Spanning almost 2,700 miles north to south, Chile’s natural landscape includes desert, grassland (steppes) as well as both temperate and tropical forests. Chile is generally divided by geographers into five regions or zones each having its own characteristic vegetation, fauna, climate and topography.
The Natural and Geographic Landscape of Chile
Spanning almost 2,700 miles north to south, Chile’s natural landscape includes desert, grassland (steppes), and temperate and tropical forests. The ecoregions of Chile are primarily unique to South America’s ecosystems.
Chile is generally divided by geographers into five regions or zones each having its characteristic vegetation, fauna, climate and topography.
Natural Regions / Biomes
The Atacama Desert ecoregion is located in northern Chile between Argentina on the west and the Pacific Ocean on the east. Running east from the Pacific Ocean to the Andes Mountains an extremely arid, almost barren, landscape predominates, due to the fact that in many areas rainfall has never been recorded.
The Altiplano is often referred to as the Altiplano-Puna plateau, where "Puna" refers to the high-altitude grassland region that covers much of the plateau. It is the most extensive area of high plateau on earth outside of Tibet.
Central Andean Dry Puna
The Central Andean dry puna ecoregion is a very dry, high elevation montane grassland and herbaceous community of the southern high Andes, extending through western Bolivia and northern Chile and Argentina. The Central Andean dry puna is a part of the Puna grassland, occupying the southwestern portion of the Altiplano and is located east of the Atacama Desert.
Valdivian Temperate Forests (Selva Valdiviana)
The Valdivian temperate forests ecoregion is located in the southern cone of South America on the west coast of Chile and extends slightly into Argentina. It covers a narrow continental strip between the western slope of the Andes and the Pacific Ocean. The Valdivian temperate forests (Selva Valdiviana) are temperate broadleaf and mixed forests.
The Andean Patagonian Forest spreads over steep elevations along a thin strip on both sides of the Andes Mountains in southern South America. These temperate forests, located in both southern Chile and Argentina, are the southernmost forests on earth.
Southern Andean Steppe
The Southern Andean steppe is a montane grasslands and shrublands ecoregion occurring along the border of Chile and Argentina in the high elevations of the southern Andes mountain range. This ecoregion has a cold desert climate.
Vegetation map of Chile
Far North (Norte Grande)
Most of the Far North region is covered by the Atacama Desert. The climate here is arid. The Coastal Range in the east features peaks over 2,000 m (6,500 ft) and cliffs along the Pacific coast. Large salt flats and mineral deposits exist in the intermediate depression while the Andes in the east feature Chile's highest mountains. The region also hosts the Altiplano and puna high plateaus.
Near North (Norte Chico)
The Near North region is characterized by the transition from the Atacama Desert in the north to Mediterranean Matorral vegetation in the south. The climate is semi-arid. Here the Coastal Range and the Andes merge. Agriculture is limited however, important gold, copper and iron deposits are located here.
Central (Zona Central)
The Central zone features a Mediterranean climate and Matorral vegetation. The Andes here are massive and high. The Coastal Range and the Andes lose height as they separate from each other to the south. The summer runoff of large rivers is heavily dependent on glaciers and snowmelt. The Intermediate Depression of central Chile extends from Santiago to the south. It is a fertile region and is considered the agricultural heartland of Chile.
South (Zona Sur)
The Southern Zone features a rainy, temperate climate and Valdivian temperate rainforest vegetation. Here, both the Coastal Range and the Andes are low, with an intermediate depression near sea level. The rivers that descend from the Andes rush over volcanic rocks, forming numerous white-water sections and waterfalls. This region features many glacial lakes and there is intensive volcanic and geothermal activity.
Far South (Zona Austral)
The Far South region covers all of Chilean Patagonia and the Chiloé Archipelago. It features a subpolar oceanic climate and the vegetation includes Magellanic forest and Magellanic moorland in the west with Patagonian grasslands in the east. The landscape is glacial and the Coastal Range consists of islands. Fjords penetrate the Andes where there are also two ice sheets, the Northern Patagonian Ice Field and the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, along with several glacial lakes.
Map depicting the geographic regions of Chile