South America Geography

Amazon Basin:

The Amazon Basin (Amazonia) is covered by the largest tropical rain forest in the world, and running through its heart is the Amazon River and its more than 1,000 tributaries, seven of them more than 1,000 miles in length. Measurable rain falls on an average of 200 days a year here, and total rainfall often approaches 100 inches per year.

The basin drains over 2,700,000 sq. miles, and covers about one-third of South America. Rising high in the Andes, the river's network irrigates almost half of the continent, and in terms of volume of water discharged into an ocean... it's the largest in the world.

Andes Mountains:

This toothy-edged mountain system, some 4,500 miles (7,240 km) in length, extends from the southern tip of South America all the way to Panama.

It's the source of most major rivers on the continent, and its many ranges include dozens of peaks that reach over 20,000 ft.; the highest point being Aconcagua in Argentina, at 22,384 ft. (6,960m). It's also home to some of the planet's largest volcanoes, and in the far south along the coast of Chile, large glaciers and ice sheets are commonplace.

Atacama Desert:

Sparsely populated and positioned high into the Andes of Chile, this somewhat small desert (or plateau) is a cold place, and one of the few deserts on Earth that doesn't receive any rain. It's approximately 100 miles wide and 625 miles long. The landscape is totally barren and covered with small borax lakes, lava flow remnants and saline deposits.

Brazilian Highlands:

This magnificent landscape of southeastern Brazil is 800 miles in length and contains varied mountain ranges, namely the Serra de Mantiquiera, Serra do Paranapiataba, Serra Geral, and Serra do Mar. The estimated highest point is 7,368 ft (2,245m).

Brazilian Shield:

The shield is a geologic formation lying south of the Amazon. Hundreds of rivers and streams flow through this area on their way to the Amazon These rivers contain a large number of migratory fish species.

Cape Horn:

The southernmost tip of South America, remains a maritime legend to this day, as sailing around this remote point and through its violent stretch of chaotic water is one of the most challenging nautical routes on the planet.

Guina Highlands:

Over 1,000 miles in length, the Highlands stretch from southern Venezuela to the northern border of Brazil. It's a vast plateau, one marked by deep gorges, tropical rain forests, numerous rivers and waterfalls. It's famed for the highest waterfall in the world (Angel Falls) at 3,212 ft (979m) high. The highest point is Mt. Roraima on the borders of Brazil, Guyanaand Venezuela at 9,219 ft (2,810m).


This large and very fertile plain, located in eastern and central Colombia, and central and southern Venezuela, is drained by the Orinoco River and its many tributaries. It's approximately 225,000 sq. miles (582,000 sq. km) in size.


Famed for its many cattle ranches, this large plain in the southern part of the continent (in central Argentina) extends for almost 1,000 miles (1,600 km), and covers 294,000 sq. miles (761,460 sq km).


The Pantanal is the world's largest wetland of any kind. It lies mostly within southwestern Brazil, and covers an area estimated at between 140,000 square kilometers (54,000 sq mi) and 195,000 square kilometers (75,000 sq mi). It contains an astonishing collection of aquatic plants and a wide variety of of animal species.


Located between the Andes and the Atlantic Ocean, and about 1,000 miles in length, Patagonia stretches south from the Rio Negro River to Tierra del Fuego and the Strait of Magellan. It's mostly rugged, barren land, famed for its beauty and striking mountain scenery.

Tierra Del Fuego:

Located at the southern tip of South America, the Tierra Del Fuego archipelago includes one large island (18,571 sq miles, 48,100 sq km) in size, and a series of smaller ones. It was reportedly named by the Portuguese adventurer, Ferdinand Magellan, the first explorer to circumnavigate the globe. His chosen route through the Magellan Strait proved to be the fastest and safest connection between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans for sea-going commerce and exploration.

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This page was last updated on September 19, 2016.