Calbuco, which means blue water in mapadungún, the native tongue of Chile's indigenous Mapuche people, is an archipelago connected by a maze of canals used for access and transportation.
Life here is tied to the sea, from the local economy reliant on fishing and canneries to the assortment of exquisite seafood dishes that locals are proud to call home cooking.
History beside the sea
56 km to the southwest of Puerto Montt, Calbuco was founded in 1602 and remained a quiet backwater until the middle of 18th century. Some of the islands, without interior roads or electric light, still maintain a secluded sense. In the 1700s and 1800s, Logging transformed the archipelago's largest town of Calbuco into a center for transporting the alerce and cipres trees harvested in the nearby hills.
The next major trend came in the form of the bountiful canneries that secured the archipelago's reputation as a locale economically bound to the water. First appearing in the 1900s, canneries marked Calbuco as the first city in South America to have a canning industry. The many salmon, oyster and mussel cultivation centers around Calbuco today are regarded of especially high quality because the blue waters of these islands have never been contaminated by the phenomenon known as the red tide, a micro algal bloom that results in toxins deadly to mollusks and oysters.
Today, visitors can take in the fascinating seaside history of Calbuco, trying their hand at fishing with the locals for hake, mackerel, sardines and salmon, and enjoying the variety of legendary and delectable seafood, prepared in such dishes as curanto en hoyo or en olla, patache and pailas marinas.
Festivals in the archipelago
A visit to Calbuco's main Plaza de Armas immerses visitors in the town's history and ties to the natural surroundings. Take in the world-class vistas of the sea, islands and volcanic cones from the plaza, then wander into the Catholic church that houses an image of San Miguel Arcángel that was brought to the town in 1602.
Today, Calbuco is connected to the mainland by a 150-meter causeway, making its many lively festivals held throughout the year more accessible. In January, the festival of the curanto gigante, or giant curanto, is celebrated beside the sea, with thousands of people enjoying the culinary highlights of this traditional seafood dish. Throughout the summer, several regattas are held, with races for local fishing boats as well as sailboat races, and in February there is a folkloric festival.
The archipelago's smattering of islands, each known for their distinctive features, can be traversed by boat via the many canals. Caicaén is the northernmost island and home to Calbuco. To the south, Puluqui is known as a land of fishermen and humble folk, Tabón is regarded for its delicious potatoes, Quenu is considered to possess the best beaches of the archipelago and Helvecia (Chaullin), one of the archipelago's smallest islands, is home to an arrayan forest singular in southern Chile.
Buses from the southern port city of Puerto Montt are available for visitors interested in exploring the azure waters of Calbuco, and car rentals are another option from this city. Overnight accommodations on the archipelago are many and varied for those visitors interested in staying a few days to enjoy the steady hum of island life.
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