinations. While popular Chiloé cities such as Castro and Ancud usually draw the big tourist crowds, Cucao more accurately manifests the benevolent Chilotes and the indescribable Chiloé beauty.

Photo by Lindsay Apperson
Photo by Lindsay Apperson

Chiloé, a small archipelago located just off the coast of Chile, is only a 3.5 to 4-hour bus ride from Puerto Montt, but is home to an entirely different culture from that of mainland Chile. Small towns with populations ranging from 500 to 5,000 people scattered along the extensive Chiloé coast have created a warm, small-town vibe with an incomparable natural beauty. While Chiloé may be gaining popularity, there are still ways to visit and have a tranquil vacation filled with genuine Southern Chilean hospitality. Cucao, a small town located on the northeastern side of the main island, embodies the authentic Chiloé spirit and captures the hearts of its visitors.

Cucao is a small town on the outskirts of Chonchi nestled between the ocean, Parque Nacional Chiloe, and the Cucao River. The 450 residents provide a unique touristic experience of locally-owned restaurants, hostels, campgrounds, and tour companies. While Cucao is conveniently located (only a cheap and quick bus ride from Castro), the rural setting sets it apart from any other city in Chiloé.

Photo by Lindsay Apperson
Photo by Lindsay Apperson

What to Do

  • Parque Nacional Chiloé:

    Cucao is located on the border of Parque Nacional Chiloé, the larger of the main island's two national parks. The park has evegreen forests spanning over 420 square kilometers. Whether visitors want to backpack around the park or try out some of the day hikes from the Cucao entrance, the park is an absolute must-see.

  • Muelle de las Almas:

    Cucao is the closest city to one of Chiloe's prettiest hikes, Muelle de las Almas. While it is quite the trek - the hike itself takes about 1.5 hours round-trip, but it can take an additional 3.5 hours to get to the trailhead - many consider it of the most fulfilling aspects of the Chiloé experience. For more information on how to get there, ask your hostel or any Cucao locals, as they are all happy to help!

  • Adventure Tours and Rentals:

    Cucao has an ample amount of local businesses that offer horseback rides, kayak rentals, park tours, and treks to better appreciate the beauty of the surrounding area. Most of the smaller hospedajes offer better prices than some of the better known hostels in the area, so make sure to ask around before settling on a tour.

  • Explore Cucao:

    Cucao may be small, but there are a ton of restaurants and people that create Cucao's authentic vibe. The small town hospitality can only really be experienced by talking to the locals.

Photo by Lindsay Apperson
Photo by Lindsay Apperson

Where to Stay

  • There are two well-known hostels in Cucao: Hostal Palafito and El Fagon. Both of these hostels are generally more expensive but include beautiful facilities and various adventure packages. If you are looking for a slightly more luxurious way to enjoy Cucao in all its glory, these are the best options.
  • Cucao also has other hospedajes located throughout the city, and if properly bartered, can cost between $6,000-9,000 CP ($9.44-$14.16 USD). If this option is still breaking the bank, there are campsites in Parque Nacional Chiloe and throughout the city of Cucao. These options do not have websites and cannot be prebooked, so in the summer seasons make sure to arrive early to reserve a spot.

How to Get There

  • From Castro: Buses run from the Estación Central of Castro through Chonchi and to Cucao everyday. The bus schedules vary, so buy tickets early in the morning to maximize time in Cucao.
  • If driving, take the land route going north by Route 5.
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