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, yet beautiful, 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.

In 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 parts of Chile are the 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. (Text adapted from