The Chiloé Archipelago is a small collection of islands just off the coast of Chile’s Lake District region. Famous for its UNESCO World Heritage wooden churches and for being the home of the modern potato (oh yes!), Chiloé remains a deeply traditional place with an abundance of traditions and myths that you won’t find anywhere else in Chile. As with many other aspects of Chiloé's culture, including architecture and gastronomy, the region’s mythology developed on this small archipelago, protected from outside influences. As such, the stories of Chiloé reflect the deep seated importance of the sea for life on the islands and you can still find references to them today. Let’s take a closer look at some of Chiloés myths and legends!
As is fitting for an archipelago, one of Chiloé’s most important myths surrounds the existence of a ghostly ship that sails the seas around the islands in the dead of night. Some claim that the Caleuche
is crewed by lost sailors who return to live again aboard the eerie vessel, whilst others are convinced that it’s actually a sentient being that kidnaps hapless fishermen and sailors. The Caleuche
is also apparently used as a vessel for any number of witches and warlocks who visit the islands from time to time and join in with the lively party that can often be heard aboard. Although not all accounts agree on exactly what the ship is for and who is onboard, everyone can tell you that seeing it is not good news. So to get to the archipelago, avoid the ghost ship and take the ferry from Pargua instead, or take the recently introduced flight from Chile’s capital Santiago
You’ll know the Trauco
if you come across him; less than a metre tall, with a distorted face and stumps where his feet should be, this is one of Chiloé’s more notorious mythical beings. He is known to live in hollow tree trunks or small caves and lives exclusively off naranjita
fruits that resemble small oranges. In spite of his repugnant appearance, the Trauco
is irresistibly seductive and uses his magical gaze to cause anyone he comes across to fall instantly in love with him. If you think you can resist the Trauco
’s enchanting gaze, visit the Municipal Park in the city of Castro, which is the capital of Chiloé province. Not only is the park home to many small stalls where you can sample traditional Chiloé cuisine and buy locally handmade crafts, there’s also a small “mythology corner” where you’ll find statues of many of Chiloé’s mythical creatures, including the Trauco
Now here’s one of Chiloé’s legendary beings that you might like to meet. The Pincoya
takes the form of a young and beautiful woman with flowing blonde hair, who emerges from the depths of the ocean. Unlike a mermaid, the Pincoya
has legs and uses them to dance along Chiloé’s beaches, dressed in a robe made of seaweed. In fact, the Pincoya
is a benevolent creature of Chiloé mythology and a symbol of the fertility of the sea. If she is seen dancing with her back to the sea, facing the mountains, then seafood will be scarce, but if she dances facing the waves the islands will enjoy a bountiful catch of seafood. Whether it’s a bumper year or not, make sure you get to try some of the archipelago’s famous seafood on your Chiloé tour. A particularly iconic dish called curanto
brings shellfish, meat, potatoes and dumplings together in a dish that’s baked with hot rocks in an earth oven.
The CamahuetoThis cross between a bull and a unicorn is said to spring from the very earth of Chiloé itself and is used as an explanation of how the archipelago’s rivers and gullies are formed. The grey-green animal with a single horn begins its life underground in the hills near to the sea, where it grows for around thirty years before suddenly bursting forth. The Camahueto then races as fast as it can to the sea shore, ploughing through the hillside as it goes, creating rivers and valleys that change the landscape of the archipelago. However Chilóe’s rivers are formed, the maze of streams and estuaries are a haven for birdlife and can be explored in small boats or by kayak, perfect for an active vacation.
There are many more Chiloé myths to explore - share your favourites with us below!