Chile is a long, narrow country stretching along South America’s western edge, with 4,300km of Pacific Ocean coastline. Santiago, its capital, sits in a valley surrounded by the Andes and Chilean Coast Range mountains. The city’s Plaza de Armas, founded in 1541, contains neoclassical landmarks and the National History Museum. The massive Parque Metropolitano offers swimming pools, a botanical garden and zoo. Chile is a country of startling contrasts and extreme beauty, with attractions ranging from the towering volcanic peaks of the Andes to the ancient forests of the Lake District. There are a multitude of very good parks here, and plenty of opportunities for fine adventure travel. Chile is justly famous as the location of Torres del Paine, considered by many to be the finest nature travel destinations in all of South America.For anyone who has ever been fascinated by geography, the long, impossibly thin line of Chile has always produced a tiny moment of astonishment. Chile stretches over 4,300 km (2,700 mi) along the southwestern coast of South America, a distance roughly the same as that from San Francisco to New York, or Edinburgh to Baghdad. All this has created a country distinct from the rest of South America and one that defies many people’s expectations of an Andean country. It is developed, relatively affluent and non-corrupt, and – with the exception of the infamous military regime of the 1970s and 1980s – boasts a long tradition of political stability and orderly government. It is, without doubt, one of the safest and most relaxing places to visit within South America. Its buses are comfortable and run on time; its people polite, respectful and discreet; and its indigenous minorities, in the main, coexist peacefully alongside the rest of the population.A country of geographical extremes, Chile’s diversity is reflected both in its people – from the alpaca herders of the altiplano and the gauchos of Patagonia to the businessmen of Santiago – and its cuisine, which encompasses the tropical fruit of the arid north as well as king crab from the southern fjords. Above all, though, it is for its remote and dizzyingly beautiful landscapes that visitors head to Chile. With its population of fifteen million largely confined to a handful of major cities, much of Chile is made up of vast tracts of scarcely touched wilderness – places where you can be days from the nearest tarred road. At the same time, its width never exceeds 240 km (150 mi), making the country more than eighteen times longer than its widest point. In the center of the country, however, is a long and expansive river valley, a five hundred mile corridor occupied in the north by vineyards and great farms and in the south by primeval forests and enchanting lakes. Santiago, the capital, anchors the northern and more prosperous section of the central valley. The lush Lake District to the south, however, is the homeland of Chile’s indigenous peoples, the Araucanians.