Why Is Chile So Long and Skinny?

The history of Chile’s unique borders

Grant Piper

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(TUBS / CC BY 3.0)

Chile snakes its way up the coast of South America. Chile takes up a large portion of the western coast of the continent. Argentina borders Chile to the east, and they share an extremely long border. Chile also borders Peru (north) and Bolivia (northeast.) One of Chile’s most distinguishable features is its odd shape. Chile is extremely long and extremely narrow. It is like Florida on steroids. Chile stretches over 2,600 miles north to south and averages just 100 miles across.

This odd shape raises an obvious question. Why? Why is Chile so long and skinny?

Simple Geography

Andes Mountains (Wikipedia)

Like many global borders, Chile’s are defined in large part due to geography. Many borders follow natural features like rivers and mountains. Chile is no different. Chile is hemmed in by the vast Pacific Ocean to the west and the Andes Mountains to the east.

The Andes Mountains are one of the largest mountain ranges in the world, and the mountains form a formidable barrier. Similarly, the Pacific Ocean is the largest ocean in the world. These two incredible natural barriers largely dictate Chile’s borders. But the natural features were not the only factors that played into these odd borders.

Agreement With Argentina (1881)

(Public domain)

Chile gained its independence from Spain in the early part of the 19th century. Afterward, the nation embarked on a long and messy process of forging a nation out of a colonial province. As we mentioned, the Andes formed a massive natural barrier between Chile and Argentina. In 1881, a treaty hammered out between Chile and Argentina in the midst of the War of the Pacific formalized the massive border between the two nations. The Tratado de Límites de 1881 created the border that is largely in place to this day.

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Grant Piper

Professional writer. Amateur historian. Husband, father, Christian.