Castro, Chile: Colorful World on Isla Chiloé
“Color! What a deep and mysterious language, the language of dreams.”
The residents of Castro, Chile, have a wonderfully creative, think-outside-the-crayon-box sense of style when it comes to color. The town’s wooden stilt houses called palafitos are swathed in a world of oranges, greens, blues and reds, all in the deepest and boldest of shades. Boats in the harbor sport at least two or three vivid paint tones. And the town church? That would be bright yellow, topped and trimmed in an unmistakable purple, accented in red and white.
This color-filled city of about 40,000 sits on Chiloé Island in Chile’s Lake District. Surrounded by rolling green hills and dotted with trees that resemble a cypress-like Tuscan landscape, it’s a beautiful place to arrive by ship.
The air was brisk, with low-hanging clouds billowing overhead as Herb and I boarded the Seabourn Quest’s tender for the short ride to the port. The tide was low, revealing land-locked boats and a muddy shoreline. We made our way uphill to the Plaza de Armas, Castro’s town square. Even in the early morning, the plaza was bustling with street musicians, an open-air bookseller and a busy Tourist Information Office.
On a corner of the plaza sits Castro’s yellow-and-purple main attraction: Iglesia de San Francisco. Built in the early 20th century, it’s one of sixteen churches in the Chiloé archipelago designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Iglesia de San Francisco’s exterior is constructed from galvanized iron, but inside it’s awash in warm, glowing wood.
Back outside, we headed to one of the lookout points for viewing the palafitos. The tide was still low, offering an interesting perspective.
Our next stop was a lunch break at Mercadito, a delightful café with a treehouse-like patio overlooking the waterfront. Mercadito is as colorful as the palafitos – mismatched chairs in mint green, tomato red and citrus yellow are placed around bright orange tables – with food that truly lives up to its slogan, “always fresh, always local.”
After lunch, we wandered along the waterfront’s Avenida Pedro Montt, passing interesting seabirds and intriguing views between the palafitos. Castro is a walkable town, the kind of place where you don’t need a map or even a destination.
Along the road, we happened upon a group from the Quest who invited us to join them for a coffee at the Patio Palafito Café & Hotel, a waterfront spot with a back deck that offers up-close views of the palafitos.
Instead of heading back to the ship with the rest of the group, we decided to join John and Greg for a hike to a lookout point they had heard about. They didn’t know exactly where it was, just that it was somewhere in the nearby hills. We turned off Avenida Pedro Montt onto a dusty road that wound past small farms and rural homes. With every turn, we hoped the viewing spot would appear, but it wasn’t until we reached the top that we realized there was no official lookout point…just terrific views in all directions!
After our trip, as I was sorting through my collection of mementos, a small square card fell out of an envelope. It made me smile when I realized it was the business card from Mercadito. One side included the usual website, phone and address information, but on the other was a quirky drawing of a fish, a boat and an octopus, each in a different bold color. It seemed to me the perfect metaphor for Castro.