Chile: Natural Landscape

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Chile: Natural Landscape

Mon, 06/27/2022 - 19:39
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Spanning about 2,700 miles north to south, Chile’s natural landscape includes deserts, grasslands, shrublands, and temperate and tropical forests. Geographers generally divide Chile into five regions or zones, each with its characteristic vegetation, fauna, climate, and topography.

The Natural Landscape of Chile

Chile is located along the western coast of South America and is bordered by Peru and Bolivia in the north, Argentina in the east, and the Pacific Ocean in the west.

Chile's territory spans approximately 4,300 km (2,700 mi) from north to south, with an average width of only about 177 km (110 mi). From its boundary with Peru and Bolivia in the north and south to only about 645 km (400 mi) north of Antarctica, it is the longest north-south trending country in the world, extending across 38 degrees of latitude.

    Chile's natural landscape includes deserts, grasslands, shrublands, and temperate and tropical forests. The ecoregions of Chile are primarily unique to South America's ecosystems.

    Pacific Island Territories

    Far out in the Pacific are two Chilean island possessions: the Juan Fernández Islands and the Polynesian island of Rapa Nui, better known as Easter Island, the most isolated inhabited spot on Earth.


    Chile is a country of remarkable biodiversity, thanks to its diverse range of ecosystems that span a long and narrow strip along the western edge of South America. The country's unique geography contributes to its rich natural heritage.

    According to the Global Biodiversity Index, Chile ranks 66th in the world in terms of its biodiversity, with 434 species of birds, 58 amphibian species, 775 species of fish, 151 species of mammals, 143 species of reptiles, and 5,155 species of vascular plants.


    Chile's geographic diversity, which includes the Atacama Desert, the Andes Mountains, temperate rainforests, and a long coastline, contributes to its rich natural ecosystems.

    Conservation in Chile is a crucial effort to protect the country's unique landscapes, biodiversity, and cultural heritage. Conservation initiatives in Chile address a range of environmental, ecological, and cultural challenges, and they are carried out through a combination of government policies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and international collaborations.

    Challenges to conservation in Chile include habitat fragmentation, mining activities, illegal wildlife trade, and conflicts over land and resource use. Balancing conservation with economic development is an ongoing challenge.


    Because of its extreme length, Chile has a variety of climates. Temperatures are progressively cooler, and rainfall increases, moving from the Atacama Desert in the far north to the agricultural regions of Central Chile and Tierra del Fuego in the deep south.

    The country can be divided into three main climate zones:

    • North: The north of Chile is dominated by the Atacama Desert, one of the driest places on Earth. Temperatures can reach up to 40 °C (104 °F) in the summer, and it can be very cold at night.

    • Central: The central region of Chile has a Mediterranean climate, with warm, dry summers and cool, wet winters. Average temperatures range from 15 - 25 °C (59 - 77 °F) in the summer and 5 - 15 °C (41 - 59 °F) in the winter.

    • South: The south of Chile has a temperate oceanic climate, with cool, wet summers and mild, wet winters. Average temperatures range from 10 - 15 °C (50 - 59 °F ) in the summer and 5 - 10 °C (41 - 50 °F) in the winter.

    Rain Shadow Effect

    In northern Chile, prevailing winds from the east are interrupted by the Andes Mountains. The height of the Andes causes any moisture from rain clouds to fall on the eastern slopes, causing extreme desert conditions in the Atacama region.

    Central Chile receives a more significant amount of rainfall because the prevailing winds at that latitude come from the west. The Andes are not as high in elevation in the south, which allows some precipitation to fall on the rain shadow side.

    Humboldt Current

    The Pacific Ocean also influences Chile's climate. The cold Humboldt Current flows along Chile's coast, which helps keep temperatures cooler than they would otherwise be. The Humboldt Current also brings moisture to the country, contributing to the rainfall in the central and southern regions.

    Map depicting the countries on the continent of South America

    Map depicting the countries on the continent of South America

    Natural Geography of Chile

    Major Landforms

    The major landforms of Chile are manifested as three parallel north-south features:

    Most of Chile's rivers originate in the Andes and flow westward to the Pacific Ocean, draining the intermediate depression and the coastal ranges.

    Geographic Regions

    Chile is divided from north to south into five regions or zones, plus an insular region, each having its characteristic vegetation, fauna, climate, and topography.

    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 are found 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. As a result, 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. 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 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.

    Insular Chile (Chilean Islands)

    Chile also includes several islands off its coast. The most significant are the Juan Fernández Islands, located in the Pacific Ocean, and the remote Easter Island (Rapa Nui), famous for its Moai statues. These islands have distinct ecosystems and cultural traditions.

    Map of the geographical regions of Chile

    Map depicting the geographic regions of Chile

      Mountain Ranges

      Chile is known for its diverse mountainous landscapes, and the Andes Mountains are a prominent feature of its geography.

      The mountain ranges of Chile offer a wide range of ecosystems, geological formations, and cultural significance. They contribute to the country's stunning landscapes, unique ecology, and cultural heritage.

      See more: Mountain Ranges of Chile

      Islands and Archipelagos

      Due to its extended coastline, Chile has sovereignty over thousands of islands, most in the country's south. Some of the largest islands and archipelagos include:

      • Easter Island: in the southeastern Pacific Ocean, at the southeasternmost point of the Polynesian Triangle, approximately 3,500 km (2,200 mi) west of the Chilean mainland

      • Juan Fernández Archipelago: a group of islands situated 670 km (416 mi) off the Pacific coast of Chile in the Valparaíso Region

      • Tierra del Fuego Archipelago: lies off the southernmost tip of the South American mainland, across the Strait of Magellan in the Magallanes Region.

      • Chiloé Archipelago: a group of islands lying off the coast of Chile in the Los Lagos Region

      • Diego Ramírez Islands: a small group of subantarctic islands located about 105 km (65 mi) west-southwest of Cape Horn in the southernmost extreme of Chile

      • Magdalena Island: located between the Moraleda Channel and the Puyuhuapi Channel in the Aysén Region

      See more: Islands and Archipelagos of Chile

      Topographical map of Chile

      Topographical map of Chile

      Bodies of Water

      Chile has diverse water bodies, ranging from expansive rivers and lakes to stunning gulfs, bays, and fjords. The country's extensive coastline stretches along the Pacific Ocean, offering dramatic cliffs, beautiful beaches, and vibrant marine life.

      The major rivers in Chile, such as the Loa, Biobío, and Maipo, flow through various regions, providing water resources and supporting ecosystems. Chile is also home to notable lakes like General Carrera, Llanquihue, and Panguipulli, which offer scenic beauty and recreational opportunities.

      Chile boasts remarkable gulfs and bays along its coastline, including the Gulf of Penas and the Bay of Concepción. Chile's fjords, such as the Aysén Fjord and the Seno de Reloncaví, also showcase mesmerizing landscapes shaped by glaciers and the sea.

      Overall, Chile's water bodies contribute to the country's natural splendor and provide many resources and recreational possibilities for locals and visitors alike.

      See more: Water Bodies of Chile

      Administrative Divisions

      Chile is divided into 16 administrative regions. These regions are subdivided into provinces, each administered by a governor appointed by the President of Chile. Provinces are further divided into communes, which are governed by municipal councils.

      See more: Cultural Landscape of Chile

      Chile physiographic map

      Chile physiographic map

      Natural Regions / Biomes

      Biomes are natural regions distinguished by geography, climate, and associated flora and fauna. The regions are classified according to their predominant vegetation.

      Atacama Desert

      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 because, in many areas, rainfall has never been recorded.


      The Altiplano is often called the Altiplano-Puna plateau, the high-altitude grassland region covering much of the plateau. It is the most extensive area of high plateau outside Tibet.

      Central Andean Dry Puna

      The Central Andean dry puna ecoregion is an arid, high-elevation montane grassland and herbaceous community of the high southern Andes, extending through western Bolivia, 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 Chile's west coast 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.

      Patagonian Forest

      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 in 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.

      Ecological Regions

      The following is a list of terrestrial ecoregions in Chile, as defined by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

      Chile is in the Neotropical realm. Ecoregions are classified by biome type - the major global plant communities determined by rainfall and climate.

      Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests

      • Rapa Nui and Sala-y-Gomez subtropical broadleaf forests

      Temperate broadleaf and mixed forests

      Temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands

      Montane grasslands and shrublands

      Mediterranean forests, woodlands, and scrub

      Deserts and xeric shrublands

      Vegetation map of Chile

      Vegetation map of Chile