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Culture of Chile

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Chileans - The People, The Culture

Genetically, Chile is approximately half of European descent and half of Native American descent (with about 4% African). Chileans are genetically and culturally less indigenous than neighboring Andean nations to the north, being similar to Argentinians in most respects. Chileans have gained more economic prosperity than most any other country in Latin America due to their industrious culture and resource-rich land and sea. The Andes mountains predominate the landscape, making the country’s highland culture, with nexus in Santiago, is the most influential and powerful in Chile. 

Religion in Chile

The majority of Chileans are Roman Catholics (55-60% depending on the study), and around 15% are Cristian Protestant, making it one of the nations in Latin America with the greatest Protestant influence. Around 25% of Chileans are religiously non-affiliated or state that religion is not important in their lives -- again one of the highest percentages in Latin America.  Religious festivities in Chile are frequent and fascinating events, with ritual processions and dances that demonstrate the synthesis of numerous traditions - popular and religious, Andean and Catholic - over the course of over four centuries.

The majority of these festivities are derived from the concept of patron saints. Catholic tradition assigns each day of the year its own patron saint, and each Catholic church is dedicated to one of these saints. Each church annually celebrates its saint's day, though forms of celebration vary by region and by each church. In many parts of the country, Catholic traditions have been so thoroughly mixed with native traditions and popular manifestations that it is difficult to devise where one tradition leaves off and the other begins.Semana Santa (Holy Week), which culminates on Easter Sunday, is celebrated throughout Chile.

Language in Chile

Spanish is the official language, and unlike other South American nations that have experienced immigration from all around the world, the culture and ethnicities of Chile are relatively homogenous throughout. Only 10 percent of Chile’s population considers themselves indigenous, however, a majority of this group is comprised by the Mapuche ethnicities, whose traditional customs have had a significant influence on Chile’s modern culture.

A Brief History

People have inhabited this region for millennia, dating all the way back to 14,000 B.C., when the first nomadic tribes arrived. Over the next 10,000 years, they became more sedentary and eventually, by the second century of the Common Era, the Mapuche group had established itself as the main tribe of the area. In the end of the 15th century, the Mapuche were strong enough to resist Inca conquest from the north, but after Magellan first sighted the continent’s southern tip in 1520, the remainder of the 16th century was spent struggling against the Spanish conquest. 

The country remained in Spanish control under the Viceroyalty of Peru until Napoleon conquered Spain in 1807 and Chile consequently declared independence in 1810; their independence was formalized when San Martin defeated the last Spanish resistance in 1818, and Spain accepted their independence in 1840. 

The following two centuries were marked by shifting governments, changing constitutions, dictatorships, presidencies, and general political instability. From 1973 until 1990, Augusto Pinochet’s oppressive regime ruled over the country, restraining free speech and effectively disappearing anyone who resisted. This is considered one of the darkest periods in contemporary Latin American history, with flagrant human rights violations under a harsh dictator. 


Although it is not very wide, Chile’s length stretches through a surprising number of ecosystems, allowing for a truly varied palette of ingredients. Chief on the menu is the seafood, including mussels, clams, scallops, oysters, urchins, sea bass, salmon, and a long list of others that can all be bought fresh every morning at the abundant fish markets. But Chile is not just for seafood lovers – the mouthwatering grass-fed beef will surely leave you craving more.

And when you’re ready to wash it all down, nothing pairs better with a well-prepared salmon or finely marbled steak than one of Chile’s famous red wines. Chilean wine has earned a reputation as some of the best in the world, with vineyards that have been refining their traditional craft for centuries.

Anything and everything grows in Chile, and eating well here means taking advantage of the tremendous range and outstanding quality of seafood and locally produced agricultural products. Though seeking out local dishes and specialties is always part of the adventure, there are a few dishes that you'll come across nearly everywhere.

Empanadas are snack-sized turnovers filled with meat, cheese, or shellfish, and are a staple of daily life, not to be missed. Fresh-baked bread, in a variety of styles, is available in local panaderias in even the smallest towns. A surprising variety of excellent sandwiches make for good, quick meals. Chile's seafood is unequaled in variety and quality. Mussels, clams, and urchins, oysters and scallops, salmon and sea bass…the list of fish and shellfish goes on and on, and a morning visit to fish markets anywhere in the country is an overwhelming sensory experience. Paila marina is a delectable shellfish stew available throughout the country. North American and European visitors will find the quality of red meat served here to far exceed that which they are accustomed to. Asados (barbeques) and parilladas (mixed grill) are extremely popular and widely available. Finally, even the most voracious sweet-tooth will be satisfied by locally made italian-style ice cream (helado) and deserts made with dulce de leche, also known as manjar. From north to south, Chilean cuisine is as varied and unexpected as the country's marvelous geography!

Fine Arts & Literature

Thanks to the support from world-renowned universities and art institutions, contemporary art has flourished. Perhaps the most famous Chilean painter was Roberto Matta, whose surrealist and abstract techniques became popular throughout the 20th century. Other artists include the neo-cubist painter Carlos Sotomayor and the sculptor Rebeca Matte, among many others.

In addition to these rich arts, Chile’s turmoiled past has bred some of the most rousing protest literature in the Spanish language. Isabel Allende is arguably one of Chile’s most important authors, with progressive novels that showcase the social and political conditions during the Pinochet regime and feature feminist themes that highlight the way women were treated in a world dominated by men.

Another noteworthy Chilean literary master is Nobel Prize winner Pablo Neruda, whose poetry in the early and mid-20th century captured both the country’s political atmosphere and defined a unique style of erotic romanticism in his early works. Gabriela Mistral was also awarded the Nobel Prize in literature for her poetry on death, childhood, and maternity, making her the first Latin American woman to win the Prize.

Thanks to the Tourism Promotion Corporation of Chile : 202-530-4109

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