Country Information


Most of the pre-European remains found in Chile are located in the northern desert portion of the country. Of these, the best known are the cultures of the Chinchorro people and the Aymara farmers who cultivated food in the north desert canyons.

It was in 1495 that Spain and Portugal turned their eyes to Chile. The Treaty of Tordesillas gave the land to Spain, and Conquistadors began their bloody reign. By the mid-16th century, Spanish influence was popping up all over Chile, and the indigenous people in the south were succumbing to disease and adopting the use of horses and guns.

The north resisted strongly, however, and Spain made its first attempt to subdue these people in 1535 when Diego de Almagro attempted to lead his men over the frozen Andean passes. He lost many men and animals to the cold, and it was not until Pedro de Valdivia tried a different route in 1540 that they were successful, founding the city of Santiago. War ensued, but eventually Spain was successful and began laying the groundwork for a new society.

In colonial Chile, a feudal system emerged wherein Valdivia rewarded those who followed him with huge land grants. Soon, the native people began mixing with the Spaniards to create the Mestizo race, and these people became tenant farmers on these haciendas.

The people of Chile began pushing for independence in the early 1800s. The heavy taxation and the difficult tax system imposed by Spain made this push even stronger as the people wanted a freer commerce system. As independence movements began growing throughout South America, Jose de San Martin, the liberator of the Argentine, entered Chile in an attempt to push the Spaniards out as well. He was finally successful, and formal independence was declared in 1818.

Surprisingly, Chile was able to establish a politically stable, economically sound republic fairly quickly. Its agriculture, mining and industry sectors provided a base for commerce. The country was led by Bernardo O’Higgins, but the landholders did not approve of his high taxes, and he resigned in 1823. A new constitution was drawn that limited voting rights to those who held property, which remained in place until 1925.

The late 1800s brought a period of economic prosperity and territorial expansion. However, wealth was badly distributed, and this led to civil war in 1890. By the 20th century, the country’s main export, nitrate, was no longer in high demand, and economic hardship set in.

By the end of World War II, a new need for copper, which was abundant in Chile, brought economic growth to the country once again. In the 1960s, land reform took power from landowners and gave it to the people as a whole, and two parties, the Christian Democrats and National Party, began pushing for control.

A trucking strike in the 1970s weakened the existing government, leading to a brief military struggle. The result was a new constitution and a military dictatorship under General Pinochet, which lasted until 1989. In the 1989 elections, Pinochet was voted out, and Christian Democrat Patricio Aylwin was able to reestablish democracy in the country.


Unique Characteristics

  • Chile is considered one of the most homogeneous nations in Latin America. Its culture and ethnicities are fairly unified, without the geographic contrasts found in many other Latin American countries.
  • The majority of people living in Chile are mestizos, or of mixed European-indigenous descent, but the term mestizo is not used in the country, as it has a somewhat negative connotation.
  • The main language of the country is Spanish, and it does not have any recognizable regional accents, in spite of the distance between the north and south. However, Chilean Spanish is distinctive from other Latin American countries because of its very musical pronunciation.
  • Entertaining guests in the home is quite common in Chile, and a small gift to the host or hostess is customary.


Fun Facts

  • Powdered coffee is the most common form of coffee found in Chile. The native people are, by far, more prone to drink tea than coffee.
  • Fruit is one of the main exports of Chile, but the fruit-growing season is opposite that of the United States, so they can export their fruits to the US when winter makes growth in the states difficult. From November through April, Chile is responsible for nearly 15 percent of the fruit sold in North America.
  • Chile has over 2,000 volcanoes, with 50 of them being active.
  • The real Robinson Crusoe, a man named David Selkirk, was shipwrecked on a desert island off of the shores of Chile. It is believed the island’s fresh fruit kept him alive for several years.


Top Destinations

  • Easter Island – Easter Island is a Polynesian island located off of the shores of Chile. The mysterious moai statues draw people to the island, but it is also an excellent place to scuba dive and enjoy horseback riding.
  • Valparaiso – This bustling hillside city is known for its excellent seafood, thriving nightlife and colorful architecture.
  • Santiago – The capital of Chile, Santiago has some of the country’s best places to eat and party. It also has a rich art scene.
  • Pucon – Pucon is an excellent destination for those who love the outdoors and ecotourism. Be prepared to tour an active volcano here.
  • San Pedro de Atacama – Sand dunes, quiet Andean mountain villages, geysers and amazing rock and salt formations await those who visit this northern community.
  • Strait of Magellan – This historic waterway offers stunning views of the Andean fjords and is a leisurely day spent on a boat.
  • The Lakes District – Packed with lakes and national parks, this region is surrounded by German settlements that add to its photo-worthy appearance.
  • La Serena – This colonial city is near it all: great beaches, the Reserva Nacional Pinguino de Humboldt and the Elqui Valley. Photo opportunities are endless.
  • Tierra del Fuego – The southernmost islands off of the tip of Chile, these are ideal for hiking and skiing. Sea lions and penguins both call this area home and can be seen from catamaran boats.
  • Isla Robinson Crusoe – See where the real Robinson Crusoe lived while enjoying fresh seafood or a scuba-diving expedition.


How to Get Cash

  • Exchange bureaus in most major cities offer good rates to exchange US dollars and euros into the Chilean peso. The rate at these locations will be published on a board you can see, so you can look for the one with the most competitive rate. Moneychangers on the street are not to be trusted. Also, hotel and airport moneychangers offer horribly high rates.
  • ATMs can be found in most major cities, but the surcharge will vary depending on the bank that owns the ATM. Banco Estado does not typically add a surcharge, but be prepared for your own bank or credit card company to add a fee for this.
  • Most retailers and restaurants in major cities and chain stores throughout the country will accept credit and debit cards, but you will need a PIN to use both.
  • If you run out of cash, consider visiting a money transfer company to have some wired to you, but be prepared to pay dearly for this service. The fees are typically quite high, but it can serve you well in an emergency.

Exchange Rates



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