Chile is a pencil-thin country which stretches over 4,300km2 along South America’s southwestern coast, wedged between the Andes mountain range to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Chile is surrounded by Argentina, Peru, the South Pacific Ocean and the South Atlantic Ocean. It comprises three different regions: the Andes (the highest and rainiest part of the country, with vertiginous peaks of 6,000 metres), the Cordillera de la Costa (with its eroded plateau that descends down to the sea) and the Central Valley (the depression between the Andes and the Cordillera de la Costa). Chile is also home to small volcanic islands, including Easter Island, San Félix and Juan Fernández island. It has over 2,000 volcanoes, some 48 of which have erupted over the past century.
There are various climates in Chile: mild in the north, Mediterranean in the centre, coastal in the south, and chilly in the Andes. In the country’s capital, Santiago, the hottest month of the year is January, with an average temperature of 21ºC, dropping to around 9ºC in the coolest month (June).
Chile is perhaps best known for the mysterious Easter Island, with its 887 monuments called moais, created centuries ago by the Rapanui people. Easter island is also home to two volcanic craters and glistening beaches. Nature is one of Chile’s star attractions, as is evident from the popularity of the Lauca National Park in the Andean range, with its beautiful Chungará Lake, one of the highest in the world. Pucon, a small town with its imposing snow-capped volcano and serene lake, is another must-visit stie, while the Torres del Paine national park in the southern end of Patagonian Chile is a tranquil paradise with mountains, glaciers, and imposing granite peaks formed by glacial ice. Other-worldly desert landscapes such as Valle de la Luna (featuring sand dunes and moon-like stony shapes) inspire awe, as does the sapphire-hued San Rafael Glacier, which can be viewed from up-close from a boat.
Chile was home to the Incas way before the Spanish arrived and took control in the 16th century. The Mapuches lived in the south and centre of Chile prior to this country being colonised by the Spanish and to this day, there are over one million Mapuche people living in vast urban centres like Santiago, Concepción, Valparaíso, Temuco and Valdivia. Chile obtained its independence in 1810 and less than a hundred years later, the country became a popular settlement point for residents from a variety of countries, including France, Germany, the UK, Italy and China. In 1973, the elected Marxist government was ousted and fell under the rule of Augusto Pinochet for 16 years. The country returned to democratic government in 1989.
Since the climate and geography is so diverse in Chile, a wide variety of plant species thrive, including the slow-growing araucaria tree, the turquoise blue chagual, the carob tree and the Chilean bellflower (Chile’s scarlet-hued national flower). The larch, meanwhile, is a conifer that reaches a height of 50 metres and lives for thousands of years. The varied fauna of Chile includes furry alpacas, petite chinchillas, exotic colocolo (a wild cat) and the stunning kodkod (a tiny wild cat weighing just 2kg).
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