South America is part of America, which is the second
largest continent in the world. (The
largest is Asia.) As part of the American
continent, South America is considered a subcontinent. The
other two subcontinents in America are North America
and Central America.
Countryaah.com, South America has
twelve countries: Brazil, Uruguay,
Peru, Ecuador, Colombia,
Venezuela, Guyana and
Suriname. Besides them, there is a
territory dependent on France, French Guiana.
The Falkland Islands, off South America,
belong to a country outside the Americas, the United
Kingdom, although Argentina claims the archipelago (the
Argentines call it the Malvinas Islands). South America is
also part of a larger cultural region, known as
Soil and climate
Most of South America is covered by rugged mountains and
plateaus (flat, highlands). In the north is the Guiana
plateau. The Brazilian plateau, another
group of mountains and plateaus, covers more than half of
Brazil - equivalent to about a quarter of South America. The
Andes stretch along the western edge of the
continent and are one of the mountain ranges most impressive
in the world. In eastern Peru and western Bolivia, there is
a large plateau called the Altiplano. At the southern tip of
America is a region of vast plateaus known as
South America has many rivers, which
form large basins. They are usually on flat, low ground. The
largest is the Amazon basin, which covers parts of Brazil,
Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. The Paraná
and Orenoco rivers also form basins.
The Amazon River has the most extensive
hydrographic system in the world. Other important rivers are
the Orinoco, Araguaia, Tocantins,
São Francisco, Paraguay,
Paraná and Uruguay, in
addition to the several longest tributaries of the Amazon.
Stretches of the Andes are dotted with lakes.
There are also vast swamps in many
low-lying regions of the continent.
Most of South America has a tropical climate. In
the equatorial and tropical forests of the north
and east, it is hot and rainy throughout the year. There are
also many desert areas, such as the coast of Peru, the
Atacama desert (in Chile) and northwestern
Argentina. In the southernmost parts of Argentina and Chile,
as well as high up in the mountains, it is cold and rainy
for almost the entire year.
Flora and fauna
The Amazon River basin covers the largest area of
equatorial and tropical forest in the world, with many
types of trees. However, part of the forest has been
destroyed by exploitation without criteria. In order to
build roads and prepare land for planting and grazing, many
areas are being devastated. There are
lumber companies that operate illegally in the forest,
cutting down trees that need to be preserved.
Savannas - areas of fields
with some trees - are typical of central Venezuela and
Brazil. The deserts off the coast of Chile and Peru have
The two best known animals in the Andes are the
llama and the alpaca. Among the other mammals,
there are many felines (especially the jaguar
and the puma ), deer,
wolves, foxes and
raccoons. Many mammals live in tropical forests,
especially monkeys, hedgehogs,
sloths and a wide variety of rats,
mice and bats. South
America has over a thousand types of birds,
being able to see hummingbirds,
woodpeckers and birds of prey in
different regions of the continent. The Andean
Condor is one of the largest birds in the world.
The humboldt penguin is found at various
points on the south coast. There are also several types of
fish and reptiles, among
these several species of lizards and
The original inhabitants of South America were diverse
groups of Indians, or Native Americans.
Today the population is a mixture of several distinct
groups: descendants of indigenous people, Europeans (mainly
Spanish and Portuguese) and Africans. About 40 percent of
South America's population is white. Another 40 percent have
mixed ancestry of whites and Indians, whites and blacks or
blacks and Indians.
The majority of the South American population speaks
Spanish or Portuguese. Many indigenous languages are also
spoken, such as Quechua and Aymara. In some
areas, English, French or Dutch are spoken. South Americans
are predominantly Catholic. In some
countries, people mix Catholicism with traditional elements
of African and indigenous religions, in a phenomenon known
as religious syncretism.
There are great gaps in relation to education
and health among the countries of South
America. Education does not reach all children. Many live in
very remote areas, where there are no schools.
Some cities have the most advanced hospitals
in the world, and in others there is no doctor. The biggest
health problems are in rural districts, particularly in the
low plains and river valleys of the tropics.
In these places it is common for people to use impure water.
In addition, insects transmit diseases such
as dengue, malaria or
Chagas disease. Residents of the densely
populated and poor peripheries of cities are also at greater
risk of having health problems.
For many years, the economy of most South American
countries was not well developed. The majority of the
population worked in agriculture, and there
were not many industries. In addition,
countries depended on foreign aid. However, in the second
half of the 20th century, many South American countries
began to try to improve their economy by encouraging
South America is very rich in minerals. It has, for
example, one fifth of the ore iron
worldwide, and a large amount of oil and
natural gas. Copper,
tin, lead and zinc
are mined in the Andes. Brazil has many precious stones.
Agriculture represents a large part of the South American
economy. Sheep and cattle are
raised all over the continent. Argentina is a major
exporter of beef. Coffee, cocoa,
sugar cane, pineapple and
bananas are produced in the tropical and
subtropical regions. A little further from the equator,
wheat, legumes and
vegetables are grown.
Brazil is the most industrialized country in South
America. It has an important aircraft
industry, which exports to more developed countries. Its
factories, like those in Argentina, produce cars,
trucks, tractors and industrial machines.
Several countries manufacture clothes.
Financial services and trade are vital for all South
American countries. Full of varied attractions, South
America is an important world tourist
center and has been developing the services necessary for
good service in this area.
The Indians had lived in South America for many thousands
of years. In the 21st century BC, several groups had
societies with highly developed cultures. In the 15th
century AD, they already constituted large indigenous
groups, such as the Incas, from the Andes;
the Chibcha of Colombia; and the
Guarani, from Paraguay. When Europeans arrived in
South America, the Inca Empire extended over much of the
European exploration began when Christopher
Columbus arrived in the north, in 1498. In the
early sixteenth century, Portuguese and Spanish navigators
began to explore large areas of South America and take
possession of them. Gradually, the Portuguese took over what
today is Brazil. The Spaniards claimed ownership over the
rest of the subcontinent and dominated the Indians, forcing
them to extract gold and silver
and work on the land. In the north, Great Britain, the
Netherlands and France divided the Guyana region between
Huge numbers of indigenous people did not resist the
diseases transmitted by Europeans or the adverse living
conditions. Then the Europeans brought African
slaves to replace the workers who had died.
In the 19th century, an increasing number of people in
South America began to claim their independence from Spain.
The main revolutionary campaigns were led by two prominent
military leaders: José de San Martín, from Argentina, and
Simón Bolívar, from Venezuela. Both ended
up having their efforts rewarded: in the middle of the 19th
century, all Spanish colonies were already
independent nations. In the case of Brazil,
independence was achieved in 1822, and the country
adopted the status of monarchy, in the form
of an empire. In 1889, the country became a
republic. Guyana and Suriname did not achieve independence
until much later, in the middle of the 20th century. French
Guiana continues to belong to France.
Many of the new South American countries have created
governments based on the standard of democracy
in the United States and France.
Throughout the twentieth century, however, military chiefs
seized power in several countries and established
dictatorships. The great inequality between rich
and poor that exists in almost the entire subcontinent is
cause for internal conflicts in many South American nations.