The title of ‘discoverer of Chile’ is usually assigned to Diego de Almagro, who organized an expedition that brought him to central Chile in 1537. As he found little of value to compare with the gold and silver of the Incas in Peru, he had little interest in exploring the area further. However, Pedro de Valdivia, a captain of the army, realized the potential for expanding the Spanish empire southwards. With a couple of hundred men, he subdued the local inhabitants and founded the city of Santiago de Chile in 1541.

The Chilean War of Independence started as an elitist political movement against colonial rule, and finally ended up as a fully-fledged civil war between pro-independence Criollos (locally born people of pure Spanish ancestry) and royalist fighters. José Miguel Carrera led Chile’s first experiment at self-government. The military-educated Carrera was a heavy-handed ruler, who triggered widespread opposition. Bernardo O’Higgins, an advocate of full independence, captained a rival faction. Spanish troops from Peru took advantage of the situation and reconquered Chile in 1814. O’Higgins, Carrera and many of the Chilean rebels escaped to Argentina. O’Higgins joined forces with José de San Martín and their combined army freed Chile, with a daring assault over the Andes in 1817, defeating the Spaniards at the Battle of Chacabuco. Chile won its formal independence when San Martín defeated the last large Spanish force on Chilean soil at the Battle of Maipú in 1818. San Martín then led his Argentine and Chilean followers north to liberate Peru.