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The lush, humid jungle of the Amazon Rainforest … the jagged Andes, which run like a spine down the continent’s length … the white sands of Rio’s glittering Ipanema Beach. An expansive, intricate pattern of intertwined histories and magnificent nature, South America is a land of complex and startling beauty.
First inhabited at least 14,000 years ago, ancient civilizations reigned supreme over this unspoiled earth for centuries. Evidence of their architectural and cultural achievements—such as the mysterious, mammoth moai on Easter Island, and the architectural artistry of Peru’s mountaintop “Lost City” of the Incas—indicate the development of sophisticated civilizations isolated from Europe and Asia until the 15th century.
The arrival of the Spanish and Portuguese empires in the 15th century marked the beginning of a long decline for ancient South American civilizations. Conquistadors—“conquerors” in Spanish—such as Francisco Pizarro decimated the once expansive Inca Empire, leaving in their wake a path of destruction and imprints on culture and society. Ferdinand Magellan, the first person to circumnavigate the globe, blazed a trail through the ice-encrusted fjords of southernmost Chile. Today, Portuguese and Spanish are the predominant languages spoken, and Catholicism is the most influential religion throughout the area.
Yet the legacy of South America’s ancient civilizations and tribes live on to this day. In the floating villages of Lake Titicaca, the Uru people continue to build their islands in the ancient way, using tortora reeds. The Awá-Guajá tribe in Brazil, threatened from illegal logging practices, still lives deep in the Amazon. In rural villages throughout the Andes, brilliantly-colored and –patterned textiles are still woven by hand and worn to ward off the mountain chill. In certain parts of Bolivia, Peru, and even northwest Argentina, the ancient Quechua language is still spoken: all of this is testament to the perseverance of South America’s indigenous cultures.
Today, those who call South America home are united by a love of fútbol and family, but the countries that make up this majestic continent each have their own unique characters and signature quirks. We invite you to discover their fascinating cultures for yourself, on adventures that will take you to some of the continent’s—and indeed, the world’s—most spectacular landscapes.