What comes to mind when you think of Argentina’s landscape? Do you picture vast, treeless plains with vaqueros, or cowboys? Or do you imagine snow-capped mountain ranges stretching out for miles? Perhaps you envision rich green forests filled with foliage? Actually, all of these are correct. Argentina boasts a unique range of geographical features unmatched by many countries of the world, hence it is a worthy topic of discussion.
Many people underestimate the size of Argentina, failing to recognize that at over 1,000,000 square miles, it’s the 8th largest country in the world. (The U.S. is just over 3,000,000 sq. miles.) To put this into perspective for my American readers, here’s a picture that demonstrates the size comparison between the U.S. and Argentina:
All right, so now that we have the size of this country down, let’s take a look at the location of Argentina in the world, which is responsible for its geography. Argentina is located in the southern hemisphere, which is the bottom half of the earth. It actually owns the second-most southern city in the world, Ushuaia, which is right next to the Chilean city of Puerto Williams. In fact, it’s so far south that you can see penguins and sea lions on the coasts! Also, Antarctica is just a skip and a hop away, metaphorically speaking.
So when I tell people I’m going to Argentina, yes, I am farther down than Mexico, Costa Rica, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, etc. It is 5,500 miles away from my home in the U.S. and it is VERY southern!
Where I am in relation to the U.S.
In fact, in the southern hemisphere, the seasons are flip-flopped from the northern hemisphere. Fall is spring and spring is fall. Winter is summer and summer is winter. So for the first time in my life, I will be celebrating my June birthday in the winter. Woah.
The good news is, the winters are VERY mild down there. I probably won’t see a lick of snow and there will be no bitter cold winds to bite my cheeks as I walk around the city. Sure, it’ll be chilly, but nothing in comparison to the frigid Western New York winters to which I am accustomed. Check it out:
What’s In A Name?
The geography is so important, it gave Argentina its name! European explorers in the 1600’s were amazed by the amount of silver that Argentina possessed and these “silver mountains” became affectionately known as “La Argentina”. But wait, the word “silver” and “Argentina” are nothing alike! That is where you are wrong, my friend…
Take a look at the periodic table. For my science major friends, you’ll like this. What is the periodic table symbol for silver? That’s right:
There’s more: this Ag stems from the Latin word “argentum”, which means…you guessed it—silver!
Oh how I love etymology!
GEOGRAPHY LESSON TIME
Since Argentina has a vertically long shape, it covers a longer area with vastly different climates. Think of Maine versus Florida…Maine is obviously much colder, drier and mountainy in comparison to the hot and humid Florida, which is way down south, right? Well, same thing for Argentina! So from top to bottom, let’s look at the varied climate of Argentina, hopping from region to region.
In the northwest, there’s an assortment of distinct geographical and climatic regions. We have the empty, rocky Altiplano, which resembles Nevada, but with llamas. Then we have the Andes Mountains to the east followed by some fertile valleys. There are also red-rock canyons and some more mountains that are a lot like our Grand Canyon. Suddenly, BOOM: tropical JUNGLES, called the Yungas.
The Andes in Argentina
Keep going and you’ll see the Chaco region which is characterized by a wetland, marshy environment. Argentina shares this geographical region with Bolivia, Paraguay and Brazil, and it is a hot and semi-arid lowland. Here’s where you’ll find and significant lumber market and some cattle ranches.
Westward is the Mesopotamia region, or Región Mesopotámica, which is a humid and green area bordering Brazil. This is the little point on the right side of the country surrounded by two rivers, the Rio Parana and the Rio Uruguay. Combined with the Rio Iguazu to the north, you get this spectacular phenomenon called the Iguazu Falls!
These breathtaking waterfalls share a border with Brazil, so there is an Argentina side and a Brazil side to the falls, much like Canada and the U.S.A. with Niagara Falls.
Fun fact: Yerba Mate (Mah-tay), that tea we discussed in an earlier post, is mostly grown here—in the Mesopotamia region!
Next, we have the Cuyo region, which is on the west side, bordered by Chile.
This area is mountainous home to the wine-producing city of Mendoza. Here, you can find ski resorts, rivers, and arid red soil throughout.
Las Leñas Ski Resort
The wine-producing Mendoza
Keep going right and you’ll find yourself in Las Pampas, or the plains. It is situated in the central-eastern region and there are vast stretches of fertile pastures with rich soil. Las Pampas can be further divided into the humid eastern part and the drier portion on the right. Covering ¼ of the entire country, this is the principal agricultural area; a variety of crops are cultivated here, oil is extracted and this is where their world-renowned cattle graze. Buenos Aires and Córdoba are located here.
As you may have guessed, Las Pampas are also traditionally home to vaqueros, or cowboys. Here, they’re called gauchos. Someone’s gotta raise those cows!
There’s also lots of llamas.
Southward, we have the region of Patagonia, which is the largest region in Argentina. Being more southern and closer to Antarctica, it’s has a cooler climate, little rainfall and extensive, windy plateaus. There is also a very small population here, comprising only 3% of the entire population. Resources such as oil, gas, metals, some fruit plantations and fishing are a source of economic activity here.
In this region you will also find the province called Tierra del Fuego (literally translating as “land of fire”), which boasts the most southern city in the world, Ushuaia.
Also belonging to Patagonia are the South Atlantic islands like the Malvinas and the Georgias del Sur. These islands are rather sensitive subjects for Argentinians, and unless you want a heated debate, I would avoid mentioning them. So….moving on…
Fun fact: Argentina, or more specifically, the region of Patagonia, also claims sovereignty rights over 374,519 square miles of Antarctica. They now have four scientific bases there, which include housing, education and health facilities.
This is the area of Antarctica that Argentina owns.
There you have it. Those are the six geographical regions of Argentina, namely:
- Gran Chaco
- Las Pampas
As you can see, just in Argentina alone there is such a diversity in climates which plays a huge role in their available exports, population densities, and economy, among other things.
Once again, I hope you enjoyed reading this and took a lot out of it. If you have any specific questions you want answered, be sure to let me know and I will try to include it in a future post! Thanks and have a great week!