South America is the fourth largest continent in the world. It is bounded by the Caribbean Sea and North Atlantic Ocean to the north, by the South Pacific Ocean to the west, and by the South Atlantic Ocean to the east and south.
It stretches from the tropical warmth of the Caribbean Sea, off the coast of Columbia and Venezuela, to the icy tip of Tierra del Fuego, which is shared by Argentine and Chile. Between these two points are landscapes and climates of immense variety.
The hot, dusty grasslands of the Pampas stretch through the cattle-ranching countries of Argentina and Uruguay. In the west are the Andes Mountains, with cool, fertile valleys where coffee grows. The parched Atacama Desert of northern Chile is one of the driest places in the world. South America also has towering waterfalls, vast lakes, and rugged islands.
The Andes, the longest mountain range on earth, is actually the backbone of South America. They run 7,250 kilometres down almost the whole length of the continent. Even close to the equator, the highest peaks of the Andes are capped with snow all year round. There are many volcanoes in the Andes too. Occasionally they erupt, sending molten lava spewing over the landscape. The continental shelf plate tectonic ‘movement way’ below the surface of the earth also causes the earthquakes that frequently rock this region. The Andes have rich deposits of gold, copper and tin. In parts of Columbia, there are emeralds.
The world’s second-longest river, the Amazon, begins in the Andes. It crosses virtually the entire continent, with smaller rivers feeding into it. This vast area is covered with the world’s largest rain forest. In Brazil, the Amazon Basin teems with lush green jungle. Even today, parts of the Amazon Basin have not been properly explored.
Flora and Fauna
South America has one of the richest varieties of wildlife in the world. In the Amazon basin alone, there are at least 44,000 different kinds of plants, 2,500 types of river fish, and 1,500 species of birds. In the rivers, there are freshwater dolphins, giant catfish and electric eels, etc.
Culture and Politics
The Native Americans settled in this continent at least 11,000 years ago. They probably came from North America, though originated in Asia. Some of them developed a remarkable civilization. The last and most brilliant of these were the Incas. Their civilization was destroyed in the early 1500s by the conquerors from Spain. Many of the native American people were killed or wiped out by ‘European diseases’ too. Their lands were taken over, mainly as Spanish and Portuguese colonies.
Millions of new settlers from Italy, Spain and Portugal flooded into the continent. In the 1820s, the settlers began to break away from the rule of Spain and Portugal in a series of bloody wars of independence. During this period many new nations prospered, but usually, the settlers’ descendants profited while the native Americans stayed poor.
Poverty increased after 1929 when the world economy went into decline due to the Great Depression (1929-1933). Strikes, riots, civil war, corruption and greed led armies to seize power and rule by the dictatorship in almost all the countries of South America at some point.
However, in recent decades, more and more South American governments have been democratically elected, and there has been a general concern to preserve political stability and improve basic living conditions.