Information about Chile


General Information

The official name of our country is the Republic of Chile, capital Santiago.

Chile is more than 4 200 km long, a narrow strip of land between the Andes Mountains and the south-eastern coast of the Pacific Ocean, measuring 440 km at its widest point.

Chile is bordered by Peru to the north, Bolivia and Argentina to the east, the Pacific Ocean to the west and the South Pole to the south. It has many island territories in the Pacific Ocean, such as the Juan Fernandez Archipelago and Easter Island, located in Polynesia, overall totalling 756 950 km2. Chilean Antarctic territory is 1 250 000 km2.

The official language in Chile is Spanish and native languages are extensively used. Mapudungún is spoken by approximately 200 000 persons and Quechua by around 1 000, whereas Rapanui is only spoken by a few persons of Easter Island.

The official currency in Chile since 1975 is the Chilean Peso ($).

Territorial Organization

Chile is organized territorially as a Unitary State. State administration is functionally and territorially decentralized. Since 1979, Chile is politically divided into administrative regions, which are in turn subdivided into provinces, and these into townships. Each region has a name and is assigned a Roman numeral according to north-to-south location, with the exception of the Santiago Metropolitan Region.

Two new regions were created on 19 December 2006: the XV Region of Arica and Parinacota, with its capital in Arica, separating from the Region of Tarapacá; and the XIV Region of Los Ríos, with its capital in Valdivia, separating from the Region of Los Lagos.

XV Arica y Parinacota Arica 16.873,3 km² 187.348
I Tarapacá Iquique 42.225,8 km² 300.301
II Antofagasta Antofagasta 126.049,1 km² 561.604
III Atacama Copiapó 75.176,2 km² 276.480
IV Coquimbo La Serena 40.579,9 km² 698.018
V Valparaíso Valparaíso 16.396,1 km² 1.720.588
RM Metropolitana de Santiago Santiago 15.403,2 km² 6.745.651
VI Libertador General Bernardo O´Higgins Rancagua 16.387,0 km² 866.249
VII Maule Talca 30.296,1 km² 991.542
VIII Biobío Concepción 37.068,7 km² 2.009.549
IX La Araucanía Temuco 31.842,3 km² 953.835
XIV Los Ríos Valdivia 18.429,5 km² 376.704
X Los Lagos Puerto Montt 48.583,6 km² 815.395
XI Aisén del General Carlos Ibáñez del Campo Coyhaique 108.494,4 km² 102.632
XII Magallanes y de la Antártica Chilena (1) Punta Arenas 132.291,1 km² 157.574
TOTAL 756.096,3 km² 16.763.470

(1) Including the Chilean Antartic Territory, the surfaces reaches 1.382.291,1 km²


The Republic of Chile is unitary democratic State with a presidential regime, governed by the Political Constitution of the Republic of Chile.

The Executive Branch is headed by the President of the Republic. At present, this position is held by Sebastián Piñera Echeñique.

The Judicial Branch comprises courts, autonomous and independent, and the Supreme Court is the highest judicial body.

The Legislative Branch resides in the President of the Republic and National Congress, which is a two-chamber system comprising Senate and Chamber of Deputies. National Congress resides in the city of Valparaíso.


Chilean economy is internationally recognized as one of the most sound in the continent. Copper mining is the main commercial output, although there is also significant exploitation of other resources such as molybdenum, gold, and silver. Copper mining currently represents 30% of the country’s exports.

Mining is the main economic activity in the regions of Tarapacá, Antofagasta, and Atacama, and is also very significant in the regions of Coquimbo, Valparaíso, and Libertador Bernardo O’Higgins. In the Region of Magallanes, exploitation of oil is very important for domestic supply.

Main activities in the central and southern regions of the country are agriculture and cattle farming. Fruit and vegetable exports have reached historical highs by opening doors to European and Asian markets, including produce of forestry, fisheries, and crustacean industries. One example of this is that in recent years, Chile has become the number one exporter worldwide for salmon, after overtaking Norway in 2006, and also one of the most important players in the winemaking industry.

In addition, Chile has become a platform for foreign investment in other countries of Latin America, and many international corporations have started setting-up offices in Santiago. Chile also enjoys a significant presence in the services sector in Latin America.


Estimated population in 2010 is 17 094 275 inhabitants. According to the latest census of 2002, this figure was 15 116 435 inhabitants, 7 447 695 men and 7 668 740 women.

Chile is relatively homogeneous, in broad terms, its ethnic structure made up by 33% white or Caucasian, 62% mestizo in various degrees, and 5% indigenous. European contribution to the population comes essentially from Spain and, to a lesser extent from various immigrations by Germans, English, Italians, and Croatians, also including Palestinian and Israeli descendants.

According to the 2002 Census, 4.6% of the Chilean population ―692 192 individuals― claimed to be indigenous and belonging to one of the eight ethnic groups recognized by current

Belonging to indigenous people (2002)
Aimara 48.501 0,32% Mapuche 604.349 4,00%
Atacameño 21.015 0,14% Quechua 6.175 0,04%
Kawésqar 2.622 0,02% Rapa Nui 4.647 0,03%
Kolla 3.198 0,02% Yagán 1.685 0,01%

Chile is more than 4 200 km long, a narrow strip of land between the south-eastern rim of the Pacific Ocean and the Andes Mountains. Its widest point is 440 km at parallel 52°21’S and the narrowest is 90 km at 31º37′S. It extends along a highly seismic and volcanic zone belonging to the Pacific Ring of Fire, due to the Nazca Plate being subducted beneath the Southamerican Plate.

Chilean relief comprises an intermediary depression that crosses the country longitudinally, flanked by two mountain ranges: the Andes Mountain Range to the east, natural boundary with Bolivia and Argentina, its highest peak being the Nevado Ojos del Salado at 6 893 masl, making it the most active volcano in the world, and the Coastal Range to the west, not as high as the Andes.

The Greater North is the area lying between the northern border of the country and parallel 26°S, spanning the first three regions of the country. It is characterized by the presence of the Atacama Desert, the driest in the world. The desert is crossed by gullies and ravines that give rise to places known as the Pampa del Tamarugal. The Coastal Range is massive and cuts-off abruptly forming the Farellón Costero or Coastal Cliff, which replaces the almost absent coastal plains. The Andes Mountains, which splits into two, with its eastern branch reaching into Bolivia, is of extremely high altitude and major volcanic activity, allowing formation of the Andean Altiplano and saline structures such as the Salar de Atacama, due to the accumulation of sediment over many years.

Further south is the Norte Chico or Little North, extending as far as the Río Aconcagua. The Andes begin dropping in altitude towards the south and move closer to the coast, shortening the distance to 95 km at the height of Illapel, the narrowest part of Chilean territory. The two mountain ranges begin to merge, practically deleting the intermediary valley. Rivers crossing the land form transverse valleys, where major agricultural development has taken place in recent years, and the coastal plains begin to widen.

The Central Valley is the most inhabited area in the country. Coastal plains are wide and have allowed cities and ports to form alongside the Pacific, as the Coastal Range drops in altitude. The Andes remains at more than 6 000 masl and gradually drops closer to 4 000 masl on average. The intermediary valley reappears, becoming a fertile valley ideal for agricultural development and human settlements due to the accumulation of sediment. Further south, the Coastal Range reappears with the Nahuelbuta Range, and glacier sediments give rise to a series of lakes in the area of La Frontera.

The south of Chile extends from Bio-Bio as far as the island of Chiloé. Here the valley between the Andes and Coastal range approaches sea level and the many rivers coming down from the Andes form lakes, some very large in size, as the altitude drops. These lakes are in turn affluent of other rivers that lead to the sea, some being the only navigable rivers in the country. The lakes in this region are incredibly beautiful. The always snowy peaks of the Andes are a splendid backdrop to lake scenery of blue and even emerald waters, such as the Lago de Todos los Santos. Rivers coming down from the Andes run through volcanic rocks, forming sections with many rapids and waterfalls.

Patagonia extends south from Seno de Reloncaví, parallel 41ºS. During the last glaciation, this area was covered by ice, which greatly eroded Chilean relief. As a result, the intermediary depression sinks into the sea, and the Coastal Range gives rise to a series of archipelagos such as Chiloé and Chonos, until it finally disappears at the Taitao Peninsula, at parallel 47ºS. The Andes Mountains become lower and erosion by glaciers forms fiords. Finally, in the Patagonian Andes there are great masses of ice known as Ice Fields, which are the greatest water reserves in the Southern Hemisphere with the exception of Antarctica. Great flatlands extend to the east of the Andes, especially close to the Straits of Magellan and throughout Tierra del Fuego.

Same as the Coastal Range, the Andes Mountains begin to decline into the ocean, giving rise to numerous islands and islets until they disappear totally, sinking into the sea, and reappearing in the South Sandwich Island Arc of the Southern Antilles and then the Antarctic Peninsula, where it is known as the Antartandes, in Chilean Antarctic Territory, from meridian 53ºW to 90ºW.

In the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Chile has sovereignty over various islands known as Insular Chile, including the Juan Fernández Archipelago and Easter Island. These islands are of volcanic origin as they are located in fracture zones between the Nazca Plate and the Pacific Plate, known as the East Pacific Rise.


The length of the country is the main factor explaining the great variety of its climates. The North is dry, desert, and hot in summer. The central zone (from La Serena as far as Concepción) has a Mediterranean climate with 4 seasons. The south has a rainy oceanic climate, humid and cold in winter.

Climate Graph of some zones in Chile
Arica Isla de Pascua Santiago Valdivia Punta Arenas Villa Las Estrellas
Desert Climate Subtropical Climate Mediterranean Climate Oceanic Climate Cold Steppe Climate Polar Climate
Flora and Fauna

Chile’s climate and relief condition the development of life and the formation of different ecosystems.

The Northern zone of the country is characterized by its scarce vegetation due to the extremely arid Atacama Desert and absence of rainfall. Trees such as algarrobo (Prosopis chilensis), chañar (Geoffroea decorticans), pimiento (Schinus molle), and tamarugo (Prosopis tamarugo), together with various species of cacti, are the few plant species able to adapt to these harsh climate conditions. Vegetation increases in the Altiplano, highlighting queñoa (Polylepis tarapacana) and yareta (Azorella compacta), and also various species of birds, including flamingos.

The main fauna in this area belongs to the Auchenid family, including alpaca, guanaco (Lama guanicoe), llama, and vicuña, together with other smaller-sized species such as chinchilla and vizcacha, whereas altiplanic lagoons are inhabited by flamingos. The flagship species throughout the Andes Mountains is the Andes Condor, symbol of Chile in its national coat-of-arms.

Vegetation becomes more abundant south of the Atacama and Coquimbo regions. In the coastal areas of Talinay and Fray Jorge there are residual forests of the Valdivia rainforest type, with Mediterranean climate species such as boldo (Peumus boldus), espino (Acacia caven), and quillay (Quillaja saponaria). Typical fauna include Chinchilla (Chinchilla lanigera) and vizcacha (Lagidium Viscacia).

Chilean centre-north is the area known as sclerophyllous forest, a plant formation greatly degraded by fires, coal manufacturing, use of soil for agriculture, and the expansion of major urban centres. Some characteristic plant species in the central valley include arrayan (Myrtaceae or myrtle family), boldo, espino, litre (Lithrea caustica), maitén (Maytenus boaria), matico (Buddleja globosa), Chilean palm (Juabaea chilensis), quillay, and oak (Nothofagus obliqua), among others. Coypu (Myocastor coypus), degu (Octodon degus), puma (puma concolor), culpeo fox (Lycalopex culpaeus), bandurria (Theristicus), diuca-finch (Diuca diuca), burrowing parrot (Cyanoliseus patagonus bloxami), Southern Lapwing (Vanellus chilensis), and Thrush (Turdus falcklandizorzal) are some of the native fauna of this zone.

To the south of Río Biobío, vegetation becomes thicker, turning into the so-called Valdivia rainforest. Some typical plant species are the copihue (Lapageria rosea) (national flower), murtilla (Ugni molinae Turcz.), various ferns and trees such as alerce (Fitzroya cupressoides) and araucaria (Araucaria araucana), both endangered species; avellano (Contorta Corylus), laurel (Laurus nobilis), luma (Amomyrtus luma), various species of mañío (Podocarpaceae family), tepa (Laureliopsis philippiana), and tineo (Weinmannia trichosperma). The puma is the main carnivore in this area. Other typical animal species are swans, Pampas cat (Lynchailurus Colocol), monito del monte (Dromiciops gliroides), and the pudú (Pudu puda).

In the two most southern regions of the country there are major extensions of evergreen forests, similar to the Valdivia rainforest type, although with less tree species, highlighting the ciprés de las guaitecas (Pilgerodendron uviferum) due to its commercial value and today very difficult to find. Towards the interior there are deciduous forests, mostly lenga (Nothofagus pumilio) and, further east, major hard-grass steppe formations inhabited by guanaco, ñandú (Rhea americana), piche (Euphractus pichiy), peludos (Chaetophractus villosus), puma, fox, and so on. The huemul (Hippocamelus bisulcus), pictured in the Chilean coat-of-arms and that in ancient times inhabited a large part of the country, survives here only in areas that are difficult to access.

Finally, in the southernmost part of this zone, vegetation is restricted to a few stunted trees such as canelo (Drimys winteri), coigüe de Magallanes (Nothofagus betuloides), and ñirre (Nothofagus Antarctica), and various shrub and grass species, lichen and moss.

The Antarctic Territory is mostly covered by permanent ice, and hence its plant diversity is limited to a few species of lichen and moss. However, fauna in coastal areas is of exceptional value and wealth.


Chilean gastronomy comes from the mix of Spanish colonial gastronomy and food of Inca and Mapuche origin, as well as some European influence. Main ingredients of traditional Chilean cooking are those available locally, such as corn, potatoes, and tomatoes, among others. Beef and lamb are also important ingredients in the south of the country, whereas seafood is a key ingredient in coastal areas.

Most traditional Chilean dishes include anticuchos (diced meats on a skewer), carbonada (minced stew), cazuela (chunky stew), charquicán (vegetable stew), curanto (stewed fish and seafood), empanadas de pino (meat pastries), humitas (corn wraps), and pastel de choclo (corn pie).

Chilean wine is the most important alcoholic drink, mainly the internationally famous Cabernet Sauvignon, Carménière, and Merlot varieties. Other alcoholic beverages are chicha (fermented juice) and Chilean Pisco (liquor), also produced from grapes.

abeledo thomson UDD Universidad de Los Andes UDP Mutual