South America, the fourth-largest continent, contains many diverse ecosystems and climates. It extends from the Gulf of Darin in the northwest, to the Tierra del Fuego archipelago in the south, joining with the North American continent at the Colombia-Panama border. South and North America are sometimes considered a single continent or supercontinent.
South America became attached to North America only recently (geologically speaking) with the formation of the Isthmus of Panama some 3 million years ago. The Andes, likewise a comparatively young and seismically restless mountain range (and also the longest mountain range on Earth), run down the western edge of the continent. The land to the east of the northern Andes is largely tropical rainforest, comprised of the vast Amazon River basin. The South American continent also contains drier regions such as eastern Patagonia and the extremely arid Atacama desert.
There are 12 independent nations that make up South America — Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Paraguay — plus French Guiana (which is an overseas region of France), and the Falkland Islands (which are part of the United Kingdom). Along with the Falkland Islands, the islands of Tierra del Fuego (Chile and Argentina), the Galpagos Islands (Ecuador), Easter Island (Chile), and the Chilo and Juan Fernndez archipelagos (Chile) are also considered part of South America.
In South America you will find the world’s:
- Largest river by volume & the second-longest: Amazon
- Largest rainforest: Amazon (which represents 54% of the total rainforests left on Earth)
- Longest mountain range: Andes
- Largest commercially navigable lake: Lake Titicaca (shared by Bolivia & Peru)
- Largest salt lake: Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
- Driest place: Atacama Desert, Chile
- Highest capital city: La Paz, Bolivia
- Highest point in the Western Hemisphere: Mount Aconcagua (6,960.8 m or 22,837.3 ft) in Mendoza province, Argentina
- Lowest point in the Western Hemisphere: Laguna del Carbon (105 m or 344 ft below sea level) in Santa Cruz province, Argentina
- Highest waterfall: Angel Falls, Venezuela
- Southernmost inhabited community: Puerto Toro, Chile
Notable Physical LandmarksAmazon Basin Atacama Desert Andes Mountains Salar de Uyuni Madidi National Park
Some interesting facts:
- Six of the 17 so-called mega-diverse countries are found in South America: Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Venezuela.
- South America has nearly 26% of the world’s renewable sources of freshwater.
- South America contains more than 40% of the world’s plant and animal species, in an area smaller than 15% of the Earth’s land surface.
- More than 20% of Earth’s oxygen is produced in the Amazon Rainforest, earning it the nickname the “Lungs of the Planet”