Chile is a long narrow country which extends like a ribbon down the west coast of South America. While the coastline is over 4,000 miles (6,437 kilometers) long, it is only about 61 miles (91 kilometers) wide. The country has suffered from many earthquakes, such as the massive 8.8-magnitude quake that struck the country in February 2010.
Cape Horn is the southernmost tip of South America. In the past, ships had to round the horn to sail from Pacific to Atlantic ports and to Europe before the Panama Canal was built. Cape Horn is known for high winds and treacherous waves.
Map created by National Geographic Maps
PEOPLE & CULTURE
Today only about 5 percent of the population is native Mapuche and other indigenous groups. Nearly 95 percent of Chileans have a mixture of native and European roots. There are areas in the south where the Mapuche live, speak their language, and practice their own religion.
About 40 percent of the population lives in the area around the capital of Santiago. Children in rural areas need to wake up at 5:00 - 6:00 a.m. to walk to school or meet the bus. Their journeys sometimes take two hours each way. After school, they help their parents in the fields and do their homework.
The region is rich in natural beauty and plant and animal life. The long coastline is home to penguins, pelicans, and sea lions, and migratory whales can be seen in the waters as they journey to and from feeding and breeding grounds. Puma, alpacas, vicunas, foxes, condors, and flamingos are all found on the diverse landscapes of Chile.
The Atacama Desert is one of the driest areas on the Earth. There are many species of reptiles and cacti. The country's rich supply of copper is also found in the desert region.
GOVERNMENT & ECONOMY
The country is governed by an elected president, who is both the chief of state and head of government. Presidential elections are held every four years. The president picks cabinet members. There are two houses of congress, the National Congress and the Senate.
The country is one of the largest exporters of grapes.
The northern part of the country was ruled by the Inca before the Spanish took control in the 16th century. Native Mapuche people lived in the southern and central regions before the country became a Spanish colony.
The country gained independence from Spain in 1810. Toward the end of the 1800s, many Europeans began to settle in Chile, including Germans, French, British, and Italians. Many Chinese moved to Chile to help build the railroad.
Chile was once considered to be a very stable and free country. But in 1973 a bloody battle overthrew Salvador Allende's elected Marxist government and the country suffered 16 years under the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. Democracy was restored in 1989.