Chile Table of Contents
The Cuernos del Paine (Paine Horns) and Lago Pehoe in Torres
del Paine (Paine Towers) National Park, Chilean Patagonia
Courtesy Ramón Miró and Laura Mullahy
In the far south (Chile Austral), which extends from between 43° south latitude and 44° south latitude to Cape Horn, the Andes and the South Pacific meet. The continental coastline features numerous inlets and fjords, from which the mountains seem to rise straight up to great elevations; this is, for example, the case with the Cerro Macá (2,960 meters) near Puerto Aisén. The rest of the land consists of literally thousands of islands forming numerous archipelagos interwoven with sometimes-narrow channels, which provide the main routes of navigation.
In the northern part of the far south, there is still plenty of rainfall. For instance, Puerto Aisén, at 45°24' south latitude, receives 2,973.3 millimeters of rain per year. However, unlike in Valdivia, the rain falls more or less evenly throughout the year in Puerto Aisén. The summer months average 206.1 millimeters, whereas the winter months average 300 millimeters. The temperatures at sea level in Puerto Aisén average 13.6° C in the summer months and 4.7° C in the winter months. Although the area generally is chilly and wet, the combination of channels, fjords, snowcapped mountains, and islands of all shapes and sizes within such a narrow space makes for breathtaking views. The area is still heavily forested, although some of the native species of trees that grow in the central and southern parts of the country have given way to others better adapted to a generally colder climate.
The southern part of the far south includes the city of Punta Arenas, which, with about 125,000 inhabitants, is the southernmost city of any appreciable size in the world. It receives much less precipitation; its annual total is only 438.5 millimeters, or a little more than what Valdivia receives in the month of June alone. This precipitation is distributed more or less evenly throughout the year, with the two main summer months receiving a monthly average of thirty-one millimeters and the winter months 38.9 millimeters, some of it in the form of snow. Temperatures are colder than in the rest of the country. The summer months average 11.1° C, and the winter months average 2.5° C. The virtually constant wind from the South Pacific Ocean makes the air feel much colder.
The far south contains large expanses of pastures that are best suited for raising sheep. The area's other main economic activity is oil and natural gas extraction from the areas around the Strait of Magellan. This strait is one of the world's important sea-lanes because it unites the Atlantic and Pacific oceans through a channel that avoids the rough open waters off Cape Horn. The channel is perilous, however, and Chilean pilots guide all vessels through it.
Data as of March 1994