12 cool facts about South America for all ages

Travel tips & fun facts

By
22 January 2021

By | 22 January 2021

These fun facts about South America will give you a glimpse into a continent steeped in natural beauty and culture

Why do Argentinians eat gnocchi on the 29th day of each month? What South American country has no McDonald’s restaurants? Read on to see which ones you already know and which ones you don’t.

#1 The world’s second-largest swimming pool 

San Alfonso del Mar is filled with 250 million liters (66 million US gallons)San Alfonso del Mar is filled with 250 million liters (66 million US gallons) — Shutterstock

The size of 20 Olympic swimming pools or 80,000 sq m (860,000 sq ft), San Alfonso del Mar in Chile is the second-largest swimming pool in the world and the largest in South America. It lies on the edge of the Pacific Ocean and is filled with 250 million liters (66 million US gallons) of seawater at a maximum depth of 3.5 m (11.5 ft).

Up until 2015, San Alfonso del Mar was listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s largest but it was dethroned by Egypt’s Crystal Lagoon with a size of 125,000 sq m (1,345,500 sq ft).

#2 No doorbells in Paraguay

Most houses in Paraguay don’t have doorbells. Instead, visitors clap their hands for a few seconds to announce themselves.

#3 The world’s longest mountain range

The Andes are the world’s longest continental mountain range, spanning 7,000 km (4,350 mi) north to southThe Andes are the world’s longest continental mountain range, spanning 7,000 km (4,350 mi) north to south — Shutterstock

Laid out across the Western part of the continent, the Andes are the world’s longest continental mountain range. They run from the north to the south of the continent and through seven South American countries — Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina.

They span 7,000 km (4,350 mi) north to south and up to 700 km (435 mi) east to west and have an average height of 4,000 m (over 13,000 ft).

Large as they may be, their proportions are nothing compared to the longest mountain range in the world — the undersea Mid-Atlantic Ridge — which extends 65,000 km (40,000 mi) and reaches heights of 4,200 m from the ocean floor.

#4 The world’s largest salt flat

With an area of over 10,500 square kilometers, Bolivian Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat. During the rainy season, it turns into the largest natural mirror in the world while during the dry season a thick crust of sodium chloride is uncovered, sometimes 10 meters deep.

#5 12 countries but hundreds of languages

Despite being made up of only 12 sovereign countries in the continent, South America is one of the most linguistically diverse areas in the world, with about 450 recorded languages. 

Spanish and Portuguese top the list with the highest numbers of speakers (both over 200 million). Among the major imported languages are English (over 5 million), German (about 2 million), Italian (1.5 million), Arabic (about 1.1 million), Chinese, Ukrainian, Japanese, and Dutch. 

When it comes to indigenous languages, Quechua is the most used with about 8 million speakers, followed by Guarani with 5 million, and Aymara with about 2.5 million.

#6 The Galápagos Islands were the inspiration behind Darwin’s theory of evolution

Charles Darwin was inspired by the islands’ varied animal and plant speciesCharles Darwin was inspired by the islands’ varied animal and plant species — Shutterstock

When 26-year-old Charles Darwin arrived in the Galápagos Islands in 1835, he noticed similarities between local animal and plant species and those found on the mainland as well as many differences unique to islands in the area. It wasn’t until 1859 that his book On the Origin of Species was finally released.

#7 There are no McDonald’s restaurants in Bolivia

When McDonald’s first opened in La Paz, Bolivia 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 their reach. 

#8 The world’s most elevated capital

Bolivia’s La Paz lies at an elevation of 3,650 m (almost 12,000 ft)Bolivia’s La Paz lies at an elevation of 3,650 m (almost 12,000 ft) — Shutterstock

The answer to this one is less straightforward but either way we look at it, the highest capital is still to be found in South America.

Bolivia’s La Paz lies at an elevation of 3,650 m (almost 12,000 ft) which would typically make it the highest capital in the world. However, La Paz is only the seat of the government while it is Sucre (at an elevation of 2,810 m) that is officially the constitutional capital. 

So, yes, if we consider La Paz as the capital, then it is also the highest located capital in the world. If we don’t, the crown goes to Ecuador’s Quito at a height of 2,850 m (9,350 ft).

#9 Why do Argentinians eat gnocchi on the 29th day of each month?

On the 29th of every month, Argentinians have a tradition of eating ñoquis, a tradition that arrived together with Italian immigrants in the 19th century. They place money under their plates with gnocchi to attract luck and fortune. When visiting Argentina on one of your future trips, notice many restaurants having special offers on gnocchi dishes on that day.

#10 The tallest waterfall

The 979 m (over 3,000 ft) high waterfall lies in the Venezuelan Canaima National Park, a part of Unesco HeritageThe 979 m (over 3,000 ft) high waterfall lies in the Venezuelan Canaima National Park, a part of Unesco Heritage — Shutterstock

South America is home to the tallest waterfall in the world, the Angel Falls, also referred to by its indigenous name Kerepakupai Merú. The 979 m (over 3,000 ft) high waterfall lies in the Venezuelan Canaima National Park, a part of Unesco Heritage.

#11 Brazil shares a border with all but two countries in South America

Out of the total of 12 countries in South America, the largest one, Brazil, shares borders with all but Chile and Ecuador.

#12 Brasilia is shaped like an airplane

The capital of Brazil was built in just about 3.5 yearsThe capital of Brazil was built in just about 3.5 years — Wikimedia Commons

The capital of Brazil was built as a planned city in around three and a half years. In the 1950s, Brasilia was built from scratch with the idea of bringing progress to the country’s interior. It wasn’t designed for walking but 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 the budding love for travel back in the day — for those looking from the top, it’s shaped like an airplane. Its wings were built to house Brasilia’s bureaucrats while the fuselage was dedicated to the workings of various ministries.

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Jana Brnáková

Jana Brnáková

“days like this. like your day today. maybe the rain on the window trying to get through to you. what do you see today? what is it? where are you?” CB