Fast Facts

Population:
16,136,000
Capital:
Santiago; 5,623,000
Area:
756,096 square kilometers (291,930 square miles)
Language:
Spanish
Religion:
Roman Catholic, Protestant
Currency:
Chilean peso
Life Expectancy:
76
GDP per Capita:
U.S. $10,100
Literacy Percent:
96
Flag: Chile
Map: Chile

Chile extends like a ribbon down the west coast of South America for over 4,000 kilometers—but averages only 150 kilometers wide. From the parched but mineral-rich Atacama Desert to haunting Torres del Paine National Park and beyond to stormy Cape Horn, "Chile," wrote Nobel Prize winner Pablo Neruda, "was invented by a poet." This elongated country, wedged between the deepest ocean and the longest mountain chain, straddles a tectonically unstable region. Mountains cover 80 percent of Chile.

Most Chileans are of European or mixed European and indigenous ancestry—only about 5 percent are indigenous (mostly Mapuche). Chile is highly urbanized, with 40 percent of the population living in the Santiago area. Chileans once enjoyed Latin America's longest tradition of political stability and civil liberty. But in 1973 a bloody coup overthrew Salvador Allende's elected Marxist government and ushered in 16 years of dictatorship under Gen. Augusto Pinochet. Democracy was restored in 1989.

Privatization of industries and increased agricultural exports have boosted the economy. The Chuquicamata and Escondida copper mines, in the arid Atacama, rank as the world's largest. Tourism is a major business; a popular attraction is Easter Island, 3,700 kilometers west of Chile. Here one thousand moai (giant figures carved in stone) fascinate visitors to this small Polynesian island.

ECONOMY

  • Industry: Copper, other minerals, foodstuffs, fish processing, iron and steel
  • Agriculture: Wheat, corn, grapes, beans; beef; fish; timber
  • Exports: Copper, fish, fruits, paper and pulp, chemicals

—Text From National Geographic Atlas of the World, Eighth Edition

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