Ready for some fun Chilean trivia?
This year, Cascada Expediciones is celebrating 25 years of helping you embark on dream trips - hiking through Torres del Paine in Patagonia, soaking up the sun on the lofty altiplano of the Atacama desert, exploring the city of Santiago, relaxing with a glass of wine at one of central Chile’s premier vineyards, and even more. It’s all in a day’s work, and the natural bounty of Chile’s gorgeous landscapes, intriguing history and culture, welcoming people, scrumptious food and drink, and exciting adventure opportunities make it an easy job to do!
So to kick off our 25th birthday celebration, we’re sharing twenty five of our favorite facts about this amazing country. Cheers to you, Chile; you take the cake!
1. The origin of the name “Chile” may come from the indigenous Mapuche word “chili,” meaning “where the land ends.” It could also be based on the Mapuche imitation of a bird call which sounds like “cheele cheele."
2. Ever wonder if we’re alone in the universe? Chile does, and is one of the few countries on Earth that has an officially funded and recognized UFO research bureau. The department is part of the Air Force, and monitors the activity of unusual aircraft. Also, many Chileans love to “watch the skies,” posting home videos of suspected UFOs and alien activity. Close encounters of the Chile kind!
3. Chileans are the second biggest consumers of bread in the world - just behind the Germans. No wonder, considering how unbelievably delicious the different types of bread are, such as the popular marraqueta loaves.
(Marraqueta loaves. Source: walobuby.com)
4. The Gran Torre in Santiago - a staggering 64 stories high - is the tallest building in South America. Head up to the newly opened observation deck for an amazing view of the city and the surrounding Andean cordillera.
5. One of the most interesting cultural traditions in Chile takes place on the islands of the Chiloe archipelago - the minga. When a family wants to move their house, the community comes together to literally remove the wooden house from its foundations, and either uses a team of oxen and logs to pull it to its new home, or ties it to a boat and gently floats it to a different island!
6. The Atacama Desert is the driest desert in the world, with average rainfall measuring about 0.6 inches a year. There are some places in the Atacama that have never even registered rainfall since recording began. But when the rains do come, parts of the desert bloom with beautiful fields of purple flowers that stretch for miles.
7. Crack open a cold one! Even though Chile is internationally known for its succulent red wines and its devilish Pisco, Chile also has a strong and diverse beer culture! This is thanks to a strong influx of German immigrants from the late 1800s, who came to Chile to live in the South and brought their brewing traditions (and cuisine and architecture as well) with them. So be sure to sample some local craft brews during your visit.
8. Chile is affectionately known by its inhabitants as the “pais del poetas” or the “country of poets”. This is because two of the country’s most well-known and beloved literary figures were the poets and writers Gabriela Mistral and Pablo Neruda, who both won the Nobel Prize in Literature.
9. Chileans know how to ring in the New Year with style! On New Year’s Eve, the coastal cities of Valparaiso and Viña del Mar put on the biggest firework show in South America, launching an amazing display over the giant harbor that borders the two cities for the ultimate fiesta! In 2007, a Guinness World Record was achieved for setting off 16,000 fireworks.
10. Chile is home to the Guinness World Record Holder for the world’s biggest swimming pool. Housed at the San Alfonso del Mar Resort, the pool stretches the length of 20 Olympic-sized swimming pools and holds 66 million gallons.
11. Chile may be known for its wine, but the vines are not indigenous to the region. Vitis viniferia vines were first brought over by the Spanish colonizers.
12. The whaling ship Essex - whose doomed adventures served as inspiration to Herman Melville for his classic novel “Moby Dick” - went through its dire straits encounter with the destructive whale and the subsequent struggle for survival off the coast of Chile. After the Essex sank, the remaining sailors were able to survive for some time on some islands off the coast before being saved and taken to the port city of Valparaiso.
13. Oh brave new world! It’s rumoured that William Shakespeare’s inspiration for the character of Caliban in his play The Tempest came from reading explorer accounts and descriptions of the native tribes living in Tierra del Fuego in the far south of Chile.
14. The largest earthquake ever recorded - a 9.5 on the Richter scale - took place near Valdivia, Chile in 1960. The shake lasted roughly eleven to thirteen minutes, and overall claimed anywhere from 1,000 to 6,000 lives due to the severity of the quake and the resulting tsunami. But don't worry - Chile has a long history with earthquakes and all the buildings are built to withstand tremors big and small.
15. Chile has one of the only two permanent civilian bases on the continent of Antarctica. Named “Villa Las Estrellas,” the small town is home to a school, a hospital, a post office, and even a small souvenir store.
16. One route of the Pan-American Highway ends in the town of Quellon on the grand island of Chiloe, featuring a giant marker for photo opportunities and even the chance to purchase a commemorative declaration. The other (official) route crosses the continent and ends in the Argentinean city of Ushuaia.
17. Think that the flag of Chile looks like the flag of Texas? You’re right...BUT the Chilean flag is actually 21 years older than the Texan flag. However, both are modeled after the stars and stripes flag for the United States of America. The colors and symbols on the Chilean flag stand for: white - the snow of the Andes Mountains; blue - the sky and the Pacific Ocean; the star - guidance and progress; red - the blood spilled in the fight for independence.
18. The street food is to die for! Savory sopaipillas, empanadas, completo hot dogs, candied peanuts, fresh juices, crates of candies and chips...there’s almost no need to ever go to an actual restaurant (almost)! The street food is plentiful, cheap, and mouthwateringly good. The variety and types of foods and beverages changes depending on the season (for example, more fresh juices and mote con huesillo in the summer) but there’s always something tasty to be found when out and about.
19. Chileans love their ice cream, so if you scream for ice cream as well, you’re going to be in good company. Chileans enjoy their tasty treat year-round, and ice cream parlors are as plentiful in Chile as Starbucks are in the States. Plus, many ice cream shops feature flavors based on local fruits and other ingredients.
20. Sorry, Egypt, but the world’s oldest known mummies were actually found in Chile! The Chinchorro mummies were discovered in the Camarones Valley, and the oldest one is date to be from around 5050 BC.
21. You can see penguins in Chile! Throughout the south, ranging from the islands of Chiloe to Tierra del Fuego, there are multiple places to seeing nesting and breeding sites for a variety of penguins, including Magellanic penguins, Humboldt penguins, and southern rockhopper penguins.
22. Chileans are a patriotic bunch and love to celebrate! September 18th commemorates the day of liberation from Spanish rule, with September 19th honoring “Day of the Glories of the Army” and Chileans go all in for this can’t-miss party! Most people get a full week off work or school to celebrate “fiesta patrias,” partying, dancing the national dance of cueca, drinking, eating traditional foods, and spending time with family and friends at ‘fondas’ - festival venues that spring up around the country.
23. Chile’s largest native tribe, the Mapuches, were known for their ferocity in battle. They were the only indigenous group to stop the advance of the Incan empire into their territory, AND they give the encroaching Spanish conquistadors a run for their money as well.
24. Chileans are very warm people, so don’t be surprised if they give each other (and you) a peck on the cheek in greeting. It’s the Chilean way!
25. It’s a fascinating, beautiful country waiting to be discovered, full of vibrant people just waiting to share their culture with you. (Ok, this one you probably already knew or guessed, but it’s still true!)
Do you have a favorite factoid about Chile that we forgot? Tell us in the comments!