Spanning almost the entirety of the South American continent is Chile, a country with a turbulent past, otherworldly natural features, and a rich culture. The country and its capital Santiago have prospered noticeably over the last few decades which makes Chile one of the strongest forces in South America today. Here are some interesting facts about Chile.
Facts about Chile
1. Chile shares land borders with just 3 countries.
Chile borders Peru to the north (168 km / 104 mi), Bolivia to the northeast (942 km / 585 mi), and Argentina to the east (6,691 km / 4,158 mi). Until today, there are border disputes between Argentina and Chile. The border between Chile and Argentina is also the third-longest border in the world.
2. Chile is the narrowest and second-longest country in the world.
With an average width of just 177 km (110 mi), Chile is the narrowest country in the world. At its narrowest point, it is only 64 km (40 mi) wide. Chile is also one of the longest countries in the world with a north-south extension of 4,270 km (2,653 mi).
3. Ojos del Salado the highest active volcano in the world and the highest peak in Chile.
Standing at 6,893 m (22,615 ft), Ojos del Salado is the highest peak in Chile. It is also the highest active volcano in the world. The classification, however, is a technical one as the volcano last erupted approximately 1,300 years ago.
4. The driest place on earth is in Chile.
The driest place in the world is the Atacama desert in northern Chile. It is so dry that certain parts of the desert have not seen a drop of rainfall in decades. The extreme aridity is owed to its location behind the Andes, high air pressure, and the cold of the Atlantic ocean. Due to its unique conditions, the Atacama desert has been used as a stand-in and training ground for Mars expedition simulations.
5. The worst ever earthquake in the world was recorded in Chile.
In 1960, Chile was hit by the Valdivia earthquake, also referred to as the Great Chilean earthquake. At a magnitude of 9.4–9.6, it is the most powerful earthquake ever recorded. Although the epicenter was found to be near the town of Lumaco, the city of Valdivia was the strongest affected by the earthquake. The consequences of the earthquake, such as the death toll and economic impact, are not well documented, but it is estimated that between 1,000 and 6,000 people died during or due to the earthquake.
6. The world’s rarest language is spoken in Chile.
Chile is home to the last remaining native speaker of Yaghan, Cristina Calderón. Yaghan used to be spoken by the Yaghan people in Tierra del Fuego. During the colonization of South America, the language quickly started to go extinct as Yaghan speakers were mocked for the use of the language, and kids were brought up in Spanish instead. A large number of native speakers also died as a result of disease. Thankfully, the Chilean government has recently encouraged the use and maintenance of native languages, and Yaghan is now taught in local kindergartens.
Yaghan is one of several native languages spoken in Chile, but the national language in Chile is Spanish. In southern Chile, you can also find small pockets of German-speaking communities.
7. Chile is a multiethnic society.
Several studies have been conducted into the make-up of the Chilean ethnic groups, all with very varied results. What can be stated with a degree of certainty, however, is that Chile is a multiethnic society. The majority of the country’s population consists of people of European descent (primarily Spanish), while the rest consists of Mapuche, Aymara, and other various indigenous groups.
Apart from Spanish and Basque immigrants, a number of other countries contribute to Chile’s interesting genetic diversity. In 1848, a large number of Germans, Swiss, and Austrians immigrated to southern Chile. It is estimated that about 500,000 Chileans today are of German descent.
In addition, a good number of Chileans are descendants of Croats, Greeks, Italians, and French.
8. The main religion in Chile is Christianity.
Christianity is the main religion in Chile with about 85% of the adult population identifying as Christian. Most adhere to the Roman Catholic Church and only about 15% adhere to any of the other Christian denominations (collectively referred to as “evangelical” in Chile).
Some people also adhere to the Baha’i faith and the mother temple in Latin America is found in Chile.
9. The national liquor of Chile is Pisco.
Pisco is a type of Brandy distilled from grapes and the national liquor of Chile. In fact, Chile is one of 2 countries to claim it as their national liquor. The other is Peru and a long-standing feud over the claim continues until this day.
10. The national dance of Chile is called Cueca.
The cueca is a South American dance that was declared the national dance of Chile during the Pinochet regime in 1979. Its origins aren’t entirely clear, but it appears to draw influences from Spanish dance and indigenous culture. Today, it is mostly performed on Chile’s national days in September.
11. Lapageria is the national flower of Chile.
Lapageria, also known as Chilean Bellflower, is a type of climbing plant exclusively found in southern Chile in the Valdivian temperate rain forests. It is also the national flower of the country.
12. The huemul is the national animal of Chile.
The huemul deer, also known as the South Andean deer, is the national animal of Chile and even features in the country’s coat of arms. It lives primarily in the mountainous regions of the Andes. Today, the animal is considered endangered as populations have been dwindling rapidly.
13. Lapis lazuli is the national stone of Chile.
Known for its intense color, lapis lazuli is commonly found in the Andes mountains in Chile. As such, it was an important gemstone used by the indigenous tribes of Chile prior to the arrival of Spanish explorers. It is also the national stone of Chile.
14. Chile is the 5th biggest exporter and 7th biggest producer of wine.
Chile has a long history of wine production, despite being considered to be a New World wine region. This is owed to the fact that Spanish explorers introduced wine to Chile already in the 16th century. Four centuries later, an immigration wave of French brought many experienced winemakers which certainly aided in the development of Chile as a premier wine producer.
The most common grapes used for Chilean wine are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Carmenère, and most wine is produced in the Central wine region of Chile. Today, Chile is the 7th biggest producer of wine and the 5th biggest exporter of wine in the world.
15. Chile has one of only two permanent civilian bases in Antarctica.
Given its geographic location, Chile has a natural connection to the continent of Antarctica. In fact, Chile lays claim to a territory in Antarctica spanning an area of 1,250,258 km² (482,727 sq mi).
Interestingly, Chile is one of only two countries to truly inhabit the Antarctic continent. Out of its 14 bases in Antarctica, one of them is a civilian one – Villa Las Estrellas. The town has about 150 inhabitants in the summer and 80 in the winter. It features a tiny post office, a chapel, a school, a military hospital, a gymnasium, a souvenir shop, and even a hostel with room for up to 20 guests!
16. Four species of penguins call Chile their home.
In Chile, you can find 4 penguin species – Humboldt, Magellanic, King, and Gentoo – in their natural habitat. The best places to see them are Chiloe and Tierra del Fuego.
17. Chile is home to 6 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Thanks to its long history and culture, Chile is home to many impressive monuments and sights. Six of them are inscribed on the list of cultural UNESCO World Heritage Sites. They are the Churches of Chiloé, the Historic Quarter of the Seaport City of Valparaíso, the Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter Works, Qhapaq Ñan (Andean Road System), Rapa Nui National Park, and Sewell Mining Town.
18. Easter Island is Chilean territory.
Did you know that famous Easter Island is actually a Chilean territory? Although Easter Island lies at a staggering distance of 3,512 km (2,182 mi) from continental Chile, it has been a Chilean territory since 1888.
The island has seen a very turbulent history. Although it is now known for its gentle giants (moai) silently standing watch, the indigenous people, the Rapa Nui, have not always had the luxury of such peace. Many suffered especially after the annexation to Chile. In fact, the Chilean government confined the Rapa Nui to the island’s capital Hanga Roa and access to their native land was forbidden as it was rented out to a sheep farm. The Rapa Nui only obtained citizenship in 1966 and clashes between the local people and the Chilean government continue until today.
19. Chileans have won 2 Nobel Prizes.
Chile is well-known among the literati so it should come as no surprise that both of Chile’s Nobel laureates won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Gabriela Mistral became the first Latin American author to receive a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1945. Her works were of such importance that her portrait also appears on the 5,000 Chilean peso banknote. Pablo Neruda was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1971.
20. Chile has never won a medal at the Olympic Winter Games, despite participating since 1948.
Chile first participated in the Olympic Games in 1896 and has attended most events since. Chileans have indeed won several medals, but only in the Summer Games. Most medals have been secured in Tennis, thanks primarily to Nicolás Massú and Fernando González.
21. The tallest building in South America is found in Chile.
Reaching a height of 300 m (984 ft) and 62 floors, Gran Torre Santiago in Santiago, Chile is the tallest building in South America. It is part of the Costanera Center complex which also includes the largest shopping mall in Latin America. Construction of the tower was completed in 2010.
22. The largest swimming pool in the world can be found in Chile.
The pool at San Alfonso del Mar, a private resort close to Santiago, is arguably the longest and largest pool in the world. It measures 1,013 m (3,323 ft) in length, and 3.5 m (11.5 ft) in depth. It covers an area of 80,000 m² (860,000 sq ft) and holds an almost unbelievable volume of 250 million liters (66 million gallons) of seawater.
23. Chile was once known as “Chili”.
Chile was known as “Chili” until at least 1900 in English. Until today, scientists cannot conclusively say where the name of the country came from. Some suspected meanings have to do with the local bird population, snow, Incan rulers, or even an indigenous word meaning “where the land ends”.
24. The flags of Chile and the US state of Texas are nearly identical.
The flag of Chile consists of 2 horizontal bands in white and red, as well as a blue square with a white star. It is commonly confused with the flag of Texas, although the blue element in the Texan flag spans both bands, not just the upper band. The Chilean flag is also 21 years older than the Texan flag.
The star is often interpreted to stand for the country’s independence, a reference also found in the red of the flag. Blue symbolizes both, the sky and the Pacific Ocean, while the white band represents the snow-capped Andes.
25. Chile has the second-lowest homicide rate in the Americas.
With a low homicide rate of only 4.40, Chile has the second-lowest homicide rate in the Americas, ranking only below Canada.
26. The largest copper mine in the world can be found in Chile.
Mining is one of the main sectors in Chile as the country is rich in mineral resources. Besides lithium which is used primarily in batteries today, copper plays an important role in the Chilean economy. In fact, the largest copper mine in the world can be found in Chile.
Located in the Atacama desert, the Escondida mine produces about 1 million tonnes of copper each year which accounts for about 5% of the total production worldwide.
27. Chile is one of the strongest economies in Latin America.
Chileans enjoy a relatively high standard of living, all thanks to the highest GDP per capita in Latin America, a high degree of economic freedom, low levels of corruption, and sound economic policies which have more than halved poverty in the last 40 years.
28. The oldest mummies in the world were found in Chile.
While we most commonly associate mummies with Egypt, the oldest mummies ever discovered were excavated in Chile. The Chinchorro mummies were first discovered in 1914 in the Atacama desert and the oldest mummy is believed to be 9,000 years old.
29. Chile uses the Chilean peso (CLP) as its currency.
The Chilean peso was first adopted in 1817 and is the currency of the country today, although the Chilean escudo was used between 1960 and 1975.
30. Chile is the only country in the world with a privatized water system.
Water privatization in Chile started under the Pinochet regime in 1981 and scars the country until today. It reduced state oversight and empowered private water rights. It also defined water not as a human right, but a mere commodity. Today, the people of Santiago in particular often find themselves without running water with climate change-related pressures only increasing every year.
31. Between 1973 and 1990, Chile was a de facto dictatorship.
On 11 September 1973, a military coup overthrew then-president Salvador Allende and a military junta took control of the country. This junta was led by General Augusto Pinochet who was then declared President of the Republic in 1974 and reigned until 1990 as a de facto dictator. The decades between 1973 and 1990 were marked by serious human rights violations, economic collapse, and civil unrest. Thousands of Chileans were tortured, incarcerated, and murdered. An estimated 200,000 Chileans fled the country during that time. Democracy was established with the election of Patricio Aylwin, but the effects of the Pinochet regime are felt until today.