Geography and Overview of Chile

Chile's History, Government, Geography, Climate, and Industry and Land Uses

Atacama Moon Valley
Atacama Moon Valley.


Igor Alecsander / Getty Images

Chile, officially called the Republic of Chile, is South America's most prosperous country. It has a market-oriented economy and a reputation for strong financial institutions. Poverty rates in the country are low and its government is committed to promoting democracy.

Fast Facts: Chile

  • Official Name: Republic of Chile
  • Capital: Santiago
  • Population: 17,925,262 (2018)
  • Official Language: Spanish 
  • Currency: Chilean peso (CLP)
  • Form of Government: Presidential republic 
  • Climate: Temperate; desert in north; Mediterranean in central region; cool and damp in south   
  • Total Area: 291,931 square miles (756,102 square kilometers)
  • Highest Point: Nevado Ojos del Salado at 22,572 feet (6,880 meters)
  • Lowest Point: Pacific Ocean at 0 feet (0 meters)

History of Chile

According to the U.S. Department of State, Chile was first inhabited about 10,000 years ago by migrating peoples. Chile was first officially controlled briefly by the Incas in the north and the Araucanians in the south.

The first Europeans to reach Chile were the Spanish conquistadores in 1535. They came to the area in search of gold and silver. The formal conquest of Chile began in 1540 under Pedro de Valdivia and the city of Santiago was founded on February 12, 1541. The Spanish then began practicing agriculture in Chile's central valley and made the area a Viceroyalty of Peru.

Chile began pushing for its independence from Spain in 1808. In 1810, Chile was proclaimed an autonomous republic of the Spanish monarchy. Shortly thereafter, a movement for total independence from Spain began and several wars broke out until 1817. In that year, Bernardo O'Higgins and José de San Martín entered Chile and defeated supporters of Spain. On February 12, 1818, Chile officially became an independent republic under the leadership of O'Higgins.

In the decades following its independence, a strong presidency was developed in Chile. Chile also grew physically during these years, and in 1881, took control of the Strait of Magellan. In addition, the War of the Pacific (1879–1883) allowed the country to expand north by one-third.

Throughout the rest of the 19th and into the early 20th centuries, political and economic instability was common in Chile and from 1924–1932, the country was under the semi-dictatorial rule of General Carlos Ibanez. In 1932, constitutional rule was restored and the Radical Party emerged and dominated Chile until 1952.

In 1964, Eduardo Frei-Montalva was elected as president under the slogan, "Revolution in Liberty." By 1967 though, opposition to his administration and its reforms increased and in 1970, Senator Salvador Allende was elected president, beginning another period of political, social, and economic unrest. On September 11, 1973, Allende's administration was overthrown. Another military-ruled government, led by General Pinochet, then took power. A new constitution was approved in 1980.

Government of Chile

Today, Chile is a republic with executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The executive branch consists of the president, and the legislative branch features a bicameral legislature composed of the High Assembly and the Chamber of Deputies. The judicial branch consists of the Constitutional Tribunal, the Supreme Court, the court of appeals, and military courts.

Chile is divided into 15 numbered regions for administration. These regions are divided into provinces that are administered by appointed governors. The provinces are further divided into municipalities that are governed by elected mayors.

Political parties in Chile are grouped into two groups. These are the center-left "Concertacion" and the center-right "Alliance for Chile."

Geography and Climate of Chile

Because of its long, narrow profile and position adjacent to the Pacific Ocean and Andes Mountains, Chile has a unique topography and climate. Northern Chile is home to the Atacama Desert, which has one of the lowest rainfall totals in the world.

In contrast, Santiago is located midway along Chile's length and lies in a Mediterranean temperate valley between the coastal mountains and the Andes. Santiago itself has hot, dry summers and mild, wet winters. The southern inland portion of the country is covered with forests while the coast is a maze of fjords, inlets, canals, peninsulas, and islands. The climate in this area is cold and wet.

Chile's Industry and Land Use

Due to its extremes in topography and climate, the most developed area of Chile is the valley near Santiago, which is where the majority of the country's manufacturing industry is located.

In addition, Chile's central valley is incredibly fertile and is famous for producing fruits and vegetables for shipment worldwide. Some of these products include grapes, apples, pears, onions, peaches, garlic, asparagus, and beans. Vineyards are also prevalent in this area and Chilean wine is currently growing in global popularity. Land in the southern part of Chile is extensively used for ranching and grazing, while its forests are a source of timber.

Northern Chile contains a wealth of minerals, most notable of which are copper and nitrates.

More Facts about Chile

  • Chile is never more than 160 miles (258 km) wide at any point.
  • Chile claims sovereignty to parts of Antarctica.
  • The prehistoric Monkey Puzzle Tree is Chile's national tree.


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Briney, Amanda. "Geography and Overview of Chile." ThoughtCo, Sep. 2, 2021, Briney, Amanda. (2021, September 2). Geography and Overview of Chile. Retrieved from Briney, Amanda. "Geography and Overview of Chile." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 7, 2023).