South America

South America is the southern part of the American double continent and separates the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. The West Coast is the convergent plate margin of the Pacific Plate which is subducted under the continental plate. This has created the Andes along the coast, which in a sense form a continuous volcanic mountain range from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. The rest of the continent is largely a craton, flatland covered by rainforest around the equator and drained by the Amazon River. South of this is the southern desert zone, which in Brazil is also very rich in caves. The temperate latitudes in the south are already relatively narrow and cannot be compared to Europe due to the lack of a Gulf Stream. Since Tierra del Fuego is only separated from the neighbouring continent of Antarctica by the Drake Strait, it is already in subpolar latitudes.

Quite suitable for the formation of caves are the mountainous regions, the Guiana Mountains, the Brazilian Mountains and the Eastern Patagonian Mountains. These regions are at higher altitudes and when there are soluble rocks such as limestone or gypsum, karst areas develop. However, most of the tourist attractions are in Brazil along the east coast. Significantly fewer are found in the Andes. As expected, the lowlands are extremely unfavourable for underground sites and are therefore devoid of such places. A special feature are the diverse quartzite karst areas in Venezuela and Brazil. Since quartzite is not water-soluble, it is sometimes referred to as pseudokarst. Nevertheless, due to the tropical climate, huge caves develop, there are various tiankengs and probably the largest cave entrance in the world is in a tepui in Venezuela. Unique are the caves of giant sloths, the now extinct animals have dug caves in the earth. Because they were so huge, you can visit the caves walking upright.

In South America, as in Africa and parts of Asia, the percentage of places used for tourism but not corresponding to western ideas of a show cave or show mine is very high. Usually you have to book a half- or full-day tour, which requires physical fitness, equipment and a guide who is familiar with the area. In the past, these companies were hardly controlled, but for the last twenty years or so, the laws in Brazil have been tightened and there are strict requirements. Among other things, the guides have to undergo state training on environmental protection and the protection of caves. We think this development is very positive and benefits the caves and the visitors.

All in all, there are quite a few underground sights in South America. And yet, measured against the size of the continent, the number is rather disappointing. This is partly because several countries are still more or less developing countries, and tourism is only just emerging. But it is also partly because the caves are not necessarily located where tourism takes place. Traditionally, tourists go either to the beach, to the big cities, or to the archaeological sites. In addition, there seems to be a lack of awareness among the population that something like a show cave could be worthwhile.