Geography of Chile
Deserts, islands, Andes and Antarctica: Chile’s geography is unique. Long and narrow, it stretches the farthest south in the world, hemmed in by mountains on one side and on the other by the Pacific.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Chile is a long, tapered stretch of land in the south west of Latin America. Its geography extends from the Antarctic in the extreme south to the Atacama Desert in the north, the most arid in the world.
Location and Boundaries
Chile spans three continents. It has its primary territory on the South American continent, from 17°30' S in the north to 56º30' S, on the southern Diego Ramírez Islands. Its westernmost border is Easter Island in Oceania, at 27º S and 109º W, and it has territory in Antarctica between the 53° W and 90° W meridians.
Chile is one of the longest and narrowest countries on the planet, bordering Peru in the north, Bolivia and Argentina in the east, the Antarctic in the south, and the Pacific Ocean in the west, along its 4,300 km coastline (2,700 mi).
Relief and Diversity
Chile boasts a huge diversity of natural terrain. Ancient glaciers, snow-white salt plains, the driest desert on the planet, and a multitude of forests, lakes and active volcanoes. The terrain is mountainous – only one fifth of Chile’s surface is flat. The greatest changes in relief occur as we move from east to west, where the terrain takes in Pacific islands, coastline, the coastal range of the Cordillera de la Costa, intermediate plains and valleys, and the majestic Cordillera de Los Andes.
The total surface area of Chile is 756,950 sq km (292,183 sq mi), or 2,006,096 sq km (1,246,530 sq mi) including the Chilean Antarctic territory.
From North to South, the regions of Chile lie in stark contrast to one another. The barren Norte Grande and the Atacama Desert become Mediterranean in climate as one travels further south towards the Central Valley. The central region is most developed, due to its abundant resources and rich landscape. Farther south towards Bio-Bio, Araucanía and the Lake District the landscape is covered with thick temperate rainforest, lakes and lagoons. The southernmost point of Chile offers all one could expect from the true end of the world, as the South American continent falls away in a dazzling explosion of islands, glaciers, icebergs and mountains.
The Pacific islands include volcanic Easter Island (Rapa Nui), dating back to the earliest days on Earth, and the Juan Fernandez Archipelago, which features Robinson Crusoe Island, where a historic shipwreck reportedly inspired the famous Daniel Defoe novel.
Along the 4,300km coastline, temperatures vary with the oceanic currents. In the south and center of the country, the Antarctic Humboldt Current produces cooler temperatures, while towards the north temperatures rise due to tropical currents. Cities stretch along the coast, including Valparaíso, Arica and Antofagasta.
Coastal Mountain Range
Moving inland, the Coastal Range rises near the city of Arica in the north, and extends to the Taitao Peninsula in Patagonia. Its length is divided by rivers which flow out to the sea, and its highest point is 3,000m (9,842 ft) in the Sierra Vicuña Mackenna, just south of Antofagasta.
Between the Coastal Range and the Andes lies the central depression, made up from valleys and plains. The landscape and climate in this depression is extremely diverse, stretching from the desert zones in the north to the forests and lakes in the south, including the largest lake in Chile, Lago Llanquihue. Most of Chile’s major cities are found in the central depression, as the climates and flatter terrain are more suitable for urban growth.
The imposing Cordillera de Los Andes is like the backbone of Chile. It is the continuation of a mountain range that emerges in Colombia and which has, between the north of Chile and Santiago, an average height of 5,000m (16,404 ft) above sea level. South of Santiago it begins to descend until it vanishes in the continent’s extreme south. It rises up again in the Antarctic, where it is called the Antartandes or the Antarctic Andes.
Its most outstanding peaks are located in the north and center of Chile. These are the volcanoes Llullaillaco (6,739 m or 22,109 ft); Tres Cruces (6,749 m or 22,142 ft); Cerro Tupungato (6,635 m or 21,678 ft) and the highest volcano on the planet, Ojos del Salado (6,893 m or 22,614 ft). In the extreme south, where the Patagonian Andes emerge, the most outstanding peaks are the renowned and beautiful horns of Torres del Paine and Mount Fitz Roy.