What Should I Know About Chile?

N. Madison
N. Madison

The Republic of Chile is a South American country that spans about 292,183 square miles (756,950 kilometers). The Andes Mountains and the Pacific Ocean flank it on opposite sides. Its other borders are touched by Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, and the Drake Passage. Besides its land in South America, Chile also has territory in Antarctica, spanning about 776,713 miles (1,250,000 kilometers). Its territory includes a little more than one-percent water.

By 1540, the Spanish conquest of Chile was in full force.
By 1540, the Spanish conquest of Chile was in full force.

Chile’s recorded history extends back as far as 10,000 years ago. It was at this time that Native Americans migrated to the area and set up homes there. Much later, in 1520, Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese explorer, found a southern passage near the Chilean mainland that was later called the Strait of Magellan. Later in the same century, Spanish conquistadors, including Diego de Almagro, traveled to Chile from Peru. By 1540, the Spanish conquest of the country was in full force.

Chile has jurisdiction over about 776,713 miles of territory in Antarctica.
Chile has jurisdiction over about 776,713 miles of territory in Antarctica.

Though it was not an easy task, Spain was able to get a stronghold on Chile. The natives frequently fought back, causing many setbacks and delays. In the late 1800s and the first half of the 1600s, the natives led many revolts. However, it was not until 1818 that Chile was led to independence by a patriot named Bernardo O’Higgins. On 12 February of that year, Chile claimed its status as an independent republic.

The Pacific Ocean lies to the west of Chile.
The Pacific Ocean lies to the west of Chile.

Today, an elected president leads Chile’s government. The country’s president is not constitutionally permitted to run consecutive terms. The country also has a two-branch congress that includes a Senate and a Chamber of Deputies. Senators are constitutionally allowed to serve eight-year terms while Deputies are limited to four years at a time. Congress's headquarters is located in the city of Valparaiso.

Argentina, Bolivia and Peru are three South American nations that border Chile.
Argentina, Bolivia and Peru are three South American nations that border Chile.

Chile has 15 different regions, and each one has a president-appointed intendant who serves as the region’s head. The regions are divided into provinces that are headed by presidential-appointed governors. The land division does not stop there, as the provinces are each divided into communes. Each commune has an administrative municipality that has a mayor and councilmen who are elected every four years.

Most of Chile’s people are mestizo, meaning they are a mixture of European and American-Indian descent. About five percent are Native Americans. The dominant religion in the country is Roman Catholicism, with about 89 percent of the population practicing it. Another 10 percent can be classified as Protestant while one percent is Jewish. Spanish is Chile’s official language.

Roman Catholicism is a highly popular religion in modern Chile.
Roman Catholicism is a highly popular religion in modern Chile.
N. Madison
N. Madison

Nicole’s thirst for knowledge inspired her to become a wiseGEEK writer, and she focuses primarily on topics such as homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. When not writing or spending time with her four children, Nicole enjoys reading, camping, and going to the beach.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


Does anyone here have any idea whether there are any Inca ruins remaining in Chile? I know most of the Inca Empire was located in Peru, but I think there were quite a few colonies down through the northern part of Chile.

We took a trip to Mexico last year and got to see some of the Aztec remains, and it was a very interesting and informative experience. After we got back from there, we thought it would be a lot of fun to check out the Inca area.

We could just plan a trip to Peru, but my husband really enjoys exploring mountainous regions, and going to the Andes would be another check in his book of places he has been.

As far as Chile goes, in general, how safe is it, and how friendly are the people? As you can imagine, when we went to Mexico, the majority of the country is fine, but if you end up in certain parts, it can be unsafe, especially for Americans.


@jcraig - I have never personally been there, but I have a couple of friends who did a study abroad trip in Chile a few years back. We were all environmental science majors, so they spent a lot of time outside doing various things. They were stationed in Santiago, and they said there were quite a few places to go hiking close to the city. If you wanted to go off the beaten path, I couldn't tell you about that.

I would almost guarantee if you do a few internet searches you'll be able to come up with various companies that offer hikes in different parts of the country. Like you said, it would probably be worth getting the guide, because it is always hard to know how people will react if you are hiking around in somewhere you really aren't supposed to be.


@Izzy78 - I am with you, I don't know why Congress would be located in a different city. I have never heard of this being the case, either.

Does anyone know whether backpacking is possible through Chile? A few friends and I took a trip to Argentina a couple of years ago and did some backpacking, and it was a lot of fun. We had a guide, of course. I don't think I would ever want to be stranded in a country I wasn't familiar with, let alone out in the wild.

I think Chile would be a really great place to hike through with the Andes and everything. I know in Argentina we came across a few hostel type places. Does anyone know if there are hostels in Chile? I know South America has a lot fewer of those things than Europe, but usually you can still find them if you know where to look.


Wow, there was a lot here that I didn't know about Chile. I think it is always interesting to learn about how the political systems of other countries function.

Something I really think is interesting here is that is says the Congress is located in Valparaiso, even though the country's capital is in Santiago. Does anyone have any idea why that is? I know a lot of countries, South Africa is one of them, have two different capitals where each capital has different functions, but I have never heard of this being the case in Chile.

Also, what function do the provincial governors have other their territory? Do they sort of have the same role as governors in the United States, or are there other duties that they have to take care of?


@indigomoth - Don't just go to see the valley, although I agree that would be nice. There are many things to see in Chile.

It's a unique country because of the way it extends so far down the side of South America and it has some amazing features, like glaciers, beaches, lakes, islands, mountains and so forth.

Easter Island is found close to Chile, as well as the little island where Robinson Crusoe was supposedly stranded.

Viña del Mar in Chile is supposed to be very beautiful, and Santiago has a lot to see (although it's supposed to be quite polluted).

I'm hoping to go to Chile in a few months so I'm quite excited about all the different options.

The only thing that I wish I could do but can't on this trip is take a cruise ship down to Antarctica.

Chile launches a tour from the tip of South America to visit the ice floes and I've always wanted to do it. I guess I'll just have to go back one day.


@pastanaga - I've heard about that. I think they even started opening hotels to cater to the people coming to see the stars, which I think is kind of cool. I hope they have skylights of some kind so that people can look out from their beds and see the stars.

Apparently it's because of the position of the valley between the mountains and the ocean. It means that there is very little air movement, which is what often obscures the dimmer stars.

It also means that they rarely have rain, which probably helps to create the conditions for the vineyards as well.

It sounds like a lovely place to visit. I hope I manage to get there some day as well.


Chile is on my bucket list for places I want to go. Not only does it seem like a beautiful country and one of the most stable and thriving in South America, it also contains the Valle de Elqui which I have been dying to go see ever since I first heard about it.

This is a valley which is reputed to have the clearest skies in the world, and there is very little light pollution. So the stars are supposed to be incredible each night.

There are many observatories set up there to take advantage of this phenomenon and the valley is also known for growing grapes and making wine.

It just sounds like it would be a wonderful trip and there is nothing like a crisp starry sky to look at each night.

I know whenever I go out to the countryside, away from city lights I am blown away by the stars. This valley would likely amaze me.

Post your comments
Forgot password?