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The Geography of Chile

Chile occupies a long strip of land in the south west of the South American continent. The country is shaped like a long and narrow ribbon and is the longest country in the planet; its coastline along the Pacific Ocean stretches for 4,300 km or 2,700 m.  Chile’s total surface is 756,950 sq km or 292,183 sq m (excluding claims on Antarctica) its territory is twice as big as Japan or Germany. Chile borders Peru in the north, Bolivia in the north east, Argentina in the east, the Pacific Ocean in the west and south sides.

Regions of Chile. The longest country in the world.

The territory of Chile extends from the north desert of Atacama, the driest in the world, to the southern end of South America, Cape Horn.  Chile extends through three continents, South America, Antarctica and Oceania – Easter Island.   From east to west it averages 177 km or 110 m from the Pacific Ocean to its border with Argentina. Its terrain consists of low mountains along or near the coast, the central longitudes are fertile plains where agriculture thrives, and the eastern part of the country is made up of the Andes Mountains. This part of the Andes has the one of highest snow covered peaks in the world and glaciers. The south part of the country consists of clusters of small islands and peninsulas.

Cape Horn is located at the southern tip of the continent

Chile is divided into five regions:

Norte Grande or Far North – The territory  bordering Peru and Bolivia. This is the region where the Atacama Desert is located, it is virtually a rain free desert rich in minerals such as cooper and nitrate. To the west the Andes mountains reach high altitude forming the Andean Altiplano.

Norte Chicho or Near North – Located south of Norte Grande region and extends south to Rio Aconcagua. Altitude starts to decrease as the Andes approach the coast at Illapel reaching 95km to the Pacific Ocean; this is the narrowest area in the Chilean territory. The desert gives room to valleys irrigated by rivers where agriculture has developed.

Zona Central or Central Zone – This is the most populated area of the country and includes Chile’s largest cities: Santiago, Valparaiso and Concepcion. The Zona Central becomes a valley surrounded by the Andes in the east and the coastal range in the west. It is the most fertile land in Chile. Large fruit and vegetable farms as well as vineyards cover this area.

Zona Sur or South Zone – Araucania and the Lakes District – This is one of the rainiest areas in the world. There is a remarkable contrast in the geography of this region. From a fertile valley in the north to areas covered in forest, mountains and lakes. Because the Andes is so close to sea level, the hundreds of rivers descending from its mountains form lakes and some of the rivers drain into the ocean. The lakes are extraordinarily beautiful. Fishing is a world known activity in this area.

Zona Austral or the Far South – This area is sparsely populated and offers the country’s wildest scenery. As the Andes reach sea level it looses altitude and the erosion produced by the glaciers formed fjords. The area called the Archipelago covers about one thousand miles between Puerto Montt and Cape Horn on the southern tip of the continent and it is separated from the mainland by the Strait of Magallanes.

Each of these regions has different climates, biodiversity and natural resources. Because of the length of its territory Chile has a wealth of natural resources ranging from marine resources in the Pacific, minerals in the northern desert, pastures in the south  area and  oil and natural gas in the Far South area around the Strait of Magellan. The Andes Mountain range is the backbone of the country which extends from Colombia all the way to the south of the continent. The Andes provide the country with breathtaking snow capped mountains, magnificent volcanoes and glaciers granting a contrast of landscapes and climates.

Because chile lies along the rim of the Pacific Ocean within the area known as the Pacific Ring of Fire, there is a constant hazard of volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and tsunamis. Tectonic activity in Chile is related to subduction of the Nazca Plate to the east.

Chile has 36 historically active volcanoes.

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