Holiday in Chile (1): introduction

Over the past 16 years, my sister Silvia and I have enjoyed a series of holidays together and we are now about to embark on our 14th such adventure. Following an enjoyable visit to Colombia four years ago, we are now returning to South America to experience Chile with the travel company Cox & Kings. 

Now some countries – such as Norway and Sweden – are long and thin, but Chile is unreasonably long and preposterously thin.  Sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Andes mountains to the east, it is 4,300 km (almost 2,700 miles) long and averages just 175 km (about 120 miles) wide. 

It stretches from the dry heat of the Atacama desert in the north to chilly Patagonia in the south with a temperate region – where most Chileans live – in the centre. Roughly 29% of Chile is preserved in national parks and conservation areas. Over the next two weeks, we will visit each of these regions and the finest national park and will need to take clothing for different climates. 

Chile is the southern-most country in the world. The total size of the country is three times that of the UK but the population is only about 18M or twice that of London with a third of the population  living in the capital Santiago. 

Chile was colonised by the Spanish in the mid 15th century and eventually gained its independence in 1818. Following the War of the Pacific (1879-1884) with Peru and Bolivia, Chile increased its land mass by a third in the north. After a coup led by Augusto Pinochet in 1973, there was a 16 year dictatorship in the country. 

Since March 2022, the president of Chile has been left-winger Gabriel Boric (born 1986) who is the youngest president in the country’s history and the second youngest state leader in the world (Burkina Faso has the youngest). However, in September 2022, a radical new constitution favoured by Boric was defeated in a referendum. 

If Chile is a country that at times has swung ideologically from one extreme to another, it is also a nation of economic contrast. On the one hand, it has the highest average household income in the whole of Latin America. On the other hand, it has one of the greatest cases of inequality in the developed or developing world (rivalled only by the United States and Mexico).

So, in terms of climate, politics and economics, Chile is a country of extremes and contrasts. 


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