© 2017 The Author(s). Optical nonlinearities, such as thermo-optic mechanisms and free-carrier dispersion, are often considered unwelcome effects in silicon-based resonators and, more specifically, optomechanical cavities, since they affect, for instance, the relative detuning between an optical resonance and the excitation laser. Here, we exploit these nonlinearities and their intercoupling with the mechanical degrees of freedom of a silicon optomechanical nanobeam to unveil a rich set of fundamentally different complex dynamics. By smoothly changing the parameters of the excitation laser we demonstrate accurate control to activate two- A nd four-dimensional limit cycles, a period-doubling route and a six-dimensional chaos. In addition, by scanning the laser parameters in opposite senses we demonstrate bistability and hysteresis between two- A nd four-dimensional limit cycles, between different coherent mechanical states and between four-dimensional limit cycles and chaos. Our findings open new routes towards exploiting silicon-based optomechanical photonic crystals as a versatile building block to be used in neurocomputational networks and for chaos-based applications.