South America includes 12 countries or sovereign nations. French Guiana is considered part of France. And a nonsovereign area that includes the Falkland Islands, which is considered a British Overseas Territory though Argentina disputes this. There are also groups of islands, including the ABC Islands of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and Trinidad and Tobago, which is part of the British Commonwealth.
Here they are grouped by population:
When they are ranked by area, the ranking is:
|Area (square miles)
The Norte Chico civilization is considered to be the oldest known civilization that existed in the Americas. The formation of the civilization’s first city happened around 3,500 BC. From this time until a period of decline around 1,800 BC, the Norte Chico people predominately flourished in what is Peru today. The Norte Chico civilization was a preceramic culture, as archaeologists have found no ceramic remains and almost no visual art. But the Norte Chico people are known for their large earthwork platform mounds and sunken circular plazas.
Most of South American history is post-Columbian because recorded history started with the Spanish. It is called pre- or post-Columbian because of the travels of Christopher Columbus. When the Europeans arrived, they began to colonize what they could. They took the riches and sent them back to their native lands. South America—especially Brazil—became the home of millions African slaves who were brought over to work.
The tensions between colonial countries in Europe, indigenous peoples, and escaped slaves changed slowly from the 16th to the 19th centuries. Until most of South American countries were self-governing.
South American countries are rightly proud of their indigenous heritage. You still can find many people speaking the native tongues and holding onto the native traditions. But that does not mean that the modern age has not arrived. The larger cities have certainly created their own sense of culture and heritage in unique ways.
Why You Should Go
There are so many reasons to visit South America. The countries have diverse and interesting cultures. Off the coast, there are the Galapagos Islands and Easter Island waiting to be discovered. Machu Picchu is a wonder; visitation may be limited as time goes on. You can learn a Tango in Argentina, lie on the beach in Rio or tour down or up the Amazon.
The Galapagos Islands are not exactly a skipping stone away from Ecuador. But Ecuador protects the islands and governs who can visit and how they must behave. We thought the Galapagos Islands were wonderfully protected and enjoyed our long visit on a Silversea cruise line with excellent naturalists.
Machu Picchu is another historic site, which should not be missed. We enjoyed our tour there via Lima, Cusco, the Sacred Valley, and then to the majestic mountainside view.
The Atacama Desert in Chile is the world’s driest but has remarkable scenery. The Salt Plains of Uyuni in Bolivia are desolate and beautiful while Argentina has Buenos Aires for cultural exposure and Mendoza for wine. Iguazu Falls is stunning. It is report that Eleanor Roosevelt remarked “Oh poor Niagara,” when she first saw Iguazu Falls. It is almost 33 percent higher than Niagara Falls and is a magnificent site. Iguazu has 275 waterfalls that span nearly three kilometers. It is located on the Parana River that is the border between Argentina and Brazil. You can see the falls from either side and it is beautiful.
Between cultural immersion, great food, great scenery and a vibrant lifestyle, there is plenty to see and do in South America.
We have visited:
We’ll be going on a Silversea Cruises voyage to the Falkland Islands and Antarctica.
And be sure to check out our other post on South America.