Scary Latino Myths: Read This or El Cuco Will Get You

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Grandparents across Latin America have been scaring kids (and adults) for years with accounts of monsters, creatures and ghosts with names and back-stories so real you almost believe them. Almost. Here are some of the apparitions that still keep us up at night.

La Llorona

Talk about creepy, the legend of La Llorona (or “The Weeping Woman”) tells the story of a woman named Maria who takes out her anger on her cheating husband by drowning her own children in the river. Her remorse follows her into the after-life when her spirit haunts the streets at night crying over her dead offspring and snatching any unattended youngsters she finds in her wake.

La Mano Peluda

Imagine lying in bed and feeling a big furry paw grabbing at your feet. La Mano Peluda (or “The Hairy Hand”) is said to belong to a man who was killed during the inquisition, and chopped up and buried in an old Indian cemetery. His hand is said to have come back to life to seek revenge on his enemies while they’re asleep. Our advice: Wear socks at night!

La Lechusa

Despite what True Blood will have you believe, shape-shifters are nothing new. La Lechusa (or “The Owl Woman”) is an evil witch that can turn into a huge bird with red eyes. According to those that have seen her and survived, she comes out at night, swoops in and attacks. If you’d like to meet her in person, all you have to do is go outside at midnight and whistle three times. Legend has it that La Lechusa will whistle back.

El Cuco

Disobedient kids all over Latin America have always feared El Cuco. The mystery boogeyman is a dark, shapeless monster that appears out of nowhere to kidnap and eat children that don’t obey their parents. There’s even a classic rhyme that warns the kiddies that El Cuco will eat them if they don’t fall asleep early. He’s mom and dad’s best ally!

El Chupacabra

Big Foot and the Loch Ness Monster have competition in the chupacabra (or the “goat-sucker”). Tales of the blood-thirsty creature began to circulate 15 years ago when a housewife in Puerto Rico first spotted the vampire beast. Other sightings followed, with stories about the mythical animal draining the blood and consuming the organs of his prey during the night.

La Segua (a.k.a La Siguanaba)

A cautionary tale for unfaithful men, this legend about cavorting with strange women dates back to colonial times. La Segua was a beautiful woman who was in love with an officer who broke her heart and cursed her for life. She is said to haunt men by asking them for a ride on their horse. Once she is on the saddle her face transforms into a horse’s skull with red eyes and big yellow teeth.

La Carreta Chillona

Hide if you hear La Carreta Chillona (or “The Screechy Wagon”) headed your way. The Salvadoran legend began in Spain and centers on a boy named Terencio, who was adopted by a priest and moved to San Salvador as an adult. There, he pretended to be a miracle doctor, but ended up killing many people. The dead priest came back as a ghost and forced Terencio to build a chariot from the bones of his victims and sentenced him to wander the streets for all eternity. Many hear him approaching by the sound of chains and bones, and those that see him are said to wake up dead the next day.

El Cadejo

Central Americans know to be wary of El Cadejo. The dog-like animal can be good or bad, depending on the color of its fur: The white cadejo is said to protect travelers from danger, and the black one is Satan incarnate, with penetrating red eyes, sharp teeth and hoofed feet. The evil cadejo smells of burning sulfur and lurks in alleys and other dark places waiting for his next victim. 

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About this author

Grace Bastidas, Deputy Editor

Born and raised in Queens, New York, where more languages are spoken than anywhere in the world, Grace Bastidas is Latina’s Deputy Editor. She oversees lifestyle content, including topics as diverse as career, health and relationships, and occasionally writes about her own experiences in The Good Life section. As a writer, Grace’s work has appeared in The New York TimesNew York magazine, The Wall Street Journal and Travel + Leisure. She is fluent in Spanish.

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