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Iquique, Chile
Iquique, Chile

Explain how the following five factors have influenced settlement and the economies of major South American countries.

South American Rainforest
South American Rainforest

Topics on the Page

Absolute and relative locations


Major physical characteristics

Major natural resources

Population size

  • Indigenous Peoples

  • Bananas and Women in the Banana Industry
Questions for Students

rotating gif.gifFor an historical overview of the Maya, Inca, and Aztec civilizations, link to Grade Grade 5.2


First, definitions, then, a look at these terms and South America:

- absolute and relative locations: absolute location is the coordinates of a place on longitude and latitude; relative location is where a place is in comparison with landmarks, or other places.

- climate: repeated weather patterns in a certain location

- major physical characteristics: features of the terrain, like mountains, lakes, rivers, deserts.

- major natural resources: parts of nature used by people, such as water, oil, trees, minerals, etc.

- population size: how many people live in a place.

Influence of the following five factors on SETTLEMENTS and ECONOMIES of South American countries:

absolute and relative locations

  • the relative location of South America affects its settlement and economy because its proximity to the Caribbean and the sugar and spice plantations there made it a natural next step location for settlement, exploration, and exploitation by Europeans


  • equatorial regions are the hottest on earth, and the equator runs through the top of South America, just to the north of, and almost along the same line as, the Amazon River
  • The rainforest climate around the Amazon River enables millions of species to develop and grow there, providing rich natural resources
  • Further to the south, vast grasslands provide the basis for ranching and the beef industry in Argentina

La Nino and La Nina

What is La Nino and La Nina?

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration La Nina Page

major physical characteristics

  • Ancient peoples settled in Cuzco, in the Andes Mountains, and developed advanced civilizations there, protected by the difficult terrain and high altitudes
  • The Amazon River runs across the top of the continent and is one of the most significant ecosystems on the planet
  • The grasslands in the southern half of the continent support ranches and farms


    The Iguazu Falls on the Argentina and Brazil border consist of 275 waterfalls and are located on the border of Argentina and Brazil. They are a major source of tourism for the area.
    • For a panoramic view of the falls from several different perspectives, click here.

major natural resources

  • South America’s natural resources are varied and extensive, including: sugar, oil, rubber, wood, plants used for medicine, beef
  • The Amazon River is a natural resource in itself, with surrounding forests filtering vast amounts of carbon dioxide, which helps to cool the planet. Increase in farming in the region, especially of soy, has further endangered the forests as farmers cut trees to plant fields

population size

South America: Human Geography
  • the areas of South America with the largest populations are in coastal areas, most easily reached by ships, which is how European and African people came or were brought to South America
    • Indian populations lived throughout the continent both before and after Europeans and Africans came or were brought to South America
      • The majority of the population of the interior of South America now is of Indian descent

Brazil's flag

Top 5 most populated nations are
1. China,
2. India,
3. United States,
4. Indonesia
5. Brazil (pop. 188,078,227) (see Brazilian flag)

Screen Shot 2017-11-08 at 1.38.04 PM.png
Map from the World Health Organization

Indigenous Peoples

Indigenous Latin America in the Twenty-First Century, The World Bank (March 28, 2016)

South America's Indigenous Groups Used to Line Up with the Left: Not Anymore, The Washington Post (May 12, 2017)

Female_Rose.pngBananas and Women Banana Workers

Taking Bananas to Market, Bogota Columbia
Taking Bananas to Market, Bogota Columbia

The Surprising History of the Banana

Peeling Back the Truth on Bananas

Banana Plantations in Latin America

  • Latin America dominates the global production of bananas
  • Main producers for export are Ecuador, followed by Costa Rica, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras and Panama

Women in the Banana Industry

Bananeras: Women Transforming the Banana Unions of Latin America. Dana Frank, Haymarket Books, 2016

Screen Shot 2017-02-24 at 12.30.24 PM.pngQuestions for Students:

  • What is a “major” country? Do you think that people in smaller nations do not consider themselves to be “major”? Who decides which countries are major or minor? Can you think of examples of major or minor countries? What events might change our perception of a nation?

  • What is the difference between a “nation” and a “country”?

  • Besides North America, which continent do you know the most about? Why?

  • Why do you live where you live? (When did your family come to the U.S.? Where did they go first? Why? How did your immediate family get here to this town? Why did you come here?)



  • Oxford Atlas of the World, Twelfth Edition, 2005; Oxford University Press, New York.
  • De Blij, H.J.; Peter O. Muller; Geography: Realms, Regions, and Concepts (Seventh Ed.), John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1994