Chile Facts
Chile Facts

67 Interesting Facts about Chile

Jill Bartholomew
By Jill Bartholomew, Junior Writer
Published February 10, 2017
  • Chile may derive its name from the indigenous Mapuche word chilli, which may mean “where the land ends.” Another meaning attributed to Chile’s name is the onomatopoeic “cheele-cheele”—the Mapuche imitation of a bird call. The Spanish heard about “Chilli” from the Incas in Peru, who had failed to conquer the land inhabited by the Araucanians, of which the Mapuche were the most warlike group. The survivors of Diego de Almagro’s first Spanish expedition south from Peru in 1535-1537 called themselves “Men of Chilli.”[8]
  • Chile’s national flag is similar to the state flag of Texas. It was designed by Minister Jose Ignacio Centeno after a suggestion by U.S. Envoy Joel Roberts Poinsett and came into use in 1817.[6]
  • Chile has the largest annual fireworks show in all of South America in the city of Valparaiso during its famed New Year’s Pyrotechnic Festival. In 2007, Valparaiso shot for the Guinness Book of World Records with the largest amount of fireworks exploded in one evening: 16,000.[9]
  • With over 100 wineries in the country, Chile is now the 5th largest exporter of wine in the world.[16]
  • The official and unusual name for the Chilean soccer team is the “O’Higgins a Patriot of Chilean Rule.”[16]
  • Interesting Chile Facts
    Chile is the longest country in the world from north to south
  • Chile is the longest country in the world from north to south at 2,647 miles (4,620 km) long and extends across 38 degrees of latitude. The Andes Mountain Range extends the entire length of the country north to south.[6]
  • Chile is one of the few countries on earth that has a government-supported UFO research organization.[19]
  • Chile’s Central District has had so many reported UFO sightings over the past 20 years that in 2008, the town of San Clemente opened a 19-mile UFO trail that winds through the Andes Mountains, whose plateaus apparently make great landing pads for the UFOs.[14]
  • Chilean husbands and wives have different last names because women keep their maiden names. If they have the same last names, they are often considered brother and sister.[16]
  • Divorce in Chile was legalized only in 2005, and the country has one of the lowest divorce rates globally.[16]
  • Chilean teatime is the third meal of the day and is called once, or 11, which takes place at 5 p.m. There are three versions of how once got its name. The first version claims that it is named after the time the British take their tea, 11 a.m. The second version claims that it is named after a British variety of biscuits called elevenses that the British serve with their tea. The third version says that at teatime, the men went to the kitchen or back room to have a sip of aguardiente, a grape spirit, instead of tea. Since the word has 11 letters, they called it once.[16]
  • Chile’s national drink, Pisco, is a clear liquid similar to brandy. It is grown in Chile in the Elqui Valley and is commonly mixed with soft drinks like Coca-Cola (Piscola) or ginger ale or vermouth. But the most common version is the Pisco sour where it is blended with lemon juice, sugar, ice, and beaten egg whites. The Peruvians made the Pisco sour famous, but the Chilean version tastes slightly different.[16]
  • Interesting Penguin Facts
    Chile is home to four species of penguin, including the Southern Rockhopper Penguins
  • Penguins can be found in several areas of southern Chile, including the Seno Otway Penguin Colony near Punta Arenas. Humboldt penguins can also be found in the north coast of Chile.[5]
  • Chile’s Atacama Desert is the driest desert in the world. Parts of the Atacama have not seen a drop of rain since recordkeeping began. The Atacama is also home to geoglyphs, or large drawings made from stones, arranged on the side of the mountains. The Gigante de Atacama (Atacama Giant), located at Cerro Unitas, is the largest prehistoric anthropomorphic figure in the world at 390 feet (119 m) high and supposedly represents a deity for the indigenous people, from A.D. 1000 to 1400.[16]
  • In 2000, the Casa de Vidrio, a transparent glass house, was placed in the center of Santiago. A young actress lived in it for two weeks, revealing even intimate aspects of her daily routine to curious Santiaguinos. The controversial glass house was an unprecedented attempt to lay bare the double standards of Chilean morality and protest against café con piernas, which are Chilean stand-up bars where customers are served by scantily dressed waitresses.[16]
  • Chile’s Lago Llanquihue is the second largest lake in South America, after Peru’s Lake Titicaca, at 330 square miles (860 square km). The name means “deep place” in Mapuche.[16]
  • The Chilean region of Patagonia was given its name by Ferdinand Magellan, and it’s actually said to be derived from the Spanish word patagones, which means “big feet.” This possibly refers to a race of large Indians who inhabited the region and who wrapped their feet in animal skins, making them seem disproportionately large.[17]
  • Scottish sailor Alexander Selkirk was marooned for about four years on Chile’s Islas Juan Fernández, located 364 miles (587 km) west of Valparaiso. After being rescued, he published his story of survival and was said to be the inspiration for Daniel Defoe’s classic novel Robinson Crusoe.[16]
  • Easter Island—Isla de Pascua, in Spanish, or Rapa Nui, in Polynesian—is the best known of Chile’s Pacific Islands. It lies 2,300 miles (3,700 km) off the coast. Originally called Te Pito O Te Henua (Navel of the World) by the first Polynesian settlers over 1,500 years ago, Easter Island gained its current name when Admiral Jacob Roggeveen, a Dutchman, stumbled upon it on Easter Day in 1772.[16]
  • Chilean Patagonia is one of the cleanest places on the planet.[11]
  • Interesting Chile Fact
    Located in the southernmost part of South America, Patagonia occupies 260,000 square miles spanning Argentina and Chile

  • The copihue—a vine from the lily family that produces a red, white, or pink bell-shaped flower—is the national flower of Chile.[16]
  • Chile’s Easter Island is known for its 867 Moais. These sculptures of volcanic rock, believed to represent deceased chiefs or gods, stand as tall as 20 feet (6 m).[16]
  • The alerce tree, found in southern Chile, is noted for its longevity. Some alerces are over 4,000 years old.[16]
  • Chile has the world’s largest reserves of copper—around one-quarter of the global supply—and is the number one exporter of copper in the world. Chile also has the second largest reserve of lithium and has substantial reserves of iron, silver, salt, zinc, manganese, molybdenum, gold, coal, and iodine.[16]
  • Chile began to export salmon in 1984 and is now the world’s second largest exporter of salmon after Norway. Chile is also the largest exporter of fishmeal in the world.[16]
  • Interesting Chile Earthquake Fact
    The largest recorded earthquake in the world was a magnitude 9.5 in Chile on May 22, 1960
  • In modern times, Chile has been struck by 28 earthquakes with a force greater than 6.9 on the Richter scale. In 1960, a powerful earthquake measuring 9.5 hit southern Chile with the epicenter at Valdivia, killing more than 1,500 people and leaving approximately 2,000 homeless. This is the biggest earthquake recorded on earth since 1900.[18]
  • A popular event on the Chilean island of Chiloé is the minga, which brings the entire community together to move a house. The Chiloéns mount the house on tree trunks, and then the house is pulled by oxen to the new site.[16]
  • Huasos are Chilean cowboys. The term comes from the Mapuche word for shoulders or haunches, because the Mapuche had never seen horses before the Spanish conquest and believed the conquistadors were attached to the horse between the shoulder and haunch. Huasos live in Chile’s Central Valley where cattle are raised. The Huaso zone begins in Santiago and extends southward.[16]
  • The tijerales—the roof support structure on a building—custom is widespread throughout Chile. On all construction sites, regardless of whether it is a small house or a major skyscraper, when the tijerales have been completed, a flag is placed on the roof and an asada (barbecue) is held for all who were involved in the construction.[16]
  • Born Neftalí Reyes, Chile’s most famous poet, Pablo Neruda, was a student at the school where Gabriela Mistral was head teacher. Taking his famous pseudonym, Neruda won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971. He is best known for his love poetry, Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair, and his celebration of Latin American culture, Heights of Machu Picchu.[16]
  • The Chilean television program Sábado Gigante (Giant Saturday) has become an institution throughout the Americas. It is an almost seven-hour program that takes place every Saturday night and has a live audience participating in contests and watching skits, interviews, and news reports.[16]
  • Interesting Chilea Nobel Prize Fact
    IN 1945, Gabriela Mistral became the first Latin American author to receive a Nobel Prize in Literature
  • Gabriela Mistral, whose real name was Lucila Godoy Alcayaga, became the first Chilean and Latin American in 1945 to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. A poor, rural school teacher, Mistral wrote poetry about her village, Monte Grande, and the children of her school.[16]
  • The Chilean Andes have more than 2,000 active volcanoes. The largest is Llullaillaco at 22,104 feet (6,737 m).[3]
  • Founded in 1848, Punta Arenas, at the very southern tip of Chile and the South American continent, was originally used as a penal colony but later became an important port of call for ships rounding the continent.[3]
  • For most of the 1880s, John Thomas York, a Yorkshire-born mechanic who emigrated to Chile in 1866, ran a state within a state in northern Chile. He earned himself the nickname “The Nitrate King” because he had purchased most of the valuable nitrate mines around Iquique and Tarapacá from the Chilean government.[3]
  • Founded in 1552 by Pedro de Valdivia, the city of Valdivia witnessed one of the most memorable amphibious military operations in South American history when, in 1820, Lord Cochrane led a seemingly suicidal assault against the Spanish fortifications to capture the port for the Chilean independence movement.[10]
  • During Pinochet’s regime, out of a population of barely 11 million people, more than 4,000 Chileans were executed or “disappeared,” hundreds of thousands more were detained or tortured, and almost a million fled the country.[5]
  • Chile’s highest point is Nevada Ojos del Salado at 22,572 feet (6,880 m). It is the world’s highest volcano.[6]
  • Interesting Pinochet Facts
    By the time of Pinochet's death on December 10, 2006, about 300 criminal charges were still pending against him in Chile (Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores de Chile / Creative Commons)
  • On September 11, 1973, a military coup led by General Augusto Pinochet ousted President Salvador Allende and installed Pinochet’s brutal, military-dominated government that would become the longest-lived administration in Chile’s history.[10]
  • The first European to see Chile was the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who sailed through the straits which took his name on November 1, 1520.[5]
  • In 1859, Frenchman Orélie-Antoine de Tounens landed in a remote corner of southern Chile and found himself king of the Araucanian (Mapuche) and Patagonian Indians. Humiliated to learn neither the Chilean nor the French governments would recognize his rule, he declared war and was eventually deposed to France, where he died in 1878. To this date, though, his descendants maintain a court-in-exile in Paris.[5]
  • “The Chicago Boys” were a group of Chilean economists who studied at the University of Chicago under free-market guru Milton Friedman. They were instrumental in helping Pinochet implement his economic system.[5]
  • Football, or soccer, is Chile’s most popular sport. The Chilean men’s soccer team won a bronze medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Famously, in 1990, the men’s national soccer team walked out in the middle of a qualifying game against Brazil after their goalkeeper, “El Condor” Rojas, collapsed with a gash on his face. Chileans believed the Brazilians had hit him with a bengala, a kind of firework, until Rojas confessed that his wound was self-inflicted.[5]
  • Payadores are Chilean grassroots poets and musicians who engage each other in witty, passionate, poetic duels whenever they meet. These duels may occur during a barbecue lost in the heights of the Andes or in a smoky café in a city center.[5]
  • The United States’ Bethlehem Steel ran the world’s largest iron mine between 1914 and 1954 at El Tofo, north of La Serena in Chile.[5]
  • The atmosphere in the mountains in the Norte Grande part of Chile is excellent for astronomers because the air is particularly clear. It is the chosen spot for observatories in all the Southern Hemisphere, having 300 clear nights a year. The famous observatories of Tololo, La Silla, and Las Campanas can be seen from the highway, as well from Cerro Grande in La Serena.[5]
  • The cueca, which resembles the mating ritual of hens and roosters, is the national dance of Chile.[16]
  • Interesting Cueca Fact
    The cueca often ends with the man kneeling on one knee and the woman placing her foot on his raised knee

  • Chiloé’s Isla Grande (Main Island) is the second largest island in Latin America, after Chile/Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego.[5]
  • In the cemetery of the southern Chilean city of Punta Arenas, the remains of settlers from every part of the world can be found, as well as memorials to the victims of the many shipwrecks that occurred on the Chilean coast.[5]
  • The pudú, a tiny deer unique to Chile, lives in thickets and dense forest areas between Chillan and Chiloé and is almost impossible to site in the wild. It is the world’s smallest species of deer.[5]
  • Tierra del Fuego, or “Land of Fire,” is an archipelago off the southern tip of South America. Ferdinand Magellan named the islands in 1520 when he noticed smoke rising from Indian campfires on the shore. Magellan actually first called it “Land of Smoke,” but Spanish King Charles I thought “Land of Fire” might be more poetic. Tierra del Fuego’s largest island, Isla Grande de Tierra de Fuego, is divided between Chile (70%) and Argentina (30%).[5]
  • The optimistically named port of Porvenir (Future), Chile, is Tierra del Fuego’s main port and is heralded by a cluster of battered fishing boats and a sign that gives the distances to every point in Chile—Arica is 3,249 miles (5,299 km)—as well as to Belgrade, Yugoslavia, since the majority of Porvenir’s population descend from Yugoslav immigrants.[5]
  • Amazing Chile Fact
    Puerto Williams claims to be the world's southernmost city
  • The southernmost permanent human settlement, outside of Antarctica, goes to Chile’s Puerto Williams on Isla Navarino.[5]
  • Mataveri Airport on Easter Island is the world’s most remote airport, located 2,336 miles (3,759 km) from Santiago, Chile. The airport’s single runway is 10,886 feet (3,318 m) long and was once designated as an alternative landing site for NASA’s space shuttle program.[5]
  • In 1843, Chile sent a frigate carrying 19 men to the Strait of Magellan. The men built a wooden fort there called Fuerte Bulnes, establishing the country’s first permanent settlement in the southern reaches of Patagonia.[4]
  • The Chilean Museo Arqueológico de San Miguel de Azapa is the home to the world’s oldest mummies. The 282 Chinchorro mummies have been radiocarbon-dated to 7200 B.C.[1]
  • Parque Nacional Vicente Perez Rosales, established in 1926, is Chile’s oldest national park.[1]
  • Doug Tomkins, an American who made his fortune founding the clothing company Esprit, bought a 1,000-acre Araucaria (monkey puzzle or Chile pine) forest south of Puerto Montt, Chile. Since 1988, he has spent more than US$15 million to purchase the 800,000 acres (323,749 hectares) that make up the current Parque Pumalín. This region is home to one of the last temperate rain forests left in the world.[1]
  • Santiago, the capital city, is also the largest city in Chile. Roughly one-third of the country’s population of 14 million lives in Santiago.[16]
  • Interesting Santiago Chile Fact
    Santiago is the largest city in Chile

  • The most original Chilean dish is curanto, a feast of shellfish and meat that is eaten by the locals on the island of Chiloé. Visitors to Chiloé will hardly ever be offered original curanto (which is cooked in a hole covered with stones) and instead will be served a domesticated version called curanto en olla (curanto in the pot).[12]
  • On the first Sunday after Easter, Chileans celebrate a unique religious ritual known as Cuasimodo. Dating back to colonial times, Cuasimodo was a procession of priests and huasos (cowboys) bringing Holy Communion to people who were too old or ill to attend mass. Cuasimodo today has been modernized to include carts, bicycles, and motorbikes.[12]
  • Chilean author Antonio Skármeta’s novel Burning Patience about the relation between an illiterate postman and Pablo Neruda, his only customer on Isla Negra, became the successful film Il Postino (The Postman).[12]
  • Base Capitan Arturo Prat is considered the oldest Chilean base in the Antarctic. Located in Bahia Chile on Greenwich Island, it is part of the South Shetland Archipelago. Chile’s Armed Forces have administered the base since 1947.[2]
  • Amazing Chile Fact
    The water at the San Alfonso del Mar pool is pumped from the Pacific Ocean, filtered, and treated (Quórum Comunicaciones / Creative Commons)
  • Chile has the world’s largest outdoor swimming pool at the San Alfonso del Mar Resort. Set along the coastline, it is larger than 20 Olympic swimming pools and holds 66 million gallons of water. The pool is also in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the world’s deepest at 115 feet and costs £2 million pounds (US$3.25 million) to maintain.[20]
  • Chile’s Biblioteca Nacional (National Library), completed in 1924, has 1.8 million volumes and is the largest national library of a Spanish-speaking country outside of Spain.[2]
  • Alonso de Ercilla, a Spanish solder-poet who fought against the Mapuche, authored South America’s first epic poem, La Araucana, which makes a legend of the Mapuche leader, Caupolicán, who incited a rebellion near Concepción. The Spanish captured him and, in revenge for Spanish deaths, impaled him on a stake.[13]
  • Under the name Kennecott Copper Company, the American Guggenheim family invested US $100 million in 1915 in the El Teniente and Chuquicamata copper mines. The Anaconda Copper Company later purchased the open-pit Chuquicamata mine, which is the largest open-pit copper mine in the world.[13]
  • Important Dates[2][3][3][7][13][15]
    1520Ferdinand Magellan explores the straits that now bear his name.
    1535-1536Diego de Almagro explores Chile but establishes no settlement.
    1541Pedro de Valdivia leads an expedition to Chile and establishes Santiago on February 12, 1541. A Mapuche attack that September destroys the settlement, but Valdivia has it rebuilt.
    1543La Serena, the first town in Norte Chico, is founded.
    1550-1553Valdivia’s government establishes the towns of Concepción, Imperial, Valdivia, Villarrica, and Ango, as well as the forts of Arauco, Tucapel, and Purén.
    1553Mapuche troops led by Lautaro capture and execute Pedro de Valdivia at Tucapel.
    1557Francisco de Villagra defeats and kills Lautaro at Peteroa.
    1561-1562Chilean emissaries found towns of Mendoza and San Juan in the territory of Cuyo, eventually part of Argentine territory.
    1580Martín Ruiz de Gamboa tries to eliminate forced Indian labor.
    1584Chile’s first royal court, the audencia, inaugurated at Concepción.
    1594English buccaneer Richard Hawkins attacks Valparaiso.
    1599-1604Great Mapuche rebellion destroys the seven towns south of Concepción. Many women and children begin long-term captivity.
    1608Crown authorizes Indian enslavement in Chile.
    1612-1626Jesuit priest Luis de Valdivia convinces the crown to build forts north of the Bío Bío River and turn Mapuche territory over to his order’s jurisdiction. Policy called the Defensive War.
    1643Dutch capture Chiloé and Valdivia with the intention of establishing a colony in southern Chile. For lack of provisions, they abandon the project.
    1680English pirate Bartholomew Sharp destroys La Serena.
    1738King authorizes the creation of the Universidad de San Felipe.
    1749Chilean mint begins operation.
    1767King Charles III expels the Jesuits and confiscates its property.
    1788-1789Governor Ambrosio O’Higgins establishes a progressive administration.
    1791Encomiendas formally abolished.
    1810Beginning of independence movement. Santiago leaders meet in Junta de Gobierno on September 18 and create first national government.
    1811Government opens Chilean ports to foreign trade with the Decree of Free Commerce.
    1814-1817Ferdinand VII becomes King of Spain and Chile is once again Spanish rule during a period called “The Reconquest.”
    1817Chilean-Argentine army led by Bernardo O’Higgins and José de San Martin defeats Spanish forces at Chacabuco, February 12.
    1817-1823Bernardo O’Higgins (son of Ambrosio O’Higgins) governs Chile.
    1818Chile formally declares its independence on February 12. Patriot army defeats Spanish again at Battle of Maipú on April 5.
    1818-1820Chilean navy is formed under the command of Lord Cochrane. It captures Spanish ships, blockades Lima, and expels Spanish from Valdivia.
    1822United States formally recognized Chile’s independence.
    1823O’Higgins formally renounces leadership and is replaced by Ramón Freire.
    1827-1829Liberal leader, Francisco Antonio Pinto, becomes president.
    1831-1841José Joaquin Prieto serves two terms as president.
    1832Extraordinary silver strike at Chañarcillo in the Norte Chico.
    1837-1839Chile goes to war with Peru-Bolivian Confederation.
    1841-1851Two-term presidency of Manuel Bulnes.
    1842University of Chile founded.
    1850Francisco Bilbao and Santiago Arcos found the Sociedad de la Igualdad (Equality Society).
    1851First Chilean railroad inaugurated. Line from Copiapó to Caldera transports minerals.
    1851-1861Two-term presidency of Manuel Montt.
    1861-1871Two-term presidency of José Joaquín Pérez.
    1878Chile and Argentina define their common border based on mountain peaks and watersheds.
    1879-1883War of the Pacific. Chile defeats Bolivia and Peru, who cede the nitrate-rich areas of Antofagasta and Tarapacá to Chile.
    1881-1882Military rebuilds forts of Imperial and Villarrica destroyed by the Mapuche three centuries earlier.
    1886-1891José Manuel Balmaceda presidency. Nitrate bonanza begins.
    1887Catholic University founded.
    1891-1896Naval commander Jorge Montt leads congressional revolt against Balmaceda and is elected president.
    1893Railroad reaches Temuco in Mapuche heartland.
    1904North American William Braden employs new copper flotation technology in developing the El Teniente copper mine near Rancagua.
    1906Valparaiso earthquake severely damages the port.
    1910Chilean-Argentine railroad inaugurated, connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
    1914Panama Canal opens and hurts Valparaiso trade.
    1920Law requires all Chilean children to attend elementary school.
    1920-1925Arturo Alessandri Palma’s presidency
    1922Gabriella Mistral publishes her first major work, Desolación.
    1923-1924Pablo Neruda begins his publishing career with two major poetic works, Crepusculario and Veinte Poemas de Amor y Canción Desesperada.
    1927-1931Military government of Carlos Ibáñez.
    1928Worldwide depression has devastating impact on Chile.
    1931-1932Juan Esteban Montero’s presidency.
    1932Brief socialist experiment.
    1932-1938Second presidency of Arturo Alessandri; his Minister of Finance, Gustavo Ross, revives the economy.
    1933Chilean Socialist Party is founded.
    1934-1941Popular Front candidate, Pedro Aguirre Cerda—supported by the Radical, Socialist, Democratic, and Communist parties—wins the presidency.
    1942-1946Juan Antonio Rios’ presidency
    1942Chile breaks diplomatic relations with Germany, Italy, and Japan.
    1945Gabriella Mistral receives the Nobel Prize in Literature.
    1946-1952Gabriel González Videla’s presidency.
    1947Construction of Chile’s first steel mill begins at Huachipato in the Concepción region.
    1948Congress grants women the right to vote.
    1952-1958Second presidency of Carlos Ibáñez.
    1958-1964Jorge Alessandri’s presidency.
    1960Valdivia earthquake; most destructive in Chile’s history
    1962Soccer World Cup is held in Chile.
    1964-1970Eduardo Frei Montalva’s presidency; first Christian Democrat to hold office.
    1970Salvador Allende becomes the first Socialist elected president, supported by coalition of parties called the Unidad Popular.
    1971Pablo Neruda awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
    1971March of Empty Pots: women’s protest against food scarcity.
    1971Nationalization of the Gran Minería copper mines; all copper mines now government owned.
    1973Military coup led by Augusto Pinochet overthrows Allende on September 11.
    1973Military rounds up thousands of Unidad Popular supporters, begins executions and routine use of torture.
    1987Pope John Paul II visits Chile.
    1988The “No” Campaign wins a major with 53% of the vote, denies Pinochet another 8 years in the presidency.
    1989First election since 1973. Coalition of Christian Democrats, Socialists, and smaller parties called the Concertación wins the presidency and a majority of congressional seats.
    1990-1994Patricio Aylwin’s presidency.
    1990-1991Rettig Commission investigates human rights abuses during Pinochet’s regime.
    1994-2000Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle’s presidency.
    1998Pinochet steps down as commander-in-chief of the military. He is arrested while receiving medical treatment in England. In 2000, he is released and returns to Chile.
    2000-2006Ricardo Lagos’ presidency.
    2002Supreme Court rules that Pinochet’s deteriorating health makes him unfit to stand trial.
    2006Michelle Bachelet is elected as Chile’s first female president.
    2010While the world watches the entire ordeal live on TV, 33 miners are trapped underground for 69 days until winched to safety.
    2010Sebastián Piñera is elected president.
    2013Michelle Bachelet is re-elected as president in a landslide.

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