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A long, narrow strip of territory. A strip containing different cultures, multicolor geography, and natural settings overflowing with beauty: the impetuous Andes, the shores washed by the Pacific Ocean, the dry, thirsty desert. A wonderful strip of territory named Chile, that winds down the southwest coast of South America, extending its sway to a handful of idyllic islands and the frozen white wastes of the Antarctic.

The Republic of Chile -located between 17º 30' and 90º south latitude - has a combined continental and insular area of 756,626 square kilometers and an Antarctic surface area of 1,250,000 square kilometers. Its uniquely shaped, elongated strip of territory has an average width of 177 kilometers, measuring only 90 km at its narrowest point, at the mouth of the Choapa river.

The zigzagging swath of Chilean territory harbored a population numbering exactly 15,116,435 inhabitants according to the 2002 census. Ninety percent of these are of mixed ethnic origin, and the remaining 10 percent are divided between pure native Indians and the descendants of European immigrants. This ethnic mosaic adds cultural diversity which is clearly visible in the high Andean plateau and the southern plains, where the Andes traditions survive in their purest form.

History tells us that the present territory of the country was under the control of the Incas until European "conquistadors" arrived in the 16th century. Before that, the Mapuches and Araucanos had been the masters of this territory. With the inflow of western Europeans, this piece of South America became a Spanish colony until 1817, when local patriots declared their independence.

Currently, Chile is one of South America's most stable and highly developed countries, features that added to its natural and cultural attractions, make it a preferred venue for travelers, awing them with the immensity of its Atacama desert, refreshing them on its Viña del Mar beaches and posing puzzles for them on its Easter Island, in Patagonia or in the vast wastes of the unconquerable Antarctic.
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Chile has much to offer: history, archaeology and nature. Frozen thrills on its ski runs - the best in the continent -, dizzying challenges on its Andean peaks, among them the Aconcagua colossus, the highest snowcapped peak in all of America, unforgettable fishing trips and much, much more in this magic strip that keeps on changing its geographic attire.

Santiago, its capital city, is the heart of the country. A city that exhibits its past in the colonial features of its old mansions and projects itself into the future in the lines of its modern buildings. Modern and cosmopolitan, this city of over 5 million inhabitants has become one of the continent's cultural and economic focal points, offering a first-rate hotel infrastructure.

There are reasons galore to visit this stretched-out corner of South America: the welcoming warmth of its people, the unlimited beauties of its cities and towns, the mysteries of its ancient civilizations, the multiplicity of its tourism offers, the excellence of its wines - the best in the planet; in a nutshell, a plethora of options, almost as long, varied and exciting as the Chilean territory itself.



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