/ Methodology & Study Materials / South America
South America has an area of 17,840,000 square kilometers (6,890,000 sq mi), or almost 3.5% of the Earth's surface. Its population is estimated at more than 371,090,000 (2005). South America ranks fourth in area (after Asia, Africa, and North America) and fifth in population (after Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America). South America is home to the largest river (by volume), the Amazon River; the longest mountain range, the Andes (whose highest mountain is Aconcagua at 6,962 m [22,841 ft]); the largest rainforest, the Amazon Rainforest; the highest commercially navigable lake in the world, Lake Titicaca; and, the driest place on earth, the Atacama Desert; the highest capital city, La Paz, Bolivia; excluding research stations in Antarctica, the world's southernmost permanently inhabited community, Puerto Toro, Chile and the world's highest waterfall, Angel Falls in Venezuela.
South America is one of the most biodiverse continents on earth. South America is home to many interesting and unique species of animals including the llama, anaconda, piranha, jaguar, vicuña, and tapir. The Amazon rainforests possess high biodiversity, containing a major proportion of the Earth's species. Regions in South America include the Andean States, the Guianas, the Southern Cone, and Brazil which is the largest country by far, in both area and population. Historical relics, architectural and natural wonders, a diverse range of foods and culture, vibrant and colorful cities, and stunning landscapes attract millions of tourists every year to South America. Some of the most visited places in the region are Machu Picchu, the Amazon Rainforest, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, Florianópolis, Isla Margarita, Natal, Buenos Aires, São Paulo, Angel Falls, Cuzco, Lake Titicaca, Patagonia, Cartagena and the Galápagos islands.
South American culture is a mixture of many cultural expressions worldwide. It is the product of many diverse influences:
- Indigenous cultures of the people who inhabited the continent prior to the arrival of the Europeans. Ancient and very advanced civilizations developed their own political, social and religious systems. The Maya, the Aztecs (Mexico) and the Incas (Peru) are examples of these. Bolivia has the first largest indigenous population of South America (60%) while Peru has the second largest indigenous population with about 53%. Most Peruvians are either indigenous or mestizos (of mixed Indigenous and European ancestry).
- Western civilization, in particular the culture of Europe, was brought mainly by the colonial powers - the Spanish, Portuguese and French - between the 16th and 19th centuries. The most enduring European colonial influence is language and Roman Catholicism. More recently, additional cultural influences came from the United States and Europe during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, due to the growing influence of the former on the world stage and immigration from the later.
- South America experienced waves of immigration of Europeans, especially Italians, Spaniards, Portuguese, and Germans. With the end of colonialism, French culture was also able to exert a direct influence in Latin America, especially in the realms of high culture, science and medicine. This can be seen in any expression of the region's artistic traditions, including painting, literature and music, and in the realms of science and politics.
- African cultures, whose presence derives from a long history of New World slavery. Peoples of African descent have influenced the ethno-landscapes of Latin America and the Caribbean. This is manifest for instance in dance and religion, especially in countries such as Belize, Brazil, Honduras, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Haiti, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, and Cuba.
- Spanish language was taken primarily to the Americas, but also to Africa and Asia Pacific with the expansion of the Spanish Empire between the fifteenth and nineteenth centuries.
- As of 2010, 329 to 358 million people speak Spanish as a native language and a total of 417 million people speak it worldwide. It is the second most natively spoken language in the world, after Mandarin Chinese. Global internet usage statistics for 2007 show Spanish as the third most commonly used language on the Internet, after English and Chinese.
- Spanish is designated as an official language in 20 countries, United Nations, European Union, Organization of American States, Organization of Ibero-American States, Union of South American Nations, Central American Integration System, Caricom, World Trade Organization, North American Free Trade Agreement, Andean Community of Nations, Mercosur, Inter-American Development Bank, Latin Union, Antarctic Treaty. Spanish language is regulated by Association of Spanish Language Academies (Real Academia Española and 21 other national Spanish language academies).
- Indigenous languages of South America include Quechua in Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina, and Bolivia; Guaraní in Paraguay and, to a much lesser extent, in Bolivia; Aymara in Bolivia, Peru, and less often in Chile; and Mapudungun is spoken in certain pockets of southern Chile and, more rarely, Argentina. At least three South American indigenous languages (Quechua, Aymara, and Guarani) are recognized along with Spanish as national languages.