The aim of this study was to estimate the prevalence of type 2 diabetes mellitus (DM2), impaired glucose tolerance (IGT), and the frequency of dyslipidemia, obesity, and hypertension in the rural Aymara population from Northern Chile. In this cross-sectional study, 196 Aymara adult subjects were characterized with respect to their reported physical activity, fasting plasma glucose levels, insulin concentrations, blood pressures, body mass indexes, and plasma lipid profiles. The participants also underwent a 2-h oral glucose tolerance test. The diagnostic criteria for DM2 and IGT followed those of the World Health Organization. The overall prevalence of DM2 was estimated as 1.5% (95% confidence interval: 0.3--4.5). Overall prevalence of IGT was calculated as 3.6% (1.5--7.3). The occurrence of obesity and dyslipidemia was relatively high in the Aymara population, although the frequency of sedentary habits, and the prevalence of hypertension were low. In conclusion, the prevalence of DM2 in the rural Aymara population living at high altitudes in Northern Chile, was much lower than that of other Amerindian groups that adopted lifestyles from industrialized Western societies. Despite a relatively high prevalence of a body mass index of at least 30 kg/m(2), especially in women (23.5%), high physical activity levels and low plasma-insulin concentrations may have been responsible in part for the low prevalence of DM2 in the Aymara population.