Climate and Weather
The country can be divided into three zones: Northern, Central and Southern Chile.
Northern Chile (called the “great north”):
The north is cloudy and cool for its latitude. It has many mountains that are over 6,000 m high. The highest point in Chile is the extinct volcano Ojos del Salado. The Atacama Desert extends between the coast and the western main Andean chain. This desert is one of the driest areas on earth; often no rain falls for years. Summer and winter in the north of Chile are relatively mild with temperatures around 15-25 ° C with only slight seasonal changes.
The central parts of the country have an almost Mediterranean climate with changeable winters and hot, dry summers. The higher elevations of the Andes have a typical alpine climate with glaciers and year-round snow. This region is very fertile and densely populated. Central Chile has more pronounced seasonal changes with average daily maximum temperatures of 29 ° C from December to February and around 14 ° C in June.
The very sparsely populated southern Chile (called the “great south”) is an extremely rainy region. The coast is very rugged due to a large number of offshore islands. Summer temperatures in southern Chile are slightly lower at 20 ° C and can drop below 10 ° C in the middle of the year.
Overall, the climate in Chile is strongly influenced by the Humboldt Ocean Current. This flows from south to north and transports cold sea water from the Antarctic. As a result, the water temperatures in Chile are significantly lower than in the same latitudes elsewhere. In Punta Arenas (southern Chile) – which is about the same distance from the equator as Hamburg – the mean daytime temperature in summer is only 12 ° C.
A special feature of the Chilean climate is the El Niño effect (also known as the southern oscillation). This climate phenomenon mainly affects countries such as Peru or Indonesia, but it is also effective in Chile about every seven years and leads to increased rainfall here compared to normal years.
The Chilean Andes are among the highest mountain ranges in the world and have a multitude of peaks over 6000 m. The highest mountain in Chile, the Ojos del Salado (6,893 m), is also the highest volcano in the world.
Due to the special structure of the country, there are no longer rivers in Chile. The longest river is the Río Loa with 443 km. With increasing rainfall towards the south, the volume of water carried by the rivers increases.
The Chilean lakes include the salt lakes in the north, the largest and most famous of which is the Salar de Atacama (3,000 km²). In the far north lies one of the highest lakes in the world, Lago Chungará, with 21.5 km² at an altitude of around 4,500 m. The large and most scenic lakes extend southeast of the city of Temuco to Puerto Montt.
Salar de Atacama © wikimedia / Francesco Mocellin
Conguilliok National Park © wikimedia / lautaroj
Due to the huge extension of over 4000 km in length, Chile has a lot of vegetation zones.
Little grows in the area of the Atacama Desert. Many different types of cacti, succulents and dwarf shrubs grow near the coast and in the Andes region. However, every few years it rains in the desert, so that large areas of desert are covered with millions of flowers for a few days.
South of the desert follows the steppe with dry grassland. In the Andes, the rock-hard yareta also grows as the “Andean cushion”. The “Boldo shrub” grows in the dry areas. There are cloud forests in the coastal mountains and in the Andes.
The wine-growing areas begin in the area of the Río Elquí. Outside the river valley there are only thorn bushes and cacti.
The honey palm grows in central Chile. There are also numerous large eucalyptus plantations.
In southern Chile there are large forests that are classified as temperate rainforests. They are mainly composed of cypresses, pines and larches; Antarctic beeches and poplars are also widespread.
Patagonia forms a wide steppe and tundra.
Tierra del Fuego is criss-crossed by large moors. Only a few tree species survive here, such as the Lenga southern beech, the Magellan southern beech or the Coihue southern beech.
Animals, animal species
On the coast you can find sea lions, seals, otters, the Humboldt penguin, pelicans, maned seals and Magellanic penguins. Also seagulls, jots (vultures) and guano birds.
Llamas, alpacas, guanacos and vicunas, all from the camel family, live in the plateaus. There are several species of lizards.
The chinchilla, a rodent, and the puma live in mountainous steppe landscapes. The forests provide space for deer, Chilean forest cats, foxes and hummingbirds.
The majestic Andean condor, one of the largest birds in the world, is spread over almost all of Chile. The large salt lakes are home to thousands of flamingos.
Owls, Magellanic foxes, Darwin’s rheas and shrub rats (degus) live in the barren south of Tierra del Fuego.