Where swallows fly North for the winter

It can be hard for us Northerners1 to really get a handle on the geography of the Southern Hemisphere, where the Moon is upside down, it snows in July, and birds fly north for the winter. Understanding geography can be particularly confusing in Chile, which is fairly narrow from east to west but loooooooooooooooooooooooooooooong from north to south, so that latitude plays and important part in how the country understands itself.

Here is a map of Chile, marking major cities from Arica (close to the equator) to Punta Arenas (far from the equator). Notice that I give the latitudes relative to the equator rather than north or south, because that will make the next step easier to understand. Click on the map for a larger version.

Map of Chile
Map of Chile (click for a larger version)

The next step? Well, it’s not a perfect analogy, but one way to understand Chile’s southern hemisphere geography is to compare it to equivalent geographies in the northern hemisphere, again giving latitudes relative to the equator. So, two cities at similar distances from the equator should have similar weather patterns and similar feels.

That’s what I’ve done here, by comparing the major cities of Chile to equivalent cities on the west coast of North America. For every city from Arica in to Punta Arenas in the south, I chose a city (or region, or several of each) in the northern hemisphere at a similar latitude away from the equator, and with a similar population2.

First, substituting cities in Chile with cities on the west coast of North America:

Latitude/population equivalent map of Chile (click for a larger version)

From nearest to the equator to farthest from the equator:

  • Arica is at roughly the same latitude south, and population, as Lazaro Cardenas, Mexico
  • Iquique is equivalent to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
  • Antofagasta is equivalent to Matatlán, Mexico
  • Valparaiso is equivalent to the average latitude and combined population of Ventura and Santa Barbara, California
  • Santiago is equivalent to the average latitude and combined population of Los Angeles, San Diego, and another copy of San Diego
  • Concepción is equivalent to Oakland, California
  • Puerto Montt is equivalent to the average latitude and combined population of Chico, Redding, and Eureka, California
  • Puerto Aisen is equivalent to Walla Walla, Washington
  • Punta Arenas was tricky – its latitude is equivalent to Prince George, British Columbia – but Punta Arenas is much bigger. To get to the actual population of Punta Arenas, add in the population of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, which is a bit closer to the equator.

Two observations on this comparison:

  1. Santiago is absurdly huge compared to every other city in Chile
  2. The cities aren’t all that far south, except of course for Punta Arenas

But maybe you’re not familiar with cities on the west coast of North America, and you’d like another comparison? More comparisons coming soon.


  1. Imma start referring to us northerners as “Global Yankees”^
  2. Latitudes are accurate to within five degrees (about 350 miles) and populations are accurate to within 25 percent^

Leave a Reply