Location: Southern South America, bordering the South Atlantic
Ocean and South Pacific Ocean, between Argentina and Peru
Geographic coordinates: 30 00 S, 71 00 W
Map references: South America
total: 756,950 sq km
land: 748,800 sq km
water: 8,150 sq km
note: includes Easter Island (Isla de Pascua) and Isla Sala
Area - comparative: slightly smaller than twice the size
total: 6,171 km
border countries: Argentina 5,150 km, Bolivia 861 km, Peru
Coastline: 6,435 km
contiguous zone: 24 nm
continental shelf: 200/350 nm
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
territorial sea: 12 nm
Climate: temperate; desert in north; Mediterranean in central
region; cool and damp in south
Terrain: low coastal mountains; fertile central valley;
rugged Andes in east
lowest point: Pacific Ocean 0 m
highest point: Cerro Aconcagua 6,962 m
Natural resources: copper, timber, iron ore, nitrates, precious
metals, molybdenum, hydropower
arable land: 5%
permanent crops: 0%
permanent pastures: 18%
forests and woodland: 22%
other: 55% (1993 est.)
Irrigated land: 12,650 sq km (1993 est.)
Natural hazards: severe earthquakes; active volcanism; tsunamis
Environment - current issues: air pollution from industrial
and vehicle emissions; water pollution from raw sewage
Environment - international agreements:
party to: Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic Treaty,
Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species,
Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine
Dumping, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution,
signed, but not ratified: Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol
Geography - note: strategic location relative to sea lanes
between Atlantic and Pacific Oceans (Strait of Magellan, Beagle
Channel, Drake Passage); Atacama Desert is one of world's driest
Chile is 2,705 mi/4,329 km long (about the distance in the U.S.
from San Diego, California, to Charleston, South Carolina), but
averages only 100 mi/160 km in width. Desert dominates the north,
tundra the south. The center has many fertile valleys and lovely
The nation's coastline is indented by many bays and fjords, while
the eastern regions terminate in the Andes Mountains. Some people
associate all of South America with the Amazon jungle and heat,
but there is no jungle in Chile-in fact, much of the land can be
Seasons are well defined. Spring between September and November
has mild temperatures, which contribute to the flourishing greenness
of plants and trees.
Summer, between December and February, is dry and hot with temperatures
that can reach above 30°C (87º F) and at night it cools down slightly,
however in the seaside this temperature drop can be more notorious.
Autumn is between March and May, and temperatures decrease gradually.
Winter has cold mornings down to -2º C ( 28º F) and temperature
rises at midday but always below 15°C ( 60º F).
Chile is a long, narrow country on the west coast of South America.
It is over 10 times as long as it is wide and stretches about 4,265
kilometres from Peru in the north to the southern tip of the continent.
Of the South American republics, only Ecuador, Paraguay, and Uruguay
are smaller in area than Chile.
Chile's name probably comes from chilli, a native word meaning where
the land ends
A three-year-old Marxist government was overthrown in 1973 by a
dictatorial military regime led by Augusto PINOCHET, which ruled
until a freely elected president was installed in 1990.
Sound economic policies, first implemented by the PINOCHET dictatorship,
led to unprecedented growth in 1991-97 and have helped secure the
country's commitment to democratic and representative government.
Growth slowed in 1998-99, but will likely recover in 2000.
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
Coastline: 6,435 kilometers (continental Chile).
Maritime Claims: Contiguous zone: twenty-four
nautical miles; continental shelf: 200 nautical miles; exclusive
economic zone: 200 nautical miles; territorial sea: twelve nautical
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,
Principal Lakes: Del Toro, General Carrera, Llanquihue,
Puyehue, Ranco, Rupanco, Sarmiento, Villarrica.
Data as of March 1994
A Long, Narrow Nation
In a classic book on the natural setting and people of Chile, Benjamín
Subercaseaux Zañartu, a Chilean writer, describes the country's
geography as loca (crazy). The book's English translator
renders this term as "extravagant." Whether crazy or extravagant,
there is little question that Chile's territorial shape is certainly
among the world's most unusual. From north to south, Chile extends
4,270 kilometers, and yet it only averages 177 kilometers east to
west. On a map, Chile looks like a long ribbon reaching from the
middle of South America's west coast straight down to the southern
tip of the continent, where it curves slightly eastward. Cape Horn,
the southernmost point in the Americas, where the Pacific and Atlantic
oceans turbulently meet, is Chilean territory. Chile's northern
neighbors are Peru and Bolivia, and its border with Argentina to
the east, at 5,150 kilometers, is one of the world's longest .
Chile's shape was determined by the fact that it began as a Spanish
settlement on the western side of the mighty cordillera of the Andes,
in the central part of the country. This range, which includes the
two tallest peaks in the Americas--Aconcagua (6,959 meters) and
Nevado Ojos del Salado (6,880 meters)--is a formidable barrier,
whose passes to the Argentine side are covered by a heavy blanket
of snow during the winter months. As a result, Chile could expand
beyond its original colonial territory only to the south and north.
The colony grew southward by occupying lands populated by indigenous
groups, and it grew northward by occupying sections of both Peru
and Bolivia that were eventually awarded to Chile in the aftermath
of the War of the Pacific (1879-83).
The northern two-thirds of Chile lie on top of the telluric Nazca
Plate, which, moving eastward about ten centimeters a year, is forcing
its way under the continental plate of South America. This movement
has resulted in the formation of the Peru-Chile Trench, which lies
beyond a narrow band of coastal waters off the northern two-thirds
of the country. The trench is about 150 kilometers wide and averages
about 5,000 meters in depth. At its deepest point, just north of
the port of Antofagasta, it plunges to 8,066 meters. Although the
ocean's surface obscures this fact, most of Chile lies at the edge
of a profound precipice.
The same telluric displacements that created the Peru-Chile Trench
make the country highly prone to earthquakes. During the twentieth
century, Chile has been struck by twenty-eight major earthquakes,
all with a force greater than 6.9 on the Richter
scale (see Glossary). The strongest of these occurred in 1906
(registering an estimated 8.4 on the Richter scale) and in 1960
(reaching 8.75). This latter earthquake occurred on May 22, the
day after another major quake measuring 7.25 on the Richter scale,
and covered an extensive section of south-central Chile. It caused
a tidal wave that decimated several fishing villages in the south
and raised or lowered sections of the coast as much as two meters.
The clash between the earth's surface plates has also generated
the Andes, a geologically young mountain range that, in Chilean
territory alone, includes about 620 volcanoes, many of them active.
Almost sixty of these had erupted in the twentieth century by the
early 1990s. More than half of Chile's land surface is volcanic
About 80 percent of the land in Chile is made up of mountains of
some form or other. Most Chileans live near or on these mountains.
The majestically snowcapped Andes and their precordillera elevations
provide an ever-present backdrop to much of the scenery, but there
are other, albeit less formidable, mountains as well. Although they
seemingly can appear anywhere, the non-Andean mountains usually
form part of transverse and coastal ranges. The former, located
most characteristically in the near north and the far north natural
regions, extend with various shapes from the Andes to the ocean,
creating valleys with an east-west direction. The latter are evident
mainly in the center of the country and create what is commonly
called the Central Valley (Valle Central) between them and the Andes.
In the far south, the Central Valley runs into the ocean's waters.
At this location, the higher elevations of the coastal range facing
the Andes become a multiplicity of islands, forming an intricate
labyrinth of channels and fjords that have been an enduring challenge
to maritime navigators.
Much of Chile's coastline is rugged, with surf that seems to explode
against the rocks lying at the feet of high bluffs. This collision
of land and sea gives way every so often to lovely beaches of various
lengths, some of them encased by the bluffs. The Humboldt current,
which originates northwest of the Antarctic Peninsula (which just
into the Bellingshausen Sea) and runs the full length of the Chilean
coast, makes the water frigid. Swimming at Chile's popular beaches
in the central part of the country, where the water gets no warmer
than 15° C in the summer, requires more than a bit of fortitude.
Chilean territory extends as far west as Polynesia. The best known
of Chile's Pacific Islands is Easter Island (Isla de Pascua, also
known by its Polynesian name of Rapa Nui), with a population of
2,800 people. Located 3,600 kilometers west of Chile's mainland
port of Caldera, just below the Tropic of Capricorn, Easter Island
provides Chile a gateway to the Pacific. It is noted for its 867
monoliths (Moais), which are huge (up to twenty meters high) and
mysterious, expressionless faces sculpted of volcanic stone (see
fig. 5). The Islas Juan Fernández,
located 587 kilometers west of Valparaíso, are the locale of a small
fishing settlement. They are famous for their lobster and the fact
that one of the islands, Isla Robinson Crusoe, is where Alexander
Selkirk, the inspiration for Daniel Defoe's novel, was marooned
for about four years.
Data as of March 1994