Known for inspiring the famous works of Pablo Neruda and Isabel Allende, Chile is a country of beautiful scenery and spectacular sights. It's long, ribbon-like shape, occupies a long and narrow coastal strip between the Andes Mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Due to this unusual territory, Chile has a varied climate, which ranges from the world's driest desert, the Atacama in the north, through a Mediterranean climate in the center, to a snow-prone Alpine climate in the south, with glaciers, fjords and lakes. Whether you're idea of the perfect vacation is laying on a beach, floating on a river or taking a hike through the mountains, Chile's natural wonders offer a little bit for everyone.

Photo Credit: Miguel Vera Leon

The country is one of South America's most stable and prosperous nations and it has been relatively free of the coups and arbitrary governments that have affected the rest of the continent. The exception was the 17-year rule of General Augusto Pinochet, whose 1973 coup was one of the bloodiest in 20th-century Latin America and whose rule left more than 3,000 people dead and missing. Despite Pinochet's dictatorship, Chile has led a relatively peaceful existence for its multi-ethnic society, which includes people of European and Indian ancestry. The country leads Latin American nations in human development, competitiveness, income per capita, globalization, economic freedom, low perception of corruption and state of peace, as well as ranking high regionally in freedom of the press and democratic development.

When visiting Chile, there are nearly endless opportunities for sightseeing and activity. There are a number of cities that offer unique opportunities for travelers, like Valparaiso, which has consistently been thought of as one of the continent's best-kept secrets. Ignored by many Chileans who prefer the more earthly charms of Viña del Mar next door, the city was named a Unesco World Heritage site in 2003 and has been gaining in popularity ever since. With its stunning vistas that overlook the bustling commercial and navy harbor and snap-worthy sights, Valparaiso offers a bit of bohemian charm for those wishing to really get back to Chile's roots. Whether you visit Valparaiso or the fast-paced capital city of Santiago, a trip to Chile is sure to be one you will not soon forget.

Here are a few facts about the stunning South American country.

Photo Credit: Paula Soler-Moya

Full name: Republic of Chile

Population: 17.1 million

Capital: Santiago

Area: 756,096 sq. km (291,930 sq. miles)

Major language: Spanish

Major religion: Christianity

Monetary unit: Chilean peso

Main exports: Copper, fish, fruit, paper and pulp

Fun Facts:

  • Chile is the fifth largest exporter of wine in the world. The most popular alcoholic drink the country is called Pisco and is a strong, colorless grape brandy. Over 50 million liters are produced each year.
  • Chile provides North America with almost 15 percent of all its fruit sales during the months of November through April.
  • Chile is the second-largest producer of salmon in the world.
  • There are more than 2,000 volcanoes in Chile, 50 of which are actually active.
  • Chile's national sport is soccer. The Chilean soccer team won a bronze medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Tennis is the second most popular sport in Chile.
  • Chile is the home of two Nobel Prize winning poets, Gabriela Mistral in 1945 and Pablo Neruda in 1971.
  • Most Chileans are of European or mixed European and indigenous ancestry. Only about 5 percent are indigenous.
  • Chile is highly urbanized, with 40 percent of the population living in the capital city of Santiago.
  • The Chuquicamata and Escondida copper mines located in the arid Atacama Desert are the largest in the world.
  • Tourism is a fast-growing industry in Chile. In 2005, tourism generated more than $4.5 billion for the country.
  • Chile is the world's 38th largest country and is about twice the size of Japan.