Chiloé Island

Chiloé Island (Spanish: "Isla de Chiloé"), also known as Isla Grande de Chiloé "Greater Island of Chiloé", is the largest island of Chiloé Archipelago off the coast of Chile, in the Pacific Ocean. The island is located in southern Chile, in the Los Lagos Region. The variety of potato which is most widely grown throughout the world is indigenous to the island.


Chiloé Island (8,394 km², 3241 sq mi), is the second largest island in Chile (and the fifth largest in South America), after the Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego. It is separated from the Chilean mainland by the Chacao Strait ("Canal Chacao") to the north, and by the Gulf of Ancud (Golfo de Ancud) and the Gulf of Corcovado (Golfo Corcovado) to the east; the Pacific ocean lies to the west, and the Chonos Archipelago lies to the south, across the Boca del Guafo. The island is 190 km (118 mi) from north to south, and averages 55-65 km wide (35 to 40 mi). The capital is Castro, on the east side of the island; the second largest town is Ancud, at the island's northwest corner, and there are several smaller port towns on the east side of the island, such as Quellón, Dalcahue and Chonchi.

Chiloé Province includes all the Chiloé Archipelago except the Grupo Desertores islands, plus the Isla Guafo. The area of Chiloé province is 9181 km² (3546 sq mi). The administrative center of the province is Castro, while the episcopal see of the Roman Catholic bishopric is Ancud. Chiloé province is part of the Los Lagos Region (Región de los Lagos), which mainly includes the Chilean lakes region on the mainland north of Chiloé. The administrative center of the region is Puerto Montt.

Chiloé and the Chonos Archipelago are a southern extension of the Chilean coastal range, which runs north and south, parallel to the Pacific coast and the Andes Mountains. The Chilean Central Valley lies between the coastal mountains and the Andes, of which the Gulfs of Ancud and Corcovado form the southern extension. Mountains run north and south along the spine of the island. The east coast is deeply indented, with several natural harbors and numerous smaller islands.


Evidence ranging from historical records, local agriculturalists, and DNA analyses strongly supports the hypothesis that the most widely cultivated variety of potato worldwide, Solanum tuberosum tuberosum, is indigenous to Chiloe Island and has been cultivated by the local indigenous people since before the coming of the Spanish.


Chiloe runs from 41º 47' S to 43º 26' S latitude, and has a humid, cool temperate climate. The western side of the island is rainy and wild, home to the Valdivian temperate rain forests, one of the world's few temperate rain forests. Chiloé National Park (Parque Nacional de Chiloé) is located on the Island's western shore and includes part of the coastal range. The eastern shore, in the rain shadow of the interior mountains, is warmer and drier.


Chiloé's first known inhabitants were the Chonos, a nomadic people. Later the Huilliche (a part of the Mapuche) came from the mainland and settled on the eastern shore, practicing agriculture and fishing.

In 1567 the island was first claimed for Spain, by Martín Ruiz de Gamboa who was exploring and claiming the southern part of Chile and many neighbouring islands. In 1567 Captain Gamboa established a settlement at Castro in 1567, which later became the seat of a Jesuit mission, and was capital of the province until the founding of Ancud in 1768.

In 1784 Chiloé Island was made a direct dependency of the colonial viceroyalty of Peru as concequence of the Bourbon reforms, while continental Chile was a captaincy-general within the viceroyalty.

Unlike the central region of Chile where a long war of independence resumed after a Spanish reoccupation, Chiloe never joined the "Patria Vieja" (Old Republic). In December 1817 the island became the last stronghold of Spanish loyalists (together with Valdivia) fleeing from the Chilean mainland. A Chilean expedition led by Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald failed to conquer it. On 15 January 1826, after another unsuccessful attempt in 1824, the Spanish forces surrendered to a military expedition led by Ramon Freire, and the island was fully incorporated into the independent republic of Chile, although Spain did not recognize it until 1844.

The last Spanish Military governors were :

Charles Darwin visited Chiloé during the summer of 1834–1835, writing about his impressions of southern Chile in his diaries.

During the colonization of Patagonia by Chile and Argentina, a lot of chilotes migrated to the mainland to work in cattle farming.

The cathedral in Ancud was totally destroyed and Castro was badly damaged by the Great Chilean Earthquake of 1960, widely considered to be the most powerful ever recorded. In 1982, the provincial capital, after over 200 years, was returned to Castro.

Demographics and economy

The population of the province with its ten municipalities according to the 2002 census was 154,775; of this, 44% lived in rural areas, according to the Instituto Nacional de Estadisticas (INE). Chiloé's people are known as Chilotes.

Salmon aquaculture, tourism, agriculture and timber are the mainstays of the island economy.


Having evolved for centuries isolated from mainland Chile, the "Chilotes" developed a strong, self-reliant culture, rich in folklore, mythology and tradition. This very identity is what constitutes the island's major attraction for domestic tourists in Chile and increasingly, for international tourists. As in the Calakmul case above, tourism to Chiloé is very strongly based on the island's cultural heritage, predominantly consisting of crafts markets, appreciation of cultural landscapes, museum exhibitions, seafood cuisine and architectural heritage (Chiloé's old churches). However, the average tourist to the island will have little opportunity to see Chilotes involved in their living cultural activities, such as the elaborate preparation of the islands famous "curanto" meal, rich in shellfish, meat and potatoes, the management practices of their farm and forest lands, boat building and more.

In order to overcome the cultural and organizational barriers that keep suppliers of living cultural heritage and tour operators apart, the Chiloé diocese of Ancud established a private foundation called "Fundación con Todos" (One for All Foundation). Among other activities, the Foundation has played a key role in helping a number of Chilote households organize themselves into an "agrotourism" network. The Foundation helped Chilote households make the preparation required to accommodate tourists (including training in sanitation and maintenance of facilities, the provision of basic infrastructure) and complemented this effort with a professional marketing campaign. These works were undertaken with the financial support of other agencies.

Again, in cooperation with the EOMF and the Chiloé Model Forest, a cultural and natural heritage tour was organized to Argentina and Chile, including a three-day visit to Chiloé, permitting some of the Chilote households to host a group of cultural heritage tourists for the first time. The visits were very successful and should be the first of more to come, helping establish the credibility of Chiloé's agrotourism network among other tour operators.


In part because of its physical isolation from the rest of Chile, Chilotan architecture is unique and restricted to Chiloe Island and nearby areas. The arrival of the Spanish and Jesuit missionaries starting in the 16th century resulted in the construction of hundreds of small wooden churches in an attempt to convert local residents to Christianity. The result was a mixing of Catholicism and pagan beliefs. These unique buildings have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Nearly all the houses and buildings in colonial Chiloe were built with wood, and roof shingles were extensively employed. Roof shingles of Fitzroya came to be used as money and called "Real de Alerce". In the late XIX century a lot of palafito stilt houses were built in cities like Castro and Chonchi.


Chiloé have a rich folklore with many mythological animals and spirits (the Caleuche, the Trauco, the Pincoya, the Invunche, etc.). Chilota mythology is based on a mixture of indigenous religions (the Chonos and Huilliches) that live in the Archipelago of Chiloé, and the legends and superstitions brought by the Spanish Conquistadores, who in 1567 began the process of conquest in Chiloé and with it the fusion of elements that would form a separate mythology. Chilota mythology flourished, isolated from other beliefs and myths in Chile, due to the separation of the archipelago from the rest of the Spanish occupation in Chile, when the Mapuches occupied or destroyed by all the Spanish settlements between the Bío-Bío River and the Chacao channel following the disaster of Curalaba in 1598.

See also


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