Interesting Facts (And History) About South America

I wonder. I’m a curious person. Haven’t you ever wondered how some things came to be? Why is Brazil have nearly half the land in South America anyway? Whose butt where they kissing. It all makes perfect sense when you look back into history. First lets take a look at how both North America and South America got its name. The name comes from the explorer and cartographer Amerigo Vespucci.

When Columbus was exploring new lands he believed that he was in Asia, not in South America. Amerigo is the person that thought Columbus was actually in a new land, not Asia. Since both Europe and Asia are named after women the name America is the feminine version of Mr. Vespucci’s name. Now can you guess where the United States of America got its name?

old map of south america, vice royalty of Peru

Now on to why the Spanish where bullied out of nearly half of the land in South America. When the Europeans were exploring South America they didn’t know how far east the lands would go. There was a dispute between Portugal and Spain about who would own the new lands.

The Pope decided to split the new world into two equal parts, Spain would take control of everything to the West of the line of longitude and Portugal would have everything to the East, which included all new discoveries in Africa and Asia.

Called the Treaty of Tordesillas, it was ratified by Spain in 1494.That is why ladies and gentlemen, Brasil controls almost half of the land mass in South America. The French didn’t pay any attention to this treaty which is why you see French influence throughout Canada and parts of the United States, like New Orleans.

Throughout all of South America you are going to see things that reflect the impacts that both Simon Bolivar and Columbus gave to the region. Simon Bolivar is a military general born in Caracas, Venezuela that helped much of Latin America get its independence from the Spanish Empire. Columbus, well if you didn’t know that Christopher Columbus is one of the most important explorers of the new world then you shouldn’t really be reading this post now should you. On that note lets continue…

gran colombia Map, Viceroyalty of Peru, old map of south americaHow did Colombia get its name?

The actual name is derived from Christopher Columbus, it was referred to by the name Colombeia which means “papers and things relating to Colombia.” The area that is now known as Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, (and small parts of Costa Rica, Brazil, Guyana, Peru, and Nicaragua) won its independence form Spain and there was a new Republic formed named the Republic of Colombia.

This republic which lasted roughly 10 years is known today as Gran Colombia (Great Colombia) to not get it confused with the current country of Colombia.

One fun fact is that Panama actually use to be part of Colombia. The United States funded and provided the tools for Panama to gain its independence from Colombia because they wanted to build and control a canal through Panama. The Colombians didn’t want to just hand the territory over which prompted the United States to act. After the French failed at the construction of the Canal, the duty was turned over to the Americas who then finished. The Americans handed control of the Panama Canal back to Panama in 1999.

bolivares, pictures of venezuela money, venezuelan money, bolivares fuertes

How did Venezuela get its name?

When the explorers first came to Venezuela, the eastern coast that they landed on reminded the of Venice. The region was named Veneziela which later became Venezuela. The official currency of Venezuela is named after the great general Simon Bolivar, Bolivares. After Chavez entered into power he introduced the Strong Bolivar (Bolivar Fuerte) to try to curb inflation. Venezuelans often call their currency Bolos.

One fun fact about Venezuela is that they have the highest waterfalls in the world, the Angel Falls. They also lay claim to the longest cable car in the world in the city of Merida, my birthplace.

How did Ecuador get its name?

Ecuador is promptly named after the Equator. Ecuador was once part of Gran Colombia, and they became independent after the collapse of Gran Colombia in 1830. Ecuador didn’t adopt its current name until recently, it used to be called the Kingdom of Quito starting around the year 1,000 and the Republic of Quito as well.

The war of the pacific, chile peru war, map of old chile, old map of chile, map of chile before the war, map of peru before the war, map of bolivia before the war

Map of before the war of the Pacific

 How did Peru get its name?

Before Gran Colombia there was the Viceroyalty Of Peru. The name Peru comes from a ruler in Panama. At this point in history, it was the southern most point in the New World. When the Europeans continued south they named it after the local ruler, Biru.

Once the Spanish started taking over the Inca Empire they crowned the new area the Viceroyalty of Peru. The Viceroyalty of Peru controlled most of South America except areas of what is now known as Venezuela. After Peru gained its independence they named themselves the Republic of Peru.

How did Bolivia get its name?

Bolivia declared independence in 1825 and in honor of Simon Bolivar named themselves Republica de Bolivar. Later they changed the name to Republica de Bolivia.


How did Chile get its name?

There are many different stories out there about how the name was derived. The most acceptable is the first European visit was to the island of Chiloe. The area at the time was known as Tchili by the native population. Ferdinand Magellan was the explorer that arrived on the island.

Fun fact: Chile went to war with both Bolivia and Peru and took Bolivia’s access to the coast. What is now known as the Atacama desert all the way to Antofagasta, Chile use to be part of Bolivia.  The war of the Pacific took place between 1879 and 1883.

How did Brazil get it’s name?

When the Portugese first arrived they thought the land was an island naming it Island of the True Cross (Ilha de Vera Cruz). Once they realized that it wasn’t an island they changed the name to Land of Santa Cruz (Terra de Santa Cruz). The Portugese then stumbled onto a tree that could produce unique colors.

This was the source of Brazil’s wealth before sugar cane, coffee, and even gold. The red color that they produced from the tree looked similar to hot embers (hot coals). In Portugese, embers are called brasas. The tree was then named Pau-Brasil. The country was then named Brasil after the tree that “is red like ember”. (My Portugese isn’t perfect).  Ironically enough, the Pau-Brasil tree is almost extinct today.

How did Argentina get its name?

On the hunt for Gold and Silver they found tons of silver in the streams of Argentina. The actual name comes from the Latin word argent um, which means silver.

How did Paraguay get its name?

The word Paraguay is derived from Paraguay River. The indigenous people known as the Guarani had words meaning para (ocean) and gua (to or from) y (water). Put all those together and you get the “river that goes to the ocean” or “river that gives birth to the sea”.

Fun Fact: Paraguay failed miserably when trying to act as a bully in the War of the Triple Alliance. Not only did Paraguay lose significant land to the alliance of Uruguay, Brazil, and Argentina, but they lost many things of value including artworks that are known to be in Brazil. The war lasted from 1864 to 1870.


  1. I didn’t know the pau brasil was almost extinct. I saw one and it’s beautiful, the red is gorgeous! I didn’t know the origin of Venezuela… Little Venice! 🙂

    May I add the Viceroyalty of the River Plate – which included modern-day Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay- and the Captaincy General of Chile to your list?

    1. Ana your absolutely correct, there were actually more than one Viceroyalty but I thought it would be better to just include it in the Peru post. Thank you for the input!

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *