Before you buy your flight ticket, read our list of interesting facts about Chile. Chile is a land of complete opposites. Contrasts between hot and cold, wet and dry, low and high, city and nature, beaches and mountains, poor and rich. Everybody can fall in love with the southernmost country as Chile has a little bit of everything for all.
Interesting facts about Chile
NATURE OF CHILE
The longest and thinnest country
Chile is the world’s longest country from north to south. It looks like a giant noodle as it is more than 4000km long but only 170km wide on average. It has a great shape for travellers, road trips especially, as everything lies within a short distance from the main backbone road.
Really long coast
The coastline of Chile is fifth-longest in the world. More than 90% of the population lives within 100 km of the ocean. The total length of the coastline is about 20 times longer than the actual driving distance from north to south. The Northern coast is quite straight but the southern is very rugged.
Chile has the driest place on earth
The Atacama Desert is the driest place on earth thanks to the cloud shadow formed by The Andes. On average it rains only 15mm a year. For most of the year, there are no clouds which makes it the perfect place for night sky photography. Many observatories with extra-terrestrial radio signal search stations are located here.
Also, NASA uses the Valley of the Moon in the Atacama Desert for research, as the surface is similar to surface conditions on Mars.
A lot of volcanos
Chile has the second-longest chain of volcanoes in the world. There are more than 2000 volcanos across the country. Many of them create a borderline between Chile and Argentina or Bolivia. 36 of them are currently active. The most recent volcano eruption in Chile occurred just two years ago in 2015.
Volcanos were used as sacrifice sites during Inca times. With so much volcanic activity a lot of geothermal activity is related. Most famous are geysers in the Atacama Desert.
Tallest volcano on the planet
Ojos del Salado (in English Eyes of Salt) is the tallest volcano with an elevation of 6,887 meters. Funny thing is that nobody knows the exact elevation, as it was never properly measured. On this volcano, car enthusiasts try their luck with setting records for the highest elevation where you can get by car, truck or motorbike. The current record is 6,688 meters.
“Land of Fire”
The world’s southernmost group of islands is called Tierra del Fuego or “Land of Fire”. The name comes from the first explorers, as they sailed around this area and saw many bonfires that natives set up on the coast.
Puerto Williams – the southernmost city in the world
You heard about Ushuaia in Argentina as the end of the world. Well, when you arrive in the port and look south across the channel and see another city, you will feel disappointed. When you want to visit the actual place beyond the end of the world, visit Puerto Williams as this is the actual southernmost city in the world.
Patagonia is the cleanest place on earth
As the southern tip of South America is away from major transportation routes for planes and ships, the air in Patagonia has the best quality in the world. Also, the rainwater, rivers, glaciers, and soils have almost no pollutions compared to any other part of the world. Find out when is the best time to visit Patagonia to enjoy the best weather.
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Emerald blue Rio Baker
The largest river in Chilean Patagonia that flows from Northern Patagonian Icefield was proposed to be dammed. Luckily, locals fought back and protected this river with its current state. The upper part of Baker River might be the river with the most pristine coloured water in the world.
Chile is the 7th biggest producer of wine in the world. Thanks to the French immigrants who came during the 20th century, you can find Chilean wine on shelves in almost every country in the world. Different climates throughout the country allow growing most varieties of wine. Chile has developed a wine route within each wine region.
Largest open pit mine and largest copper mine
In the Atacama Desert, you can find the biggest open-pit mine in the world. Chuquicamata has been opened at the end of the 19th century to the commercial state as we know it. Locals extracted copper from the mine for centuries. Workers found the mummy of a miner who was trapped inside a shaft since 500 A.D. You can come and this giant hole on a tour.
Most drinkable water resources in the world
Patagonian icefields are the second biggest nonpolar resource of fresh water on the earth. The biggest one is in Alaska. Interesting thing is that in the Southern Patagonian Icefield, there is no defined border between Chile and Argentina for 50 km. This massive ice sheet covers underneath two volcanos and the tallest mountain of Chilean Patagonia, Monte San Valentin.
Salmon from Patagonia
Even Chile is now a “natural” habitat for salmon, their salmon production on farms is the second biggest in the world. When you visit Patagonia get some fresh salmon in the Aysen region. Even better conditions are in Punta Arenas area where salmon farming is more environmentally sustainable.
Coho salmon can be found in Patagonian rivers as some of them escaped from farms and found a new home. Fishing in Patagonia is widely popular.
WILDLIFE IN CHILE
Chilean national bird
Andean condor is widespread around South American Andes, but especially easy to spot within Chile. Andean condor is a Chilean national bird and the biggest bird that flies. We suggest visiting Patagonia where human activity didn’t destroy their natural habitat so much.
The tiniest deer
Northern Chilean Patagonia, especially Chiloe Island, is home to the tiniest species of deer. It’s called Pudu and is only big as a midsized dog. It is really shy therefore hard to spot in nature. They even have tiny antlers as regular deer.
Guanacos and pumas
Are you obsessed with funny-looking llamas as much as we are? Chile is home to both types of South American wild camelids (camelid is one word for types of llamas, guanacos, vicunas, and alpacas). In the Atacama Desert, you will find plenty of vicunas and in the south thousands of guanacos grazing meadows of Patagonia.
With a lot of food comes a lot of predators. Guanacos are the main source of food for pumas. Only in Torres del Paine National Park, 50 pumas prey guanacos. If you’re lucky, you might even spot pumas here.
Penguins and whales
Who wouldn’t want to see penguins in their natural habitat? Chile is the only mainland country apart from Antarctica that is home to the King penguin, the second biggest penguin. You can visit a colony of these lovely creatures and also walk with them.
The whole southern tip of Chile is home to marine wildlife, most penguin tours depart from Punta Arenas. You can see whales when taking a ferry in the Pacific Ocean.
HISTORY, PEOPLE AND CULTURE OF CHILE
Egyptian mummies are young
In the Atacama Desert in northern Chile, you can find the oldest mummies ever discovered. The oldest one is almost 9,000 years old. Compared to Egyptian mummies, Chilean mummies are older by 2,000 years.
Chinchorro people didn’t mummify only the richest ones as it was done in other parts of the world. They also carried mummies with them throughout their nomadic lives, so they didn’t lose contact with the dead.
Strongest earthquake recorded
The Chilean coast is part of the Ring of Fire (a line of volcanos and earthquakes around the Pacific Ocean) and you can feel it. Even people across the world felt it when the strongest earthquake ever recorded struck just west of port city Valdivia. It made massive 25 meters tall tsunami and killed a few thousand people across the Pacific.
We also experienced our very first earthquake in Chile. Be prepared to feel small shakes when you travel in Chile, as they have multiple quakes almost every day.
A bit of Europe in South America
Visiting cities in Chile will show you a lot of similarities with Europe. Before Panama Canal was opened the only route for Europeans to get to the West Coast of the Americas was to sail around the southern tip of South America.
Chile was pretty much halfway to Colombia or North America’s west coast. Therefore you can see the influence of British, Spanish and German throughout the whole of colonial Chile and Argentina.
Origin of name Patagonia
The most famous region of South America spreads between Chile and Argentina. The name Patagonia comes from the word Patagón, which in translation means “Land of the Bigfeet”. During the time of first explorations in this part of the world, European explorers found natives which were perhaps twice the size of average European.
Do you need a hand with moving?
Moving houses in Chiloe Island (locals call it “minga”) is a local tradition that occurs when somebody decides that he doesn’t want to live on the land that might be threatened by the sea or is “cursed”. The whole neighbourhood comes and helps to move your HOUSE, literally. The tradition started way before Europeans came. Nobody is getting paid for this job and all workers celebrate together after the job is done.
Salvador Allende was the first Marxist president that gained power within South America. He started nationalization in the 1970s, similar to Venezuela a few years back. Thanks to the American CIA-supported coup, Allende committed suicide and Augusto Pinochet gained the power to become a dictator in Chile.
As Americans kept the influence on the Chilean economy during the Pinochet dictatorship, they pushed to government offices group of Chilean nationals who studied in the US. This group of people was called Chicago boys as they studied right-wing economy under Milton Friedman.
Thanks to Chicago boys, Chile became the richest South American country, but also a country with really high inequality between rich and poor.
There are many dialects within South America and different Spanish pronunciations. What we found really funny in Chile is that “Ch” is pronounced as “Sh” or many omit to pronounce “s” when it’s at the end of the word. Then it is hard to determine if people talk about single or multiple items as the plural is made by adding “s” at the end of the word.
Developing national parks
Doug Tompkins, an American philanthropist, and businessman set up a foundation to protect Patagonia’s nature. Since 1990 he started purchasing land in southern Chile and Argentina to become the biggest private landowner in the world. Later he transformed this land into protected areas for conservancy purposes.
His foundation Tompkins Conservation recently donated this land to Chilean and Argentinean governments so they can create National Parks.
Patagonia and especially Tierra del Fuego is a place where Charles Darwin’s theory was created. When Darwin went on the second Beagle Voyage and met with local Yaghan people, he started to realize that people might evolve from more primitive organisms. You can still find the last descendants of the Yaghan people in Puerto Williams.
A few years later Darwin witnessed an earthquake “which creates mountains” in Concepción Chile when he saw how the shore was lifted after the quake by 3 meters. These events helped him realize how the earth was created.
The richest country in South America
Chile is the biggest producer of copper in the world and also has a lot of natural resources from pure water quality, a lot of forests and wildlife, but most importantly what is underneath the surface makes Chile the richest South American country – almost endless mineral resources in northern Chile.
Chileans don’t only have good wine; they also have good beer thanks to immigrants that brought their habits and skills with them. German settlers in southern Chile started to brew German-style beers in the late 19th century. Now you can even visit Chilean Octoberfest in Valdivia. Be prepared to hear yodellers during beer fests, just like in Germany.
The road through rural Patagonia
You can now take a road trip through Chilean Patagonia on Carretera Austral (Southern Highway) or Ruta 7. The road was only finished 17 years ago and was built to connect regions of Chile that never had road access. It starts in Puerto Montt and finishes in Villa O’Higgins. Don’t be surprised at the end of the road as it has a dead end.
Most secluded place on the planet
Mataveri International Airport on Rapa Nui (Easter Island) is the most secluded airport in the world. The closest airport is 3,800 km in Santiago in Chile. This airport was also a reserve airport for the NASA space program for the landing space shuttle.
The second biggest saltwater lagoon
San Alfonso del Mar used to be the world’s biggest pool. It is more than 1km long, up to 11m deep and even has its own man-made beach. It is so big that you can paddle a kayak or sail a small boat on it. In 2015, the pool lost its title to the even bigger lagoon in Egypt. Chile is famous for big swimming pools, it has 4 swimming pools in the top 10 world’s biggest swimming pools.
Valparaiso Seaport city
The historic Quarter of colonial city Valparaiso is a World Heritage site. This former very important port was a stop for ships exploring and supplying the west coast of the Americas before opening the Panama Canal in 1914. The well-preserved historical district gives you an insight into how it looked in the world 100 years ago at the beginning of international trade and globalization.
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