INTRODUCTION

Chile forms much of the coastline of South America, extending 4300 km from Peru in the north to the Strait of Magellan in the south. Despite this enormous length the country has an average width of less than 200 km. The prominent feature of the landscape is the Andean chain of mountains which forms the eastern border of the country. Volcan ParinacotaThe combination of the high Andes, the wide range of latitude and the effects of the cool Humboldt Current produce an extreme range of habitats. The northern part of the country contains the Atacama Desert, which is the driest place on earth with some regions receiving no rainfall for many years at a time. The coastal cities in this region, Arica, Iquique and Antofagasta are sustained by rivers, springs and underground water sources emanating from the Andes. Much of the Atacama Desert has no vegetation, however, a narrow coastal strip is sustained by moisture resulting from a mist, the Camanchaca, produced by the Humboldt Current. Despite its tropical latitude the Atacama has a very temperate climate. Sunset San Pedro de AtacamaFurther south the Lakes district contains temperate forest and has a high annual rainfall of 300 mm. At the southern tip of the country glaciers, fjords and ice-fields predominate.

After a period of military dictatorship Chile returned to democratic rule in 1989. The capital city, Santiago, has a population of more than 4.6 million out of a total population of 15.1 million and is situated more or less in the middle of the country. There have been a number of different indigenous cultures in Chile with the Aymara being most important in the northern region.