Almost half of the territory of South America consists of just one country - Brazil.
The Brazilian, Patagonian and Guiana shields make up the core of the core of South America.
Along the west coast are the Andean Uplands, which are much younger. Many of the mountains here are at least 20,000 feet (6,100 meters) high. This region contains some of the largest volcanoes in the world, including Cotopaxi in Ecuador. Lake Titicaca, the largest lake in South America, is found here.
The mountains of the Andean uplands are constantly being lifted higher as the Nazca tectonic plate moves underneath the South American tectonic plate.
Sedimentary basins, including the Amazon River Basin and the Gran Chaco Basin lie between the shield regions and the Andes.
Fertile grasslands known as the Pampas are found in Argentina and Uruguay.
The landscape of Patagonia has been shaped by retreating glaciers.
The climate of South America varies greatly ranging from hot, humid tropics in the north to colder southern regions influenced by the cold waters of the Atlantic.
Half of South America has a tropical climate, with humid, hot rainforests.
The west coast is affected by cold ocean currents.
The Andes create a barrier that prevents rain from falling over most of the south.
One of the most arid places on Earth is the Atacama desert in Chile.
Almost half of the people in South America live in Brazil. Nevertheless, Brazil is sparsely populated, as a large portion of the Amazon River Basin is uninhabited.
The populations of larger cities, such as Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Lima and Buenos Aires grew very large during the twentieth century as many people moved from rural to urban areas.
There are large variations in standard of living.
After Portuguese and Spanish settlers came to South America in the sixteenth century, Portuguese became the dominant language in Brazil, and Spanish in the rest of South America. Indigenous languages, such as Guarani and Quecha, are mostly spoken in the interior of the continent.
Colonization by other European countries has resulted in English being Spoken in Guyana, French being spoken in French Guiana and Dutch being spoken in Surinam.
Brazil has the largest economy in South America, followed by Argentina.
Most of the people in South America work in agriculture. However, people are constantly traveling from rural regions to the cities along the coast in order to find more profitable employment.
Corn is a staple crop throughout South America.
Coffee is a cash cop in Colombia and Brazil.
In Bolivia, Colombia and Peru, coca plants are grown. Most of the world's cocaine comes from here.
Cattle is raised along the Pampas. Beef is an important Argentinean export.
Venezuela is one of the leading oil producers in the world.
Chile has huge copper reserves. More than one fourth of the known copper deposits on Earth are in Chuquicamata mine in northern Chile.
There is an extensive fishing industry along the west coast.
Tin can be found in the Andes.
In the 1960s and 1970s, South American governments borrowed from the World Bank in order to improve their infrastructures and develop their manufacturing industries. This has caused these countries to develop huge debts.
European explorers who arrived in South America during the sixteenth century claimed almost all of the continent for either Spain or Portugal.
Modern national boundaries reflect old colonial territorial divisions.
Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Uruguay are developing democracies after experiencing successive military dictatorships.
Total Area: 6,878,572 square miles (17,815,420 square kilometers)
Highest Point: Cerro Aconcagua in Argentina - 22,831 feet (6,959 meters) above sea level
Lowest Point: Laguna del Carbón in Argentina - 344 feet (105 meters) below sea level
Largest Lake: Lake Titicaca - on the Bolivia/Peru border - 3,220 squares miles (8,340 square kilometers)
Longest River: Amazon River - 4,049 miles (6,516 kilometers)
Largest Drainage Basin: Amazon River Basin - 2,500,000 square miles (6,475,000 square kilometers) - largest drainage basin on Earth
Largest Island: Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego in Chile and Argentina - 18,147 square miles (47,000 square kilometers)
Falkland Islands (1)
French Guiana (1)