On the Isla Grande’s northern coast, facing the Canal de Chacao, San Carlos de Ancud (population 27,292) is 90 kilometers southwest of Puerto Montt, 27 kilometers west of the Pargua–Chacao ferry crossing, and 87 kilometers north of Castro via the Panamericana. It occupies a hilly peninsular site whose irregular terrain has generated an equally irregular but compact city plan around the roughly trapezoidal Plaza de Armas.
On a sheltered harbor that enjoys good ocean access, the late colonial outpost of San Carlos de Ancud defended Spain’s Pacific coastline from foreign powers and privateers so well that it held out for nearly a decade after Chile’s 1818 declaration of independence. Only the Peruvian port of Callao held out longer.
Now Chiloé’s largest town, the former fortress was once a major port of entry, but the 1912 arrival of the railroad to Puerto Montt undercut its economic base, and it now relies on fishing for its livelihood. Its headlands provide exceptional coastal views.
Ancud’s long-distance Terminal de Buses (Aníbal Pinto and Marcos Vera) is about 1.2 kilometers east of downtown. There are many northbound buses to Puerto Montt and on to Santiago and intermediates, southbound buses to Castro and Quellón, and services to Punta Arenas via Argentina with Queilén Bus (tel. 065/622140) and Turibús (tel. 065/622289).
Transmarchilay and Cruz del Sur ferries sail between Pargua and Chacao, charging US$13.50 for cars, US$14 for light trucks, US$8.50 for motorcycles, US$4 for bicycles, and US$1.10 for car or foot passengers. There is no additional charge for bus passengers.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Chile, 2nd edition