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How to Study South American Geography

Updated on August 23, 2017

South American Geography

It can be difficult to memorize the shape, location, and capitals of all the South American countries! There are so many! And most of them are just names to American students because there is no context to help us remember anything about that country. Here I have collected online games and other resources that will help you learn where the South American countries are, what their capitals are and a little bit about them.

Read on for an overview of the political and physical geography of South America!

Political Geography Overview

South America has 14 independent countries. French Guiana is an overseas region of France. Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, French Guiana, Falkland Islands, South Georgia and South Sandwich islands are dependencies or territories.

The 12 Independent Countries of 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

How to Label the Countries of South America

Using Peanut Butter Pancakes

Look at the map of South America. Brazil dominates it, right? That country is easy to label. Think of the rest of the countries in South America as fanning around it, from the top (French Guiana) counter-clockwise all the way to Uruguay. Chile is also very distinctive and easy to remember so I will not include it in this mnemonic device.

When looking at the map this way, the order of the countries is: French Guiana, Suriname, Guyana, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina (see that little finger sticking out?) and Uruguay.

The initials: FG, S, G, V, C, E, Pe, B, Pa, A, U.

Now think of a sentence that uses words that start with those letters, and you will have yourself a handy map labeling helper!

Here is one that I came up with:

French guys say, "Go very carefully eating Peanut Butter Pancakes at University." (Because they don't speak English very well, but certainly better than my French.)

Physical Geography Overview

There are two MAJOR elements of the physical geography of South America. The Andes mountain range that runs all along the western coast, and the Amazon River Basin.

The Atacama Desert is noted for being the driest desert on earth.

The Rio de la Plata is a very large indentation on the eastern coast. It is formed by the confluence of the Uruguay and Parana Rivers. It gets as wide as 220 km at the mouth.

Tierra del Fuego is an archipelago on the southern tip of South America. The main island is divided between Chile and Argentina.

Tips for Learning the "Guianas"

These three little countries on the northern coast of South America can be confusing. It's hard to remember which is which. Here is a little more about them to help give your memory something to attach to.

Firstly, some memorizing tricks. These are three little countries, roughly the same size, all in a row on the coast. They are stuck between Venezuela on the left, and Brazil on the south. One way to keep them straight is to notice that the non-Guiana country (Suriname) is in between the two Guiana-ish countries. Suriname is in the middle. Just remember that.

Now, see if you can make a phrase to help you remember the order of these little countries from left to right. You might like this one: Geyser French Guy. This is to remind you that GUYana is first, then SURiname, and then French GUIana.

Let's move on to the capitals:

The capital of Guyana is Georgetown. Think of this GUY named GEORGE.

The capital of Suriname is Paramaribo. This is a hard one! Try Pair-A-Mare-Eye-Beau. Picture a pair of mare's eyes (a female horse), with someone's sweetheart sitting on it. His NAME is SURI.

The capital of French Guiana is Cayenne. Well, for Cayenne we obviously think of the spice. And do you think of French food as well-spiced? Certainly not bland!

Here are some interesting facts about the Guianas, so that you can have some mental imagery to associate with each one.

Suriname is the smallest independent country in South America. Escaped slaves became known as 'Maroons' and developed their own culture. There are actually several tribes within this group.

French Guiana is an overseas region of France. The currency is the euro. French Guiana is home of Devil's Island. Devil's Island was just one part of a famous penal colony from 1852 to 1952. Devil's Island, along with the other Salvation Islands, are now the responsibility of the Guiana Space Centre. The islands must be evacuated during launch. Guiana has very high biodiversity, and there are some rain forests protected under law.

All About Tierra del Fuego - Land of Fire

Tierra del Fuego is an archipelago on the southern tip of South America. (An archipelago is a chain of islands) The name 'Island of Fire' comes from the smoke that the European explorers saw that seemed to float on the water. These were actually fires on the boats of the native people.

The Selk'nam (or Ona) was an indigenous people that lived in the Patagonia region, including Tierra del Fuego. These people were hunted by the Spanish because they 'stole' sheep from their ranches. Lucas Bridges tried to help them by learning their language and customs and serving as an advocate. The last Selk'nam died in 1974.

The North America beaver was introduced to the island in the 1940s and has caused considerable damage.

Ushuaia, the southernmost city in world, on Tierra del Fuego

Ushuaia, the southernmost city in world, on Tierra del Fuego
Ushuaia, the southernmost city in world, on Tierra del Fuego

Bolivia - La Paz is the highest capital city in the world

Bolivia has the Salar de Uyuni, the largest salt flat in the world. (The image is attributed to Luca Galuzzi). Beneath the salt flats is 50-70% of the world's reserves of lithium.

La Paz is the administrative capital, but Sucre is the constitutional capital.

Solveig Jacobsen
Solveig Jacobsen

Southern Grilled Cheese Islands

Not really.

South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands are a little group of islands in the Southern Atlantic. That is, waaaaaay south. Like it's too cold to live there South. (SGSSI for short.)

You must say SOUTH Sandwich Islands, because just 'Sandwich Islands' is what James Cook called the Hawaiian Islands. Very very different.

SGSSI is an overseas territory of Britain. The only people who live there are some very cold (but very busy, I'm sure) British government and scientist types.

South Georgia Island used to be a major whaling operation. The photo was taken at Grytviken in 1916. Grytviken (the Swedish word for Pot Cove) is the main settlement on South Georgia Island. While Grytviken was named by a Swedish guy, it was started by a Norwegian guy, Carl Anton Larsen. Workers at the whaling station had their families with them, so that is why the first child ever to be born in the Antarctic region. She was born in 1913 and she is pictured next to her dog, next to the whale.

This is actually a good exercise for learning about South America! Look at every country's population, literacy rate, culture, economy and geography and then decide based on THOSE factors, which would be the best country to live in. What is the best country if you are educated? What is the best country if you are an avid hiker? What is the best if you like to dance?

What is most interesting about South America to you?

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    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Great, Nicely done. I'm going to use this information.

    • verkeerd profile image


      7 years ago

      Everything! If I just could find more lenses like this one!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Very good tips to memorize names! *blessed by a Squidangel!*


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