CHILE

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.

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.

maipocanyon.jpg (23104 bytes)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 are 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 distant.

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

People

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 signifcant 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.

Climate

The climate of Chile comprises a wide range of weather conditions across a large geographic scale, extending across 38 degrees in latitude, making generalisations difficult. According to the Koppen system, Chile within its borders hosts at least seven major climatic subtypes, ranging from desert in the north, to alpine tundra and glaciers in the east and south east, humid subtropical in Easter Island, Oceanic in the south and mediterranean climate in central Chile. There are four seasons in most of the country: summer (December to February), autumn (March to May), winter (June to August), and spring (September to November).