In the 1500s, only one advanced empire ruled the vast stretches of South America: the Inca. Today, the continent contains 12 countries and 2 dependencies. Over 433 million people reside in this terrain-diverse region, where jungles collide with highlands and desert plateaus. Brazil is the largest and most populated country in South America, while the British-controlled Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas) is the least populated, as well as the most modest in size. The vast majority of countries in South America are Spanish-speaking; although Brazil’s official language is Portuguese, French Guiana’s is French, Suriname’s is Dutch, Guyana’s is English, and the Falkland Islands’ is also English. Here are some brief notes on the countries and dependencies of South America.
12 Countries Of South America
Argentina is located in the southern half of South America, alongside Chile to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. The country has four geographic regions: The Andes in the north, the Pampas in the country’s center, and Patagonia in the south. Argentina has a population of more than 46 million people, the vast majority of whom live in cities. The largest city in Argentina is its capital, Buenos Aire, which has a population of just over 13 million. Most of Argentina’s population is concentrated in its northern regions. Spanish is the country’s official language, but interestingly, more than half of Argentina’s population is of Italian descent.
Bolivia is a landlocked country in the center of South America. Three main geographic areas exist in the country: The Alto Plano highlands, mountain wrapped valleys, and tropical lowlands. Bolivia contains about 12 million people, more than half of whom are of indigenous origin. The rest have mixed roots or rarely, a strictly European ancestry. Spanish is the country’s most understood language, but the indigenous languages of Quechua and Aymara are also prevalent. Bolivia has the unfortunate distinction of being the poorest country in South America.
Brazil is the largest country in South America. It contains the bulk of the Amazon Rainforest where uncontacted tribes still live and thrive. Brazil is also the most populated country in South America with nearly 215 million people calling Brazil home. Most of the country’s people live in urban centers. The majority of Brazil’s biggest cities are concentrated on the country’s coastline. The largest city in Brazil is Sao Paolo, with a population of more than 10 million. Brazil’s official language is Portuguese, as it was formerly a Portuguese colony; albeit, the Portuguese spoken in Brazil is significantly different from the variant that is spoken in Portugal.
Chile is located on the Pacific coast of South America’s southern half. Currently, the country is celebrating the results of successful protests which aimed to reform the constitution. The country has a unique geographical configuration, due to its elongated north-to-south shape with a narrow interior. The country’s population is approaching 20 million, most of whom live in cities. Chile’s population is largely concentrated in the country’s northern half. In fact, one fifth of all residents are concentrated in the capital, Santiago, which boasts more than 4 million inhabitants. Some consider Chile to be the continent’s most stable and prosperous country, which is a title the new administration must work hard to maintain.
Colombia is located in the northwest corner of South America. The country can be divided into six natural regions, which are the Andes Mountain range, the Lianos plains, the Pacific coastal region, the Caribbean coastal region, and the Amazon Rainforest region. Colombia contains more than 52.5 million people, of whom more than 80% live in cities. The largest city is the capital, Bogota, with a population of more than 7 million. Most of Colombia’s population is concentrated on the Caribbean coast and the Andean highlands. Colombia contains the 3rd largest population of Spanish speakers in the world, after Mexico and the United States.
Ecuador is Spanish for equator. Indeed, the world’s equator passes right through the country, which lies on the Pacific coast of South America’s northwestern corner. Ecuador has three distinct regions: One is the central highlands, otherwise known as Sierra. The second is the Oriente in the east, which is largely covered by jungles. The third region is the coastal plains. Notably, the Galapagos Islands to the west of the mainland are also controlled by Ecuador. The Galapagos are the islands that Charles Darwin traveled to in the 19th century. His observations there helped him come up with a Theory of Evolution that revolutionized Victorian science. Today, Ecuador is a country of nearly 18 million people, of which nearly two thirds live in cities.
Guyana is located on the northern Atlantic coast of South America. Guyana’s population is about 742 thousand. Nearly a third of this population lives in the country’s capital, Georgetown. The two largest ethnic groups are the Indo-Guyanese, who are of Indian descent, and the Afro-Guyanese, who are of African descent. Guyana is known for sprawling terrains of diverse wildlife, cowboys, and some of the most gorgeous waterfalls in the world. Moreover, tepuis and flooded savannas dot the country, giving it a unique collection of ecosystems.
Like Bolivia, Paraguay is also a landlocked country. Its population is approximately 7.4 million, most of which is urban. Paraguay’s largest city and capital is Asuncion. The most common indigenous people in Paraguay are the Guarani, though most of the country’s population is of mixed ancestry. The Paraguayan economy is still very much underdeveloped. Agriculture is the largest sector of the economy, where soybeans, wheat, sugarcane, cotton, corn, and tobacco are staple products. Paraguay is also known for being rich in hydro-electric power.
Peru is located on the Pacific coast of South America, in the northern half of the continent. Generally, the country consists of three geographic regions, including the Andes Mountains, the coast, and Amazon Rainforest region. Peru has a population of over 33.5 million, most of whom live in cities. The largest population center is the country’s capital, Lima, in which approximately 11 million people live. Spanish is the most widely-spoken language in the country, however, two indigenous languages, Quechua and Aymara, also have many speakers. Quechua was the language of the pre-Colombian Inca civilization, whose heartland was in Peru. Various Inca sites, such as Machu Picchu are located in the country. A recent gold rush has brought tens of thousands of treasure seekers to the remote town of La Rinconada, a rough place suffering from rampant crime.
Suriname has a population of around 621 thousand, most of whom live on the country’s Atlantic coastline. In fact, more than 40% of Surinamese live in the country’s coastal capital, Paramaribo. People of East Indian descent make up about a third of the population, while Creoles, who are of mixed European and African descent, make up another third. The remaining population are of mostly Indonesian or African descent. Natural resources are abundant in Suriname, where oil, timber, and mining domintate the economic scene. Dutch is the official language, however it is only spoken by 60% of citizens.
Uruguay is a small country in South America’s southeast, on the Atlantic coast. It is sandwiched between Brazil to the north and Argentina to the west. The country has a population of more than 3.5 million. About a third of Uruguayans live in the country’s capital, Montevideo. The overwhelming majority of Uruguayans are of European descent. Uruguay’s economy is heavily dependent on exports, of which beef is the most significant. Visitors often come to Uruguay to observe incredible soccer exhibitions, as well as experience the legendary beaches that the country has to offer.
Venezuela is located in the north of South America, on the Caribbean coast. The country has four geographic regions: the Maracaibo lowlands of the northeast, the northern mountains, the Orinoco plains in the country’s center, and the Guiana highlands in the southeast. Venezuela’s population is an estimated 33 million, most of whom are urban dwellers. Caracas, the country’s capital, is also the country’s largest city, with around 2 million inhabitants. Most of Venezuela’s population is concentrated in the north of the country. Venezuela is well-known for its vast oil resources. Unfortunately, tragic economic conditions have been the catalyst of a social and humanitarian collapse that rages on to this day. The crisis has been ongoing since 2010.
Three Dependencies Of South America
As its name implies, French Guiana is a dependency of France. The territory is on the northeastern Atlantic coast of South America. French Guiana’s population is about 294 thousand, most of whom are Creoles. French Guiana is home to the Guiana Space Center, from which a number of space launches take place.
Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas)
The British-controlled Falkland Islands are located off the southern coast of Argentina. In fact, Argentina claims the islands as their own and invaded them in 1982, only to be driven out by British forces. The islands consist of two main islands and several smaller ones. The population of this British dependency is 2,840, making the Falklands the least populated territory in South America. About two thirds of the Falkland Islands’ inhabitants live in the territory’s capital, Stanley.
South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands
Located in the South Atlantic Ocean between South America and Antarctica, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (SGSSI) is an archipelago of polar sub-Antarctic islands. The SGSSI has been a British Overseas Territory since 1985. Although no permanent residents exist on these islands, there is an active scientific and military presence - such as a research station managed by the British Antarctic Survey. Wildlife abounds in these regions with no human interference; many species of whale and all types of seal migrate through these waters each season.