From Argentina and Brazil to Guyana and Venezuela, there are 12 countries in South America. Here’s everything you need to know.

Stretching from the streaming, humid jungles of Colombia, thousands of miles south to the turbulent channels and islands of southern Argentina and Chile, South America is a vast land just begging to be explored.

I’ve barely touched the South American continent, despite having covered thousands of miles journeying across the impressive steppes of Argentina earlier this year. I covered huge distances, but still, I have the high peaks of the Andes to explore, the jungles and wetlands of the Amazon to traverse, and the endless metropolises of Brazil to explore.

If, like me, you’re wondering how many countries there are in South America, and how many more countries you have left to visit, then keep reading, as I explain everything you need to know to plan an epic journey across this seemingly endless continent.

How many countries are in South America?

South America is a continent of profound geographical diversity, and it’s home to 12 countries that are recognised as sovereign nations by the UN. The 12 countries in South America are Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

From the steppe of Patagonia to the Pampas grasslands, Argentina is renowned for its vast landscapes. Bolivia, with its significant indigenous population, boasts varied terrains including the Andes Mountains and the Atacama Desert. Brazil, the continent’s largest country, is home to the Amazon Rainforest and huge, sprawling cities like Rio de Janeiro. Chile’s remarkable geography spans from the Atacama Desert to the southern tip of Patagonia. Colombia, once known for civil strife, is now celebrated for its coffee regions and cultural cities.

Ecuador straddles the equator, known for the Galápagos Islands and diverse ecosystems. Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana, the latter a French overseas department, represent a unique blend of Caribbean and South American cultures, reflecting colonial influences and indigenous heritage. Paraguay, landlocked and often overshadowed by its neighbours, offers rich cultural traditions. Peru is famous for its ancient Incan history, epitomised by Machu Picchu. Uruguay, with its progressive social policies and beach-lined coast, presents a more relaxed pace of life. Venezuela, despite its current challenges, is home to stunning natural wonders like Angel Falls.

Apart from these nations, the continent includes several territories. The most notable is the Falkland Islands, a British Overseas Territory, which is the subject of a long-standing sovereignty dispute with Argentina.

Map of South America, by Cacahuate.

List of South American countries

In alphabetical order, here’s a list of the 12 sovereign countries in South America:

  1. Argentina
  2. Bolivia
  3. Brazil
  4. Chile
  5. Colombia
  6. Ecuador
  7. Guyana
  8. Paraguay
  9. Peru
  10. Suriname
  11. Uruguay
  12. Venezuela

Read more: How Many Countries Are in North America? Everything You Need to Know.

Where is South America?

South America, a continent situated predominantly in the Southern Hemisphere of the Western Hemisphere, is bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the north and east. It connects to North America and Central America via the Darién Gap in Panama. The continent stretches down to the southernmost tip of Chile and Argentina, reaching Cape Horn, often regarded as its southern extremity.

The geography of South America is remarkably varied. The Andes Mountains, the world’s longest mountain range, run along the western edge, greatly influencing the climate and vegetation of adjacent regions. The vast Amazon Basin, characterized by the dense Amazon Rainforest and the mighty Amazon River, covers a large portion of northern South America and is a hub of biodiversity.

Extensive Pampas and grasslands, primarily in Argentina and Uruguay, are known for their fertile soils, supporting agriculture and livestock grazing. In stark contrast, the Atacama Desert in northern Chile is one of the driest places on the planet, exemplifying extreme geographic conditions.

Further south, Patagonia, shared by Argentina and Chile, is renowned for its mix of arid steppes, grasslands, deserts, and more humid forests. Other notable geographic features include the Guiana Highlands in the northeast and the Pantanal, one of the largest tropical wetland areas in the world, mostly in Brazil.

This diverse landscape results in a wide array of climates and ecosystems, from the tropical rainforests of Brazil and Colombia to the glacial fjords of southern Chile. The continent’s geographical features have profoundly influenced its cultural and economic development, shaping the lives and histories of its indigenous peoples and the dynamics of its colonial and modern eras.

NASA map of South America.

Are there territories and dependencies in South America?

In addition to the 12 internationally recognised countries, South America has several territories and dependencies. The most important ones are the following:

  • Falkland Islands: A British Overseas Territory, the sovereignty of which is disputed by Argentina.
  • French Guiana: An overseas department of France, located on the northeastern coast of South America and technically part of the European Union.
  • South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands: Another British Overseas Territory, located in the southern Atlantic Ocean, also claimed by Argentina.

These territories and dependencies, while not sovereign nations, are integral parts of their respective countries, offering unique cultural and environmental aspects to the continent of South America.

Map showing the location of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.

A brief history of South America

The earliest human presence in South America is believed to date back to at least 15,000 years ago. Ancient civilizations flourished, the most notable being the Inca Empire in the Andean region, which became one of the largest empires in the world during the 15th century. Other significant cultures included the Mapuche in Chile, the Chavín in Peru, and the Guaraní in Paraguay and Brazil.

The 15th and 16th centuries marked a turning point with the arrival of European explorers. The Spanish and Portuguese empires were the first to establish their presence. In 1494, the Treaty of Tordesillas divided the New World between these two colonial powers, with Spain gaining most of the continent and Portugal claiming Brazil. This era saw the rapid decline of indigenous populations, largely due to disease and harsh colonial practices.

Colonial rule brought about significant cultural and demographic changes, including the introduction of Christianity, the establishment of colonial economies based on agriculture and mining, and the tragic transatlantic slave trade, which brought Africans to the continent.

The 19th century was a period of upheaval and transformation, as countries across South America fought for and gained independence from European powers. This era of liberation was largely inspired by leaders such as Simón Bolívar and José de San Martín. The post-independence period was, however, marked by political instability, with many countries experiencing internal conflicts, dictatorships, and border disputes.

The 20th century saw South America grappling with further political challenges, including the rise and fall of authoritarian regimes, military dictatorships, and the struggle for democratic governance. Economic issues, such as debt crises and the push for neoliberal policies, also shaped the political and social landscape.

In recent decades, South America has seen a mix of democratic resilience and challenges, with some countries experiencing significant economic growth and others continuing to struggle with political and economic instability. The continent has also become an important player in global issues, such as environmental conservation, given its crucial ecosystems like the Amazon Rainforest.

Cueva de los Manos, one of the earliest evidence of human habitation in South America.

Where does North America begin?

North America begins at the Isthmus of Panama, the narrow strip of land that connects it to South America. This isthmus, which includes the country of Panama, represents the geographical and cultural divide between the two continents. The Darién Gap, a dense, undeveloped swath of forest and swamps located on the border between Panama and Colombia, is often considered the specific point where North America ends and South America begins.

Geographically, this point is significant as it marks the separation of the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Caribbean Sea to the east. Historically, this narrow land bridge played a crucial role in the migrations of people and species between the continents during various geological epochs. Today, it is also a point of interest for its challenging terrain and untouched nature, often seen as a physical frontier between the North and South American continents.

Read more: How Many Countries Are in Central America? Everything You Need to Know.

Is Central America in South America?

Central America is not a part of South America; it is a distinct region that forms the southernmost part of North America. Stretching from Mexico in the north to Colombia in the south, Central America consists of seven countries: Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama. This region serves as a land bridge connecting North and South America, with a diverse range of landscapes including rainforests, mountains, and coastal plains.

Central America is bordered by Mexico to the north, the Caribbean Sea to the east, the Pacific Ocean to the south and west, and Colombia to the southeast. Its geographical location and cultural characteristics make it a distinct entity, separate from both North and South America, although it shares strong historical, economic, and cultural links with both continents.

Is Guatemala a country
Central America is known for its colonial cities and volcanoes.

Read more: Is Guatemala a Country? Everything You Need to Know.

Is French Guiana a country?

French Guiana is not an independent country; it is an overseas department and region of France. As such, it is part of the French Republic and is subject to French law and governance.

Located on the northeastern coast of South America, French Guiana is unique in the region as it is an integral part of a European country. Its status as an overseas department means that it is represented in the French Parliament and its residents are citizens of the European Union.

This distinguishes it from the independent countries in South America, both politically and administratively.

Are the Falkland Islands in South America?

The Falkland Islands, located in the South Atlantic Ocean, are geographically close to South America but are not considered part of the continent. They are a British Overseas Territory, situated about 300 miles east of the coast of southern Argentina.

The islands are self-governing, but the United Kingdom is responsible for their defence and foreign affairs. The sovereignty of the Falkland Islands is a matter of dispute between the United Kingdom and Argentina, with Argentina referring to them as the Islas Malvinas and claiming them as part of its territory.

This dispute has historical roots and led to the Falklands War between the two countries in 1982. Despite this, the islands maintain a distinct political and administrative status separate from South America.

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Map of the Falkland Islands, from Wikipedia.

What’s the largest country in South America?

The largest country in South America, both by area, Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and population, is Brazil.

  • Area: Brazil is the fifth-largest country in the world and the largest in South America, covering an area of approximately 8.5 million square kilometres.
  • GDP: Brazil also has the largest economy in South America, with a GDP of 1.92 trillion USD. Its GDP, which represents the total value of all goods and services produced over a specific period, is the largest on the continent, contributing significantly to the region’s economic output.
  • Population: Additionally, Brazil is the most populous country in South America, with a population of 209 million making it the largest on the continent.

Brazil’s size, economy, and population make it a dominant presence in South American affairs, both regionally and internationally.

Flag of Brazil.

What’s the smallest country in South America?

The smallest country in South America, considering area, GDP, and population, varies for each category:

  • Area: Suriname is the smallest country in South America by area. It occupies approximately 163,820 square kilometres, making it the smallest sovereign state on the continent.
  • GDP: Guyana has the smallest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in South America. Its economy is the smallest in terms of nominal GDP on the continent, although it has been experiencing growth in recent years, particularly due to developments in its natural resource sectors.
  • Population: Suriname, home to just over 600,000 people, has the smallest population in South America. With a population that is the least among the South American nations, it is known for its diverse cultural makeup, which includes Indigenous peoples, descendants of African slaves, Indian and Javanese indentured workers, and people of European descent.

Each of these countries, despite being the smallest in these respective categories, contributes uniquely to the rich cultural and ecological complexity of South America.

So, how many countries are in South America?

South America, a continent of staggering natural beauty is comprised of 12 sovereign nations. Each of these countries offers a unique window into the continent, from the sprawling Amazon rainforests of Brazil to the rugged Andean landscapes of Bolivia, and from the vibrant rhythms of Colombian music to the tranquil serenity of the Uruguayan coastline.

FAQ: how many countries are in South America?

Here’s an FAQ on the topic, ‘How many countries are in South America?’:

Q1. How many countries are there in South America?

There are 12 sovereign countries in South America.

Q2. What are the names of the countries in South America?

The countries are Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

Q3. Does South America have any territories or dependencies?

Yes, South America has several territories including the Falkland Islands (a British Overseas Territory), French Guiana (an overseas department of France), and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (also a British Overseas Territory).

Q4. Which is the largest country in South America?

Brazil is the largest country in South America both in terms of area and population.

Q5. Are there any landlocked countries in South America?

Yes, Bolivia and Paraguay are landlocked countries in South America.

Q6. Which South American country has the smallest population?

Suriname has the smallest population of any South American country.

Q7. Is there a dispute over any territory in South America?

Yes, there are territorial disputes, most notably the Falkland Islands, which are claimed by Argentina but administered by the United Kingdom.

Q8. Which is the southernmost point of South America?

Cape Horn, located in Chile, is generally considered the southernmost point of South America.

Q9. Which languages are predominantly spoken in South America?

Spanish and Portuguese are the most widely spoken languages, with Portuguese being the official language of Brazil and Spanish being predominant in most other countries. Indigenous languages are also spoken in several regions.