Chile covers an area of 756,945 sq. km. (302,778 sq. mi.) and is nearly twice the size of California, with an estimated population of over 16 million. Located in southern South America, Chile borders the countries of Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru. This is a strategic location relative to sea lanes between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans (Strait of Magellan, Beagle Channel, Drake Passage). Santiago (metropolitan area est. 6.25 million) is the capital city; other cities include Concepcion-Talcahuano (840,000), Vina del Mar-Valparaiso (800,000), Antofagasta (245,000), and Temuco (230,000).
The varying terrain consists of desert in the north, fertile central valleys, volcanoes and lakes in the south, and mountains in the east. Atacama Desert is one of world's driest regions; the northern Chilean desert contains great mineral wealth, principally copper. The relatively small central area dominates the country in terms of population and agricultural resources. This area also is the cultural and political center from which Chile expanded until the late 19th century, when it incorporated its northern and southern regions. The southern coast is a labyrinth of fjords, inlets, canals, twisting peninsulas, and islands. The Andes Mountains are located on the eastern border. Typically, Chile’s climate ranges from arid in north, Mediterranean in the central portion, and cool and damp in south.
Southern Chile is rich in forests and grazing lands and features a string of volcanoes and lakes. Located in Southern Chile, Chaitén is a small, glacier-free late-Pleistocene caldera with a Holocene lava dome located 10 km NE of the town of Chaitén on the Gulf of Corcovado. The high point on its southern rim reaches 1122 m. There are over 100 volcanoes in or bordering Chile. Read more about volcanoes at http://www.volcano.si.edu/.
About 85% of Chile's population lives in urban areas, with 40% living in greater Santiago. Most have Spanish ancestry. A small, yet influential number of Irish and English immigrants came to Chile during the colonial period. German immigration began in 1848 and lasted for 90 years; the southern provinces of Valdivia, Llanquihue, and Osorno show a strong German influence. Other significant immigrant groups are Italian, Croatian, Basque, and Palestinian. About 800,000 Native Americans, mostly of the Mapuche tribe, reside in the south-central area. The Aymara and Diaguita groups can be found mainly in Chile’s northern desert valleys.
Chile has a market-oriented economy characterized by a high level of foreign trade. Chile deepened its longstanding commitment to trade liberalization with the signing of a free trade agreement with the US, which took effect on January 1, 2004.
CIA World Factbook; U.S. State Department Background Notes; Smithsonian Institution, 02/2009; 02/2009; 2009