The 13 countries of South America make up one surely fascinating continent. From the Caribbean coastline at the top, to the Cape of Fire at the bottom, the countries of South America, present every geographical and climate extreme. Conquered and reclaimed, modern yet historical, fiercely independent or politically oppressed, the countries of South America are an eclectic collection. Here’s just a short introduction to the 13 Wonderful Countries of South America:
Land area: 3.3 million square miles
Population: 192 million
The grand daddy of them all, Brazil is the largest of the South American countries and the 5th largest country in the world. Home of the samba, the carnival and probably the greatest soccer team, thanks to its size, it boasts a huge variety of landscapes and ecological diversity. The huge Amazon River, thousands of miles of rain forest, white sand beaches and bustling music filled metropolitan areas all await the visitor. Naturally, wildlife watching is an amazing experience but then, so is lying on Copacabana Beach in the shadow of Sugar Loaf Mountain.
Land area: 63,000 square miles
Population: 492 thousand
Suriname differs from the other countries of South America in that it was a Dutch colony rather than having been ruled by the Spanish or Portuguese. It is the smallest sovereign state on the continent and most of the people live in the north. The interior is characterized by rivers and extremely dense rainforest. Most visitors tend to stick around Paramaribo and the coast. The city is a delightful mix of Dutch colonial and multi-ethnic influences. Surprisingly cosmopolitan, Paramaribo is a terrific destination for foodies, shoppers and part animals.
Land area: 157,000 square miles
Population: 6.45 million
Paraguay is the archetypical land of contrasts. Of all the countries in South America, nowhere demonstrates the concepts of wealthy and poor or ancient and modern, more than Paraguay. Shanty towns shuck up to highly cultivated metropolitan suburbs, Mercedes and BMWs vie for road space with mules and donkey carts and ancient Jesuit ruins perch on cliff tops above massive man-made dams. It is recovering from years of left-wing junta-style dictatorship at a blistering pace having recorded the 2nd fastest rate of economic development in the world in 2010. Not on the usual tourist trail but visitors will find the locals friendly and welcoming.
Land area: 354,000 square miles
Population: 27.2 million
Another of the under-rated South American countries, Venezuela has a wealth built on oil. Somehow, the presence of massive offshore drilling rigs has had little impact on the stunning beauty of the tropical coastline which despite being the longest stretch on the Caribbean Sea hasn’t seen tourist development like the Islands or the Caribbean coast of Mexico and other countries of Central America. Inland there’s Andean peaks, the world’s tallest waterfall (Angel Falls), steamy savannah and lush rain forest along the Amazon. Venezuela’s countryside presents visitors a mass of opportunities for adventure or activity holidays, whilst the cities and major towns offer a welcome for culture vultures and party people.
Land area: 441,000 square miles
Population: 46.4 million
Is Colombia more than just a drugs factory? Absolutely! There’s almost two countries in one here. The coastal area faces out onto the Caribbean and the ambience here is as laid back as life in the islands. The beaches can compete with the island beaches too. Life picks up apace in the mountainous region. Surprisingly, large metropolitan areas seem to rise from the steaming jungle and you can leave a tower block and within the hour be traversing an Amazon skywalk as a river cascades beneath. Now that the violence of the past has dissipated, visitors are again at liberty to visit one of the most beguiling of South American countries. Partake in a variety of Colombian adventures which include jungle trekking, whale watching, scuba diving, Amazon safaris or nightclubbing in the capital.
Land area: 292,000 square miles
Mother Nature painted herself quite a picture in Chile. The country is described as the backbone of South America as it runs for 4300 miles down the Atlantic side of the continent.
Its land area includes the driest desert in the world (the Atacama) yet also, some massive glacial ice fields. Like something straight out of the pages of National Geographic, Chile calls more visitors than the other countries of South America who flock to see volcanoes, lakes, rain forest, fjords, geysers, thermal springs and snow covered mountain peaks. There’s homely welcome when you land in the towns and cities too.
Capital: La Paz
Land area: 424,000 square miles
Population: 10.9 million
Sadly, by various economic measures, Bolivia is the poorest of the countries in South America. Maybe a big reason for this is that 60% of the population is indigenous and they cling to the traditional ways ingrained for centuries. What the country isn’t poor in though, is beauty blessed by nature. Some of the most incredible sights include the moonlike Salar de Uyuni (salt lake) and the dinosaur tracks in the Parce Nacional Torotoro. Amazon forests give way to grasslands and mountain peaks overlook from on high. Visit Santiago for the usual exhilarating capital city thrills or try the colonial outposts of Potomi and Sucre for a more laid back experience, where heritage is more important than the trappings of modern day.
Land area: 83,000 square miles
Guyana is another of the South American countries with great untapped potential especially for eco-tourism. It has only been independent from British rule since 1966 and is still finding its feet in the world. There’s a glorious, Caribbean coastline and despite the fact much is crumbling away, the capital, Georgetown has a distinct upbeat Caribbean vibe with an excellent nightlife. Food especially is good here – cheap and very tasty, and there’s some pretty good markets for fresh produce and handicrafts. Inland, its unfathomable jungle and a wealth of amazing wildlife. Travelers can try Guyana now for intrepid adventure or wait whilst it catches up with the other countries of south America in its visitor offer.
Land area: 68,000 square miles
Population: 3.3 million
I’m always surprised at how small Uruguay is and yet, even as one of the smallest countries in South America, it packs a big punch. Uruguay has been a hospitable host to travelers for many decades and there’s a solid infrastructure. Happening towns, pristine beaches and absurdly large steaks are just some of the delights that await. Mix with the glitterati in Punta del Este or get on down with just about everyone in Montevideo. Of the 3.3 million people who call Uruguay home, 1.8 million live in the capital. Some things interesting – did you know that Uruguay was the first country in the world (in 2009) to provide every schoolchild with a laptop and that according to Reader’s digest it is the most livable and greenest country of The Americas.
Land area: 109,500 square miles
Population: 15 million
Another of the smaller countries of South America, Ecuador could make for the most amazing road trip. In just one day you can traverse terrain that takes you from a beautiful beach, through tropical cloud forest (the highest rainforest type), past Andean peaks complete with volcanoes and glacier fields and on through to the Amazon River basin. The point where the earth is closest to the sun is in Ecuador – the peak of Volcan Chimborazo.Ecuador also includes the Galapagos islands; one of the most remarkable places on earth. This all makes Ecuador a dream destination for wildlife lovers. Other travelers can enjoy charming mountain towns and markets full of local handicrafts.
Capital: Buenos Aires
Land area: 1.1million square miles
Population: 41.2 million
Argentina is a powerhouse. It’s the second largest of the South American countries. This is the land of the gauchos and polo players, footballers and fashionistas. Unforgettable adventures are to be found in its natural wonders and cosmopolitan cities. Ride a horse across the pampas, motorbike through the wilds of Patagonia, be in awe of the Iguazu Falls or the Perito Merono glacier, stare at the highest peak in the Southern hemisphere, Mount Aconagua or watch the boiling water at Terra Del Fuego. In Buenos Aires, you need to tango, watch futbol, visit marvelous buildings and just feast on Latin culture. Slip out to the coast for unspoiled beaches and tiny villages nestling in forests.
12. French Guiana
Land area: 32,000 square miles
Technically, French Guiana doesn’t qualify as being one of the countries of South America as it is an overseas territory administered by France, which oddly, makes it a member of the European Union. France used to send its worst prisoners to Devil’s Island in Guiana but today they look upon it as having better uses (the French satellite launch base is here) and the modern country enjoys funding that provides a strong economy. Like all South American countries however, it does have the rainforest and bewildering array of wildlife. The intrepid traveler can venture into the land of capuchin monkeys, huge snakes and giant spiders or head to the coast to view the awesome spectacle of the leatherback turtle egg laying season. There’s also some fabulous beaches and for something incongruous, take a visit to Cacao to find a stilt village built by refugees from Laos.
Land area: 292,000 square miles
Population: 17.2 million
Peru is Totally amazing (and the capital t is deliberate). The fabled land of the Incas is a place of snow capped Andean mountains and coastal plains. It is the land of Lake Titicaca and the legendary Incan temple, Machu Picchu. In this land you’ll find Amazonian villages clinging to tradition, smart beach resorts, colonial towns with beautiful Spanish churches and of course, the sprawling capital city. Peru is a place for travelers to discover. Whether that discovery is one of a self –minded journey from a sun bed on a gorgeous beach or hiking though rich forests or dreaming of days long since gone among archaeological ruins, is merely a matter of choice.
I do hope this short foray into the countries of South America has whetted your appetite.
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