A satellite image of South AmericaThere are 12 independent countries in South America, stretching from Colombia and Venezuela in the north to Chile and Argentina in the south. French Guiana, on the northeastern coast, is an overseas region of France. Before the arrival of Europeans, a number of great civilizations had grown up in South America, but it was the mighty Inca Empire, which extended from Ecuador in the north to Chile in the south, that was the dominant power. From the 16th century, South America was colonized by European settlers, largely from Spain and Portugal. From the 19th century, the South American nations started to throw off European authority and become independent.
Three branches, or cordilleras, of the Andes Mountains meet in Colombia. Most of the country's population lives in the cooler climates of the high Andes valleys. Cotton, sugar cane and bananas are grown in the warm lowlands, while coffee, cereals and potatoes are cultivated in higher, cooler regions. Colombia has reserves of oil, gas and coal, and is the world’s largest supplier of emeralds.
Even though Colombia takes up less than 1% of the world’s land area, 10% of all animal species live there.
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