While Chile might be best known as a long, thin country that spans more than half the length of the South American continent, it’s away from the mainland that some of this nation’s most intriguing cultural and environmental places are found. From the internationally revered moai of Easter Island to the hidden wildlife of the Juan Fernandez Archipelago, let us introduce you to the four Chile islands that you shouldn’t miss visiting.
Chile islands: Easter Island
It is the solemn, silent stone statues of the moai that attract most visitors to Easter Island or Hanga Roa, a small island set an incredible 1,240-miles (2,000km) from the Chilean coast.
Over 880 of these carved monoliths have survived the passage of time, and while the exact reason for them being produced by the islanders remains shrouded in mystery, it’s believed that they were made in the representation of the people’s ancestors. What’s more, considerable effort and the almost complete depletion of the island’s resources were needed for them to be carved and then transported to their current locations on the island’s coasts, where they stand with their backs turned to the ocean.
Top sights on Easter Island for an understanding of the incredible labor required to produce and move these grand statues include Rano Raraku, the quarry where the moai were carved from the rock and Ahu Tongariki, the largest surviving collection of statues.
Chile islands: Tierra del Fuego and the Cape Horn Archipelago
In the far south of the country, the Tierra del Fuego Archipelago is a collection of islands that form the southern tip of South America. This territory actually belongs half to Argentina and half to Chile, but visitors can easily cross between the two countries as they travel to Ushuaia, the world’s southernmost city or through the Chilean fjords and the narrow, glacier-lined channels of Tierra del Fuego on a Patagonian cruise.
Further south, at the convergence of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, lies the Cape Horn Archipelago, a small collection of islands that forms the southernmost tip of Tierra del Fuego and which is only reachable by cruise ship or small plane.
Inhabited by a Navy Captain and his family, this island is one of the remotest parts of Chile and part of the adventure is the voyage to arrive, as the waters around Hornos Island and Cape Horn, the headland that is regarded (albeit wrongly) as the southernmost edge of South America, are notoriously wild.
Chile islands: Chiloé
Separated from mainland Chile by the Gulf of Ancud, the Corcovado Gulf and the Chacao Canal near to Puerto Montt and the Carretera Austral, Chiloé is another group of islands that has a completely different character than the rest of the country. Strongly independent in their traditions and customs, these islands are home to some of Chile’s most recognizable buildings: the Chiloé churches and palafitos.
The former is a group of wooden buildings, 16 of which have been added to the UNESCO World Heritage list and all of which are striking in the color of their painted facades and internal decoration.
The latter are the traditional fishermen’s houses that stand on stilts in the harbors of Castro, the island’s capital. Again, they are brightly painted and a number have been converted into plush hotels so that visitors can learn more about these important Chilote landmarks while staying overnight in comfort.
Chile islands: Juan Fernandez Archipelago
Closer to Chile geographically than Easter Island, but rarely visited by foreign tourists is the Juan Fernandez Archipelago, a group comprising three main islands. Robinson Crusoe is the most famous, due to being the former home of the marooned sailor Alexander Selkirk, whose four-year story of survival on this remote island in the early 1700s inspired Defoe’s novel, Robinson Crusoe.
Visitors can explore the island’s main sights, including the Selkirk Mirador, where the sailor would look out for ships every day, as well as learn more about its endemic wildlife. The endangered Juan Fernandez firecrown, a species of hummingbird that is thought to now number only 500 is a unique example of local fauna, while petrels, Magellanic penguins and the Juan Fernandez fur seal are other important island residents.