Fun Facts About Chile

August 18, 2019

Paul Kay

Are you ready for a vacation? How about South America? We have fun facts about Chile in this post. Chile is a long, narrow country located in South America, known for its stunning natural beauty, including the Atacama Desert, the Andes Mountains, and the Chilean Patagonia. Chile is the longest country in the world, stretching over 2,670 miles from north to south. To put that in perspective the distance between the east and west coasts of the continental United States is approximately 2,800 miles. Like Ecuador, Chile has a remote island – Easter Island. However, it is 2,200 miles away. It is home to hundreds of large stone statues called Moai, which were created by the indigenous Rapa Nui people. Chile has the Atacama Desert and it is one of the driest places on Earth, and some parts of the desert have not seen rain in over 400 years. Is Chile a destination for your vacation? As a traveler, here are some fun facts to consider about Chile.

We love Chile and its people, culture and landscape. Here are some history and fun facts to get you excited about your own trip to this beautiful country.

History of Chile

Before Spanish colonization

Chile has been populated since at least 3,000 BC, although Native Americans were known to establish settlements in Chile 10,000 years ago. Pre-Hispanic Chile was home to more than a dozen different societies. Before Spanish colonization, several indigenous peoples lived in Chile. One of the most famous of these cultures were the Chinchorro, who were sedentary fisherman that lived in southern Peru and northern Chile. The Chinchorro are most notable for being the culture that created the world’s oldest intentionally preserved mummies. While the oldest mummy found in Egypt dates from approximately 3,000 BC, the earliest Chinchorro mummy is from about 5,050 BC.

Teheulche Family, Chile

Other indigenous people included the Aonikenk (commonly called by their Mapuche name, Tehuelche), who erroneously were identified as giants in early colonial literature. Before Spanish colonization, Chile was under the control of the Inca in the north and the Mapuche (also known as the Araucanos) in the south. The Inca Empire, although somewhat brief, was very powerful and skilled. They projected their power and control throughout large stretches of the Andes. They extended their control as far as central Chile before their collapse and conquest by the Spanish.

Spanish conquest

Ferdinand Magellan was the first European to sight Chilean territory in 1520 but the Spanish did not arrive until the 1530’s and it was not until 1541 that Spain finally conquered Chile under Pedro de Valdivia and founded Santiago. The greatest resistance to Spanish rule came from the Mapuche who opposed European conquest and colonization for more than 3 centuries.

Bernardo O'Higgins

Chile won its independence from Spain in 1818 under Bernardo O'Higgins and an Argentinian, José de San Martin. O'Higgins laid the foundations of the modern state with a two-party system and a centralized government. From 1830 to 1837, Diego Portales, fought a war with Peru from 1836—1839 that expanded Chilean territory. Chile fought the War of the Pacific with Peru and Bolivia from 1879 to 1883, winning Antofagasta, Bolivia's only outlet to the sea, and extensive areas from Peru.

The liberal Republic period followed, spanning three decades from 1861 until 1891 and characterized by greater political stability and an extension of territory to both the north and south. The civil war of 1891 led to the formation of a parliamentary republic which would continue until the creation of the 1925 Constitution. During this time Congress dominated politics and the president became a largely symbolic figure, essentially devoid of power. The country urbanized rapidly in these years and the first workers’ unions were created. Industrialization began before World War I and led to the formation of Marxist groups. Juan Antonio Ríos, president during World War II, was originally pro-Nazi but in 1944 led his country into the war on the side of the Allies.

After World War Two

When the hostilities of the Second World War stopped, three parties dominated Chilean politics: the radicals, the Christian democrats and the socialists. In 1973, a coup took place which overthrew the democratically elected President Salvador Allende. A military dictatorship followed, and General Augusto Pinochet ruled the country. Tens of thousands of political opponents were arrested, tortured or killed, including several assassinations outside of the country, while many more were expelled or condemned to exile. With the help of the Chicago Boys, Pinochet ushered in a policy of liberal economic doctrine and they adopted a new constitution in 1980.

Since I’m from Chicago, I wondered who the Chicago Boys were. I’d never heard of them. Pinochet had the military muscle to control the country, but he had no economic plan. By 1975, inflation was as high as 341 percent. Into this crisis stepped a group of economists known as the Chicago Boys.

Chicago Boys, Chile University, Santiago, Chile

The Chicago Boys were a group of 30 Chileans who had studied economics at the University of Chicago between 1955 and 1963. During their postgraduate studies, they became disciples of Milton Friedman, who arguably was one of the most important economic minds of the era. The men returned to Chile completely indoctrinated in free-market theory. By the end of 1974, they had risen to positions of power in the Pinochet regime, controlling most of its offices for economic planning.

Although Pinochet was a military dictator, he turned the economy over to the Chicago Boys, and his only role was to suppress political and labor opposition to their policies. The University of Chicago technocrats with PhDs ran the economy according to the best theory available. Those theories, of course, were those of Milton Friedman.

Economist Milton Friedman, University Of Chicago

In March 1975, the Chicago Boys proposed a radical austerity program—shock treatment, they called it—to solve Chile's economic woes. They invited some of the world's top economists to speak at a conference, among them Chicago professors Milton Friedman and Arnold Harberger. Unsurprisingly, Friedman and Harberger gave the proposal high praise. The plan called for a drastic reduction in the money supply and government spending, the privatization of government services, massive deregulation of the market, and the liberalization of international trade. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank agreed, which were very important for loans to Chile.

Shortly after the 1975 conference, the Chilean government initiated the Economic Recovery Program and reduced the money supply and government spending, which succeeded in cutting inflation to acceptable levels. However, it also caused unemployment to rise from 9.1 to 18.7 percent between 1974 and 1975, a figure on par with the U.S. Great Depression. The shock treatment was certainly working.

By 1976, the economy began recovering. From 1978 to 1981, it achieved what the Chicago Boys called the Economic Miracle. During this period, the economy grew 6.6 percent a year. During this same time, the United States’ GDP grew by only 2.5 percent.

The Chicago Boys lifted nearly all restrictions on foreign direct investment, creating an "almost irresistible package of guarantees for the foreign investor" with "extraordinarily permissive" treatment. Foreign investment and loans came to Chile with impressive numbers.

Democracy followed in 1990 with the inauguration of President Patricio Aylwin. In 2006, Michelle Bachelet became the first woman to occupy the highest office in Chile. Then in 2010, Sebastián Pinera took office for a term, followed again by Michelle Bachelet in 2014. With the revolving doors continuing, Sebastián Pinera reassumed the presidency in 2018.

Chile Today

Aerial View from San Cristobal Hill Cable Lift, Santiago, Chile

Chile’s economy is strong with major exports being copper, fruit, fish products, paper and pulp, chemicals, and wine. Tourists probably recognize Chilean wine more readily or perhaps fruit. Tourists also come to Chile as a jumping off spot to Easter Island. Easter Island is a tiny piece of land located in the south east of the Pacific Ocean. It is best known for its 887 giant statues called moai created by the Polynesian indigenous Rapa Nui. The island is quite small with only 64 square miles and is over 2,000 miles away from Chile. Easter Island is one of the most isolated inhabited islands in the world.

Gabriela Mistral, Santiago, Chile
Pablo Neruda

In the arts world, Chile is known for its literary tradition. Some of the world’s most widely acclaimed poets come from Chile, including Nobel Prize winners Gabriela Mistral and Pablo Neruda. Native artistry is also popular with Mapuche artists, who often work in both Mapudungun and Spanish.

Chilean novelists have achieved global success. Authors Roberto Bolano and José Donoso are quite popular. Isabel Allende (cousin to the late President Salvador Allende) is perhaps the most popular Spanish-language writer in the world.

The Chilean coastline is more than half of the entire South American coastline. The coastline stretches 2,650 miles from the remote Tierra del Fuego in the very south of the country to the deserts and altiplano lagoons in the very north of the country.

Aerial View from San Cristobal Hill Cable Lift, Santiago, Chile

The starting point for most visitors to Chile is the capital of Santiago. One of Santiago’s major advantages is its relatively small size and excellent metro system which makes it easy for visitors to the city to explore and move between one area and another.

Teheulche Men, Chile

In the southern Araucanía region of Chile, you’ll find the largest group of indigenous peoples, the Mapuche. Once occupying a territory covering most of Southern Chile and Argentina, the Mapuche are famous for their 350-year struggle against the Spanish conquistadors and later the leaders of the fight for Chilean independence. This area of Chile with its peaceful lakes, rivers and forests, is stunningly beautiful and a visit can be even more rewarding after learning about Mapuche traditions as well as their strong ties to La Araucanía and the environment they strive to protect.

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