Regional Geography of Chile
1. Physical Characteristics
◦ Relative location
◦ Landscape and Physical Environment
◦ Weather and climate
2. Human Characteristics
◦ Population, Density and Age/Sex characteristics
◦ Language and religion
◦ Cultural/ethnic groups
3. Economic Characteristics
◦ Major economic activities
◦ Imports and Exports
◦ GNP and GNP per capita
Chile is a long, narrow country that stretches along the southern Pacific coast of on the west edge of South America. To the east, Chile is bounded by the Andes mountain range. Chile extends approximately 2,700 miles from 17°30′ S., to the tip of South America at 56° S. (Drake, 2019). Chile is a very narrow country, averaging 110 miles in width. As a comparison of size, Long Island is approximately 188 miles wide. Its land area of 291,930 square miles is about twice the size of California (Veregin, 2010).
Chile is geographically divided into three sections according to the physical geography in the respective sections. In the easternmost part of the country is the mountainous terrain of the Andes (Dwyer, 1997). On the west side along the Pacific coast are a length of mountains called the coastal cordillera (Dwyer, 1997). This includes the north and central parts of the country that feature a low, flat beach between the ocean and the coastal cordillera (Dwyer, 1997). The third physical land category is the central lowlands, which is a long valley between the coastal cordillera and the ocean (Dwyer, 1997). Since Chile is so long and narrow, it can be classified from north to south in terms of physical geography. The north/south sections are: the Norte Grande, Norte Chico, the Central Zone, the Frontier, the Lake Country, and the Far South (Dwyer, 1997).
As varied of a landscape that Chile possesses, the weather is arguably more varied. Since Chile occupies 38 degrees in latitude, it is difficult to make a broad or general description of the climate. The Aticama Desert, in the Norte Grande section is “one of the driest spots on Earth” (Dwyer 1997) , while the Central Zone has a wet Mediterranean climate. Mediterranean climates are found on the western side of continents centered about at 35 degrees north and south latitude” (Hess, 2011). In extreme southern Chile, glaciers lie in an alpine tundra. Chile’s largest city, Santiago, has a cool semi arid climate with warm, dry summers and cool, humid winters (Kaminski, 2015). Since Chile is in the Southern Hemisphere its seasons are the opposite of the Northern Hemisphere. Summer is December to March, and winter is June to September.
Chile is a relatively large country in terms of total area, ranking 37th in the world. Population-wise, the country is sparsely inhabited with a population of 18,600,000 (Population Reference Bureau, 2019). According to Goode’s World Atlas, Chile has a population density of 65 persons per square mile, which ranks 194th out of 240 sovereign states and dependent territories. Their birth rate has been declining since 1990, which has resulted in a declining population growth rate (World Bank, 2018). About 85 percent of the country’s population resides in urban areas (World Bank, 2018), Santiago being the largest metropolitan area. Females make up 50.51 percent of the population (World Bank, 2018). Chile’s declining population growth rate is evident when compared to the worldwide population breakdown. According to the United Nations, the worldwide population of persons aging 0-14 is 26.3 percent. Chile’s population in the same category is 21.49 percent (UNSD, 2017).
Spanish is by far the predominant language spoken in Chile. The history of the language dates back to the Spanish conquest in the sixteenth century when what is now Chile became part of the Spanish Empire. Chile’s neighbors, Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina speak Spanish as well. “Chile’s somewhat isolated geography and colonial Spanish heritage have contributed to the creation of a homogeneous society with shared customs, values, and a common language” (Winter & Roraff, 2012). The Spanish spoken in Chile “tends to be uniform, although there are subtle regional differences” (Winter & Rofaff, 2012). Of the 18 million Chileans, 17 million speak Spanish as their first language (Kaminski, 2015). The remainder of the languages spoken in Chile belong to the native population and immigrants.
Religion is a common element that the Chilean people share. “Over 70 percent of Chileans identify themselves as Roman Catholic, although a much smaller percentage of them are actually practicing Catholics. About 15 percent are Protestants, most belonging to fundamentalist churches” (Winter & Rolaff, 2012). The relatively large native population have their own beliefs as well. The native population still has a great influence on the culture. Much of the indigenous population was wiped out by the Spanish, but large tribe still remain to this day. The largest indigenous group in Chile is the Mapuche. The Mapuche population is over 600,000 (Winter & Rolaff, 2012). In addition to Spanish, they have their own language, called Mapudungun (Winter and Rolaff, 2012).
The largest economic sectors in Chile are mining, business services, personal services, manufacturing, and wholesale and retail trade. (Banco Central De Chile, 2018). Mining is by far the biggest driver of the Chilean economy. It has become the copper mining capital of the world, producing over one third of the global copper output (Banco Central De Chile, 2018). Most of the mining in Chile is done in the far north of Chile. Besides copper, Chile exports gold, silver, molybdenum, iron and coal (Banco Central De Chile, 2018).
Wine is an important export well. The climate of Chile is conducive to growing fine grapes, similar to California or France. Chile is now the fifth-largest exporter of wines in the world (Banco Central De Chile, 2018). The service sector is an important element of the economy and is growing. The service sector consists of “maritime and aeronautical services, retail, tourism, engineering and construction services, informatics, and health & education (Winter and Rolaff, 2012).
Chile is considered as the most stable and prosperous nation in South America (World Bank, 2018). According to the CIA World Factbook (2013), “Chile’s sound economic policies, have contributed to steady economic growth … and have more than halved poverty rates.” The Gross National Product is was $298 billion in 2018, which ranked 40th in the world. The Gross National Product per capita in 2018 was $16,078, ranking 52nd in the world (Wikipedia.com, 2019)
Banco Central De Chile. (2018). Statistics Database. Retrieved from https://si3.bcentral.cl/Siete/secure/cuadros/home.aspx?Idioma=en-US.
Central Intelligence Agency. (2013). The CIA World Factbook 2013-2014. La Vergne: Skyhorse Publishing.
Dwyer, C. (1997). Chile ([Rev.]. ed.). Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers.
Hess, D., McKnight, T. L., & Tasa, D. (2011). McKnight's Physical Geography (10. ed., student ed. ed.). Boston ; Munich [u.a.]: Prentice Hall.
Kaminski, A., & Meghji, S. (2015). The Rough Guide to Chile (6th ed.) Rough Guides. Roraff, S. (2011). Chile. New York, NY: Marshall Cavendish Corporation.
Population Reference Bureau. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.prb.org.
UNSD - Demographic and Social Statistics. (2017). Retrieved from https://unstats.un.org/unsd/demographic-social/products/dyb/index.cshtml.
Veregin, H. (2010). Goode's World Atlas (22. ed. ed.). Chicago: Rand McNally.
Wikipedia. (2019). Retrieved from www.wikipedia.org.
Winter, J. K., & Roraff, S. (2012). Chile. New York: Marshall Cavendish Benchmark.
World Bank. (2018). Population Growth for Chile. Retrieved from https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/SPPOPGROWCHL.
Submitted by Stuart on April 12, 2019