A narrow and very long country, Chile is blessed with tremendously diverse landscapes, and is rightfully known for its stunning natural beauty.
The Atacama Desert with its lunar landscape and salt lakes is positioned in the north, the Andes mountains with temperate forests run along the entire western part of the continent and form a border with Argentina, while to the south lies rugged wilderness and glaciers.
History of Chile
The territory of present-day Chile was home to a variety of indigenous cultures. The Incas briefly controlled what is now northern Chile but the Mapuche peoples managed to fight subjugation.
Fast forward to 1520. While attempting the circumnavigate the globe, Ferdinand Magellan discovered the straits now named after him and was the first European to set foot in what is now Chile.
These straits divide South America to the north and Tierra del Fuego to the south. They allow passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean and whilst the straits can be difficult to navigate, it is preferable to the stormy seas around Cape Horn, the southern most point of Tierra del Fuego.
Spanish conquistadors arrived from Peru in 1535 but began the conquest in 1540. Santiago was founded in 1541 but conquest of the Mapuche was difficult and several insurrections destroyed many settlements. Adding to their difficulties were the European privateers such as Sir Francis Drake who raided the Spanish trade routes and plundered the rich treasures being transported back to Spain. Nonetheless, Chile became a colony of Spain.
Back in Europe with the Peninsular War (1807-1814) raging between Spain, Portugal and the United Kingdom on one side, and Napoleonic France on the other, Napoleon made his brother the King of Spain in 1808. This precipitated Chile's push for independence, first as an autonomous republic in 1810, and then full independence after a war in 1818.
Not satisfied with this, the hero of independence, Bernardo O'Higgins planned to also relieve Spain of the Philippines, the largest city in what is now Ecuador, and the Galapagos Islands but he was exiled first.
Chile expanded south into Tierra del Fuego in 1843 and gained sovereignty over the Magellan Straits in 1881 by treaty with Argentina. The War of the Pacific (1879-1884) against Bolivia and Peru added Bolivian and Peruvian coastal regions to Chilean territory.
The 1900s saw military coups and democratic rule but in 1972 a mixed bag of socialists led by President Allende oversaw a poor economy, expropriation and nationalisation of industry, and subsequent capital flight in the face of socialist policies. A military coup led by General Augusto Pinochet overthrew Allende and stayed in power until 1990, upon which democratic processes restarted.