Long and narrow, Chile clings to the western edge of South America's Southern Cone. Hugging approximately 3000 miles of Pacific coastline from Peru to Tierra del Fuego and separated from Argentina by the majestic Cordillera de los Andes, the country only averages about 100 miles in width. Chile's territory also includes possessions in Oceania and Antarctica. It is a truly eccentric geography.
The country's length ensures a great variety of climate over its 292,257 square miles (about twice the size of California). The arid, mineral-rich, sparsely populated, northern third (Arica to Atacama) is home to one of the driest deserts in the world. The climate in the central third (Coquimbo to Llanquihue), where the bulk of the population lives, ranges from semiarid to mild mediterranean to wet temperate. Scrub brush tends to be the dominant natural vegetation in the semiarid valleys of the Norte Chico and the mediterranean zone of the central valley that begins just south of Santiago. Here, rainfall is largely confined to a few winter months. The temperate zone enjoys copious, year-round precipitation (even heavier than the Pacific Northwest of the United States) and is home to dense temperate rainforests. The beautiful lake region—carved out by ice-age glaciers—thrives on domestic and international tourism. Together, the mediterranean and temperate zones are the agricultural heartland, dairy center, and timber capital of the nation, although minerals such as copper and coal are also mined. Temperate climate continues to the extreme south, dominated by a spectacular geography of islands and fjords as the continent breaks up. Most of the sparse