Chile Country Facts

Capital city Santiago
Surface 756,950 km²
Population 17,574,000
Road network length 82,134 km
Length of highway network 2,255 km
First highway 1971
Motorway name autopista
Traffic drives Right
License plate code RCH

Chile (Spanish: República de Chile) is a country in South America. The country has 17 million inhabitants and is approximately 19 times the size of the Netherlands. The capital is Santiago.


Chile is an elongated country that stretches 4,200 kilometers from north to south but is only 150 to 250 kilometers wide between the Andes and the Pacific Ocean. The country borders Peru, Bolivia and Argentina. The border between Chile and Argentina is the longest border in South America and the third longest in the world, measuring 5,150 kilometers.

Because of the enormous distances between north and south, Chile has a very varied landscape. The country is often divided into five zones. The far north is formed by the mountainous Atacama Desert, where the border area with Bolivia and northern Argentina belongs to the Altiplano, a high plateau. This area has very high mountains with peaks from 5,000 to more than 6,000 meters, but does not include the highest mountain in Chile. Chile’s coastal strip is narrow to virtually non-existent, with mountains rising steeply out of the sea.

The northern zone, which lies south of the “Norte Grande”, also includes desert terrain and Chile’s highest mountain, the 6,893 meter high volcano Ojos del Salado. This is the second highest mountain in the Western Hemisphere. Although the mountains in the Norte Grande and Norte regions are high, there is little snow due to the dry climate. The snow line here is mostly at 5,500 to 5,700 meters above sea level, so only the highest peaks are covered with snow.

The desert landscape changes southwards into a greener and more cultivated landscape, from the north to the central zone. This area remains mountainous to the coast north of the capital Santiago. Most of Chile’s major cities are located in the central zone, including the capital Santiago and the coastal city of Valparaíso. This area is a productive agricultural area in the lower parts. South of the capital Santiago are large valleys in the interior, here the mountains are not as continuous as in the northern half of Chile.

The southern zone (Zona Sur) has an increasingly temperate climate, with a green landscape and gradually increasing precipitation. The mountains in the border area with Argentina are a lot lower in this part, often less than 2,000 meters, except for several volcanoes that rise above the other mountains. The volcanoes are permanently covered with snow. The Zona Sur runs up to the Chacao Canal near Puerto Montt. This is the southernmost part of Chile that is still widely cultivated with agricultural areas, towns and cities.

The southernmost part of Chile is called the Zona Austral, a very large area that measures over 1,500 kilometers from north to south. This is an inaccessible wilderness of forests, mountains, glaciers and fjords. It has the most spectacular scenery in Chile but is inaccessible. This is the Chilean part of Patagonia, the mountains get lower towards the south, from 4,000 to 1,500 meters and large parts of the mountain areas are glaciated. There are only a few places in the Zona Austral. The village of Villa O’Higgins is the southernmost part of Chile that can be reached by road from the rest of the country. Places further south can only be reached from Argentina. The southernmost part of the Zona Austral is the island of Tierra del Fuego, of which Chile occupies the southernmost part. This is a complex mountain range with numerous fjords, islands and glaciers. There are almost no places in this part of Chile.

In the Pacific Ocean, some islands also belong to Chile. These are the Juan Fernández archipelago, 650 kilometers west of Chile, but more famously Rapa Nui, or Easter Island, which lies 3,600 kilometers west of Chile. This is one of the most remote islands in the world. The islands in the Pacific Ocean are governed as part of the Valparaíso Region.


City Population (2017)
Santiago 6.310.000
Puente Alto 574,000
Maipu 468,000
Antofagasta 402,000
La Florida 366,000
Vina del Mar 325,000
Valparaiso 285,000

Chile had a population of 17,574,003 at the 2017 census. The population grew from 6.1 million in 1950 to 15.2 million in 2000. Population growth has been declining since the 1970s. The population of Chile is highly urbanized, about 85% of the inhabitants live in a city or suburb, because a large part of the country is not suitable for agriculture, both in the north and the south. As a result, relatively few people live in the countryside or in small villages. This is especially the case in the central part of Chile, where large-scale agriculture is possible.

The country has not known the great immigration wave of Europeans like Argentina. The area was isolated, which at the time required a long and dangerous boat trip around the Cape Horn, or a long, arduous journey through the Andes. The only larger group of European immigrants are the Spaniards. Other groups of European immigrants are much smaller, such as the Austrians and the Dutch. After 1850 many Germans came to the south of Chile, which until then had hardly been mined.

About 60% of Chileans are of European descent, 35% are Mestizos, a mix of Europeans and Indo-Americans and only 5% are truly Indigenous peoples, of which the Mapuche make up the largest part. In Chile, Spanish is spoken by practically the entire population. Only 1% speak an indigenous language.

Chile has three major urban regions, the capital Santiago, the port city of Valparaíso and the southern city of Concepción. Santiago is by far the largest city, with an agglomeration of 7 million inhabitants. Of the 10 largest metropolitan regions, 9 are located in the central part of Chile, only Antofagasta in the north is a larger urban area outside the central zone. Of the 10 largest cities in Chile, 5 are suburbs of Santiago.

The country is divided into 15 administrative regions (numbered with Roman numerals) and 54 provinces. The provinces are relatively small, 50 of the 54 provinces are smaller than the surface area of ​​the Netherlands. The regions in the central zone are relatively small because this is where most of the inhabitants are, but very large in the north and south.


Chile is widely regarded as the most developed and stable country in South America. The GDP per capita was $25,400 in 2018. The country has a relatively high level of prosperity, but the income differences are quite large, as elsewhere in South America. In 2010, Chile became the first South American country to join the OECD. Chile’s exports are heavily based on commodities, especially mining products such as copper, which is mainly mined in Northern Chile. Fish, agricultural products and wine are further important export products of Chile. The country has no major manufacturing industry outside of agricultural products. The industrial sector is relatively small. Tourism is playing an increasing role in the economy, the country has a very diverse landscape and is more stable and developed than its northern neighbours.


In 1520, the Portuguese Fernão de Magalhães (Magellaan) discovered the southern passage around the Cape Horn and became the first European to set foot on the land that would later become Chile. Then the first Spanish Conquistadors reached the country from the north in 1535 to search for gold. In the middle of the 16th century Chile was colonized by Spain. The area had only a small indigenous population at the time. Chile’s isolated location, with the Atacama Desert to the north, the Andes to the east, and inaccessible wilderness to the south, allowed for only limited immigration of Europeans compared to the eastern half of South America at the time. At the beginning of the 19th century, people began to seek independence from Spain. In 1810 the autonomous republic of Chile was proclaimed, but still within the Spanish kingdom.

As an independent country, Chile retained its colonial structure, with much influence from the Catholic Church and the power of landowners. The export of mining products via the port city of Valparaíso caused tensions with Peru over maritime power in the Pacific Ocean. Chile’s sovereignty over the southern part of the country was strengthened from the mid-19th century by the immigration of Germans who exploited the land. In 1843, the southernmost part, the Magellanes region, became part of Chile. This already stretched the country far in the north-south direction. In 1881, a treaty was signed with Argentina that fixed the border between the two countries and gave Chile control of the Magellan Strait. In the north, the Pacific War was fought between 1879 and 1884 with Bolivia and Peru, which Chile won, the country expanded its territory by a third to the north, denying Bolivia access to the ocean. This area was rich in raw materials, making Chile one of the richest countries in South America at the end of the 19th century.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Chile and Argentina were embroiled in a costly arms race, mainly due to the building of large battleships. Later, Brazil also entered this arms race, which is called the “South American dreadnought race”. At the time, Chile’s economy was based almost entirely on mining, which, however, led to political unrest because politics primarily served the interests of the oligarchs, not those of the people. This led to political instability in the 1920s, followed by dictatorships interspersed with democratic periods. On May 22, 1960, an earthquake measuring 9.4 to 9.6 was recorded in the Valvidia region, the most powerful earthquake ever recorded. The earthquake triggered tsunamis that hit archipelagos across the Pacific Ocean,

In 1970, the socialist Allende was elected president. The country then ran into economic difficulties, with capital flight and sharply declining investment. Unemployment rose rapidly, followed by public works to reduce unemployment. Much of the economy was nationalized. In 1973, Allende was ousted from power in a coup, followed by the military junta under Pinochet. Although the country was a dictatorship under Pinochet, the economy started to grow strongly from the 1980s. During that time, the country gradually gained more freedoms and in 1988 another president was elected, followed by a transition to democracy. This made Chile a developed and stable country. In 2010, Chile was hit by an earthquake with a magnitude of 8.8 that caused extensive damage.

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