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Chile, country situated along the western seaboard of South America. It extends approximately 2,700 miles (4,300 km) from its boundary with Peru, at latitude 17°30 S, to the tip of South America at Cape Horn, latitude 56° S, a point only about 400 miles north of Antarctica. A long, narrow country, it has an average width of only about 110 miles, with a maximum of 217 miles at the latitude of Antofagasta and a minimum of 9.6 miles near Puerto Natales. It is bounded on the north by Peru and Bolivia, on its long eastern border by Argentina, and on the west by the Pacific Ocean. Chile exercises sovereignty over Easter Island, the Juan Fernandez Archipelago, and the volcanic islets of Sala y Gamez, San Felix, and San Ambrosio, all of which are located in the South Pacific. Chile also claims a 200-mile offshore limit. The capital is Santiago.
Chile’s relief is for the most part mountainous, with the Andes range dominating the landscape. Because of the country’s extreme length it has a wide variety of climates, from the coastal desert beginning in the tropical north to the cold subantarctic southern tip. Chile is also a land of extreme natural events: volcanic eruptions, violent earthquakes, and tsunamis originating along major faults of the ocean floor periodically beset the country. Fierce winter storms and flash floods alternate with severe summer droughts.
Much of northern Chile is desert; the central part of the country is a temperate region where the bulk of the population lives and where the larger cities, including Santiago, are located. South-central Chile, with a lake and forest region, is temperate, humid, and suitable for grain cultivation; and the southernmost third of the country, cut by deep fjords, is an inhospitable region—cold, wet, windy, and limited in resources. The economy of Chile is based on primary economic activities: agricultural production; copper, iron, and nitrate mining; and the exploitation of sea resources.
Chile exhibits many of the traits that typically characterize Latin American countries. It was colonized by Spain, and the culture that evolved was largely Spanish; the influence of the original Indian inhabitants is negligible. The people became largely mestizo, a blend of Spanish and Indian bloodlines. The society developed with a small elite controlling most of the land, the wealth, and the political life.
Chile did not, however, depend as heavily on agriculture and mining as did many Latin American countries, but rather developed an economy based on manufacturing as well. Thus, Chile has become one of the more urbanized Latin American societies, with a burgeoning middle class. Chile has also had a history of retaining representative democratic government. Except for a military junta that held power from September 1973 to March 1990, the country has been relatively free of the coups and constitutional suspensions common to many of its neighbours.
The major landforms of Chile are arranged as three parallel north–south units: the Andes mountains to the east; the intermediate depression, or longitudinal valley, in the centre; and the coastal ranges to the west. These landforms extend lengthwise through the five latitudinal geographic regions into which the country is customarily subdivided. From north to south, with approximate boundaries, these are Norte Grande (extending to 27° S); the north-central region, Norte Chico (27° to 33° S); the central region, Zona Central (33° to 38° S); the south-central region, La Frontera and the Lake District (38° to 42° S); and the extreme southern region, Sur (42° S to Cape Horn).
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