You are on page 1of 6

South America is a continent located in the western hemisphere, mostly in the southern hemisphere,

with a relatively small portion in the northern hemisphere. It may also be considered a subcontinent
of the Americas,[3][4] which is how it is viewed in the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking regions of
the Americas. The reference to South America instead of other regions (like Latin America or the
Southern Cone) has increased in the last decades due to changing geopolitical dynamics (in
particular, the rise of Brazil).[5]

It is bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean and on the north and east by the Atlantic Ocean;
North America and the Caribbean Sea lie to the northwest. It includes twelve sovereign states
(Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay, and
Venezuela), a part of France (French Guiana), and a non-sovereign area (the Falkland Islands, a British
Overseas Territory though this is disputed by Argentina). In addition to this, the ABC islands of the
Kingdom of the Netherlands, Trinidad and Tobago, and Panama may also be considered part of South

South America has an area of 17,840,000 square kilometers (6,890,000 sq mi). Its population as of
2016 has been estimated at more than 420 million.[1] South America ranks fourth in area (after Asia,
Africa, and North America) and fifth in population (after Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America).
Brazil is by far the most populous South American country, with more than half of the continent's
population, followed by Colombia, Argentina, Venezuela and Peru. In recent decades Brazil has also
concentrated half of the region's GDP and has become a first regional power.[5]

Most of the population lives near the continent's western or eastern coasts while the interior and the
far south are sparsely populated. The geography of western South America is dominated by the
Andes mountains; in contrast, the eastern part contains both highland regions and large lowlands
where rivers such as the Amazon, Orinoco, and Paraná flow. Most of the continent lies in the tropics.

The continent's cultural and ethnic outlook has its origin with the interaction of indigenous peoples
with European conquerors and immigrants and, more locally, with African slaves. Given a long history
of colonialism, the overwhelming majority of South Americans speak Portuguese or Spanish, and
societies and states reflect Western traditions.


1 Geography

1.1 Outlying islands

1.2 Climate
2 History

2.1 Prehistory

2.2 Pre-Columbian civilizations

2.3 European colonization

2.4 Slavery in South America

2.5 Independence from Spain and Portugal

2.6 Nation-building and fragmentation

2.7 Wars and conflicts

2.8 Rise and fall of military dictatorships

3 Countries and territories

4 Politics

5 Demographics

5.1 Language

5.2 Religion

5.3 Ethnic demographics

5.3.1 Indigenous people

5.4 Populace

6 Economy

6.1 Economically largest cities as of 2014

6.2 Tourism

7 Culture

7.1 Plastic arts

7.2 Sport

8 Infrastructure

8.1 Energy

8.2 Transport

9 See also
10 Notes and references

10.1 Content notes

10.2 References

10.3 Sources

11 External links


Main article: Geography of South America

See also: Category:Environment of South America

A composite relief image of South America

South America occupies the southern portion of the Americas. The continent is generally delimited
on the northwest by the Darién watershed along the Colombia–Panama border, although some may
consider the border instead to be the Panama Canal. Geopolitically and geographically[6] all of
Panama – including the segment east of the Panama Canal in the isthmus – is typically included in
North America alone[7][8][9] and among the countries of Central America.[10][11] Almost all of
mainland South America sits on the South American Plate.

South America is home to the world's highest uninterrupted waterfall, Angel Falls in Venezuela; the
highest single drop waterfall Kaieteur Falls in Guyana; the largest river (by volume), the Amazon
River; the longest mountain range, the Andes (whose highest mountain is Aconcagua at 6,962 m
[22,841 ft]); the driest non-polar place on earth, the Atacama Desert;[12][13][14] the largest
rainforest, the Amazon Rainforest; the highest capital city, La Paz, Bolivia; the highest commercially
navigable lake in the world, Lake Titicaca; and, excluding research stations in Antarctica, the world's
southernmost permanently inhabited community, Puerto Toro, Chile.

South America's major mineral resources are gold, silver, copper, iron ore, tin, and petroleum. These
resources found in South America have brought high income to its countries especially in times of
war or of rapid economic growth by industrialized countries elsewhere. However, the concentration
in producing one major export commodity often has hindered the development of diversified
economies. The fluctuation in the price of commodities in the international markets has led
historically to major highs and lows in the economies of South American states, often causing
extreme political instability. This is leading to efforts to diversify production to drive away from
staying as economies dedicated to one major export.
South America is one of the most biodiverse continents on earth. South America is home to many
interesting and unique species of animals including the llama, anaconda, piranha, jaguar, vicuña, and
tapir. The Amazon rainforests possess high biodiversity, containing a major proportion of the Earth's

Brazil is the largest country in South America, encompassing around half of the continent's land area
and population. The remaining countries and territories are divided among three regions: The
Andean States, the Guianas and the Southern Cone.

Outlying islands

Traditionally, South America also includes some of the nearby islands. Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao,
Trinidad, Tobago, and the federal dependencies of Venezuela sit on the northerly South American
continental shelf and are often considered part of the continent. Geo-politically, the island states and
overseas territories of the Caribbean are generally grouped as a part or subregion of North America,
since they are more distant on the Caribbean Plate, even though San Andres and Providencia are
politically part of Colombia and Aves Island is controlled by Venezuela.[9][15][16]

Other islands that are included with South America are the Galápagos Islands that belong to Ecuador
and Easter Island (in Oceania but belonging to Chile), Robinson Crusoe Island, Chiloé (both Chilean)
and Tierra del Fuego (split between Chile and Argentina). In the Atlantic, Brazil owns Fernando de
Noronha, Trindade and Martim Vaz, and the Saint Peter and Saint Paul Archipelago, while the
Falkland Islands are governed by the United Kingdom, whose sovereignty over the islands is disputed
by Argentina. South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands may be associated with either South
America or Antarctica.[17][citation needed]


Map of South America according to Köppen climate classification

The distribution of the average temperatures in the region presents a constant regularity from the
30° of latitude south, when the isotherms tend, more and more, to be confused with the degrees of

In temperate latitudes, winters are milder and summers warmer than in North America. Because its
most extensive part of the continent is located in the equatorial zone, the region has more areas of
equatorial plains than any other region.[18]
The average annual temperatures in the Amazon basin oscillate around 27 °C, with low thermal
amplitudes and high rainfall indices. Between the Maracaibo Lake and the mouth of the Orinoco,
predominates an equatorial climate of the type Congolese, that also includes parts of the Brazilian

The east-central Brazilian plateau has a humid and warm tropical climate. The northern and eastern
parts of the Argentine pampas have a humid subtropical climate with dry winters and humid
summers of the Chinese type, while the western and eastern ranges have a subtropical climate of the
dinaric type. At the highest points of the Andean region, climates are colder than the ones occurring
at the highest point of the Norwegian fjords. In the Andean plateaus, the warm climate prevails,
although it is tempered by the altitude, while in the coastal strip, there is an equatorial climate of the
Guinean type. From this point until the north of the Chilean coast appear, successively,
Mediterranean oceanic climate, temperate of the Breton type and, already in Tierra del Fuego, cold
climate of the Siberian type.[18]

The distribution of rainfall is related to the regime of winds and air masses. In most of the tropical
region east of the Andes, winds blowing from the northeast, east and southeast carry moisture from
the Atlantic, causing abundant rainfall. In the Orinoco lhanos and in the Guianas plateau, the
precipitations go from moderate to high. The Pacific coast of Colombia and northern Ecuador are
rainy regions. The Atacama Desert, along this stretch of coast, is one of the driest regions in the
world. The central and southern parts of Chile are subject to cyclones, and most of the Argentine
Patagonia is desert. In the pampas of Argentina, Uruguay and South of Brazil the rainfall is moderate,
with rains well distributed during the year. The moderately dry conditions of the Chaco oppose the
intense rainfall of the eastern region of Paraguay. In the semiarid coast of the Brazilian Northeast the
rains are linked to a monsoon regime.[18]

Important factors in the determination of climates are sea currents, such as the current Humboldt
and Falklands. The equatorial current of the South Atlantic strikes the coast of the Northeast and
there is divided into two others: the current of Brazil and a coastal current that flows to the
northwest towards the Antilles, where there it moves towards northeast course thus forming the
most Important and famous ocean current in the world, the Gulf Stream.[18][19]


Main article: History of South America


Further information: History of South America § Pre-Columbian era

The prehistoric Cueva de las Manos, or Cave of the Hands, in Argentina

South America is believed to have been joined with Africa from the late Paleozoic Era to the early
Mesozoic Era, until the supercontinent Pangaea began to rift and break apart about 225 million years
ago. Therefore, South America and Africa share similar fossils and rock layers.

South America is thought to have been first inhabited by humans when people were crossing the
Bering Land Bridge (now the Bering Strait) at least 15,000 years ago from the territory that is present-
day Russia. They migrated south through North America, and eventually reached South America
through the Isthmus of Panama.

The first evidence for the existence of the human race in South America dates back to about 9000 BC,
when squashes, chili peppers and beans began to be cultivated for food in the highlands of the
Amazon Basin. Pottery evidence further suggests that manioc, which remains a staple food today,
was being cultivated as early as 2000 BC.[20]

By 2000 BC, many agrarian communities had been settled throughout the Andes and the surrounding
regions. Fishing became a widespread practice along the coast, helping establish fish as a primary
source of food. Irrigation systems were also developed at this time, which aided in the rise of an
agrarian society.[20]

South American cultures began domesticating llamas, vicuñas, guanacos, and alpacas in the
highlands of the Andes circa 3500 BC. Besides their use as sources of meat and wool, these animals
were used for transportation of goods.[20]