When we look at the map of the Earth, one of the first things that we see is that its surface is divided into land and water. The land consists of several continents and millions of islands, and the water is all the oceans and seas. We, humans, live on continents and islands. Do you know which piece of land is the longest, almost from pole to pole? This is America, consisting of two continents- North and South America. Now, let’s make a journey around South America and reach its extreme points!
Let’s open the map of the world. South America is the southern half of the Americas, as mentioned above, the longest piece of land on our planet. It is prolonged from the Caribbean Sea to the Strait of Drake. The continent is wide in the north, gradually becoming narrow in the south.
South America is connected to North America by the Isthmus of Panama. It is well-known for its long and narrow Andes Mountain Chain, and the plain of Amazonia, with the largest equatorial rainforest on the Earth. The continent “points to the south”, but its southernmost part suddenly curves eastward. Besides, it is separated from the mainland by the Strait of Magellan, forming Tierra del Fuego Island.
Mainland and islands
Now, let’s define the extreme geographic points of South America and try to reach them. But to do this, we have to define the mainland of the continent only, as well as the whole continent including its shelf and nearby islands.
As we can see, unlike its northern neighbor, South America is a much more “simple” continent. There are no large archipelagos beside it, and the few nearby isolated islands are ocean islands, not a part of any continent. The only “difficult” areas are its southernmost region- Tierra del Fuego and the islands around it, and the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean Sea, which almost “touch” South America, and can be considered a “bridge” with the North.
The continental shelf of South America doesn’t spread much beyond its mainland. However, it makes another “bridge” with the shelf of Antarctica. And there are some islands on this “bridge”, which can be considered either as a part of South America, or Antarctica.
So, let’s define South America’s extreme geographic points.
The extreme geographic points of South America
Although the Lesser Antilles “touch” South America, let’s consider most of them (and the continental shelf bridge on which they are located) as a part of North America. There is only their western group, called the Leeward Antilles, which is located firmly on the South American shelf. In this case, we can look only at this sub-archipelago, and one of its islands is located beyond the mainland extreme point, so we have two northernmost points- a mainland, and an island point.
On the west, Galapagos is widely considered a part of South America, but this archipelago is not located on its shelf, so we will not count it. As a result, we have only a westernmost mainland point. It is the same on the east- no easternmost islands on the continental shelf. And on the south, we have Tierra del Fuego and its satellite islands, located further south of the southernmost point of the continent.
However, if we count the “shelf bridge” between South America and Antarctica, which forms an arc to the east, then we have other easternmost and southernmost island points. These are two small islands belonging to South Sandwich Archipelago. So, in the south, we will look at two island extreme points, and one more extreme point in the east.
Anyway, let’s start our journey and see it in detail, beginning from the North.
When we look at the map, we can easily see the northernmost point of mainland South America. This is Punta Gallinas in Colombia. And for the northernmost island point, as I mentioned above, I exclude most the Lesser Antilles from South America, with exception of the Leeward sub-archipelago. So let’s see these islands. We can easily identify the northernmost of them. This is Aruba, and its northernmost tip is called Westpunt (Boca).
The northernmost mainland point of South America- Punta Gallinas, Colombia
If you look at the map of South America, you can clearly see two small peninsulas, surrounding a bay and “looking at each other”, shared between Colombia and Venezuela. The western one is like a “male”- it is larger, and it penetrates a bit further into the Caribbean Sea. This is the Guajira Peninsula, and Punta Gallinas is its northernmost point.
Although this piece of land is not far from the Equator, it looks surprisingly different than the nearby humid tropical rainforest lands, and the tropical paradise of the Caribbean islands. Guajira is a desert place, covered by dry savannas, some bush, and dunes. It is a sparsely populated area, and its inhabitants are mainly native Wayuu people.
How to reach Punta Gallinas
Guajira Peninsula is safe, but not so touristy-developed place. There are organized tours to Punta Gallinas, the nearby dunes and beaches, as well as the villages of the native people. But for a better experience, you can do it yourself.
First, you have to get to Riohacha. There are buses from the bigger cities in the country traveling to Riohacha. From there, you have to find a shared taxi to Uribia, then, another 4×4 taxi to Cabo de la Vela, a small town on the seacoast. Then you can ask the hotel where you stay, and they can arrange for you a trip to Punta Gallinas- usually for two days-one night.
Punta Gallinas is a sandy place, a kind of a steep beach descending into the sea. The sand is full of stone piles probably left by visitors, and there is a small lighthouse behind it. But of course, your Punta Gallinas trip would not be pointed only to this place. You would enjoy a lot of adventures in the desert, on the stunning beaches and the nearby lagoon.
Now, let’s head a bit further north- to Aruba.
The northernmost island point of South America- Aruba
Aruba is a small island country (or “sub-country”, belonging to the Netherlands). It is a flat island, with almost the same climate and natural landscapes as the Guajira Peninsula. Oranjestad is the capital of Aruba and is only 14 km away from the northernmost tip of the island.
And this northernmost tip looks a bit like Punta Gallinas, at least the land around it. But the point itself is a bit more spectacular- there are rock cliffs, where the waves from the Caribbean break. The most stunning place is a small bay surrounded by these rock cliffs, some 100 m west of the point, where the waves form a kind of waterfalls on the rocks.
How to reach the northernmost point of Aruba- Westpunt
First, you have to make a trip to Aruba. It is a stunning tropical paradise and such a trip would be a great experience. Many flights go to Aruba, from most of the American countries, as well as from some countries in Europe (of course, including the Netherlands). There are also many cruise lines traveling to the island.
Once you arrive in Oranjestad, you have to go to Noord, a small resort town in the northern part of the island. You can do it by taxi, by bus “Arubus”, or by rental car. In fact, you can even go on foot, for just an hour and a half walking. Then, again by taxi, you can go to California Lighthouse, built on the northernmost tip of the island (but still around 600 m far from the coast). And from there, you can walk on Arashi Dunes until the rocks of the coast, enjoying great views all the time.
This is the North. Now, let’s cross the continent and reach its westernmost extreme point.
The extreme west
South America is quite a compact continent. Its western coast is clear, without large gulfs, nearby archipelagos, and other more complex coastline forms. As I mentioned above, the only archipelago which lies west of the continent is Galapagos, but it is not located on the continental shelf. There are no other islands west of the mainland too, so there is only one westernmost point of South America, and it is on the mainland. This is Punta Parinas (Balcones) in Peru.
The westernmost point of mainland South America- Punta Parinas (Balcones), Peru
Let’s travel to Peru. This is one of the countries with the most contrasts on Earth. From equatorial rainforests to dry deserts and mountain tundra with glaciers, you can see almost all kinds of nature.
Now, let’s research Peru’s coastline. Here is Punta Parinas (Balcones)- the westernmost point of South America. How does it look like? If we open the satellite map of the area, we can see the dry desert strip of land along the Pacific Coast. And Punta Parinas (Balcones) is located in its northernmost part. Although it is very close to the Equator, the area is dry.
Punta Parinas (Balcones) is a “double” extreme point, and if you zoom enough on the map, you can see it. There are two points with exactly the same longitude. The northern point is higher and rocky, providing stunning views around, and is a good place to watch the seals on the coast. There is a lighthouse on it, called Faro Negritos. And the southern point is lower, but still rocky, forming a promontory, with a stone marker on it. Finally, there is a beach between two points, called Balcones Beach.
How to reach Punta Parinas (Balcones)
To reach Punta Parinas, first, you have to arrive in Talara, a small city on the Pacific Coast, with a small airport. So, you can travel to Talara from Lima with a bus (once daily, for 18 hours), or by plane (for about 2 hours). But since Talara is much closer to Ecuador than to the Peruvian capital, it could be faster to reach it from Quito.
Once you arrive in Talara, you can take a taxi to Negritos for about 10 mins, the westernmost village in South America. And from Negritos, you can take another taxi (or proceed by the same taxi) for another 5 mins to the southern Punta Parinas (Balcones). Or you can just walk about an hour to the northern Punta Parinas (Balcones). In both cases, don’t skip the stunning beach between these two points. Most probably you would be only yourself, the beach, the raging swell waves of the Pacific, and the wind. And these will be nothing in front of you, but only an endless ocean, to the islands of Polynesia, far beyond the horizon.
Now, let’s jump to the east.
The extreme East
Just like the West, the East of South America has a compact and clear coastline. Yes, the eastern coastline is more complex (mainly due to the mouth of Amazon and Parana rivers), but its easternmost section is simple. The continental shelf spreads not far from the coast, and there are no other islands located further east on the shelf. There are several isolated islands in the Atlantic Ocean, but they are ocean islands, not on the continental shelf. So, on the east, we have only the extreme mainland point. This is Ponta do Seixas in Brazil.
However, as I mentioned above, the continental “tail” proceeds further east on the south, where it connects with Antarctica. In this area, we can find pieces of land located beyond Ponta do Seixas, on the South Sandwich Islands. But this is a “special case”, so let’s first ignore them and focus on the easternmost mainland point of South America.
The easternmost point of mainland South America- Ponta do Seixas, Brazil
When you look at the map of South America, you can see that the coastline bends very smoothly on the east. There are no peninsulas, no promontories. So, when you zoom to Ponta do Seixas, you can see that this point is just a low curve of the coast, without any rock cliffs, or other spectacular things that can be seen on a cape. Instead, there is just a beach, like every other “normal” beach, where you can spend your day with a coconut juice under the umbrella, sometimes playing with the waves of the ocean, with nothing to show that this place is more special.
If you want to see something a little more spectacular, you have to walk to the northern end of the beach. There is a low cape with a lighthouse. This is Cabo Branco, officially known as the “easternmost point of South America”, however, it is still about 200 m west of the Ponta do Seixas Beach.
How to reach Ponta do Seixas
It’s easy. Ponta do Seixas is not a wild, remote and difficult to access place, like most of the other extreme points of the continents. Instead, the beach of the easternmost point of South America is a good place to establish a city and a resort.
So, there is a big city near the point- Joao Pessoa, the capital of Paraiba State. This city is really worth visiting, not only for geographic purposes but because there are so many things to see and do there. You can explore its old churches, its green parks, its museums, and enjoy its handicrafts, for which it is famous.
And Ponta do Seixas is just a small district of Joao Pessoa, a resort established at the easternmost point of the continent. You can easily go there by public bus, by taxi, or just on foot along the coast. You can see the lighthouse of Cabo Branco, then you can enjoy the beautiful beach south (and east) of it.
Finally, let’s get to the south.
Now we leave the warm tropical paradise and head to cold and harsh places. South America is prolonged far to the south, “trying to touch” Antarctica. Advancing in this direction, the mainland starts to tear into pieces. These are the archipelagos of Chile and Patagonia. Hidden among the island is the southernmost mainland point of South America- Cape Froward. And the islands proceed further south until the last one- Aguila Islet.
So, let’s start with the mainland.
The southernmost mainland point of South America- Cape Froward, Chile
Patagonia is a compact piece of land until it reaches its southernmost part. Then it turns into peninsulas, bays, and islands, with a lot of fjords between them. One of these peninsulas is the Brunswick Peninsula, forming a significant section of the Strait of Magellan’s north coast.
Brunswick Peninsula is a desolate place, covered by cold forests and tundra. Most of it is uninhabited, with some natural reserves on its northern and central part. The nearest city is Punta Arenas- a famous spot for expeditions to Antarctica. The climate is harsh, often windy and rainy, sometimes snowy in winter. But this remote part of the world also features rich wildlife, of which penguins are the most popular animals.
Cape Froward is a high promontory with steep rock cliffs. There is a metal cross on it, marking the southernmost mainland point of the Americas. This is a magnificent spot, revealing great panoramic views to the Strait of Magellan and the islands beyond it.
How to reach Cape Froward
The starting point of a trip to Cape Froward is Punta Arenas. It is a small city, concentrated around its center, full of interesting places to visit. You can reach Punta Arenas by plane, and by bus, from both Chile and Argentina, including Ushuaia (the southernmost city on the planet). Many cruise lines stop in Punta Arenas too.
From Punta Arenas, you have to travel on Road 9. This is a dirt road but in good condition. Anyway, there is no public transport on it, so you have to arrange private transport (your hotel in Punta Arenas can help you with that). It will take you to the end of the road at a parking lot. Then you have to start a challenging trek along the sea coast and the lighthouse of San Isidro. The whole trek to Cape Froward is around 16 hours in one direction. In other words, you have to prepare for a 4-5 days journey.
An easier way is to go there by boat, but again- just a private trip, which can be arranged in Punta Arenas. No matter which way would you choose, it would be a fantastic adventure, with breathtaking scenery all the way. Now, let’s go further south- to the last piece of American land- Aguila Islet.
The northernmost island point of South America- Aguila Islet, Chile
Probably you have heard about Cape Horn, known as the “southernmost point of South America”. But it is not that point. Cape Horn is famous mainly due to its important location as the point dividing the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, as well as its magnificent and dangerous image. But the continental shelf proceeds further south, and there are some spots of it appearing over the surface of the ocean.
These spots are the small Diego Ramirez Archipelago, located about 100 km southwest of Cape Horn. And the southernmost island of this archipelago is a tiny rocky islet, called Aguila. It is a cold and harsh place, exposed to the severe winds and rains of the Drake Strait, with the size of a small parking lot. The cold furious waves of the ocean break on its rocks, and there is almost nothing else on it.
How to reach Aguila Islet
The only way to reach this spot is by a passing cruise trip. And it would not stop on the islet, but you can only take photos from afar. Another, more challenging way is to go to the only inhabited outpost on Diego Ramirez Archipelago- the meteorological station on Isla Gonsalo (which is possible only by a specially arranged trip from Punta Arenas or Ushuaia). Then they could eventually take you to Aguila Islet, but again, most probably without a chance to step on its rocks.
These are the traditional extreme points of South America. But let’s reach the alternative version of the extreme south and east- South Sandwich Archipelago
Alternative island extremes of South America- South Sandwich Archipelago
These pieces of land, scattered far in the Atlantic Ocean, but still on the South American-Antarctic shelf, are really extreme. Not just geographically, but also physically. They belong to the Sub-Antarctic group of isolated islands, and they are located in the geographical latitude zone where no continent can be found. Instead, winds (often strong and furious) blow almost permanently from west to east, with nothing to stop them. At to this the freezing breath of Antarctica, and the humid from the ocean. As a result, we have an extremely inhospitable environment, too hostile for permanent inhabitants.
South Sandwich Archipelago consists of 11 islands, most of them volcanic. There is no permanent population on the islands, but there are almost only scientists who stay there for a longer time. The largest of the islands is Montagu Island, and its easternmost tip is the point that we focused- the alternative easternmost island point of South America. And on the south- two islands are sitting on the same latitude- Thule, and Cook. Cook Island “wins” the prize for its southernmost tip- just 50 m beyond the southernmost end of Thule. So, let’s visit them.
The alternative easternmost island point of South America- Montagu Island
This is a volcanic island, with 90% of its territory covered by ice. The rest small portion of it is covered by rocks, moss, and tundra. Recently, its volcano Mount Belinda has erupted (no man has been there to see it), creating a lava river, which has increased the area of the island.
Its easternmost tip is located on the island’s southeast part. It this area, the slopes of Mount Belinda just descend into the ocean with steep rocky cliffs, covered almost permanently by ice and snow. The easternmost tip is almost inaccessible, unless in the rare calm days, eventually only by professional extreme adventurers.
The alternative southernmost island point of South America- Cook Island
Cook Island has the same nature as Montague Island, but just its highest peak Mount Harmer is not an active volcano. Same as the other islands, it is almost entirely covered by ice. Again, the terrain is rugged, steep, and highly inhospitable. It is completely uninhabited, with exception of some scientists coming temporarily there for work.
Its southernmost point is a rocky promontory, located on the island’s southeast part. Same as in Montague, it is just a part of the steep mountain slopes of Mount Harmer. Again, it is almost inaccessible, and the waters around the island are often covered by ice.
How to reach Montague and Cook islands
The only possible way is by cruise. Recently, the number of cruises passing by these islands and stopping there is increasing. But of course, they just stop near the islands (at a safe distance), so you can only observe and take photos of the islands and their extreme points from afar. You can’t step on the ground (at least not on the extreme points). Even if you join a scientist’s mission, you can only arrive at the few access points. Of course, the adventure and the feeling to be so far at the end of the world are really worth it.
Now, let’s leave the edges of South America and make a journey to its interior- to the continent’s Pole of Inaccessibility, the farthest point from every seacoast.
The Pole of Inaccessibility of South America- Nova Marilandia, Mato Grosso, Brazil
This is the middle of South America. It is located in the southwest part of Brazil, in Mato Grosso State. Although the name “inaccessibility” proposes a difficult to access place “in the middle of nowhere”, this point is not so difficult to reach. It is located in a green area, on the large Mato Grosso plains, covered by agricultural fields and some forests and bush.
So, the area around the South American Pole of Inaccessibility is an inhabited place, with small towns and villages around. The nearest city is Arenapolis, but there is a nearer settlement- the village of Nova Marilandia. Well-paved roads are connecting the villages and cities in the area, but the Pole of Inaccessibility is aside from the roads.
How to reach the Pole of Inaccessibility of South America
The best way to reach the Pole of Inaccessibility is first to fly to Cuiaba, the capital of Mato Grosso State. From there, you can take a bus to Rosario Oeste, then another local bus or taxi to Arenapolis, or directly to Nova Marilandia.
Once you reach Nova Marilandia, you can take another local taxi to the nearest curve of the road, in the north direction. Stop the taxi and make a trek westward through the agricultural fields, on local dirt roads. You will reach a low forest and bush area, and you have to penetrate deeper into it. Watch your GPS, because there are no paths, no geographical markers, or other sign pointing to the Pole. Then you can find it just in the middle of the forest.
The Turner Twins expedition
Actually, maybe you can see something. In 2017 The Turner Twins- twins known for their geographical expeditions reached the Pole of Inaccessibility and put there a small blue board as a marker. If it still remains there, you can find the spot easier, but if not, you still have to watch only your GPS.
This is South America- a continent full of contrasts. Most of its extreme points are in the tropics and are easy-to-reach tourist destinations. But those in the south are very different, harsh, and challenging. And if you want to cross the continent from north to south, and from west to east, you can enjoy fantastic landscapes of all kinds, appealing for discovery by those who are thirsty for exploring expeditions.
Check some books about South America:
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