Angel Falls

Physical Geography of Latin America

  • 1. Rio Grande

    The Rio Grande, known to Mexicans as the Rio Grande del Norte, is a 1885 mile long river flowing across the southwestern United States and Mexico. Its source is in the San Juan Mountains in Colorado, from where it winds through New Mexico, along the Texas-Mexico border, and empties into the Gulf of Mexico at Matamoros, Mexico and Brownsville, Texas. Most of the river is unnavigable due to its shallow, winding path through steep canyons. Dams and reservoirs along the Rio Grande provide water for irrigation and drinking.


    2. Andes Mountains

    The Andes Mountains stretch along the western edge of the entire continent of South America, forming the world's longest contiguoius mountain range, and reach greater heights--above 22,000 feet--than any other range besides the Himalayas.. The highest reange of the Andes is on the central and northern border Argentina-Chile border, where Aconcagua, the highest mountain of the Western Hemisphere, is located. In Bolivia and Peru, the Andes system widens out to high plateau country. One section of the Peruvian Andes hosts Machu Picchu, the ruins of a sacred site for the Inca that contains fine examples of Inca architecture and stone masonry.


    3. Sierra Madre Occidental

    The Sierra Madre Occidental is the western part of the main mountain range of Mexico, which also includes the Sierra Madre Oriental and the Sierra Madre del Sur. The Sierra Madre Occidental extends south from Arizona and parallels the Pacific Coast for about 1,000 miles. The Sierra Madre Occidental and the Sierra Madre Oriental meet south of the Plateau of Mexico. There are many deep, steep-sided canyons in the range, as well as precious metals such as iron ore, lead, silver, and gold.


    4. Plateau of Mexico

    The Plateau of Mexico is 700 miles long and 4000 to 8000 feet high. Enclosed by the Sierra Madre Oriental to the east and the Sierra Madre Occidental to the west, the plateau contains several drainage basins that support some of Mexico's major cities. The northern section of the plateau is high and arid and is principally used for raising livestock. The deserts of the south yield to the broad, shallow lakes of the Valley of Mexico, where the historical site of Teotihuacan the modern Mexico City are located.


    5. Yucatan Peninsula

    The Yucatan Peninsula separates the Gulf of Mexico from the Caribbean Sea. Located in southeastern Mexico, it has a tropical climate and hosts extensive hardwood forests and tropical wildlife. The main industries on the peninsula include henequen (a hard fiber used for mats and ropes) cultivation, fishing, lumber and tourism.


    6. Amazon River

    Reaching 3,900 miles from its headwaters in the Andes Mountains to its outlet in the Atlantic Ocean near Belem, Brazil, the Amazon is the world's second longest river after the Nile. The Amazon carries more water than any other river in the world. As it travel east from the Andes, the Amazon passes through the largest rainforest in the world, which covers 35 percent of South America's total land area.


    7. Late Titicaca

    Lake Titicaca, a traditional center of Andean culture, is located in the Andes on the Peru-Bolivia border. At 12,500 feet above sea level, Lake Titicaca is one the highest large lakes in the world. It is the third largest lake in Latin America. The relatively high, constant temperature of the lake's water enables local people to grow maize and wheat. The lake's islands of Titicaca and Coati are the legendary birthplace of the Inca, and ruins can still be found there.


    8. Patagonia

    Patagonia is a 300,000 square mile region located primarily in th southern Argentina. Most of the region is formed by wide, windswept, semiarid plateau that slopes gently up to the east, ending in cliffs along the Atlantic Ocean. Sheep raising for wool has been the principal industry of Patagonia though oil is increasingly important in the region.


    9. Pampas

    The Pampas are wide, grassy plains of Argentina that extend into Uruguay. They cover roughly 300,000 square miles and have been used for cattle grazing since the 1550s by Portuguese and Spanish settlers. In the second half of the nineteenth century, European farmers immigrated to the area and brought the land under cultivation. Agriculture remains the chief economic activity of modern day pampas in Argentina, which exports wheat, corn, flax, and oats.


    10. Atacama Desert

    The Atacama Desert is located in northern Chile, stretching south from the Peruvian border. It is bordered to the east by the Andes Mountains and to the west by the coastal mountains along the Pacific Ocean. This 600 mile long stretch has virtually no vegetation, and some parts have never received measurable rainfall. The desert has been mined for nitrates and copper, and agriculture is restricted to very narrow strips of arable land.


    11. Amazon Basin

    The Amazon Basin consists of the huge area--approximately 35 percent of South America--in which water funnels into the Amazon River. The basin covers most of northern Brazil and parts of Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela. the immense rainforest that covers most of the basin is rich in plant and animal life and natural resources. Scientists have estimated that the vegetation in this rainforest produces half of the world's supply of oxygen.


    12. Lake Nicaragua

    Lake Nicaragua is located in southwest Nicaragua and is the largest lake in Central America, measuring 3,089 square miles. The San Juan River drains the lake's water into the Caribbean Sea. The lake was once part of the sea and was formed when the land rose, leaving several small islands and volcanoes in the lake. Fish commonly found only in saltwater, such as tuna and sharks, adapted to and live in the freshwater of Lake Nicaragua.


    13. Rio de la Plata

    Rio de la Plata is an estuary formed by the Parana and Uruguay Rivers along the southeast coast of South America. Located between Argentina and Uruguay, the estuary is 170 miles long, opening from 20 miles at its head to 120 miles at its mouth at the Atlantic Ocean. The capital citiesof Buenos Aires, Argentina and Montevideo, Uruguay are located along the Rio de la Plata.


    14. Isthmus of Panama

    The Isthmus of Panama is a narrow strip of land (approximately 40 miles wide) that makes up the country of Panama and connects Central and South America. The isthmus hosts the Panama Canal, a waterway built by the United States that connects the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. With rugged mountains to the west and lower mountains to the east, the Isthmus of Panama has a tropical climate with abundant rainfall.