You might begin a tour of Castro at the plaza and the neo-Gothic Iglesia de San Francisco, painted in lilac and peachy-pink for Pope John Paul II's visit in 1987. Impossible to miss, the 1912 national monument glows on a dreary, gray Chiloé day (which is pretty much three-quarters of the year). Renovations of the church began in late 2008 and are set to continue throughout 2009; however, most of the work is on the facade and towers, so you can still get inside.
From there, head down Esmeralda toward the waterfront and drop by the town's small Museo Municipal de Castro, half a block from the plaza (tel. 65/635967). It's open from January to February Monday through Saturday from 9:30am to 7pm, and Sunday from 10:30am to 1pm; from March to December Monday through Friday from 9:30am to 1pm and 3 to 6:30pm, Saturday from 9:30am to 1pm, and closed on Sunday. Admission is free, although a donation is encouraged. This earnest, small museum features displays of Chilote farming and household wooden implements that take visitors back in time to days when day-to-day living could be an arduous chore. There are also Indian artifacts such as arrowheads, bones, and boleadoras; scale models; and a dramatic photographic exhibit of the damage done to Castro after the 1960 earthquake and flood.
Castro's curious palafitos, ramshackle houses built near the shore but atop stilts over water, are a colorful attraction and a tourism favorite, in spite of the fact that locals consider palifitos a somewhat unsanitary mess. There are four main spots to view these architectural oddities. The first two sites are at the town entrance, the third site is on the coast at the end of San Martín, and the fourth is at the cove of the Castro Fjord, on the way out of town on Rte. 5.
A short taxi ride will take you to the Parque Municipal, home to the Costumbrista Festival in February and the Museo de Arte Moderno (MAM; tel. 65/635454). Admission is free, and it's open daily January and February from 10am to 6pm; November, December, and March from 11am to 2pm. It's closed April through October, but opening hours can randomly change. If the museum is closed, call to arrange a private viewing. If the weather is clear, visitors to the park are treated to stretching views of Castro and the Andes. MAM, housed in several renovated shingled barns, is one of the few contemporary art museums in the country, and it often hosts exhibitions by some of Chile's most prominent artists.
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