Chile

Says contributing editor Joe Yogerst of the islands off southern Chile, "The scenery was amazing, and the farther south I went, the better it got." He adds that the lush forests, the fjords, and the farmlands edging the sea on Chiloé were unlike any other landscape in South America. A travel writer for 20 years, Yogerst has visited 110 countries and has won a Lowell Thomas Award for his book Long Road South: The Pan American Highway. He remarks that Chile's island locals were very hospitable: "They don't just tell you how to get somewhere, they take you."

Photographer Beth Wald enjoyed the contrast between the two island groups, Chiloé in the north and Chonos in the south. "Chiloé was established in the late 1600s for ships rounding Cape Horn; it's steeped in history and mystical legends," she says. "The southern islands' towns were carved into the edge of the wilderness more recently and have a frontier feeling."

A resident of Boulder, Colorado, Wald started photographing 14 years ago while rock climbing. Her work has been published in National Geographic, Outside, Life, and Sports Illustrated. Fluent in Spanish, she has photographed mountaineering in Patagonia, and documented the lives of gauchos there. This was her first visit to Chile's islands.

DON'T MISS Yogerst recommends visiting Achao, on Isla Quinchao, with its little fishing village, arts-and-crafts market on the dock, and old wooden church. "It's like stepping back into another century; they still use horse carts," he says.

Wald liked Mechuque: "It was very traditional, with old houses on stilts lining the canal, no cars, the Don Paulino Historic Museum, and great views over small islands to the snowcapped volcanoes of the mainland."

HOOFING IT To go horseback riding at Chiloé National Park, look for signs saying "cabalgates" at the park's edge, or ask at the visitors center. You'll pay $20 for the day, including a guide and one of the small, rugged local ponies. On the trip you'll cross the four-mile beach, ascend spectacular rocky bluffs with the sea crashing below, and cut through an old-growth forest before stopping for lunch.

ON TH E ROAD Comfortable, inexpensive buses go all over Chiloé, but renting a car or truck will give you more flexibility. You can rent a car in Puerto Montt. Try Salfa Sur rental company ($40 to $50 per day for a truck; www.salfasur.com). Ferry schedules are fairly unpredictable and prices range from about $14 per person to about $80 for a vehicle. Britt Lewis, an Australian, offers Chiloé cruises and day trips (out of Ancud) that take the guesswork out of scheduling (tel. 011-56-65- 625-977, www.austral-adventures.com). See www.australis.com/navimag and www.travellers.cl for ferry schedule and information.

ROOM KEY Yogerst liked the hilltop Hotel Viento Sur in Puerto Montt; it has views of the waterfront, the gulf, and volcanoes, and features native handicrafts and art ($90 per night for a double). On Chiloé, the centrally located Hoster'a de Castro, a Swissstyle chalet, offers sweeping views of offshore islands ($63 per night for a double; tel. 011-56-63-632-301). On Quinchao, Hoster'a La Nave is an offbeat waterfront hotel located over a popular fisherman's bar in Achao. You'll pay just $26 for a basic room with bath; ask for one with an ocean view (tel. 011- 56-63-661-219). Wald liked the Luis Loyola Hotel in Coihaique, within walking distance of downtown markets, cafés, and restaurants ($59 per night; tel. 011-56- 63-234-200, E-mail: hotelloyola- coyhaique@chile.net).

WHAT'S TO EAT Curanto is a mix of seafood, fish, sausage, and potato cakes, all wrapped in large leaves and slowly steamed over coals. It's not often on restaurant menus, but you'll find it at Balzac in Puerto Montt, and as a Sunday special at other places. Yogerst's favorite meal was at Asturias, a tiny café that overlooks the port at Puerto Montt and serves excellent seafood. Wald suggests heading to the end of Angelmo pier in Puerto Montt, where 30 small cafés serve superfresh seafood. Look for the famous Chilote cheese there or in any market. In Castro, on Chiloé, Wald recommends Café la Br¿jula del Cuerpo for lunch and espresso, and Don Octavio for regional seafood. In Achao, she suggests Mar y Velas (Sea and Sails) at the end of the pier, for the views and inexpensive seafood.

BEACH TIME Fishermen unload their catch and locals pick and dry seaweed at the long sandy beach at Tenaun, on the protected east coast of Chiloé. The beach at Chiloé National Park on the west coast has a wilder feel, with cold winds and crashing surf. Yearround the water is far too cold for swimming.

READ IT AND LEAP

  • Lonely Planet Chile & Easter Island, by Wayne Bernhardson
  • The Rough Guide to Chile, by Melissa Graham and Richard Danbury
  • Insight Guide Chile, edited by Tony Perrottet.
  • The Postman, by Antonio Skarmeta, takes place in these islands, not in Italy where the film was set.

WEB HEADINGS Charles Darwin's The Voyage of the Beagle features journal entries from his trip through the Chiloé and Chonos Archipelagoes in 1834; read them at www.zoo.uib.no/classics/darwin/voyage.c hap13.txt. Learn more about Chiloé myths and monsters at www.mitologiachilota.cl/mitos2.htm.

CASH FLOW Take lots of pesos: Changing money is difficult and ATMs haven't hit these shores yet. Few businesses accept credit cards or U.S. dollars.

TRAVEL TIPS Take a sleeping bag and a small pillow for the ferry ride (even in first class), plus rain gear and warm clothes year-round. On Sundays, businesses aren't open and the buses don't run.