The Isla Grande of the Chiloé Archipelago is Chile’s second largest island after Tierra del Fuego, half of which belongs to Argentina. Since Chiloé’s development always took place independently from the mainland, the island seems to be relatively untouched until today.
In fact, the Chilots took the side of the Spanish colonial power during the struggle for independence, with the result that they were punished by the new national government with years of isolation.
The development of the archipelago for tourism was to receive a boost with the opening of an airport in 2012, as the then president and billionaire Piñera, who owns extensive estates in Chiloé, which he had converted into a nature park, had his own interests in a corresponding development.
Among the classic sights are the rough, rugged coastal landscape, which is protected in the western part of the island by a national park, the picturesque fishing villages with their colorfully painted stilt houses and especially Chiloé’s wooden churches. These date back to the missionary work of the local population by Spanish Jesuits from the 17th century onwards.
They engaged local ship builders in the construction of churches so that today, many of them resemble ship hulls.
The cathedral of Castro and Santa María de Loreto in Achao on Quinchao are regarded as showpieces among the churches that have been UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 2000.
Quinchao on the east coast of Isla Grande is one of the easiest islands to reach.
The colourful, often dilapidated Palafitos, as they can be found in Castro, for example, also provide classic photo motifs. Many of these old stilt houses are abandoned, but others are converted into small hotels or restaurants.
A popular destination on Chiloé’s west coast is the Bridge of the Souls (Muelle de las Almas). The mythological ferryman Tempilcahue waits there for the souls who want to enter paradise.
Puerto Montt serves as the gateway to the Chiloé Archipelago. The ferry (also for cars) runs from Pargua (about 60 km south-west of Puerto Montt) to Chacao (at the northern tip of Isla Grande) all day long (every 20 minutes), the crossing takes 35 minutes.
Chiloé is often referred to as the land of myths and legends. Some of these mythical figures are:
El Trauco is a small, ugly man without toes or heels, walking on a stick and armed with a stone axe that can cut down a tree with just three blows.
When young girls meet him, his stick turns into a flute and he seduces and impregnates the will-less girls. (One explanation is that the myth served to justify illegitimate pregnancies.)
El Basilisco is a mixed creature of snake and cock that lives under the floor of houses and subsists on the saliva of the inhabitants until they develop a dry cough and finally die.
La Pincoya is an incomparably beautiful mermaid that appears at midnight on Chiloé’s beaches and dances frenetically. If she does this with her face to the sea, it promises the fishermen a good catch, if she dances with her back to the sea, the catch will be sparse.
El Coo describes a magician (brujo) appearing as an owl, who, when he appears on the windowsill of a house, augurs the near death of a loved one.
La Fiura is a small, ugly witch who has as much sexual appetite as her male counterpart Trauco and enslaves her victims through exhaustion. Her breath is supposed to trigger a lumbago in humans and can kill smaller animals.
El Camahueto is a calf or manatee-like creature with a golden unicorn that is born in the marshland and moves back to the sea as it grows up. On its way to the water it destroys valuable farmland and its immersion into the sea triggers devastating tidal waves.
Finally, El Caleuche is the name of a ghost ship on which the drowned of the sea dance and make music. They are brought aboard by the Sirena, the Pincoya and their brother Pincoy to be awakened to life again.