Welcome to Chile! If you’re about to jump on your plane to Santiago, or on your bus to cross the border, you’re still in time to learn a thing or two about the country. What’s the capital city? Good. What does the flag look like? Mm… Not quite. Well, all that’s down here to help you prep your arrival. You’ll discover also a couple of things about the landscapes of Chile, the weather, altitude and languages. And the coolest part: at the bottom, you’ll find all Green Mochila posts about Chile.
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Why visit Chile
Chile is a modern, developed country with the promises and expectations of any Western nation. If this wasn’t clear to you from the urban infrastructures and the cultural offer, the prices will soon remind you. Life is pricey yes, but there’s also a lot of informal market that makes a visit to Chile more exotic.
On the other hand, it’s also a gigantic land stretching from one extreme scenery to the other; from the dry desert of the north to the icy fiords of the South. In between, all the landscapes on the spectrum. It’s therefore a perfect destination for all nature lovers, whatever floats their boat.
There’s only a handful of interesting cities in Chile, but those are heavy with culture, street art, nightlife, museums and restaurants. A perfect pit stop for a few days of urban rest in-between 2 hikes.
Already set on visiting Chile? Find more travel tips in our backpacking guide.
Weather & Climate in Chile
According to which part of Chile you want to discover, you can deal with completely different climates.
The north is dry and warm all year round, but with cold nights. The sun is strong so protection essential. No surprise that it’s home to the driest desert on earth.
As we said, the middle part of the country is of mild climate, with 4 seasons that are the opposite to the northern hemisphere. Summer runs from December to February and Winter from June to August.
The south remains fairly cold, whatever time of year you visit. In winter, at night or at higher altitude, the thermometer goes down to “bloody cold”.
As for the archipelago of Chiloé, it seems to be wind-swept and rain-soaked most of the time.
Discover the landscapes of Chile
Chile is basically a rugged coast lying next to a range of high mountains. It’s kissed by the waves of the Pacific, perfect to surf, but commonly disturbed by earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions. Because it stretches on no less than 39 latitudes, the geography of Chile is very diverse. We propose to divide it into 3 main regions:
The north is dry and hot. It’s a landscape of moon-like deserts, high-altitude lakes, geysers and salt flats, and hot beaches.
-> Highlight: the Atacama desert & Humberstone
The centre around and south of Santiago is know as the central valley and is famous for its wine production. It’s a fertile and sunny land with temperate climate. On the coast, many beaches welcome visitors almost all year round.
-> Highlights: Las Docas beach & Colchagua wine valley
The centre-south is the lake district, a region of, well, lakes. There are many of them, bathing the feet of mountains and volcanoes. It’s also a very green region with temperate climate.
-> Highlights: Valdivia National Reserve & Volcano Osorno
The south is rugged and remote: the more south you get, the more rugged and the more remote. It’s a scenery of primeval forests, fiords, icy cliffs and crystal-clear lakes surrounded by snow-capped mountains.
-> Highlights: Chiloé islands & Torres del Paine National Park
Add to this the remote island of Rapa Nui (Easter Island), which is nothing like the rest of the country.
Altitude in Chile
Chile is literally stuck between the Pacific ocean and the Andes mountain range. The altitude therefore goes crosswise up, from sea level to mountains towering above 6,000 m (19,700 ft). Good to know: the highest peak in Chile is the Ojos del Salado volcano, at 6,893 m (22,614 ft).
Having said that, there are almost no towns in the Chilean Andes; most of them are either on the coast or in the central valley, at less than 1,000 m.
Only in the north can you find some high-standing settlements, in particular San Pedro de Atacama (2,407 m / 7,900 ft), Putre (the gateway to Lauca National Park, at 3,371 m / 11,060 ft) and Parinacota, the highest town in Chile and the 2nd in South America (4,400 m / 14,400 ft).
Name & capital of Chile
It’s not straightforward where the name of the Republic of Chile come from; but it’s probably from one of the various Indigenous languages that was spoken there when the Conquistadors arrived.
It could come from the Mapundungun word chilli, meaning “where the land ends”. Or maybe from Quechua words meaning either “cold” or “snow”; there is no snow in south-east Peru, where the Incas come from, so they were probably astonished to see so much of it there.
The capital is Santiago, full name Santiago de Nueva Extremadura. It’s known as ‘Santiago de Chile’ only outside of the country, to differentiate it from the many Santiagos around the Spanish-speaking world.
Valparaíso is considered Chile’s second capital because it hosts the National Congress of Chile.
Flag of Chile
The flag of Chile is known in the country as La Estrella Solitaria (the Lone Star). It’s divided in 2 horizontal lines of white and red, and 1 blue square at the top left corner. Here’s the meaning of the colours:
- Blue is for the sky and the Pacific Ocean
- White is for the snow on the Andes, which run all along the country
- Red is, as often, for the blood of the heroes who achieved independence
The white star that’s in the blue square is a simplified version of the star of Arauco, a symbol of the Mapuche people who inhabited the land and fought against the Spanish conquerors.
Languages in Chile
Chileans will have you believe that what they utter are Spanish words. It’s definitely a very peculiar kind of Spanish, that has evolved in its own way over time.
Well yes, Chileans and Spanish people understand each other, most of the time. But for you who aren’t a native speaker, it might be more difficult. The main difficulty is understanding their pronunciation and making out the words despite the fast speech rhythm. Then comes the slang.
Alongside Spanish, there are a few Indigenous languages that are worth mentioning:
- Mapundungun is the language of the Mapuche people; they live in south-central Chile (and Argentina), basically in the regions of Temuco and Osorno
- Quechua, similar to the one in Bolivia, is spoken in the far northeast
- Rapa Nui is the Polynesian language spoken on Easter Island; it’s also the name of the island in that language.
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