Historical records of an earthquake that occurred in 1730 affecting Metropolitan Chile provide essential clues on the source characteristics for the future earthquakes in the region. The earthquake and tsunami of 1730 have been recognized as the largest to occur in Metropolitan Chile since the beginning of written history. The earthquake destroyed buildings along >1000 km of the coast and produced a large tsunami that caused damage as far as Japan. Here its source characteristics are inferred by comparing local tsunami inundations computed from hypothetical earthquakes with varying magnitude and depth, with those inferred from historical observations. It is found that a 600–800 km long rupture involving average slip amounts of 10–14 m (Mw 9.1–9.3) best explains the observed tsunami heights and inundations. This large earthquake magnitude is supported by the 1730 tsunami heights inferred in Japan. The inundation results combined with local uplift reports suggest a southward increase of the slip depth along the rupture zone of the 1730 earthquake. While shallow slip on the area to the north of the 2010 earthquake rupture zone is required to explain the reported inundation, only deeper slip at this area can explain the coastal uplift reports. Since the later earthquakes of the region involved little or no slip at shallow depths, the near-future earthquakes on Metropolitan Chile could release the shallow slip accumulated since 1730 and thus lead to strong tsunami excitation. Moderate shaking from a shallow earthquake could delay tsunami evacuation for the most populated coastal region of Chile.