What is the terrain and geography like in Chile?
Geographically, Chile offers diversity unmatched by most other countries. It is bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean; to the east it is separated from Bolivia and Argentina by the towering Andes range (La Cordillera de los Andes), with peaks in Chile that rise to 22,600 feet. Peru shares a short border to the north. Within its borders, Chile has four distinct geographic zones: the dry northern desert, the fertile Central Valley, the forests and lakes of south-central Chile, and the archipelagos, fiords and channels of the far south.
The great northern desert or "Norte Grande," which covers one-fourth of the country, is one of the earth’s driest, most barren areas. Some parts have never recorded rainfall. Nonetheless, this desolate, inhospitable area produces the rich mineral deposits of copper and nitrates that are vital to Chile’s economy.
The Central Valley, where most Chileans live, begins with the Aconcagua River Basin north of Santiago and ends with the Bio-Bio River at Concepcion. The nation’s major industrial and agricultural production is located in this region. South of the Bio-Bio the landscape becomes increasingly forested. Especially striking is the area from southeast of Temuco south to Puerto Montt. Here the mountains are dotted with picturesque lakes, hot springs, and snow-capped volcanoes. This area, known as the Chilean Lake District (Región de los Lagos), is a favorite destination for Chilean and foreign tourists.
South of Puerto Montt is an archipelago characterized by high rainfall, with forested fiords, glaciers and sea channels. Still farther south are the windy steppes and sheep country of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego. Chile also claims a wedge-shaped piece of Antarctica.
Several Pacific islands are Chilean territory as well. The Juan Fernandez Islands are 360 miles southwest of Valparaiso. The marooned sailor, Alexander Selkirk, lived on one of these islands for 5 years; his adventures inspired Daniel Defoe’s novel, Robinson Crusoe. About 2,300 miles west of Chile is Easter Island, locally referred to as "Rapa-Nui," which is inhabited by ethnic Polynesians whose ancestors carved the gigantic stone monuments (Moai) for which the island is famous.