Chile Geography and Population

By | January 8, 2023

Chile – geography

The vast majority of Chile’s population and the country’s economic activity are concentrated in central Chile around the capital, while large areas in the northern and southern parts of the country are largely uninhabited.

Chile has a significant mining sector and the country is the world’s largest producer of copper.


The majority of the population is mestizer, descendants of Indians and Europeans, mainly Spaniards. Several of the European immigrant groups can still be found in ethnically concentrated communities. South of the Bío-Bío River, German, French, Italian and Swiss peasants settled in the mid-1800’s, and it is not uncommon to hear German on the streets in cities such as Valdivia, Osorno, Puerto Varas and Puerto Montt, where live approximately 50,000 descendants of Germans.

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In the late 1800’s. Serbian, Croatian and British emigrants settled in the southern provinces of the country, where they settled on sheep breeding. However, the Spanish element is quite prevalent, and Spanish is the national language.

The indigenous people of Chile include Mapuche. These Indians stopped the conquest of the Incas down the country a century before the arrival of the Spaniards. The majority of the Mapuche Indians now live in the woodland around Temuco; their number is estimated at approximately 1 mio. including the Huilliche Indians, who live on and around the island of Chiloé. Of other Native American peoples, approximately 15,000 aymará in the northern Andes and 3,000 rapa nui on Easter Island.

The Indians have been at the bottom of the social ladder since colonial times. The position worsened under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, as the culture and whole existence of the Indians was denied. It was a criminal offense to speak Native American languages ​​in public or to express Native American culture at all.

Much of the Native American cultural heritage has been lost, nor has written language been developed for the various Native American languages. After the end of the dictatorship, Native American groups have formed a political party to work for Native American interests.

90% of the population lives in the central region, which is also by far the most affluent. To the south, there is a scattered population of sheep farmers, just as the oil fields on the Strait of Magellan and the coal fields south of Concepción give rise to some settlement. In the northern provinces lies the Atacama Desert, and here is largely only settlement in connection with mining and the associated transport and service. For culture and traditions of Chile, please check calculatorinc.

Chile is heavily urbanized. The cities are growing as many Chileans leave the agricultural regions to seek paid work. In 1992, 85% of the population lived in cities. Neither housing construction nor the labor market can keep up with the large migration. Slums are found around the major cities and are especially around Santiago grown into entire neighborhoods.


Just over a third of the population is in the labor force; of which one third are women.

Agriculture employs 13.6% of the working population, but the sector has less impact on the economy. Only just over 2% of the area is arable, by far the most in the fertile Central Region. Under the favorable climate and soil conditions here, e.g. wheat, corn, wine, fruit and vegetables. To the south, potatoes, cereals and beans in particular are important crops next to grass, which is the basis for significant cattle and sheep breeding.

Fishing. With its long coastline, Chile, together with Peru, accounts for a large part of South America’s fisheries. The cold Humboldt current mixes with warmer water off the coast and forms the basis for a rich fishery, especially for anchovies. The majority of the catch is processed into fishmeal and exported.

Chile is the world’s largest producer and exporter of fishmeal. Under Augusto Pinochet’s regime, this currency – creating business was stimulated with overfishing. Several fish species are now endangered; this also applies to the valuable loco mussel, which has its only occurrence off the southern coasts of Chile. Sea urchins, cod and seaweed are also threatened by predation, and quota schemes have been implemented.

The industrial sector employs 23.4% of the working population and contributes almost 50% of GDP. Even before World War II, a fairly extensive industry based on consumer goods developed. The light industry is mainly located in and around Santiago, which also houses the majority of the machinery and electronics industry.

In the 1980’s, there was a growth in the export-oriented industry and in the heavy industry. The large industrial complex San Vicente in the Concepción area has been built since 1950 and includes iron and steel works, oil refinery and petrochemical industry. The country’s third significant industrial area, Valparaíso, also has a petrochemical industry in addition to the consumer goods industry. Finally, there is the paper industry around the Bío-Bío River.

Mining. 2% of the workforce is employed in mining; it is more than in almost any other country. In northern Chile, 40% of the world’s copper reserves are found, and copper often accounts for up to half of exports. Furthermore, there are rich deposits of nitrates (for fertilizers, Chilean nitrates), iron, coal, sulfur, gold, silver and manganese. Most of the world’s iodine production comes from Chile.

Oil production is negligible, but there are significant natural gas deposits on Tierra del Fuego in the far south. Here is also coal production.

Like other industries, the mining sector is hampered by the country’s enormous distances and limited infrastructure. The main route through the country is the Panamerican Highway, which from Peru connects Puerto Montt in the south with Arica in the north and continues to Peru.

The railway network is built in different gauge; it is heavily worn and exploited only in the Santiago area and south. South of Puerto Montt, only air and sea traffic connect the cities.

Natural geography

Chile is everywhere characterized by the cold ocean currents in the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Andes Mountains to the east. In ancient times, a valley ran through the whole country between the Andean chain and the western coastal mountain range. North of Santiago, the two chains have grown together, but south of and all the way to Puerto Montt, this elongated valley runs over 1000 km.

Even further south, sea level rise and geological dynamics have drowned the valley, which is now seen as the large archipelago coast of southern Chile with a myriad of fjords, islands, canals and skerries. In this area, the prevailing westerly winds carry large amounts of moisture from the Pacific Ocean, which is released over the two west-facing slopes of the mountain ranges.

The climate naturally varies greatly in the elongated country. Common to the long stretch, however, is the damping effect of the Humboldt current on the temperature: to the north it rarely gets extremely hot and to the south rarely bitterly cold.

The northernmost region, from Peru to Copiapó, is dominated by the Atacama Desert with extreme drought and large temperature fluctuations. South of this is a belt with sparse winter rain (May-July). Here, too, large areas are completely devoid of vegetation, but there are cultivated valleys with irrigation. This entire northern area is located in the subtropical climate zone.

The mainland of Chile is located between Illapel and Concepción. The soil is fertile and the climate is mild with winter rains. Here are large farmsteads and wineries.

Further south, down to Puerto Montt, the climate is mildly temperate, rainfall is rising, and the landscape is forested with clearings for agriculture. It is a lush mountain landscape with large lakes and volcanoes. The precipitation is usually very heavy and falls most of the year. South of Valdivia, annual precipitation reaches sizes that are otherwise found only in the tropics.

Chile’s Patagonia is the 1600 km stretch from Puerto Montt to Cape Horn. Here the climate is temperate, stormy and characterized by enormous amounts of rain. The landscape is wooded and largely uninhabited; only a few per cent. can be cultivated.

The eastern side of the Andes Mountains as well as the Chilean part of Tierra del Fuego are called Atlantic Chile. Here, the soothing effect of the Pacific Ocean is less, and the climate is humid polar climate.

The rivers are short, flowing from the Andes to the west and are especially in the southern water kingdoms. In the north, they barely reach the sea, and the water for the cities in the Atacama Desert must be fetched by the Andes’ rivers. Measured per population, Chile is assumed to have the world’s largest hydropower resources; they are exploited in several places, on the country’s largest river, the Bío-Bío, and hydropower covers a significant part of energy consumption.

Chile – language

The official language is Spanish. In addition, the Arabic language Mapuche is spoken by a few hundred thousand Indians in southern Chile. In the northern part of the country, a very small percentage of the population speaks the Inca languages Quechua and Aymará.

Chile – religion

Ca. 80% of the population belong to the Roman Catholic Church. From the middle of the 1500’s. Dominicans, Franciscans, and Jesuits ran missions, and a diocese was established in Santiago. 1833-1925 Chile had a Catholic state church, but from 1865 the state also recognized other denominations. From this time various Protestant denominations established themselves, such as Presbyterians from the United States and Lutherans from Germany, later followed the Methodists, and in the 1900’s. a domestic Pentecostal movement has reached an estimated prevalence of 10% of the population.

Under Salvadore Allende’s rule, a polarization arose among Catholics. The Christian Democratic Party was against his rule, and in 1971 the Christian Party was founded for Socialism to support him, inspired by the theology of liberation. This polarization continued under Pinochet’s rule. The Church set up a central body, the Vicaria de la Solidaridad, to defend victims of human rights abuses.

Chile Geography