Several companies conduct day trips and longer tours of the area, including destinations such as Dalcahue, Chonchi, Parque Nacional Chiloé, and offshore islands. Among them are Turismo Quelcún (San Martín 581, tel. 065/632396), Turismo Queilén Bus (San Martín 667, tel. 065/632173), at the Terminal de Buses Rurales, and Pehuén Turismo (Blanco Encalada 299, tel. 065/635254, www.turismopehuen.cl).
Castro’s sights give it greater tourist appeal than any other city on the island, but it’s also a fine base for excursions.
On the north side of the Plaza de Armas, the landmark Iglesia San Francisco represents both change and continuity in Chiloé’s architectural tradition. After fire destroyed its Franciscan-built predecessor in 1902, ecclesiastical authorities broke with tradition in hiring an Italian architect, Eduardo Provasoli, who incorporated both neo-Gothic and classical elements into the twin-tower structure. At the same time, employing local master builders and artisans ensured that Chilote elements would survive in the iron-clad wooden structure.
Now a national monument, begun in 1906 but not completed until 1912, the church has changed its colors without surrendering its flamboyance—instead of salmon and violet, its galvanized-iron exterior is now banana yellow with violet towers and dashes of reddish trim—but it desperately needs repainting. The natural-wood interior is more somber, embellished with traditional Catholic statuary—some of it grisly renderings of the crucifixion.
Half a block south of the Plaza de Armas, the Museo Regional de Castro (Esmeralda s/n, tel. 065/635967) displays Huilliche artifacts and ethnographic materials, “appropriate technology” from the surrounding countryside, accounts on the island’s urban development, and greatly improved photographic exhibits. It is due to move to new quarters on the waterfront; in the meantime, summer hours are 9:30 a.m.–8 p.m. daily except Sunday, when it’s open 10:30 a.m.–1 p.m. The rest of the year, hours are 9:30 a.m.–1 p.m. and 3–6:30 p.m. daily except Sunday. Admission is free, but donations are welcome.
Now sitting in the newly developed Plazuela El Tren, a waterfront park on Avenida Pedro Montt, the Locomotora Ancud-Castro hauled passengers and freight on the narrow-gauge railroad between 1912 and 1960, when an earthquake and tsunami ended the island’s train service. The route either followed or paralleled the present-day Panamericana.
Occupying airy, well-lighted quarters that once were warehouses, Castro’s Museo de Arte Moderno de Chiloé (MAM, Galvarino Riveros s/n, tel. 065/635454) stresses up-and-coming Chilean, mostly Chilote, painters, sculptors, and multimedia specialists. On the grounds of the Parque Municipal, the MAM is open 10 a.m.–7 p.m. daily in summer, when it invites selected artists to show their latest work. In November, December, and March, hours are 11 a.m.–2 p.m. daily, but it’s closed the rest of the year except by appointment. Admission is free.
Until the 1960 earthquake and tsunami, shingled, stilted palafitos lined nearly all the Isla Grande’s eastern shore estuaries, but only a handful survive today, most notably in Castro and vicinity. Traditionally, Chilote fishermen would tie their vessels to the pilings out their back door, but the houses themselves front on city streets.
Castro has the largest remaining assortment of this unique vernacular architecture, along the Costanera Avenida Pedro Montt at the northern approach to town, only two blocks from the Plaza de Armas at the Costanera’s south end, and on both sides of the Río Gamboa bridge, southwest of the city center via the Panamericana.
At the south end of the Costanera, Castro’s waterfront Feria Artesanal integrates tourist appeal—typical woolens, souvenir basketry, and palafito marisquerías—with practical items such as food (including edible algae) and fuel (blocks of peat). While Dalcahue’s Sunday crafts market gets more hype, this daily market rates nearly as highly.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Chile, 2nd edition