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Satellite view of the Andes mountains with snow on them

The Andes mountains run down the Pacific side of South America

South America is a long, narrow continent running from the equator down nearly to the South Pole. So the north part of South America, near the equator, is generally hot and wet. In the south part of South America, near the South Pole, it can be very cold.

But South America’s environment is even more varied than that. The Andes Mountains run all down the west coast of South America. The Andes are very high mountains, and it’s very cold on top of them even in the warm north. In these mountains, there are llamas and vicuñas, guanacos and alpacas, and guinea pigs. Wild potatoes and tomatoes grow up there.

Andes mountains: very jagged, with snow on top

Andes mountains in Peru

From the Andes, near the equator, the Amazon River runs east to the Atlantic Ocean. The Amazon is the largest river in the world, and its water feeds a rich jungle that covers a lot of eastern South America. Rubber trees grow in the jungle. Jaguars, tapirs, bats, frogs and anaconda snakes live there, while dolphins, electric eels and piranhas live in the Amazon river itself. Yuca root and sweet potatoes come from this area.

Amazon river

The Amazon river in South America

As you get further south, the jungle dries up and turns into grassland called pampas. They are covered with grass and have hardly any trees. Some scientists think that these pampas were originally covered with forests, but people cut down the forests.

Other scientists think that the pampas were always grasslands. Like the grasslands of North America and Central Asia, or even more like the grasslands of wild peanuts.

Along the south part of the west coast of South America, between the Andes Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, is the Atacama desert. This is the driest desert in the world. Hardly any plants or animals – or people – live there.

More about llamas
More about potatoes
And more about peanuts

Bibliography and further reading about the Central and South American Environment:

Early South America
Native Americans
American History home