Introduction to Geography of Argentina

Argentina, officially Argentine Republic, a country of South America. It is bounded by Bolivia, Paraguay, Brazil, Uruguay, the Atlantic Ocean, and Chile. With an area of 1,073,519 square miles (2,780,400 km2), Argentina is the fourth largest country of the Western Hemisphere, after Canada, the United States, and Brazil. Maximum distances are about 2,300 miles (3,700 km) north-south and 900 miles (1,450 km) east-west.

ArgentinaArgentina is the second largest country in South America in size. Only Brazil has more land.

Physical Geography


There are four major regions—the Andes, the Pampas, the North, and Patagonia.

The Andes region is a mountainous area covering some 300,000 square miles (780,000 km2) along the Chilean border. The rugged snowcapped ranges contain the Western Hemisphere's loftiest peaks, some of which are volcanic. Aconcagua (22,834 feet [6,960 m] above sea level) is the highest peak, followed by Ojos del Salado (22,572 feet [6,880 m]) and Bonete (22,546 feet [6,872 m]). In the north is the Puna, a desertlike plateau, 10,000 to 13,000 feet (3,000 to 4,000 m) high, extending southward from Bolivia.

Facts in brief about Argentina
Capital: Buenos Aires.
Official language: Spanish.
Official name: Republica Argentina (Argentine Republic).
Area: 1,073,519 mi2 (2,780,400 km2). Greatest distances—north-south, 2,300 mi (3,700 km); east-west, 980 mi (1,577 km). Coastline—2,940 mi (4,731 km).
Elevation: Highest—Aconcagua, 22,835 ft (6,960 m) above sea level. Lowest—Valdes Peninsula, 131 ft (40 m) below sea level.
Population: Current estimate—39,746,000; density, 37 per mi2 (14 per km2); distribution, 90 percent urban, 10 percent rural. 2001 census—36,260,130.
Chief products: Agriculture—beef, corn, grapes, milk, potatoes, sorghum, soybeans, sugar cane, sunflower seeds, wheat, wool. Manufacturing—chemicals, electrical equipment, meat and other food products, motor vehicles, printed materials, textiles. Mining—petroleum, natural gas.
Argentina's state flag, adopted in 1818, and the coat of arms bear a sun, which represents Argentina's freedom from Spain. The blue and white of the flag are the colors worn by patriots who fought off British invaders in 1806 and 1807. The coat of arms also bears a liberty cap.
Money: Basic unit—Argentine peso. One hundred centavos equal one peso.

South of the Puna is an arid area of basins and mountain ranges, chief of which is the Sierras de Cordoba. The southern Andes are relatively low and consist of forested, lake-dotted ranges. Their highest peaks are glacier-capped.

The Pampas are Argentina's fertile central plain. Their 250,000 square miles (650,000 km2) of grassy, treeless prairies fan out from Buenos Aires westward to the Andes. Though its general appearance is flat, the land rises gradually from sea level along the Atlantic coast to more than 2,000 feet (600 m) near the Andes.

The North, with an area of about 220,000 square miles (570,000 km2), consists mainly of the Argentine section of the Gran Chaco. It is predominantly a level lowland of tropical scrub and savanna grassland lying between the Parana and Paraguay rivers and the Andes. During the rainy season much of the region is marsh. East of the Chaco, between the Parana and Uruguay rivers, is the Argentine Mesopotamia—a flat to gently rolling wooded plain.

Patagonia occupies some 300,000 square miles (780,000 km2) south of the Colorado River. It is mainly a treeless, windswept plateau crossed by deep, broad, east-west valleys. At Patagonia's southern tip, across the stormy Strait of Magellan, is Tierra del Fuego, a bleak, mountainous archipelago that Argentina shares with Chile.


The chief river system is that funneling into the Rio de la Plata, an estuary of the Atlantic, on which Buenos Aires is situated. Major tributaries are the Parana, Uruguay, and Paraguay rivers. Also forming part of the Plata system are such streams of the Chaco as the Pilcomayo, Bermejo, and Salado. There are no notable rivers in the Pampas. Through Patagonia flow the Colorado, Negro, Chubut, and Deseado. Some of Argentina's rivers, especially those along the arid eastern flank of the Andes, never reach the sea; they dry up or empty into interior basins.

Argentina shares with Brazil one of the world's great waterfalls—Iguassu, or Iguazu, Falls, near the Paraguay border. Freshwater lakes lie mainly along the western edge of Patagonia in the southern Andes. Here, amid alpine scenery, are such large lakes as Buenos Aires, Viedma, Argentina, and Nahuel Huapi. Shallow, salty Mar Chiquita is the only large lake in the north. There are, however, numerous dry salt lakes (salt flats), the largest being Salinas Grandes.


The climate varies from subtropical to cold, mainly because of Argentina's long north-south extent. Both the Andes and the Atlantic strongly influence the climate.

The highest temperatures occur in the north, especially in the Chaco. During long, hot summers here, readings of more than 100 F. (38 C.) are frequent. Winters are generally mild. In the Pampas there are greater climatic variation and more pronounced seasons. Temperatures in Buenos Aires average 74 F. (23 C.) in January (the warmest month) and 49 F. (9 C.) in July (the coldest). Though Patagonia extends to within 800 miles (1,300 km) of Antarctica, it does not have a cold climate. The ocean is the predominant influence, keeping temperatures between 35 and 70 F. (2 to 21 C.).

Precipitation is plentiful only in the eastern Pampas and in the Argentine Mesopotamia. About 37 inches (940 mm) of rain falls in Buenos Aires each year, and more than that in Mesopotamia. Toward the Andes and in Patagonia, amounts decline to less than 20 inches (508 mm) a year. Some areas receive less than 5 inches (127 mm) and resemble deserts.


Argentina had one of Latin America's most prosperous economies in the late 20th century, traditionally based on agricultural exports. Sustained economic growth, however, has been hindered by social and political unrest, a large foreign debt, periodic recessions, and inflation.

Nationalization of many industries occurred during the mid 20th century. During the late 20th century, however, many state-owned industries, including the national airline and the national oil company, were privatized.


which provides about 70 per cent of Argentina's exports, is vital to the economy. The Pampas, with fertile soils, moderate climate, and great estancias, or estates, are the center of Argentine farming. Raising livestock, particularly beef cattle and sheep, is especially important. Though cattle and sheep are widely distributed, they are most numerous on the Pampas. Attending the cattle herds are gauchos, or cowboys.

Cereals and oilseed crops (crops grown for their oil) make up much of Argentina's crop production. Leading cereals include wheat, corn, oats, and barley. Soybeans and sunflowers are the chief oilseed crops. Much of Argentina's production of cereals and oilseed crops comes from the Pampas.

From Mesopotamia come such subtropical products as rice, tobacco, citrus fruit, and mate (used as a tea). The Chaco is unsuited to most kinds of farming, but is the center of cotton production.

In irrigated valleys of the northwest, around San Miguel de Tucuman and Salta, sugarcane is the principal crop. Similar valleys in the west, near Mendoza and San Juan, have notable vineyards and orchards. Few crops are grown in Patagonia; the farm economy there is based almost entirely on sheep production.. Other products that Argentina produces include apples, grapes, milk, potatoes, poultry meat, sorghum, and tea.

Farms in Argentina are extremely varied in size, and include huge estates stretching across the Pampas, as well as small plots owned by families and used for subsistence farming. The former farms use technologically advanced machinery, whereas the latter make use of horse-drawn equipment. The number of small farms, however, has dwindled since the mid 20th century, especially in the Pampas.


Argentina ranks with Brazil and Mexico as one of the three most important manufacturing countries in Latin America. Greater Buenos Aires, which lies along the Paran River, between Buenos Aires and Rosario, is the principal industrial area. Also important are Cordoba, Santa Fe, Mendoza, and Rosario.

Industries that depend on agricultural raw materials are Argentina's oldest and most developed. Food processing leads all other groups, in both value of output and number of workers. Two of the chief activities are meat packing and the milling of grain. All major Argentine cities have sizable food-processing industries.

Argentina produces a wide range of consumer and light industrial goods. Among them are electrical appliances, automobiles, chemicals, plastics, pharmaceuticals, printed materials, textiles, clothing, and shoes. Heavy industries, though expanding, are the least developed. They include petroleum refining, metallurgy, and the manufacturing of machinery, and heavy transportation equipment, such as railway cars.


Only in petroleum does Argentina come close to meeting its major mineral needs. The nation's oil wells have developed most rapidly since the mid 20th century, chiefly through the joint efforts of the Argentine government and foreign petroleum companies. The chief oil fields are at Comodoro Rivadavia and Neuquen, in Patagonia; at Mendoza and Tupungato, in the west; at Campo Duran, in the northwest; and on Tierra del Fuego and in nearby waters. Natural gas is an important secondary product of the oil fields. Also of significance is the mining of copper, gold, silver, boron compounds, lead, zinc, iron ore, coal, tin, and uranium, which are largely deposited in the Andes Mountains and around the Piedmont.

Forestry and Fishing

Except for remote forests of the southern Andes, Argentina's timber resources are largely confined to the northeast. Few of the trees, however, are commercially used. From scrubby forests of the Chaco comes the most valuable tree, the red quebracho, the source of tannin used in processing leather.

The Argentines have never fully exploited the rich fishing banks off their coast, particularly the cold waters of the far south, and the continental shelf. Three-fourths of the major catch is exported by the fishing crews, mostly to the European countries, as well as Brazil, Colombia, and the United States. The catch consists chiefly of hake, sardines, and sea bass. Mar del Plata is the leading fishing and fish-processing center. Commercial fishing in Argentina, however, has decreased since the late 20th century due to laws against overfishing.

Service industries account for about half of Argentinas GDP, and includes such services as the government services, financial and insurance services, retail trade, tourism, and transportation. Retail trade began to expand rapidly in the late 20th century, and the early 21st century saw international tourism gain importance.

Electric power and utilities. Plants that burn natural gas provide more than half of Argentinas electric power, with hydroelectric plants supplying most of the rest. Nuclear power plants supply a very small amount of the electric power required by Argentines. In the late 20th century, the government turned over many public utilities to private owners.

Transportation and Trade

Air routes, highways, and railways extend from Buenos Aires, and connect it with most cities and towns of Argentina. Argentina's chief means of transportation is its road network, which carries roughly half of the country's freight. Four branches of the Pan-American Highway link Buenos Aires with Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay. Argentine railways are the largest in South America, though it is mostly out of date and incompetent. The railways are mainly in the Pampas.

The Rio de la Plata and its tributaries, particularly the Parana, make up a system of navigable waterways nearly 2,000 miles (3,200 km) long. Buenos Aires is by far the leading port, for both domestic and overseas shipping. Ezeiza Airport, 30 miles (48 km) from Buenos Aires, is one of the largest air terminals in South America. It serves Argentina's Aerolineas Argentinas and many other international carriers. Most other busy airports in Argentina are based in Buenos Aires.

Argentina has over 40 radio stations, mostly private ownerships, as well as hundreds of radio stations, including private, national, provincial, municipal, and university stations. The Argentines can also access cable and satellite television services. The use of cellular telephones and the Internet has grown considerably since the late 20th century. Internet cafes are widely available in major cities. Over 150 newspapers are published in Argentina. Clarin and La Nacin, are the largest circulated dailies published in Buenos Aires.

Agricultural products—especially wheat, corn, and other cereals and meat, wool, and hides—are Argentina's main exports. Other major exports include cooking oil, petroleum and natural gas, and processed foods. Imports include machinery and mechanical equipment, vehicles, coal, chemicals, lumber, metals and metal products, plastics, and transportation equipment. Argentina's principal trading partners are Brazil, Chile, China, Germany, Mexico, Spain, Russia, and the United States. Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay buy about one-third of Argentinas exports. In 1991, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay created a trade association known as Mercosur (Southern Common Market), which later admitted other South American countries.


Argentina's basic currency unit is the Argentine peso.

The People

Argentina had a population of 36,260,130 in 2001. Most Argentines are native born of European extraction—mainly the descendants of late-19th- and early-20th-century Spanish and Italian immigrants. Foreign-born residents—mainly Europeans—accounted for some 4 per cent of the population; the rest (less than 3 per cent) consisted principally of mestizos (of mixed European and Indian cultures) and Indians.

The nation's overall population density is about 34 persons per square mile (13 per km2). Large tracts of Argentina, particularly in Patagonia and the Andes, are almost uninhabited. Migration from rural areas has greatly swelled the city populations since the 1940's.

The Buenos Aires metropolitan area had a population of 11,453,725.

Religion and Language

More than 90 per cent of the population is Roman Catholic, and the Roman Catholic faith is supported by the state. There are small Protestant and Jewish minorities.

The official language of Argentina is Spanish. Other widely spoken languages are English, Italian, German, and French.


Schooling is free, secular, and compulsory from age 6 to 14. Primary and secondary schools, universities, and other institutions of higher learning are maintained by the government. In addition, there are private schools at all levels. The illiteracy rate, less than 10 per cent, is one of the lowest in Latin America.

There are more than 30 universities in Argentina. The government maintains a number of national universities; the National University of Cordoba, founded in 1613, is the oldest. Most of the private universities are Roman Catholic. There are also specialized colleges and institutes, and schools of art and music.


The Spanish conquistadores brought their own traditions and the heritage of the Roman Catholic Church to Argentina. During the colonial period, these fused with some elements of the native Indian culture to produce a distinctive folk music, mission architecture, and religious art. After unification of Argentina in the mid-19th century, a distinctly Argentine culture began to evolve. Like the population, it was cosmopolitan (with Spanish, Italian, and French influences predominating), yet strongly nationalistic.

A dominant theme in much Argentine poetry, prose, music, and art is the life of the gaucho. The cowboy who roamed the vast grassy Pampas during the early days came to be a romantic symbol of the spirit of the Argentine nation—self-sufficient, proud, confident.

The cultural capital of Argentina is Buenos Aires. Located here are the Coln Theater, the National Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of Decorative Arts, and the National Conservatory of Music.

Sports and Recreation

The national spectator sport is horse racing, and Argentina has become a world-famous racing center. Soccer and polo are favorite team sports.

Another favorite Argentine recreation is the fiesta, or festival. Holidays and major saints' days are occasions for celebration. One of the major festivals is the annual pre-Lenten carnival.


Argentina is a democratic republic, with executive, legislative, and judicial branches, as established by the constitution of 1853. Argentina is a federal republic, divided into 23 provinces, and the Federal District of Buenos Aires. Its present constitution was adopted in 1994 and is patterned after that of the United States.

The executive branch is the strongest among the three branches, and includes a president and vice president, chosen by popular vote. Each serves a four-year term and may be reelected to a second term, though not more. Both must be Argentine by birth and Roman Catholics. The executive branch also includes a cabinet whose ministers are appointed by the president.

The National Congress consists of the 72-member Senate and the 257-member Chamber of Deputies. There are three senators from each province, and three each from the Buenos Aires federal district. Each senator is elected to a six-year term by the legislative body in the region the senator represents. (One-third of the members are elected every two years.) The number of deputies is based on population. Deputies serve four-year terms and are elected directly by the people. (One-half of the members are elected every two years.)

Argentinas largest political parties are the Justicialist Party (PJ), founded in 1945 and representing labor interests, and the Radical Civic Union (UCR), founded in 1891 and representing middle-class voters. Citizens over 18 years of age are required to vote, and may be imprisoned for failing to do so.

There are both federal and provincial courts. The federal Supreme Court at Buenos Aires has nine judges, appointed by the president, and has the right to declare as unconstitutional certain acts of the legislature. There are five appellate courts, with judges appointed by the president, and lower courts in each province and territory, with court judges appointed by provincial governors.

The provinces, federal district, and national territory elect their own governors and legislators, and have their individual constitutions. An elected mayor and city council administer the Buenos Aires Federal District. Since the late 20th century, the federal government has handed out greater responsibilities to local governments by certain reforms.

Armed forces. There are three main branches of armed forces in Argentina, namely the Air Force, the Army, and the Navy, and other subsidiary branches including the Coast Guard and the National Gendarmerie (border police). Military service is voluntary in nature.