Geography of South America...
A bird's view over the continent


When we talk about the geography of South America, we are talking about a land of extremes, including the unsurmountable beauty the continent represents as a whole.

It is home to the world's largest river (the Amazon) as well as the world's driest place (the Atacama Desert). It also hosts the highest point in the Western Hemisphere: Mount Aconcagua (6,962 m.a.s.l.) in Mendoza, Argentina.

Fourth largest continent in the world, it extends from the Gulf of Darién in the northwest to the archipelago of Tierra del Fuego (Argentina) in the south.

Its extreme geographic variation contributes to the continent’s large number of biomes, that embraces high mountains, alpine, steppes, deserts, high plateaus, vast grasslands and glacier zones among others.

A biome can be defined as a community of plants and animals associated with specific climatic conditions and non-living (abiotic) features, the interactions that take place between animals, plants, soil, nutrients and other living organisms within a specific area.

With an unparalleled number of plant and animal species, South America’s rich biodiversity is unique among the world’s continents. Enough to mention the Amazon rainforest and Pantanal for that matter.

South America can be divided into three physical regions: mountains and highlands, river basins, and coastal plains. World's longest mountain chain, the Andes cover 8,850 kilometers (5,500 miles), stretching from the southern tip to the northernmost coast of South America, from Chile and Argentina -sharing borders- to Venezuela.

Hight plateaus such as the Altiplano shared by Peru and Bolivia are also a feature of the Andes, sitting at an elevation of about 3,700 meters (12,300 feet) above sea level.

Further down south, the Patagonia region shared by Chile and Argentina has lower-plateau elevations and the glaciers region, land of eternal ice.


The South American continent has three important river basins: the Amazon, Orinoco, and Paraguay/Paraná.

The Amazon River basin has an area of almost 7 million square kilometers (2.7 million square miles), making it the largest watershed in the world.

The Orinoco River basin covers an area of about 948,000 square kilometers (366,000 square miles) and encompasses approximately 80 percent of Venezuela and 25 percent of Colombia, while the Paraguay/Paraná River basin covers almost 2.8 million square kilometers (1,081,000 square miles), which is much of southeastern Brazil and Bolivia, Paraguay, and northern Argentina.

Coastal plains are found on the northeastern coast of Brazil, on the Atlantic Ocean, and the western, Pacific coast of Peru and Chile.

It could be defined as an area of low, flat land next to a seacoast. Part of the western coastal plain, the Atacama desert is considered to be the driest region in the world, with an average of about 1 millimeter (0.04 inches) a year.

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