The geography of South America contains many diverse regions and climates. Geographically, South America is generally considered a continent forming the southern portion of the American landmass, south and east of the Panama-Colombia border by most authorities, or south and east of the Panama Canal by some. South and North America are sometimes considered a single continent or supercontinent, while constituent regions are infrequently considered subcontinents. Geopolitically and geographically, all of Panama – including the segment east of the Panama Canal in the isthmus – is generally considered a part of North America alone and among the countries of Central America.

South America became attached to North America only recently (geologically speaking) with the formation of the Isthmus of Panama some 3 million years ago, which resulted in the Great American Interchange. The Andes, likewise a comparatively young and seismically restless mountain range, run down the western edge of the continent; the land to the east of the Andes is largely tropical rain forest, the vast Amazon River basin. The continent also contains drier regions such as eastern Patagonia and the extremely arid Atacama desert.

The South American continent also includes various islands, most of which belong to countries on the continent. The Caribbean territories are grouped with North America. The South American nations that border the Caribbean Sea — including Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana — are also known as Caribbean South America.

Topography and geology

The geographical structure of South America is deceptively simple for a continent-sized landmass. The continent’s topography is often likened to a huge bowl owing to its flat interior almost ringed by high mountains. With the exception of narrow coastal plains on the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, there are three main topographic features: the Andes, a central lowland, and the extensive Brazilian and Guiana Highlands in the east.

The Andes are a Cenozoic mountain range formed (and still forming) by the continuing collision of the American and Pacific tectonic plates. In their northern and central reaches the Andes are quite wide and contain extensive plateaux such as the Altiplano and a number of major valleys such as the Rio Magdalena. These contain three of the world’s highest capitals: Bogotá, Quito and highest of all, La Paz, Bolivia. The southern Andes have been eroded by the Patagonian Ice Sheet and are much lower and narrower. There are a number of large glaciers in the northern part, but from latitude 19°S to 28°S the climate is so arid that no permanent ice can form even on the highest peaks. Permafrost, however, is widespread in this section of the Altiplano and continuous above 5,600 metres (18,373 ft).

The climate of the coastal belt west of the Andes shows violent contrasts, including two of the world’s wettest regions in the Colombian Chocó and southern Chile and the world’s driest desert, the Atacama. This dry area is cooled by the Humboldt Current and upwelling, giving rise to the largest fisheries in the world. There are two small transition zones between the perhumid and perarid regions: around Guayaquil with summer rain, and the Mediterranean climate region of central Chile. Both these regions have highly erratic rainfall strongly influenced by El Niño events, which bring major floods. In contrast, the high plateaux of the Andes are drier than normal during El Niño episodes.

The very fertile soils from the erosion of the Andes formed the basis for the continent’s only pre-Columbian state civilizations: those of the Inca Empire and its predecessors (Chavín, Nazca, Mochica, etc.). The area is still a major agricultural region. The Altiplano contains many rare minerals such as copper, tin, mercury ore. The Atacama is mined for its nitrates. East of the Andes in Peru is regarded as the most important biodiversity hotspot in the world with its unique forests that form the western edge of the world’s largest rainforest, the Amazon Rainforest.

East of the Andes is a large lowland drained by a small number of rivers, including the two largest in the world by drainage area – the Amazon River and the more southerly Paraná River. The other major river of this central lowland is the Orinoco River, which has a natural channel linking it with the Amazon. Most of this central lowland is sparsely populated because the soils are heavily leached, but in the south is the very fertile pampas of Argentina – one of the world’s major food-producing regions where wheat and beef cattle are pre-eminent. The natural vegetation of the northern lowlands are either savanna in the northern llanos and southern campos, or tropical rainforest throughout most of the Amazon basin. Efforts to develop agriculture, outside of fertile floodplains of rivers descending from the Andes, have been largely failures because of the soils. Cattle have long been raised in the llanos of northern Colombia and Venezuela, but petroleum is now the dominant industry in the northern lowlands, making Venezuela the richest country in the continent.

The eastern highlands are much older than the Andes, being pre-Cambrian in origin, but are still rugged in places, especially in the wet tepuis of Venezuela, Guyana and Roraima. The Amazon River has cut a large valley through a former highland, and to the east is a relatively low plateau comprising the Nordeste and Southeast regions of Brazil. In the north of this region is the arid sertão, a poor region consistently affected by extremely erratic rainfall, and the humid zona da mata, once home of the unique Atlantic Rainforest with many species not found in the Amazon, and now a centre for sugarcane. Further south, the main land use is coffee, while São Paulo is the economic heart of the continent with its industry.

South of about Santa Catarina, the highlands fade out to low plains in Uruguay.

East of the Andes in Argentina, there are a number of rugged, generally dry lslands, the highest of which is the Sierra de Cordoba near the city of that name. Argentine Patagonia is a Paleozoic plateau now heavily dissected by rivers flowing from the Andes.


The largest country in South America by far, in both area and population, is Brazil, followed by Argentina. Regions in South America include the Andean States, the Guianas, the Southern Cone, and Eastern South America.

Name of territory,
with flag
(July 2009 est.)
Population density
(per km²)
Argentina Argentina 2,766,890 40,913,584 14.8 Buenos Aires
Bolivia Bolivia 1,098,580 9,775,246 8.9 La Paz, Sucre
Brazil Brazil 8,511,965 198,739,269 23.3 Brasília
Chile Chile 756,950 16,601,707 21.9 Santiago
Colombia Colombia 1,138,910 45,644,023 40.1 Bogotá
Ecuador Ecuador 283,560 14,573,101 51.4 Quito
Falkland Islands Falkland Islands (UK) 12,173 3,140 0.26 Stanley
French Guiana French Guiana (France) 83,534 221,500 2.7 Cayenne
Guyana Guyana 214,970 772,298 3.6 Georgetown
Paraguay Paraguay 406,750 6,995,655 17.2 Asunción
Peru Peru 1,285,220 29,546,963 23.0 Lima
South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands South Georgia and
South Sandwich Islands (UK)
3,903 0 0 Grytviken
Suriname Suriname 163,270 481,267 2.9 Paramaribo
Uruguay Uruguay 176,220 3,494,382 19.8 Montevideo
Venezuela Venezuela 912,050 26,814,843 29.4 Caracas

Finally, do these activities and watch these videos to know more about South America! (Visiting South America) (The Mighty Amazon)

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