is a country of startling contrasts and extreme beauty, with attractions
ranging from the towering volcanic peaks of the Andes to the ancient
forests of the Lake District. There are a multitude of very good parks
here, and plenty of opportunities for fine adventure travel. Chile is
justly famous as the location of Torres del Paine, considered by many to
be the finest nature travel destinations in all of South America.
Location, Geography Climate
For anyone who has ever been fascinated by geography, the long, impossibly
thin line of Chile has always produced a tiny moment of astonishment.
Chile stretches over 4,300 km (2,700 mi) along the southwestern coast of
South America, a distance roughly the same as that from San Francisco to
New York, or Edinburgh to Baghdad. At the same time, its width never
exceeds 240 km (150 mi), making the country more than eighteen times
longer than its widest point.
The most obvious factor in Chile's remarkable slenderness is the massive,
virtually impassable wall of the Andes, a mountain range that is still
rising and that contains more than fifty active volcanic peaks. The
western border is of course the Pacific Ocean, but it is a misconception
to picture Chile as nothing more than the steep western slope of the
Andean peaks. All along its length Chile is marked by a narrow depression
between the mountains and the sea. To the north the land rises and becomes
more arid, until one reaches the forbidding Atacama Desert, one of the
most inhospitable regions on earth. To the south just the opposite
transformation takes place: the land falls away, and the region between
mountains and ocean fades into the baffling archipelagic maze that
terminates in Chilean Patagonia. Chile's southern extremity is marked by
Cape Horn, a treacherous headland surrounded by almost continuously
storm-tossed seas and passable only through the foggy stillness of the
Strait of Magellan.
the center of the country, however, is a long and expansive river valley,
a five hundred mile corridor occupied in the north by vineyards and great
farms and in the south by primeval forests and enchanting lakes. Santiago,
the capital, anchors the northern and more prosperous section of the
central valley. The lush Lake District to the south, however, is the
homeland of Chile's indigenous peoples, the Araucanians.
Also part of Chile are two notable Pacific possessions-the Juan Fernandez
Islands and the famous Easter Island, both of which are administered as
national parks. The Juan Fernandez islands are located about 670 km off
the Chilean coast, while Easter Island is situated 3700 km distant.
Chile's climate is as diverse as its geography. Aside from the obviously
extreme climatic conditions of the Andes an the Atacama, however, the
country enjoys a comfortable temperate climate.
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