South America has a diverse topography which consists of plains in the south along with mountains in the west. The Andes Mountains are located along the western coast from Venezuela through Argentina. The north central area of South America is dominated by the Amazon Basin while the Pampas are the plains located in the south. Much of the rest of the geography is characterized by plateau country. The Amazon River is the major river in the north with the Parana being the major waterway of the south.

The climate of South America is similar to that of North America. The north is fairly moist due to its equatorial proximity. As one travels south away from the equator, the climate becomes increasingly more dry. The Atacama desert, the only desert within South America, is located in Chile in the southwest. In the mountainous regions of the west, it is colder at the higher elevations with approximately a three degree drop in temperature for every thousand foot increase in elevation.

Return to top.


The Inca civilization was the first civilization to inhabit South America, and they were indigenous to Columbia and Peru. The Incas developed a very advanced and centralized society. This was shown through their domestication of the llama, religious architecture, and appreciation for the arts. The Incas numbered nearly 20 million during the peak of their civilization. However, as the Europeans began to arrive in South America, the Inca civilization began to decline quickly, particularly in the south. Some of the Incas were killed through direct confrontation with the Europeans while others were killed off by European diseases to which the Incas had no natural immunity. The fall of the Incas was abrupt. Perhaps the swiftness of their development contributed to its fatal weakness, but the empire was also ripe for internal revolt. Some of the Incas' contributions are still being felt today. For example, the Inca state language, Quechua, is still spoken by millions. Today there still exists an Indian population in the north, the Andes, and Brazil.

The Spanish Conquest began in the 1500's and was very rapid. Shortly after 1521, the Aztecs were defeated. Francisco Pizarro, having first heard of the Incas in 1527, withdrew to Spain to organize the overthrow of the Incas. Four years later, Francisco returned to the Peruvian Coast. In 1533 the party achieved victory over Cuzco. Brazil was settled and given to the Portuguese through the Treaty of Tordesillas.

The plantations of South America are generally located in the central north because of the favorable growing conditions found in this area. Sugar is the primary crop. One of the major plantation areas is located along the northeastern Brazilian coast. Others can also be found along the Atlantic and Caribbean coastlines of northern South America. Haciendas are located within the drier interior lands. Livestock grazing is a common occupation in this area because of the dry conditions.

Lima, the west coast headquarters for the Spanish conquerors, was founded by Pizarro in 1535. Naturally, the territories located the furthest from Lima were first to establish independence from Spain through the leadership of Simon Bolivar. In 1824, Spanish rule in South America came to an end. However, since gaining independence from Spain, South American countries have undergone many unsuccessful military dictatorships. For example, Bolivia has had 30 separate governments since the 1960's. Chile was communist up until 1973 when the communist government was overthrown by the military. In the early 1990's, Chile held its first elections in the country's history.

Return to top.


South America's total population is about 323 million people. Seventy-three percent of South America's population is urbanized. Brazil accounts for nearly 50% of the continent's total population with160.5 million people living within its borders. Venezuela's population is 22.3 million with the majority of these people living in the Venezuelan highlands. Colombia has a population of 38 million. Peru has about 24 million people. Lima, the capital city of Peru, has about 1/3 of the total Peruvian population. Ecuador is about 11.7 million in population. Bolivia has a population of 7.6 million. Argentina has a population of about 34.7 million people centered around Buenus Aires. Uruguay's population is 3.2 million with 45% living in the capital city of Montevideo. Paraguay's population is 5 million people. Chile has a population of14.5 million people centered mainly on Santiago.

South America consists of many complex heterogeneous societies and cultures. The Indian population is found mainly in the northwestern Andes mountains. For example, Peru's population is about 30-40% Indian. In contrast, Brazil's Indian population (less than one million) accounts for less than 1% of the total population (160.5 million). In the south, Uruguay and Paraguay both have nearly 85% of their populations made up of "pure" Europeans. Conversely, Brazil has a large concentration of blacks along its coastlines. This large population is generally made up of the descendants of slaves brought to South America during the 1600's through the 1700's to work the sugar cane fields. The brunt of the European settlers came from Spain and Portugal and consisted mainly of men. Argentina has a large Italian population of indentured servants' descendants while the Germans and Swiss settled mainly in Chile and Brazil.

Return to top.


The northern regions of South America include Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guinea. This area has plantations, livestock ranching, and traditional sedentary cultivation. These countries generally have had more contact and trade with Middle and North America and thus are more economically advanced in comparison to the rest of the continent. Venezuela exports oil while Colombia exports coffee and the ever popular narcotics that we Americans have come to love.

The mountainous regions of South America include Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. The national capital of Lima is located within this area, in Peru. There still exists some traditional sedentary cultivation in this area, but it is basically seen as a non-agricultural area. Most of the people in this area are Andes people although a large Indian population can also be found.

The southern regions of South America consist of Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay. Chile is primarily a nonagricultural area while Argentina consists basically of livestock ranching. Grain farming is found in Uruguay. The south is considered to be fairly well developed as shown through the high GNP, low birth rate, and diverse economies associated with this area.

Brazil is considered to be set apart as its own region. Brazil has a growing economy along with a growing population due to the government's push for population growth. A large portion of Brazil is involved in 1ivestock ranching and shifting cultivation. Tropical plantations can be found along the eastern coast of Brazil.

Return to top.



Brazil is the largest country in South America both in land mass and population. Brazil, with a growing population of nearly 161 million, is the fifth largest country in the world. Brazil was given to the Portuguese by the Spanish during the 1700's at which time it was split among 11 Portuguese families. Since then Brazil has gone through a series of "boom and bust" cycles. The first boom was the sugar cane crop. Many African slaves were brought to Brazil to work the fields because sugar cane is such a labor intensive crop. As a result, Brazil is the only country in South America today with a large African population. The sugar cane bust came when competition from other countries basically killed Brazil's monopoly on the sugar cane market. The second boom cycle was based on the gold and silver found near the Rio. The third boom cycle happened around the turn of the century and focused on the production of natural rubber. The production of rubber at this time was so profitable for some Brazilians that they would actually send their laundry out to Europe to be cleaned. The bust came when a process was developed to produce synthetic rubber from oil. Another boom centered around the coffee industry in Sao Paulo, but this boom too was busted by a change in the climate. Brazilians don't sound very lucky. The current boom in Brazil is related to the industry centered around Sao Paulo. However, Sao Paulo is lagging behind not in technology but in the actual infrastructure of the city. For example, water and sewage lines are in some cases non-existent. The interior and southern portions of Brazil are becoming big in agriculture and beef but at the expense of cutting down the rain forest. The climate of Brazil ranges from the rain forest climate of the Amazon Basin to the humid climate of the south. Brazil has many mineral resources including iron ore, gold, tin, manganese, and aluminum ore along with oil and natural gas fields. The Brazilian economy is the ninth largest in the world and its modern industrial base is ranked tenth. Brazil is expected to become a world force within the 21st century.

Return to top.


Colombia is considered to be a very poor country with no real resources. Colombian countryside is characterized by llanos, or savanna country. Eastern Colombia consists of upper basins of major tributaries of the Orinoco and Amazon Rivers. The area east of the Andes is controlled by guerrillas. The western half of Colombia consists mainly of the Andes mountains. The mountains open onto the Caribbean Lowlands, where the three major ports of Baranquilla, Cartagena, and Santa Marta are located. The population of Colombia is 38 million people. The capital city is Bogota. Violence tends to run very high in Colombia probably due to its poor economic conditions. Colombia's greatest legal income is from coffee thanks to Juan Valdez and his sole mule. Columbia's greatest illegal income, to the delight of many Americans, comes from the production of cocaine. Cocaine is produced mainly in the eastern part of Colombia. The city of Medellin controls most of the cocaine distribution although other cities such as Cali are also involved. Bolivia, Peru, and Colombia together produce 75% of the world's (America's) cocaine.

Return to top.


Ecuador has a full range of regional contrasts. It has a coastal belt, an Andean zone, and an oriente-eastern region, which is sparsely populated. Nearly half of the people live in the Andean intermontane basins and valleys. The most productive region, however, is the coastal strip. The largest city and commercial center of Ecuador is Guayaquil. Guayaquil is a port city with many developing industries. Quito is another major city found in the northern mountains. Ecuador's western coast lowland consists of fertile tropical plains. The population of Ecuador is 11.7 million of which 10% are white, 10% are black or mulatto, and 55% are mestizo. Ecuador is a leading banana exporter. Cocao is another important crop for Ecuador as well as coffee, cotton, rice, and oil palms. Ecuador can be considered fairly wealthy and well developed.

Return to top.


Peru can be divided into three main cultural and physical regions. The first is the desert coast or the European-mestizo region. Secondly, there is the Andean highlands or Ameridian region, and finally the Eastern slopes and adjoining montana. Lima is the capital of Peru, and nearly 33% of the national population can be found here. Lima's population, nearly 24 million, is somewhat divided as it consists of approximately 65% Indian population and 35% non-Inca population. The fishing industry in Peru provides a major export along with cotton and sugar. The Ameridian population live off of subsistence farming and rarely get an adequate daily caloric intake. Peru has been disturbed by many guerrilla movements, but it seems to be slowly recovering. In 1995, Peru was ranked as having the fastest growing economy. The current leader of Peru is Fujimori who is of Japanese descent.



Bolivia, with a population of 7.6 million, is the poorest of the countries in South America. Bolivia is now a landlocked country because of a defeat in its war with Chile. Located on the boundary between Peru and Bolivia is Lake Titicaca which is the highest large lake in the world. There are many minerals in Bolivia including zinc, copper, silver, and tin. Tin deposits in Bolivia ranked among the world's richest, but since 1980, declining tin reserves and falling world prices have caused Bolivia's tin industry to shut down. Today, zinc has replaced tin as a major export. Natural gas and oil are also major exports. Soybean production is on the rise in the south eastern lowlands. The political situation in Bolivia is at best unstable with no real political system. The country is mainly run by drug lords, and cocaine is a major export of Bolivia as it is in Colombia. Since 1965, Bolivia has had 30 to 40 different governments in power.

Return to top.


Paraguay, population 5 million, lies across a regional transition zone. The GNP per capita is more like the Andean west than the mid-Latitude south. There are more characteristics of the west found here, also. For example, 95% of Paraguay's people are mestizo, but have an Ameridian influence. Both Spanish and Ameridian Guarani are spoken here. This country is probably the world's most completely bilingual country. Paraguay exports soybean products, cotton, timber, hides, and meat products. Paraguay is connected to the ocean by way of the Paraguay-Parana waterway. Paraguay now has democratic rule after years of dictatorship, and the country seems to have a hopeful political as well as economic future.

Return to top.


Uruguay is a very small and densely populated country with only 68,000 sq. miles for its 3.2 million inhabitants. The population is evenly distributed throughout the country with the only collection of people being found in the capital city of Montevideo. Montevideo has a population of 1.3 million. Located just outside of Montevideo is the major farming area of Uruguay. This area produces the vegetables, fruits, wheat, and fodder crops for the city. This has allowed Uruguay to become a fairly prosperous agricultural country. The remainder of the country is mainly used for grazing of cattle and sheep. The dominate export of Uruguay is oranges but also includes meat products, textiles, and hides. Uruguay has a very small racial minority population as the general population consists mainly of true Europeans.

Return to top.


Argentina has a population of about 34.7 million people and an area of 1.1 million square miles. The majority of the population lives in the plains region known as the Pampas. The Pampas are grassland ranching areas around Buenus Aires where the grass grows year round. As a result, Argentina has a good cattle ranching industry that dates back hundreds of years. Live cattle was shipped to European countries until the invention of the refrigerated rail car in the 1870's. Between the period of the 1870's to the 1930's, the demand for beef from Argentina was so great that many Italians came over to Argentina as indentured servants on seven year contracts. After the seven years was up, many Italian laborers settled in Buenus Aires and integrated into the lower middle class. Beef from Argentina is still considered a delicacy in European countries today. Argentina has an economy based on beef and agricultural exports. Natural resources are somewhat limited although Argentina does have a small amount of oil reserves in the southern part of the country. Universities and colleges within Argentina are free so that all of the citizens can get an education.

Return to top.


Venezuela, located in the northern tip of South America, has a population of 22.3 million people concentrated in the Venezuelan highlands. The capital city of Venezuela is Caracas with a population of around 3 million people. Venezuela has a very prosperous economy based on the oil reserves located within the country. Over 90% of Venezuela's national income is from the oil found in the Maracaibo basin. Venezuela has been exporting oil since the 1920's, and it is now regulated by the Venezuelan government. Venezuela has llanos, or savanna country, in the south and east. Cattle ranching and iron ore can also be found in the south below the Orinoco River.

Return to top.


Chile's capital city of Santiago, located near the center of the country, contains the majority of the country's 14.5 million people. The central part of the country is high in industry and does well in agriculture. In fact, Chile exports grapes to the United States. The Atacana desert is located in the north where copper mining is a big industry. A large population of Germans and Swiss occupy the southern portion of the country. However, the south is considered to be underdeveloped and underpopulated in comparison to the rest of the country. Chile is an elongated country with a length of nearly 2500 miles but an average width of only 90 miles. Currently, Chile is in the midst of an economic growth boom characterized by a cut in unemployment, reduction in poverty, and an influx of foreign investors. As a result, the people of Chile enjoy a relatively high standard of living.

Return to top.


1. The major river of Venezuela's iron-rich eastern region is: A. Rio de la Plata; B. Caracas; C. Orinoco; D. Amazon; E. Zambezi.

2. The dominant economic activity of Venezeula's Lake Maracaibo Lowland is: A. large-scale cattle herding; B. oil production; C. tourism; D. iron ore mining; E. plantation agriculture.

3. Bogota, Colombia's capital city, is located: A. on the arid Pacific coast; B. on the Caribean Sea at the outlet of the Magdalena Valley; C. at the intersection of three valleys in the eastern savanna zone near the Chilean border; D. in a major Andean upland basin; E. near the port city of Cartagena.

4. Which of the following countries does not contain a portion of the upper Amazon River within its boundaries: A. Brazil; B. Ecuador; C. Peru; D. Colombia; E. Venezuela.

5. Chile's copper deposits are located closest to which of the following areas: A. the vicinity of Santiago in Middle Chile; B. the Atacama Desert; C. the eastern Pampa; D. Tierra del Fuego; E. none of the above.

6. Which of the following countries has the highest percentage of population of Indian stock? A. Brazil; B. Paraguay; C. Peru; D. Uruguay; E. Argentina.

7. Bolivia's most valuable natural resource and leading (legal) export commodity is: A. petroleum; B. quebracho extract; C. chaco; D. tin; E. sulfates.

8. Chile's copper deposits are located closest to which of the following areas: A. around Santiago; B. the Atacama Desert; C. Tierra del Fuego; D. near the border with Argentina; E. near the central coastal area.

9. Mestizo refers to: A. a mix of European and indian population; B. a type of indian population; C. a plant that grows throughout Latin America; D. a cactus.

10. Which of the following countries is best endowed with mineral resources: A. Bolivia; B. Colombia; C. Ecuador; D. Venezuela.

11. In which of the following countries is Spanish NOT the dominant language: A. Brazil; B. Colombia; C. Costa Rica; D. Argentina.

12. Which of the following countries has the higher standard of living: A. Colombia; B. Brazil; C. Argentina; D. Bolivia.

13. The Atacama Desert is located in which country: A. Brazil; B. Argentina; C. Chile; D. Venezuela.

14. The pampas of Argentina and the llanos of Venezuela became early specialized in: A. tropical plantations; B. a livestock economy; C. mining; D. forest products, especially naval stores.

15. Portuguese settlement in Brazil was furthered by: A. overpopulation at home in Portugal; B. the discovery of large quantities of gold in coastal areas; C. success in plantation agriculture, particularly sugar; D. successful battles over the Spanish in the Caribbean before1530.

16. A primary reason for the modern-day penetration of the Brazilian interior is: A. the decimation of the indian population of the Amazon Basin has resulted in unhindered settlement; B. the fertile agricultural soils of the rain forest; C. very high Brazilian population growth rates; D. population growth along Brazil's borders in Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia.

17. Which of the following was not a major motivation to most Spaniards who colonized in the New World? A. acquiring a small farm on which one could raise a family; B. the propagation of Roman Catholocism; C. the rapid acquisition of personal wealth; D. living ostentatiously off of the labors of others.

18. Which of the following is not a significant source region of petroleum production in South America? A. the Atacama Desert; B. the Ecuadorian oriente; C. the Venezuelan llanos; D. the Maracaibo Lowlands

19. Which of the following has not been associated with a Brazilian boom and bust cycle? A. coffee; B. rubber; C. sugar; D. bananas.

20. Coca is: A. the raw material used to produce chocolate; B. cultivated primarily in the eastern foothills of the Andes as they grade into the Amazon lowlands; C. a tuber grown in the montaÐa of Peru; D. the source of caffeine in coffee.

21. The least politically stable nation in South America, as measured in terms of frequency of governmental turnover and the influence of drug and crime syndicates is: A. Paraguay; B. Venezuela; C. Bolivia; D. Brazil; E. Argentina.

22. The great Argentine cattle ranches of the Pampas region are called: A. estancias; B. haciendas; C. plantations; D. fincas; E. none of the above.

23. The turning point in the economic development of Argentina as a nation was: A. the introduction of refrigerated railroad and ship transportation that facilitated the exporting of Argentine beef to Europe; B. the importation of thousands of indentured farm laborers from Europe; C. the rise to power of Juan Peron and his support of the descamisados; D. the introduction of beef cattle by the Spanish conquistadors; E. none of the above.

24. Which of the following is not true of Sao Paulo as a city and/or region: A. generates almost two-thirds of Brazil's industrial output; B. Sao Paulo city is now the most populous city in South America; C. was initially developed as the country's leading sugar producing region; D. is Brazil's most modern, productive and prosperous region.

25. The first of the "boom and bust" cycles of Brazil was centered around A. oil; B. automobiles; C. cocaine; D. marijuana; E. sugar

26. What is the approximate length (north to south) of Chile? A. 15 miles; B. 3216 miles; C. 2500 miles; D. 1001 miles; E. 90 miles

27. Which three countries produce 75% of the world's cocaine supply? A. Australia, United States, Ethiopia; B. Colombia, Jamaica, Chile; C. Paraguay, Peru, Colombia; D. Bolivia, Peru, Colombia; E. Peru, Argentina, Brazil

(Submitted by Kami and Dusti Hansen 1996. Re-submitted by Matt Williams on 04 May 1997. Re-submitted by Robert Kent 2-9-98)

| Geography 1000 Home Page | Top of Page |

| Physical Setting | Development Through Time | Population and Culture | Regional Development |

| Brazil | Colombia | Ecuador | Peru | Bolivia | Paraguay | Uruguay | Argentina | Venezuela | Chile |