Located on the west coast of South America, Chilean territory includes Antarctica and a handful of islands - among them Juan Fernandez or "Robinson Crusoe" and Easter Island, located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Approximately 16 million people live in Chile - included among them various ethnic groups like the Aymaras, Mapuches, the Easter Island Pascuenses, and a small number from Tierra del Fuego. The official language is Spanish, the major religion is Catholic, and the currency is the Chilean Peso valued at approx. 540 Pesos to the U.S Dollar - July 10/06.
In every sense, Chile is a country of extreme geography: you will find the world´s driest desert (Atacama), fertile fruit producing valleys, beautiful beaches, a region of lakes and volcanoes, dense temperate rainforests, fjords, granite monoliths, glaciers and desolate ice fields. Visiting Chile is like visiting several different countries at the same time.
Although the geography of Chile is incredibly diverse, there are two physical constants that act as natural borders along the entire length of the country: the Pacific Ocean to the West, and the Andes Mountain Range to the East. Next to the Himalayas, some of the highest peaks in the world are found among the majestic Andes. Many peaks reach over 6,000 meters, higher than any mountain in Europe and the highest of the South Western hemisphere.
With an impressive length of over 4,000 kms, touring Chile from end to end means covering a greater distance than from Norway´s northern tip to the Sahara Desert. Crossing Chile however, takes only a few hours: one can ski in the Andes in the morning and enjoy a delicious dinner by the sea the same evening.
The mountains and ocean greatly contribute to Chile´s distinctive fauna, flora, and unique climate. One can find llamas and cacti in the dry northern deserts, flying condors, fertile wine producing valleys and a Mediterranean climate in the central region, and penguins and pampas in the wet frozen expanses of the south.
The first inhabitants of Chile lived in hundreds of small groups, each with its own culture and way of life. This pattern of cultural grouping, which in some areas still exists, explains why each region of the country has its own distinct legends, traditions, cuisine, handicrafts and products. Explorers, naturalists and dreamers from all latitudes have been lured to Chile by its natural beauty. Many foreign born settlers have contributed and mixed their customs with those of the local people to create the great cultural wealth of Chile today.
Chile offers the modern traveler the same excitement of discovery and adventure experienced by early explorers and settlers. Here, one can ski on the slopes of active volcanoes, trek in the breathtaking Andes mountains, sail among thousand year old icebergs, visit centuries old haciendas, and camp on the floor of ancient forests, bathe in natural hotspring pools, and ponder the mysterious "Moais" of Easter Island. One can also find here the world´s oldest mummies, petroglyphs, salt fields and spouting geysers.
Chile is a safe country with a modern tourist industry and an economy that is considered one of the strongest in South America. Throughout the country, one can find a wide range of accomodations from five-star hotels to cabañas (furnished cabins) and hostels. Credit cards are accepted almost everywhere. The capital, Santiago, is a dynamic city where one third of the nation´s population resides. Here, you will find beautiful residential and commercial neighborhoods, an historic center, a bohemian quarter, and one of the best Pre-Columbian Museums in the Americas. Chile´s main exports are copper and other valuable minerals, fruit, salmon, seafood, wine, wood, and a variety of manufactured goods.
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