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Chile is a country of startling contrasts and extreme beauty, with attractions ranging from the towering volcanic peaks of the Andes to the ancient forests of the Lake District. There are a multitude of very good parks here, and plenty of opportunities for fine adventure travel. Chile is justly famous as the location of Torres del Paine, considered by many to be the finest nature travel destinations in all of South America.

Resting on an inland plain with the Andes glimmering in the distance, Santiago, the capital of Chile, is a city that seems destined for growth. The Mapuche destroyed it in 1541, only six months after Pedro de Valdivia founded it, but soon the Spanish were back and building it up again. Today, it is one of the most modern cities on the continent, home to nearly 5 million inhabitants--over a third of all Chileans.  The city is the fifth largest in South America and Chile's center of commerce.


Location, Geography, Climate

For anyone who has ever been fascinated by geography, the long, impossibly thin line of Chile has always produced a tiny moment of astonishment. Chile stretches over 4,300 km (2,700 mi) along the southwestern coast of South America, a distance roughly the same as that from San Francisco to New York, or Edinburgh to Baghdad. It borders Peru to the north, Bolivia to the northeast, Argentina to the east, and the Drake Passage at the country's southernmost tip. It is one of only two countries in South America that does not have a border with Brazil. Chilean territory extends to the Pacific Ocean which includes the overseas territories of Juan Fernández Islands, the Salas y Gómez islands, the Desventuradas Islands and Easter Island located in Polynesia. At the same time, its width never exceeds 240 km (150 mi), making the country more than eighteen times longer than its widest point.

The most obvious factor in Chile's remarkable slenderness is the massive, virtually impassable wall of the Andes, a mountain range that is still rising and that contains more than fifty active volcanic peaks. The western border is of course the Pacific Ocean, but it is a misconception to picture Chile as nothing more than the steep western slope of the Andean peaks. All along its length Chile is marked by a narrow depression between the mountains and the sea. To the north the land rises and becomes more arid, until one reaches the forbidding Atacama Desert, one of the most inhospitable regions on earth.  To the south just the opposite transformation takes place: the land falls away, and the region between mountains and ocean fades into the baffling archipelagic maze that terminates in Chilean Patagonia. Chile's southern extremity is marked by Cape Horn, a treacherous headland surrounded by almost continuously storm-tossed seas and passable only through the foggy stillness of the Strait of Magellan.

In the center of the country, however, is a long and expansive river valley, a five hundred mile corridor occupied in the north by vineyards and great farms and in the south by primeval forests and enchanting lakes. Santiago, the capital, anchors the northern and more prosperous section of the central valley. The lush Lake District to the south, however, is the homeland of Chile's indigenous peoples, the Araucanians.

Also part of Chile is two notable Pacific possessions: the Juan Fernandez Islands and the famous Easter Island, both of which are administered as national parks. The Juan Fernandez Islands are located about 670 km off the Chilean coast, while Easter Island is situated 3700 km away.

Chile's climate is as diverse as its geography. Aside from the obviously extreme climatic conditions of the Andes and the Atacama, however, the country enjoys a comfortable temperate climate. 


History & Culture

Prior to the coming of the Spanish in the 16th century, northern Chile was under Inca rule while the indigenous Araucanians (also known as Mapuches) inhabited central and southern Chile. Although Chile declared its independence in 1810, decisive victory over the Spanish was not achieved until 1818. In the War of the Pacific (1879-83), Chile defeated Peru and Bolivia and won its present northern regions. It was not until the 1880s that the Araucanian Indians were completely subjugated. The country, which had been relatively free of the coups and arbitrary governments that blighted the South American continent, endured a 17 year military dictatorship (1973-1990), one of the bloodiest in 20th-century Latin America that left more than 3,000 people dead and missing.

Chile's population is composed predominantly of mestizos, who are descended from marriage between the Spanish colonizers and the indigenous people. The surviving indigenous groups consist of the Aymara, in the north, and the Mapuche, who number roughly 100,000 and continue to inhabit the forested areas of the Lake District. Chile is also home to a number of significant immigrant groups, including minority populations from virtually every European country. There are significant numbers of Basques and Palestinians. The high proportion of mestizos among Chile's people has made race a minor issue in comparison to class, which continues to be a source of considerable tension. The great majority of Chile's people, as one might expect, are concentrated in the central valley. Spanish is the country's official language, but some of the Indian dialects remain. In the north, they speak Aymara, in the south Mapuche, and on Easter Island the Polynesian language of Rapa Nui.


The Lake District

South of Chile's Biobio River begins a land where earth and water play liberally together, producing visions of startling natural beauty. Known as the Lake District, it is a region where azure, mirrored lakes hold the reflections of ice-capped volcanoes, ancient trees and, of course, the indomitable Andes. It is little wonder that the Mapuche Indians fought the Incas and the Spanish back across the Biobio during the 15th and 16th centuries: such a land would be hard to surrender.

There are twelve principal lakes in the district, though dozens more fill the gaps and valleys between the main waters. Many are joined by rivers and streams, which along with the lakes offer some of Chile's best freshwater fishing. Six volcanoes run through the district from north to south, the highest being Villarica at 2,847 meters. The Lake District is also an ideal embarkation point for Argentina: the region has four passes that lead through the Andes.


Why Chile?

Because of its contrasts and diversity
With more than 2500 miles in length, Chile is a country which reveals many environmental contrasts, offering something for everyone any time of the year. From the peaceful desert in the north – the driest in the world - to the lush Pantagonian rain forest in the South, from icy untouched glaciers to steamy volcanic hot springs, from the world’s most southern ocean to the highest mountain in the Americas. One can even enjoy the spectacular sight of an autumn vineyard glowing red at the foothills of snowcapped Andes under a pristine sky.

Because of it’s cultural heritage
Discover the ancient cultures of Chile’s native communities such as the Incas, Atacamenos, Mapuches, Selknams and Pascuenses. Admire the rich colonial architecture, listen to traditional songs, and then compare them with modern Chile. You will appreciate how strong and different this country’s cultural experience can be.

Because it is safe
Feel comfortable in one of the safest countries in the world. Chile is not only politically and economically stable; it is also free from poisonous animals and insects. Its friendly people will make you feel welcomed and instantly at home with their kindness.

Because of it’s untouched nature
Immerse yourself in one of the wildest unexplored corners of the planet. Live the experience of walking where on one has ever been before.

Because of the sense of Discovery
Live an unforgettable experience. Let all of your senses discover this exotic land hidden away in the most southern tip of the world.


General Information

Entry Requirements
A valid passport and tourist visa required. Note: legal requirements can sometimes be complex in Chile, particularly for non-Spanish speakers. Whenever you fill out any form in Chile, make sure you get a copy of what you have completed. In every case, be sure to take all legally-issued documents with you when applying for visas, permits or other official certificates.

Local currency is the Chilean Peso. As of this writing, the exchange was about 451 pesos per 1USD.

A 10 percent tip is required at restaurants.

Businesses typically open at 8am. Shops close at noon until 3 or 4pm, then reopen until 8 or 9pm. Banks are open only in the mornings.

Time Zones
There is only one time zone in Chile.

Spanish is the national language.