Chile: Land of Fire and Ice
Thanks to its unusual terrain and geography, Chile offers some of the most eclectic travel experiences on Earth. From the dry, hot Atacama Desert to the fjords and glaciers near Cape Hope, Chile is a true study in contrasts. Throw in a healthy dose of massive mountain ranges and an incredibly long coastline, and you have a country that’s unlike any other. The only problem involved in visiting Chile is deciding between its many phenomenal attractions. To give you a head start, we’re highlighting some of this diverse country’s most intriguing extremes; check them out below!
One-of-a-Kind Geographic Features
You don’t have to be a student of geography in order to appreciate the many unique characteristics of Chile’s layout. This long, narrow country stretches all the way from the 17° South latitude - and the Peru border - down to the 56° Latitude and Cape Horn. Chile spans approximately 2,653 miles from north to south, encompassing an incredibly diverse range of climates and terrains. Meanwhile, Chile is only about 110 miles wide at its widest point. To the west stretches the Pacific Ocean; to the east lies the majestic Andes Mountains. In between, you’ll find some of the most incredible sights on the planet.
The Norte Grande
Chile is broken into five basic geographic zones: Norte Grande, Norte Chico, Zona Central, Zona Sur and Chile Austral. The Norte Grande, or northernmost portion of Chile, is famously home of the Atacama Desert. This searingly hot desert has been named the driest one on the planet by several sources. Indeed, this 600-mile region is blocked from moisture in a truly remarkable way. In fact, some parts of the Atacama receive no rainfall at all. Evidence exists that suggests that the Atacama received no precipitation whatsoever between 1570 and 1971.
Very few people actually live in the Atacama Desert. That’s not to say, though, that you can’t pay the region a visit. Most tourists make the small town of San Pedro de Atacama their jumping-off points for explorations of this searingly dry desert. This is the safest way to proceed, since venturing into the desert alone is never a good idea. From San Pedro de Atacama, there are plenty of day trips available for visits to nearby natural attractions - geysers and sand dunes are two popular options. If you get the opportunity to see this remarkable area, make sure to do so.
Central Chile is made up of three regions. Norte Chico, or the near north, runs from the Copiano River to just north of Santiago. It’s a semiarid region that receives an adequate amount of rain during the winter. The Zona Central is the most populated part of the country; as the home of Santiago, Concepcion and Valparaiso, it’s the part of Chile that most visitors see. The Zona Sur, or the south, is extremely wet and rainy. Hundreds of lakes dot the landscape, making this a lush and inviting place to visit. At Valdivia, approximately 99.8 inches of rain falls each year - quite a drastic difference from the Atacama Desert!
On the other end of the spectrum, there’s the Chile Austral, or far south. This portion of Chile couldn’t be more different than the Norte Grande. This region is studded with many inlets and fjords, giving it an almost Nordic appearance. Several archipelagos can also be found in the region, as can the Strait of Magellan. A portion of the Andes extends down here, bringing awe-inspiring glaciers with it. As the southernmost point in the Americas, Cape Horn is well worth a visit; try staying in Puntas Arenas, the most southernmost large city in the world.
Experience it All in Chile!
Some countries offer towering mountain peaks; others boast broad, expansive deserts; still others offer mile upon mile of scenic coastlines. Few can say that they offer all of that, and so much more - but Chile definitely can. It’s easy to see why people have been flocking to Chile for so many centuries. If you’re looking for a place that offers surprises at every turn - and unparalleled opportunities for enjoying gorgeous natural features - Chile should definitely be put at the top of your “to-visit” list!