Map of South America South America reaches from the tropical coast of the Caribbean to the icy Southern Ocean. The world’s longest mountain range, the Andes, stretches down the western side of South America. Between the snow-capped mountains lies a high, cold and windswept plain called the altiplano. Between the Andes and the Pacific Ocean is the Atacama Desert, the driest place on earth. To the east of the Andes, the vast rainforest of the Amazon Basin dominates. Farther east lie the Brazilian Highlands. In the south of the continent are wide areas of fertile grasslands, known as pampas, which cover parts of Argentina and Uruguay. In the extreme south of Argentina, grasslands give way to the dry, bleak scrublands of Patagonia. The southern Andes is a region of glaciers and volcanoes, breaking up into bleak, rocky islands at the continent's tip.
The people of South America are descended from Native American peoples, Spanish and Portuguese settlers of the 16th century onwards, African slaves brought over by Europeans, and later immigrants from other parts of Europe, Asia and Africa. The numbers of native peoples in South America fell dramatically after the arrival of the Europeans in the 16th century, mostly because of the diseases they brought with them, to which the natives had no natural resistance. Native Americans still make up a large proportion of the populations of Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador. Mestizos (mixed European and Native American) are the largest group in Paraguay, Venezuela and Colombia.
A Yanomami hunter in the Amazon rainforestPeople of African ancestry form large percentages of the populations of Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela and the Guianas. Those of European descent form the majority in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay, and make up about half the population of Brazil. In the Amazon rainforest there are still some native tribes who carry on their traditional lives. A few have never had contact with the outside world.
Apart from Brazil (where Portuguese is spoken) and the Guianas, Spanish is the main language. The most widely spoken Native American language is Quechua, the language of the Incas, with up to 10 million speakers.
The world’s highest capital city is La Paz, of Bolivia, which lies at 3600 m (11,800 ft) above sea level.
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