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Chile's European heritage is pervasive, meaning that Western travelers here are less conspicuous than in neighboring Peru and Bolivia. For centuries, the Paris education of many Chilean intellectuals influenced the country's art, music and architecture. Important art galleries, museums and a thriving theater scene are the result. The country's art, literature and music have been influential internationally. Chile has spawned the Nobel Prize-winning poets Gabriela Mistral and Pablo Neruda and, until the military coup of 1973, its cinema was among the most experimental in Latin America. Folk music has been an especially important outlet for the country's oppressed, and was frequently performed overseas by exiles during Pinochet's reign.


Over 90% of the population is Roman Catholic, though evangelical Protestantism is becoming increasingly popular. The country's Catholic architecture is impressive and ubiquitous, from grandiose colonial churches to roadside shrines, some of which are extraordinary manifestations of folk art. Spanish is Chile's official language, though a handful of native languages are still spoken. In the north, there are more than 20,000 speakers of Aymara, and in the south there are perhaps half a million speakers of Mapuche. The most intriguing linguistic minority is the 2000-plus speakers of Rapa Nui, the Polynesian language of most of Easter Island's population.



Chile's cuisine reflects the country's topographical variety, and features seafood, beef, fresh fruit and vegetables. Empanadas are large turnover snacks with a variety of fillings; humitas are corn tamales; and there are a variety of potato and flour-based breads. Chile's biggest standard meal is lomo a lo pobre - an enormous slab of beef topped with two fried eggs and buried in chips. The parillada, which will appall vegetarians and heart specialists, is a mixed grill including such delicacies as intestines, udders and blood sausages. Curanto, one of the nation's finest dishes, is an all-encompassing, hearty stew of fish, shellfish, chicken, pork, lamb, beef and potato. Chilean wines are arguably South America's best. A pisco sour is a popular drink which easily gets you piscoed - it's a grape brandy served with lemon juice, egg white and powdered sugar.