CIPR | Center For Inter-American Policy & Research

Tulane University

South America

South America is the fourth largest of Earth’s seven continents (after Asia, Africa, and North America), occupying 17,820,900 sq km (6,880,700 sq mi), or 12 percent of Earth’s land surface. It lies astride the equator and tropic of Capricorn and is joined by the Isthmus of Panama, on the north, to Central and North America. The continent extends 7,400 km (4,600 mi) from the Caribbean Sea on the north to Cape Horn on the south, and its maximum width, between Ponta do Seixas, on Brazil’s Atlantic coast, and Punta Pariñas, on Peru’s Pacific coast, is 5,160 km (3,210 mi).

South America has a 2009 estimated population of 394 million, or 6 percent of the world’s people. The continent comprises 12 nations. Ten of the countries are Latin: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela. Two of the nations are former dependencies: Guyana, of the United Kingdom, and Suriname, of the Netherlands. South America also includes French Guiana, an overseas department of France. Located at great distances from the continent in the Pacific Ocean are several territories of South American republics: the Juan Fernández Islands and Easter Island (Chile) and the Galápagos Islands (Ecuador). Nearer the coast, in the Atlantic Ocean, is the Fernando de Noronha Archipelago, which is a Brazilian territory, and, farther south, the British dependency of the Falkland Islands, which is claimed by Argentina as the Islas Malvinas. The coastline of South America is relatively regular except in the extreme south and southwest, where it is indented by numerous fjords.

South America consists of four upland provinces, extending inland from the coasts, and, between them, three lowland provinces. The northern and western fringes are dominated by the Andes Mountains, the second highest mountain range in the world. Most of the eastern coast is fringed by the broader—and generally less elevated—highland areas of the Guiana and Brazilian massifs and the Patagonian Plateau. The main lowland is the vast Amazon Basin in the equatorial part of the continent; it is drained by the Amazon River, the world’s second longest river. The Orinoco River drains a lowland in the north; to the south lies the Paraguay-Paraná basin. The lowest point in South America (40 m/131 ft below sea level) is on Península Valdés in eastern Argentina, and the greatest elevation (6,960 m/22,834 ft) is atop Aconcagua in western Argentina, the highest peak in the Western Hemisphere.

MSN Encarta: South America

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