Most visitors use Castro as a central base for exploring the island. I wouldn't really recommend a stay in Ancud unless you are short on time. Quellón is considered primarily a ferry departure point for Chaitén on the Carretera Austral, but it may well emerge as a site for embarking on whale-watching in the coming years. On a clear day -- not very often -- one can see Volcán Osorno and the towering, snowcapped Andes in the distance.
You'll need a day or 2 to explore Castro, Dalcahue, Achao, and Conchi; a day to see the national park (more if you wish to do a long hike or camp out); and about a half-day to see Ancud (with a stop in Chacao). Also consider the new Tantauco Park at its southern tip, for which you should plan 2 days due to its difficult access.
Getting to the Island
By Boat -- Fortunately, the plan to build a giant bridge between the mainland and Chiloé -- a surefire white elephant -- has been scrapped. Meanwhile, two ferry companies operate continuously between Pargua (on the mainland) and Chacao (on the island), shuttling passengers and vehicles. If you are taking a bus to Chiloé, you won't need to worry about paying the fare because it's included in the price of the bus ticket; but if you've rented a car, the cost is $16 (£11) one-way. The ride lasts 30 to 40 minutes. (And, yes, there are toilets on board the ferry.) In compensation for the end of the plan to build the bridge, Santiago has promised to invest heavily in infrastructure on the island, so expect construction work through 2010.
By Bus -- Several companies provide service to Ancud, Castro, and Quellón from Puerto Montt, and even Santiago and Punta Arenas. In Puerto Montt, daily departures for Ancud and Castro leave from the bus terminal. Cruz del Sur (tel. 65/254731; www.busescruzdelsur.cl) has 18 trips per day, TransChiloé (tel. 65/254934) has seven trips per day, and Queilén Bus (tel. 65/253468) has eight trips per day. From Puerto Varas, try Cruz del Sur, at San Francisco 1317, with five trips per day (tel. 65/236969). Cruz del Sur (tel. 2/779-0607) offers three services per day from Santiago to Chiloé; the trip takes about 15 hours. Buses ride over on the ferry; you can remain in your seat or step out and walk around.
Driving to & Around Chiloé
Chiloé is a sightseer's paradise and, therefore, it is highly recommended that visitors rent a vehicle. You will be able to cover more ground and take full advantage of seemingly endless photo-worthy vista points, historic churches, and picturesque little villages. Hopping from island to island in a vehicle is a snap, and visitors can pack a lot of action into just 1 day. In years past, you would need to rent a car in Puerto Montt or Puerto Varas, where the rates are still the cheapest, though you would need to pay the $16 (£11) one-way ferry fee. Recently rental service became available in Castro at Salfa (Mistral 499; tel. 65/630422).
Local bus service from town to town is frequent and inexpensive. More information about bus service can be found in the sections for each specific town later. If you're driving your own rental car onto the ferry, don't line up behind the trucks and buses, but go to the front of the line and park to the left -- that will make you visible to the ferry attendants, and they'll squeeze you onto the next available ferry.
Gas stations are sporadic. Fill up in Puerto Montt or Puerto Varas, and again in Ancud. If visiting the national park, fill up in Castro or Conchi.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.