The South American continent reaches from the Caribbean Sea in the north almost to the Antartic continent in the south. With the Atlantic Ocean on the east and the Pacific on the west, South America is almost completely surrounded by water, Its only connection with another continent is a narrow strip of land, the Isthmus of Panama, which links it to North America.
South America is about 5,000 miles (8,000 kilometers) long from north to south, and 3,100 miles (4,985 kilometers) wide from east to west. The area it covers is about seven million square miles; twice the size of the United States without Alaska, and about 15% of the total land area of the world.
Some people think that all the countries in South America are alike. This is not true. The countries are different from each other in terrain, climate, people, natural resources and culture.
There are ten republics in South America: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela. There are also three European colonies: British Guiana, French Guiana, and Surinan, or Dutch Guiana. The Andes, the great chain of mountains, runs all the way down the western edge of the continent. In the north and east of the continent are two other highland areas. There are also three great river systems with vast lowland areas in their valleys.
The Andes are the longest continuous mountain barrier
in the world. It is like a towering wall for four thousand
miles, from the Caribbean Sea in the north to the tip
of Tierra del Fuego in the south. They are the second
highest mountains in the world. Several of the peaks
are over 21,000 feet high (6,400 meters). Mt Aconcagua
located in Chile is the highest with 22,835 feet (6,960
The Andes have an average of 75 miles wide. The widest place is located in Bolivia with four hundred miles wide. The chain of mountains spread out like fingers. Between these fingers are deep valleys. Higher in the mountains there are wide plateaus and valleys whose bottoms may be over two miles above sea level.
The Andes still have many active volcanoes, which are the outlets for molten rock from far beneath the earth's surface. Many earthquakes occur along the west coast (Chile. Peru, Ecuador y Bolivia) and in the mountains (Bolivia, and the countries already mentioned.) However there are other highland areas that are not located in the Andes, these are the Guaina Highlands in the north east and the Brazilian Highlands in the eastern bulge of the continent. These are ancient formations in regard of the Andes which are young mountains.
The Guaina Highlands lie in Venezuela, the three Guianas, and northern Brazil. Those lands are very hard to reach.
Updated on September 19, 1999