Shaped by the meeting of the land with the sea, the culture of the people here includes innovative architectural techniques, delicious cuisine and mythology rooted in a mix of pre-Columbian religion and legends introduced by European immigrants from long ago.
Chiloe is a mix of rolling green hills and blue waters on the eastern side, and a rocky coastline pounded by the mighty Pacific Ocean to the west. This – the Isla Grande de Chiloe – sprawls for a sizeable 3,241sq miles (8,394sq km), made up of watery delights including winding rivers, lakes, lagoons, inlets and coves.
The unique landscape defines the livelihoods of Chilotes and also shelters a fascinating array of flora and fauna. The island is the second largest in South America, cut off from the mainland by the Chacao Canal. Scattered smaller islands emerge from the Sea of Chiloé between the island and the mainland, completing this beautiful Northern Patagonian archipelago.
The variety of both endemic and introduced flora and fauna is so overwhelming, even Charles Darwin was taken aback on his visit here in 1834. Chiloé teems with lush plantlife across its many islands, flaunting Valdivian Forests made up of myrtle, oak, bamboo, hazelnut and cinnamon, to name just a few.
The diversity of these trees tells a story of natural evolution occurring on the islands, from the end of the ice age that gripped the region some 15,000 years ago, through to the colonial era whereby new species arrived on ships, right up to the present day. You can learn all about this horticultural intrigue first-hand on our informative excursions, whether discovering Bosquepiedra Private Park or hiking part of the Sendero de Chile.
In addition to the verdant forests, Chiloé is also home to around a dozen wetlands, including the Pullao Wetland, which is right next to the hotel. Recognized by the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network as a ‘site of hemispheric importance’, this sanctuary serves as a vital habitat for an astounding array of wildlife, including the Hudsonian Godwit and the Whimbrel, both carefully protected migratory species.
You can also spot the Chilean Flamingo here, not to mention cormorants, ducks and gulls, all of which can be spotted during an excursion to the Pullao Wetland.
Elsewhere in Chiloé, you can get up close to an impressive variety of animal life, from rare marsupials, the Andean Antelope, Chiloé fox and colocolo cats on the land, to dolphins, black-necked swans and if you’re lucky, maybe even a whale. The archipelago really is a biodiverse haven for all kinds of wildlife.
The people of Chiloé have adapted to the local conditions of the archipelago over thousands of years, with many traditional agricultural practices still very much in use today. Cattle drawn carts are still used to transport local produce such as elephant garlic and potatoes – of which there are nearly 300 varieties! Fishermen sell their daily catch, including robalo, pejerrey, trout, oysters and mussels fresh from the sea, in the local markets.
Learning the history of these traditions, from the first-hand accounts of Chilote farmers on the island of Quinchao while sampling local delicacies, means you not only get a delicious taste of the regional cuisine here in Chiloé, but also benefit from an understanding of a lifestyle which is unique to this region.
Be sure to try specialties such as curanto, a stew of meat, potato and shellfish cooked in the ground with hot stones; milcao, a grated potato and pork dish; and mazamorra, a sweet treat made from gooseberries, apples and flour, among many other culinary delights!
As well as the gastronomic traditions that are alive and well in Chiloé, so too are other cultural aspects that lend the islands of the archipelago their own inimitable identity.
Unmistakable architecture comprised of colorful, shingled houses hoisted up on stilts above the water – palafitos – and the wooden, UNESCO World Heritage churches are particularly interesting and can be seen on Isla Quinchao, Castro, and the Rilán Peninsula.
These churches were introduced by the Jesuit missionaries, who built between 60-70 of them (16 of which have since been recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites) across the archipelago, made from shingled wood and representing the fusion of native Huilliche, and Chono culture with Spanish Catholicism.
This union of indigenous and imported European beliefs led to an exceptional religious culture which is still alive and well today. There are many festivals throughout the year, with traditional Chilote mythology at their core.
The myths and legends that shroud the islands of Chiloé were born out of the mix of pre-Columbian and European beliefs, bringing in influences from as far as Celtic lands and Spain itself.
The evocative scenery of Chiloé serves as a backdrop for these tales, with mist and fog playing on stormy seas, and windswept lands which lie at the mercy of the ocean’s temperaments. This is why most of these mythological characters represent natural phenomena, such as El Cuchivilu who is said to be responsible for destroying fishermen’s nets, and La Pincoya, a mermaid who either blesses locals with abundances of fish, or wreaks havoc through storms if she’s in a bad mood!
These fabled characters, of which there are countless more, are woven into the cultural identity of Chiloé, present in everything from cuisine and farming to folkloric festivals and handicrafts, all waiting to be discovered during your stay at Tierra Chiloé.