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As may be expected in a country that extends so far from north to south, Chile has many different climatic zones, but all are cooled by the Humboldt current which originates in subantarctic waters off the Pacific Coast. Together with the prevailing southwesterly winds, this creates a temperate climate in most of northern and central Chile, even in areas that lie in tropical latitudes. Chile's far south has a cool, damp climate, but severe cold is rare except at higher elevations. The moderating effect of the ocean prevents extreme heat waves in the summer and keeps temperatures from falling very low in the winter. Thus there is very little difference in temperature from one season to the next. Average annual temperatures are 6 °C at Punta Arenas in the far south, 11 °C at Puerto Montt further north, 14 °C at Santiago, 16 °C at Antofagasta and 18 °C at Arica in the far north.

Rainfall, on the other hand, is more variable. North of 27 ° South latitude, there is virtually no rainfall at all. Moisture comes mostly in the form of heavy mists. In north-central Chile, rainfall is heaviest in the winter months. As a general rule, precipitation increases as you head south, culminating in south-central Chile, where it rains year-round and sometimes heavily. The area around Cape Horn can often be stormy. Rainfall tends to be lighter in some other parts of the far south such as Punta Arenas, which falls in the rain shadow of the drier eastern slopes of the Andes.

Chile can be divided into three major climatic areas — very arid in the north, cool and damp in the south, and what can be characterized as a Mediterranean climate in central Chile, with pronounced seasonal differences: heavier rainfall in the cooler months from May to August, and sunshine the rest of the year. It does occasionally snow in Santiago and other parts of central Chile, but the snow usually melts quickly except in the mountains. In the north, the interior of the Atacama desert has some of the world's highest levels of solar radiation.

Since Chile lies deep in the Southern Hemisphere, the seasons fall at opposite times of year from the Northern Hemisphere. Thus, the summer months are December, January and February, while June, July and August are the winter months. When it is spring in North America or Europe, it is autumn in Chile, and vice versa. January and February are the peak travel months except, of course, at ski resorts. Needless to say, it is essential to take the inversion of seasons into account when planning a trip. When we refer in this book to summer, we are referring to the Chilean summer.

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