There are traces of American-Indian civilizations in Brazil, dating at least from 5000BC, or perhaps several millennia prior to that. The first European expedition, led by the Portuguese Admiral Pedro Alvares Cabral, reached Brazil in 1500, to discover a population numbering several millions (possibly up to five million), divided among hundreds of tribes and language groups.
Brazil is South America's biggest and most influential country and takes up almost half the continent. It is one of the world's economic giants and is revered for its football prowess, coffee production and distinctive music such as samba and bossa nova. Two-thirds of Brazil’s population lives near the coast, meaning that life is a beach for locals and tourists alike. People are the essence of the country, and while Brazil is home to a multitude of ethnic groups of varying economic status, there are some characteristics that everyone shares – energy and passion.
Almost 500 years on, the impact of Spanish conquistadores can be seen in the tall, ornate churches that crown the hillsides and plazas of Mexico’s cities and whitewashed walls of haciendas. But traces of earlier inhabitants remain in the remarkable temples and pyramids at Palenque and Teotihuacán, and in the traditions of dozens of indigenous cultures. Accompanying it all are the subtle spices of Mexico’s famous tortillas, tamales and enchiladas, washed down with bold red wines and heady tequila and mescal.
Chile is situated in South America, bounded by Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, the Antarctic and the Pacific Ocean. Home of the Andes mountain range, it is a thin ribbon of land, 4200km (2610 miles) long and nowhere more than 180km (115 miles) wide. The Araucanian Indians were the original inhabitants of Chile. The Spanish conquered the country in the 16th century and ruled until the country’s independence in 1818. As a result of the War of the Pacific (1879-1883), Chile gained Tarapacá, Tacna and Arica from Bolivia, and took control of the Atacama. Border disputes between Chile and Bolivia have been a recurrent element in Chile’s history ever since. Elections in 1970 brought Unidad Popular, led by the Marxist Dr Salvador Allende, to power. A military coup followed, during which Allende committed suicide rather than surrender to his attackers. General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte was declared Supreme Chief of State and President, and remained in power despite considerable opposition from many sectors of society.
Argentina is a land of extremes: its hectic urban centers contrast with a staggeringly remote hinterland. The country can be simultaneously hot in one region and cold in another. The one common thread is that the people possess a curiosity, passion and fervor for life - most visible when it comes to football, the national obsession. The Tango, gauchos and estancias are the country’s cliched attractions, but what strikes visitors most is that life here is for living: the fast pace only letting up for the afternoon siesta.
Ecuador – including the ancient Kingdom of Quito, established by the Shiris – was populated by several mutually antagonistic tribes at the time of the Inca conquest in the mid-15th century. When the Spanish arrived from Peru in the 1530s, they found that while many of the inhabitants were hostile, others hailed them as liberators from Inca repression. Spanish rule lasted until the early 19th century – after suppressing several rebellions, the Spaniards were finally overthrown in 1822, by a force backed by Simon Bolivar, fresh from victory in Colombia. Soon afterwards, in 1828, the country declared war on Peru, whose armies had invaded Gran Colombia. A year later, a peace treaty was signed and Ecuador’s boundaries were permanently established. However, relations between Ecuador and Peru have been tense ever since. Today, Ecuador remains a multiethnic and multicultural nation, where more than 14 indigenous groups maintain their own traditions and ways of life, to the delight of visitors.
Perhaps no other country has more to offer the visitor than Peru: panoramic mountain ranges, vast deserts, beautiful beaches and tropical jungle. All this combined with a rich historical and archaeological past and enduring indigenous cultures. The indigenous Inca civilization of what is now Peru was conquered by Spain in the early 16th century. Spain ruled the country until the early 19th century. The wars of Independence, which expelled the Spanish from virtually the entire South American continent, reached Peru in the early 1820s.