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Turismo Pehuén, Blanco 299 in Castro (tel./fax 65/635254; www.turismopehuen.cl), is the most reliable, respected agency in Chiloé, offering a variety of tours in the area that include hiking in the national park and guided visits to Dalcahue and Achao; and, during the summer only, horseback riding, boat tours, and overflight tours that give passengers an aerial view of the island. It's really the most complete tour agency; however, Queilén Bus, Villa Llau Llau s/n (tel. 65/632594; fax 65/635600; queilenbus@surnet.cl), also offers guided tours around the area.

The calm, fairy-tale bays and coves of Chiloé and the emerald Andean fjords across the sound render this the best region in Chile for sea kayaking and boating. I strongly recommend that visitors interested in these sports consider the following two excellent tour operators that offer trips for several days or longer. These operators can customize trips according to your experience and stamina; in many cases, you don't need kayak experience at all, just a willingness to learn. Here are my picks.

Altué Expeditions is Chile's foremost tour operator for trekking, horseback riding, and kayaking, and their kayak center on the shore of Dalcahue, one of the prettiest areas of Chiloé, is the ideal base for practicing the sport. The center has a Chiloé-style shingled and very attractive lodge for overnight stays, and they plan longer journeys that include the Andean fjords and hot spring visits, using a Chilote boat as a support vessel (camping at night). There's a hot tub at the lodge, and they treat guests to a typical curanto meal while visiting. The superb crew is not only knowledgeable, but friendly, too. Trips around Chiloé archipelago last 4 days and 3 nights; trips including the Andean fjords last 9 days and 8 nights. Call or e-mail for pricing information, as group size is a factor in cost (tel. 2/233-2964 in Santiago, or 65/641110 in Chiloé; www.seakayakchile.com).

For kayaking, and especially sailing and soft-adventure nature and cultural tours, try the top-notch operation Austral Adventures (tel. 65/625977 or 9/642-8936; www.austral-adventures.com). The U.S./Chilean outfit specializes in luxury excursions around Chiloé and the Andean fjords, offering a 3-day/2-night round-trip "River and Sea kayaking in Chiloé" tour ($409/£273 per person) and a 6-day/5-night "Patagonian Fjords & the Wonders of the Chiloé Archipelago" tour ($1,775/£1,183 per person). Their tours include a bilingual guide, private transport from Ancud, and lodging and meals. For those short on time, Austral Adventures also offers some day options for $40 (£27) per person from Ancud, including a coastal hike and penguin colony (minimum four people), and sea kayaking the Ancud bay (minimum three people). In April and May, Nomads of the Seas (tel] 56/414-4600; www.nomadsoftheseas.com) offers 3-day/2-night ultraluxurious gastronomic cruises with well-known Chilean chefs on board the Atmosphere cruise ship, which departs Puerto Montt and stops in Chiloé. Call or e-mail for pricing and schedules.

For boat trips that will take you to view blue whales in the December-to-February season, contact Carlos Villalobos at Agencia Tic-Toc (carlosv@surnet.cl) in Quellón. The cost is $120 (£80) per person, with a minimum of four passengers, for a full day excursion.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.