Chile is a very long, thin country that is located in the extreme southwest of South America. The closest neighbors include Argentina to the east, and Bolivia and Peru to the north. The entire country at its widest point is only about 300 miles wide, yet to travel its 2,500 mile length would be about equal to going from the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula to Ketchikan, Alaska. If you stop to think about the wide variety of climates and land between Baja and Alaska, the fact that such geographic diversity could exist in a single country is quite amazing.
Chile is as geographically isolated as it is diverse. To the south, Chile reaches into the cold and inhospitable Antarctic zone. To the west, the shores are pounded by hundreds of miles of the great Pacific Ocean. In the north, Chile is home to the Atacama Desert, one of the most arid lands in the world. Finally, to the east, the huge Andes mountain range runs nearly the entire length of the country. Because of such isolation and challenging land forms, Chile has become of a country of people who are strong, proud, and extremely innovative.
The population of Chile is approximately 13.5 million people. Of these, 80% live in Chile's urban areas, with nearly half living in the Santiago/Metropolitan Region. This high concentration of people in cities has caused a variety of social and environmental concerns including water contamination, air pollution, a lack of power for energy, and a shortage of jobs. At the same time, however, Chile is making slow but steady strides in the direction on improved environmental regulation, public transportation, and conservation of natural resources.
Although Chile has been through some difficult economic times, today it is considered by many to be the "economic jaguar" of Latin America. Major industries include mining, agriculture, tourism, and a very strong coastal fishing industry. This topic is discussed in greater detail in the "economy" section. The monetary unit of Chile is the peso. The official language of Chile is Spanish, or "Castellano". The dialect is rapid and distinct, with many letters such as D's, S's, and G's often entirely disappearing. For foreigners attempting to learn Spanish, this creates quite a challenge. If you can learn to understand the Chileans, however, you can understand just about any Spanish speaker you may encounter.
In the spirit of the great geographic diversity of the nation, the people of Chile are made up by a variety of races and nationalities including Spanish, English, German, Italian, and Asian. There are also indigenous groups including the Aymara in the north, and the Mapuche in the south.
Size: 756,950 square kilometers (nearly twice the size of California); land area: 748,800 square kilometers, including Easter Island (Isla de Pascua; 118 square kilometers), Islas Juan Fernández (179 square kilometers), and Isla Sala y Gómez, but excluding claimed Chilean Antarctic Territory (Territorio Chileno Antártico), which covers 1,249,675 square kilometers (not recognized by the United States).
Coastline: 6,435 kilometers (continental Chile).
Maritime Claims: Contiguous zone: twenty-four nautical miles; continental shelf: 200nautical miles; exclusive economic zone: 200 nautical miles; territorial sea: twelve nautical miles.
Disputes: Bolivia has sought a sovereign corridor to Pacific Ocean since ceding Antofagasta to Chile in 1883; Río Lauca water rights in dispute between Bolivia and Chile; short section of southern boundary with Argentina is indefinite; Lago del Desierto (Desert Lake) region under international arbitration as a result of a border conflict between Argentina and Chile; Chile's territorial claim in Antarctica partially overlaps Argentina's claim.
Topography and Climate: One of narrowest countries in the world, averaging 177 kilometers wide (ninety kilometers wide at its thinnest point in the south and 380 kilometers across at its widest point in the north). Rugged Andes Mountains run down eastern side of country. Cordillera Domeyko (Domeyko mountain chain) in northern part of country runs along the coast parallel to the Andes. Five north-to-south natural regions: desert far north (Norte Grande), consisting of dry brown hills and sparse vegetation and containing extremely arid Atacama Desert and Andean plateau; near north (Norte Chico), a semiarid region between Río Copiapó and Santiago; Central Chile (Chile Central), most densely populated region, including three largest metropolitan areas--Santiago, Valparaíso, and Concepción--and the fertile Central Valley (Valle Central), with a temperate, Mediterranean climate; heavily forested south (Sur de Chile), south of Río Bío-Bío, containing cool and very rainy (especially during winter) lake district and crisscrossed by hundreds of rivers; far south (Chile Austral), sparsely populated, forested, constantly cold and stormy, with many fjords, inlets, twisting peninsulas, and islands. Land use: 7 percent arable (of which 29 percent irrigated), 16 percent meadows and pasture, 21 percent forest and woodland, 15 percent other, including 1 percent irrigated. Temperate rain forest totals 14,164,045 hectares. Annual rate of deforestation (1981-85): 0.7 percent. Nearly 607,030 hectares clear-cut (stripped of all trees) since 1978. Seasons: spring--September 21 to December 20; summer--December 21 to March 20; autumn--March 21 to June 20; winter--June 21 to September 20.
Principal Rivers: Aconcagua, Baker, Bío-Bío, Imperial, Loa (Chile's longest at about 483 kilometers), Maipo, Maule, Palena, Toltén, Valdivia.
Principal Lakes: Del Toro, General
Carrera, Llanquihue, Puyehue, Ranco, Rupanco, Sarmiento, Villarrica.
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