Castro sits centrally located on the island of Chiloé, which, if it weren’t separated by Canal Chacao, would be a continuation of Chile’s mainland coastal range. It is southwest of our previous port, Puerto Montt (and the nearby Puerto Varas), at the northern end of Chilean Patagonia.
On the island’s 90 miles (160 km) length, there are over 60 churches, of which 16 are UNESCO World Heritage Sites and national monuments! Combining Christian and pagan elements, the cathedrals stand out for their eye-popping color combinations – see our photograph of Iglesia San Francisco de Castro, below. Along Castro’s coast are the famed rows of timber stilt houses known as palafitos.
On the north end of the Plaza de Armas in downtown Castro stands the picturesque, visually intriguing church that is an UNESCO World Heritage Site as well as a designated Chilean National Monument. Designed in a neo-gothic style by Italian architect Eduardo Provasoli, the church was constructed with native woods by local carpenters. It was completed in 1912 to replace an earlier church that had been destroyed. Along with its golden yellow façade and violet accents, the cathedral is notable for its exquisite interior woodwork showcased in the arches, ceiling and altars.
For over three hundred years, Chiloé Island was isolated from mainland Chile owing to the fierce resistance of the mainland native Mapuche to European colonists. Therefore, the slow pace of island life saw little change. As a result, Castro is one of the few places in the country where palafito houses can still be seen. Palafitos are precarious but picturesque timber houses on stilts. They were once the traditional dwellings of most of the fishermen of southern Chile, found throughout South America since pre-Columbian times. In the late 19th century, numerous palafitos were built in Chilean cities such as Castro and are now considered a typical element of Chilotan architecture in towns in the Chiloé Archipelago.