For the 50+ Traveler

Chile is alive with geological activity, biological diversity, and alleged supernatural phenomena. This narrow sliver of land along South America's Pacific coast has plenty of interesting secrets.

1. The Population of Santiago

Santiago serves as both the country's capital and cultural center. Chile's geography has created a unique distribution of its population. The country is only 350 km wide but over 4,300 km long from north to south. The landscape transitions quickly from the seaside to the foothills of the Andes. Chile's geographical oddities have left much of countryside isolated and underdeveloped. Citizens seeking opportunity and prosperity have relocated to the nation's one true cosmopolitan center: Santiago.

Nearly a third of the nation's 17 million citizens live in the capital. The population density of Chile is approximately 12 people per square km. The population density of Santiago alone is 454 people per square km.

The city's population is expected to grow to almost 7 million by the year 2020. You'd think that such a densely populated city would be prone to higher crime rates, but Santiago has one of the lowest crime rates in all of South America.

Santiago, Chile

2. The National Drink That's Allergen-Free

Pisco is Chile's national drink. It's a type of high-proof alcohol similar to brandy. Pisco can be clear, yellow, or amber depending on how it's produced. Pisco is made from distilling grapes grown in the winemaking regions of Peru and the Elqui Valley of Chile. Spanish settlers of the 16th century began producing the spirit using copper stills. Today, Peruvian pisco continues to be made almost exclusively in copper stills. In Chile, regulations for Pisco production are strict, but allow for more boutique manufacturing practices.

The end product is free of wheat, rye, potato, barley, and all other ingredients known to be a source of food intolerances. Pisco is commonly mixed with ginger ale, vermouth, or Coca-Cola. One of the most well-known drinks is the Pisco Sour, which is a blend of egg whites, sugar, ice, and lemon juice. If an egg doesn't sound appealing, take a swig of Pisco à la carte and enjoy a taste Chilean heritage.

Pisco sour
A pisco sour. Erik Anestad/Flickr.

3. Chile's Copper And Mineral Reserves

There's a reason why copper stills have historically been the container of choice for fermenting Pisco. Chile is home to the world's largest copper reserves. Nearly one-quarter of the world's copper is to be found in Chile. Escondida, one of the nation's many copper mines, is the largest on earth. On its own, Escondida supplies 5% of the world's copper. Chile also has substantial reserves of salt, gold, coal, manganese, zinc, iodine, iron, and silver, along with the second largest reserve of lithium, a critical ingredient in the production of batteries. So... bring a shovel!

4. Land Of Fire

Chile is the longest country in the world from north to south, and it's situated entirely within the infamous Pacific Ring of Fire. The Ring of Fire is an area encompassing the entire Pacific rim, where tectonic activity produces destructive volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. The Andes mountains were formed 66 million years ago when the Nazca and Antarctic tectonic plates collided, forcing the land upwards. The Nevado Ojos del Salado, on the border of Chile and Argentina, is the highest volcano in the world at 6,891 meters tall.

Chile has over 500 active volcanoes, 60 of which have had recorded eruptions within the last 450 years. Earthquakes are also common. The world's highest ever recorded earthquake happened in southern Chile in 1960. The United States Geological Survey recorded it as a 9.5 on the Richter Scale.

An archipelago off the southern tip of Chile was appropriately named Tierra del Fuego, or "Land of Fire," in 1520 by Ferdinand Magellan. Ironically, Magellan named the island for the smoke he saw rising from the campfires of natives rather than a steaming volcano. Tierra del Fuego's largest island, Isla Grande de Tierra de Fuego, is split between Chile and Argentina. 70% of the island belongs to Chile, with the remaining 30% belonging to Argentina.

Orsono Volcano, Chile
Orsono Volcano, Chile. Pixabay / Thorge

5. Stargazing And More

The Norte Grande is the northernmost geographical region of Chile. It contains the Atacama Desert, one of the most arid places on earth. The Atacama is a broad plateau that descends gradually from the Andes to the ocean. Astronomers love the area because its high elevation and clear air make it ideal for stargazing. The skies of Norte Grande are clear 300 of 365 nights a year on average. Several observatories are located here, including La Silla, Cerro Grande, La Serena, Tololo, and Las Campanas.

If you keep stargazing long enough, you might just glimpse a UFO. Chile is notes for its frequent UFO sightings. The town of San Clemente in Chile's Central District has been the site of so many such occurences that in 2008 they opened a 19-mile long UFO trail, winding through the Andes mountains. The range's many open plateaus are thought to be ideal landing spots for visiting spacecraft.

Maybe, maybe not. Either way: good for a hike!

Whether you have a thirst for Pisco Sours or a taste for the extraterrestrial, Chile has you covered. The world's longest country is a hotbed of geological activity and good times.