What’s long and lean, coastal and mountainous, high and dry? Chile. And that’s only scratching the surface. The ever-innovative adventure travel company, explora, which is based in the capital city of Santiago and drawn to remote regions and cultures throughout Chile and South America beyond, has compiled a handful of intriguing details of the land affectionately known as La Roja – “The Red,” that is, same as its national football team, which plays a sport affectionately known as “soccer.” Well, in the U.S., at least. But that’s another story…
Who knew Chile was the longest country in the world? Actually probably a lot of people – just look at a map! Still, the details are pretty neat. Set snug along the western edge of the Andes Mountains, Chile runs 4,270 kilometers (2,653 miles) from the Diego Ramírez Islands and Cape Horn in the south to the borders of Peru and Bolivia in the north. If you laid out Chile smack in the middle of North America it would stretch from the U.S. border with Canada all the way to southern Mexico.
Who knew Chile was so skinny? With an average width of just 177 kilometers (110 miles), Chile is the narrowest country in the world. Its broadest point near Antofagasta is only 356 kilometers (221 miles) while its narrowest point at Illapel is just 90 kilometers (56 miles).
Who knew that Chile spans three continents? While it is primarily laid out in the South American continent, Chile also has sovereignty over Easter Island (a.k.a., Rapa Nui) way out in Oceania in the tropical Pacific Ocean. The country also claims Territorio Chileno Antártico, a territory of Antarctica that at least partially overlaps similar claims by Argentina and Britain. The territory is occupied with eight bases of operation, four of which operate year-round solely for scientific research.
Who knew Chile had so many climates? Thanks to its unusual length and the diversity of its landscapes and ecosystems, Chile has seven distinct climates, ranging from desert in the north through Mediterranean, alpine, tundra, humid subtropical and oceanic along its spine, to frosty polar in Antarctica.
Who knew Chile was so volcanic? There are at least 2,000 volcanoes in Chile, of which 500 are considered geologically active. Within the area of San Pedro de Atacama, departure point for the adventures of explora Atacama, there are four volcanoes including Lincancabur, Lascar, Putana and Sairecabur. Meanwhile, Easter Island is a volcanic high island consisting of three extinct coalesced volcanoes: Terevaka, Poike and Rano Kau. The vast majority of the silent moai that give Rapa Nui its cache were carved of tuff, a compressed volcanic ash. The island is shaped like a triangle, with a volcano in each corner -Poike, Rano Kau and Terevaka - but there’s also Rano Raraku Volcano, known as the “moai quarry”.
Who knew Chile has the 5th most beautiful place in the world? The editors of National Geographic Traveler, which ranked Torres del Paine Park as such in 2013. Hotel Salto Chico, base of operations of explora Patagonia, is right at the heart of the park, which was designated a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve in 1978. From glaciers to lakes to the iconic peaks of Cuernos del Paine, the 2,422 square kilometer (935 square mile) park holds many wonders, including breeding populations of 15 species of birds of prey, one of which – the condor – appears on Chile’s National Coat of Arts alongside another park inhabitant, the huemul, a.k.a., the South Andean deer.
Who knew Chile has the highest, driest desert on the planet? The Mars-like Atacama Desert along the Pacific coast west of the Andes also has some of the clearest skies anywhere, making it the perfect spot for ALMA, a radio astronomy telescope built by Europe, Japan, Canada, the U.S. and Chile. It’s the world’s largest astronomical project. While explora travelers can’t squint at the heavens through ALMA, they can examine the Southern night sky through the Meade 16-inch f/10 LX200R Advanced RC Telescope at Hotel de Larache, the desert outpost of explora Atacama. The scope is outfitted with premium-grade optical glass, a Super Wide Angle Eyepiece, and a “piggy bracket” for mounting digital cameras for spectacular shots. Prepare to be dazzled.
Who knew Chile bordered such rough water? Way down south at the tip of Chile lays Cape Horn, the southernmost part of Tierra del Fuego Island, which used to be considered the most southerly point in South America. Not anymore – but whatever. Cape Horn is not only south enough it also borders the Drake Passage, a notoriously rough, 800-kilometer-wide (500-mile-wide) stretch of open blue named for the English privateer Sir Francis Drake. Cut across the narrowest part of the passage and you’ll hit Antarctica’s Snow Island located 130 kilometers (81 miles) from the frosty mainland.
Who knew so many people visit Chile? Some 3.5 million in 2012 alone, in fact, including 266,000 North Americans.
Who knew the Nobel Prize-winning author Pablo Neruda could be so descriptive? He did say Chile “was invented by a poet,” after all.