How much do you know about South American history, geography, culture, society, and influence? You’ll know more once you read these 10 fun facts
A continent packed full of destinations popular with avid globetrotters, South America is attractive primarily for its natural beauty, cultural diversity, and wild parties (looking at you, Brazil). But how much do you really know about the place? What are its geographical and man-made extremes, for example? How many countries does the biggest country border? Which country has no McDonald’s restaurants? Check out these 10 fun and interesting facts about South America to find out the answers.
Doorbells aren’t customary in Paraguay
Most houses in Paraguay don’t have doorbells; instead, visitors quickly clap their hands for a few seconds to announce themselves. This is considered much more polite than knocking on the door.
Chile is home to the world’s second-largest swimming pool
At 80,000 square meters — equivalent to 64 Olympic swimming pools — Crystal Lagoon in Chile is the second-largest swimming pool in the world, and the largest in South America. It’s part of the San Alfonso del Mar resort, which sits by the Pacific Ocean. The pool is filled with 250 million liters of seawater and has a maximum depth of 35 meters.
Crystal Lagoon was completed in 2006, and for nine years, it was the biggest swimming pool in the world. It was dethroned by Citystars Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt, which is 16,000 square meters greater in size.
The Andes are the world’s longest continental mountain range
Largely a result of the tectonic collision of the South American and Nazca Plates, the Andes are the world’s longest continental mountain range, stretching from north to south on the western side of South America. The mountains span 8,900 kilometers and run through seven countries: Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina.
At their widest, the Andes run for 700 kilometers roughly along the 19th parallel south. Their highest peak, Aconcagua, is 6,961 meters, which is the second-highest mountain in the world.
Large as the Andes may be, the length of the range is nothing compared to that of the longest mountain range in the world, the mid-ocean ridge. This is a global seafloor mountain system whose length totals 65,000 kilometers.
The world’s largest salt flat is in Bolivia
Sticking with the superlative theme, Bolivia is home to the world’s largest salt flat — Salar de Uyuni has an area of over 10,500 square kilometers. In the wet season, it effectively turns into the largest natural mirror in the world; while in the dry season, it’s a vast crust of salt that’s some 10 meters thick.
Hundreds of languages are spoken in South America
Despite being made up of only 12 countries and three territories, South America is one of the most linguistically diverse regions of the world. About 450 languages are spoken on the continent, most of them indigenous.
Unsurprisingly, the two main colonial languages — Spanish and Portuguese — top the list with the highest numbers of speakers (both over 200 million in South America). Among the major imported languages are English (over 6 million speakers), German and Italian (around 1.3 million speakers each), Japanese, and French.
When it comes to the indigenous languages, Quechua is the most widely spoken (by about 8 million people), followed by Guarani (over 6 million), and Aymara (nearly 2 million).
The world’s highest capital city is in South America
This isn’t so black and white, but whichever way you look at it, the highest capital city in the world is in South America.
Bolivia’s La Paz sits at an impressive elevation of 3,640 meters. However, La Paz is only the seat of government, while Sucre — at an elevation of 2,810 meters — is the constitutional capital. If you consider La Paz to be the capital of Bolivia, then it’s the highest capital in the world. If you don’t, that title goes to Quito in Ecuador, at 2,850 meters.
The Galápagos Islands inspired Darwin’s theory of evolution
When 26-year-old Charles Darwin arrived on the Galápagos Islands in 1835, he noticed particular similarities between local animal and plant species and those found on the mainland, as well as many features unique to island species. It wasn’t until 1859 that his groundbreaking book, On the Origin of Species, was finally published.
Brazil shares a border with all but two countries in South America
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Out of the 12 countries (and one mainland territory) in South America, the largest one, Brazil, has borders with all of them apart from Chile and Ecuador.
There are no McDonald’s restaurants in Bolivia
When McDonald’s first opened in La Paz in 1997, it was welcomed with a lot of excitement and long queues of people to get in. Only a few years later in 2002, the fast-food chain closed all eight restaurants in the country for good.
The failure of McDonald’s in Bolivia is partly seen as a political and cultural rejection by its people who prefer eating local food. The country is also among the poorest in South America and McDonald’s prices were simply out of reach for most.
Brasília is shaped like an airplane
Brasília, the capital of Brazil, was a planned city. In the 1950s, it was built from scratch in just three and a half years with the idea that progress and innovation would be brought to the interior of the country. It wasn’t designed for walking through; rather for crossing in a motorcar in awe of the city’s spaciousness and clean lines.
If that wasn’t enough, the city’s design reflects society’s budding interest in air travel from back in the day; viewed from above, the city’s shaped like an airplane. The “wings” are buildings originally built to house Brasília’s bureaucrats, while the “aircraft body” was dedicated to all the ministries.
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