“Color! What a deep and mysterious language, the language of dreams.”

~Paul Gaugin

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.

Chilean sunrise, sailing into Castro.
Approaching the harbor.
Palafitos along the shore.
The yellow-and-purple Iglesia de San Francisco dominates Castro’s skyline.

Plaza de Armas

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.

Boats at low tide along the Castro harbor.
A tree-lined pathway in the Plaza de Armas.
The Plaza de Armas bandshell.

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. The church’s exterior is constructed from galvanized iron, but inside it’s awash in warm, glowing wood.

Iglesia de San Francisco

Iglesia de San Francisco stands out in all its unconventional yellow-and-purple glory!
The purple steeples.
The soft glow of wood tones creates a serene interior for the Neo-Gothic design.
Looking up…
Simple panes of stained glass add a subtle beauty.

Back outside, we headed to one of the lookout points for viewing the palafitos. The tide was still low, offering an interesting perspective.

Castro’s palafitos at low tide.


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.”

Mercadito’s patio features waterfront views in a charming setting.
Homemade bread with a special spread…
…a beautifully presented and exceptionally delicious soup, salad and potato entrée…
…and Pisco Sours, the national drink of Chile!

A Walk Along the Waterfront

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.

A black-headed gull by the water’s edge…
…and another in flight.
Black-necked swans, the largest waterfowl native to South America.
Peeking through the palafitos.
A reminder of how weather can impact the island.
Palafitos reflected in the water.
Palafitos reflected in the water.

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.

View from the deck of the Patio Palafito Café & Hotel.
Selfie on the deck!

An Unexpected Hike

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!

Beginning our walk as we turned off the main road.
Heading into the hills.
A bus stop along the way.
Palafitos from Castro, Chile, Lookout.
Looking out on a palafito-filled shoreline at high tide.
Castro, Chile, View From Lookout.
View from the top!

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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.

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