Squeezed between the Andes and the Pacific, this spaghetti-like strip of land was affectionately tagged “the thin country” by the Nobel prize-winning Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. It is never more than 110 miles wide, and its coastline extends over 2700 miles. Within its borders are the world’s driest desert, lush expanses of forest and a spectacular array of glaciers and fiords. And, stretched directly along the pacific “ring of fire”, Chile has some 2085 volcanoes, of which 55 are active. In some parts of the country, earth tremors occur almost weekly.
This wild geography hasn’t stopped Chile from becoming one of the continent’s most developed nations. In fact, you will soon tire of hearing it described as “the Latin American country that works”. Travelers are often surprised by the efficiency of Chile’s banking system, its transport and services-but behind the affluent surface are social and economic imbalances waiting to be redressed.
Its amazing marine wildlife and the mystical and ancient Easter Island an outdoor museum doted with more than 600 giant statues, turquoise waters, volcanoes and mysterious caves, silent witness of a never fully interpreted civilization.
Chileans are predominantly mestizos-the descendants of mainly Spanish immigrants and native Amerindians- although there are pockets of pure-blooded mapuche Indians, as well as direct descendants of German, Swiss and other immigrants. Indeed, the feeling of Chile’s cities and the manners of Chileans are strongly European. They are an urbane and courteous people, who will go 10 blocks out of their way to show stranger directions. Among Latin Americans, Chileans are renowned for their creative flair: Chilean folk musicians, poets and painters are followed in every country on the continent. And their reputation for legalizing and business acumen has earned them a some what facetious label as the “English of South America”.
The traditional hospitality of Chileans, noted by travelers from the 18th century onward, is even more evident today. Chileans have welcomed the influx of foreigners as a sign of support for their democracy. And with Chile’s economy on of South America’s most robust, a new confidence and optimism adds to the already invigorating Andean atmosphere.