The archipelago of Chiloe Islands off southern Chile, do not cover a large surface area, but with all the inlets and waterways, it creates a number of islands known for rugged beauty, and also traditional wooden churches, very unique to this area. In fact, the Chiloe Islands contain a total of 16 churches built in the 18th and 19th centuries that have been declared as World Heritage Sites.
Church of Quinchao
This is one of the main stops on the pilgrimage path on Chiloe and is one of the largest of the wooden churches in the area measuring almost 53 meters long and over 18 meters high. On December 8th every year, hundreds of locals gather in the small town for Our Lady of Grace Festival, the patron saint of the Church of Quinchao.
Church of Nercón
In Nercon, less than 5 km outside the town of Castro, you’ll find the Church of Nercon, which is of the traditional wooden architectural style you become accustomed to seeing on Chiloe Island. Though the current church is actually not the original one, as a rebuild of the church was started in 1879 and completed in 1895.
Santa María de Loreto
Located in the largest town on Quinchao Island, Achao, this church is often just referred to as the church of Achao, but is more formally named the Church of Santa Maria de Loreto. It was built in 1740 when these islands were still considered part of Spain.
Church of San Francisco
The main catholic church of Chiloe’s capital, this is also the center piece, located in the middle of town next to the Plaza de Armas and is a landmark that is hard to miss. The large yellow building does not follow the same architectural style, nor the use of only wood, as this Neo-Gothic style church has a roof constructed of galvanized iron.
Church of Rilán
A commune of the town of Castro, the church of Rilan dates back to 1658, when Rilan was the site of the settlement of indigenous communities, but constructed on the current church did not start until the 19th century.
Church of Aldachildo
You will need to head to the little island of Lemuy to visit this remote church that is one of the few that is in such good condition, without the need of restoration. The proximity to the beach and fishing boats bobbing in the harbour, makes this church a popular one to visit, and photograph.
Church of Ichuac
Number two of the three churches available to visit on the Island of Lemuy, is the Church of Ichuac. This church, that sits on a very unassuming plot of land in the very modest town next to a harbour on the west side of the island was named a Natural Monument of Chile in 1999 and a Heritage Site the following year.
Church of Detif
Rounding out the three churches on Lemuy, is the Church of Detif, located near to the water in the big sweeping bay at the bottom peninsula of the island. Constructed in 1734, this church has gone through a few modifications and upgrades due to the deterioration from the active seas but is still very much maintained in its original, faded wooden state.
Church of Chonchi
The Church of Chonchi would be considered one of the least traditional churches in Chiloe and one of the loudest, with the baby blue, and beige exterior. The patron saint of this church is Charles Borromeo, so it is oftentimes referred to as the Iglesia de San Carlos Borromeo. It lies up the hill from the water, in the center of the quaint town of Chonchi.
Church of Tenaún
Another church that adds a touch of colour to the town, is that of Tenaún – the frontage is a combination of gold, blue, and white, with two stars on either side of the main window. Unlike most of the other churches on Chiloe, this one is named not after its location, but after the three peaks it has, which is what Tenaún translates to in one of this area’s native tongues.
Church of Colo
If you have been travelling around Chile you will have encountered the words Colo-Colo whether its the most famous football team in the country, name of an area of a city, or a main avenue – it refers to Colocolo, the historic Mapuche leader. This church, as well as the town, Colo, where it is located honours the tribal leader, who with time and lack of accurate details, has become somewhat of an inflated mythical creature.
Our Lady of Sorrows
Located right in the town of Dalcahue, next to the Plaza de Armas, is the Our Lady of Sorrows church – a glowing white building that is actually located on a site that used to house a Jesuit missionary chapel.
San Juan Bautista
Considering the full, official name is The Church of San Juan Bautista de San Juan de Coquihuil, you can imagine that people would naturally refer to it simply as the Church of San Juan. It is located in the remote countryside just outside of the town of Dalcahue.
Church of Vilupulli
Even though one of the more recent constructions, built in the early 20th century, the Church of Vilupulli adapts to the architectural style of the other churches on the island, with the shallow archways, tall pillars and high tower atop the entrance to the church.
Church of Chelín
Possibly the most remote church of all sixteen Churches of Chiloe, is the Church of Chelin. Off the coast of Chonchi are the scattered islands and Lumay Island, which houses three churches, is the tiny rock of Isla Chelin. This goes to show that in such a religious part of the world, the belief is that no town or land mass should go without a place of worship.
Church of Caguach
Last and by no means least, the Church of Caguach lies at the southernmost tip of the little island of Isla Caguach, one of the islands farthest removed from Isla Grande de Chiloe. The archways on this church are more square than most of the other Chiloe churches, and with its maroon red colour, many people mistake it for a barn.