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Argentina: The Natural Environment

Stretching for 3,700 km from latitude 22° S to 55° S, Argentina's physical landmass makes it the 8th largest country in the world by area, just under India. Argentina also holds title to the world's highest peak outside the Himalayas (Cerro Aconcagua, near the Chilean border). With such a range of latitudes and altitudes, you wouldn't be wrong to assume that Argentina encompasses a diverse assortment of natural environments.

Mountains

Los Glaciares
National Park

The most striking feature of Argentina's landscape is the imposing Andes mountain range, whose high ridge serves as a (sometimes ambiguous) boundary between Chile and Argentina. The Andes are at their overall height in Argentina's northwest near the borderlands of Chile and Bolivia, and in general they descend southward until they pass beneath the surface of the ocean at South America's tip. Still, a few stray peaks like Aconcagua (6962 m) poke above the surrounding range in unlikely places.

The southern Andes, though not as lofty as further north, offer some of the most dramatic scenery the continent has to offer, especially in Los Glaciares National Park and in the lake district around Bariloche. The Sierras de Córdoba, located in the geographic heart of Argentina, top out at just under 3000 m, posing little threat to Andean primacy.

Patagonian Steppe

To the east of the southern Andes, in the mountains' rain shadow, is the broad Patagonian flatland. Technically a steppe, or semi-desert plains dominated by short grasslands and low shrubs, the landscape here can resemble areas in Central Asia and Russia. This Argentine outback is home to the wild guanaco, a llama relative, and herds of rheas, South America's ostrich-like flightless bird.

The high plateau, or puna, of northwestern Argentina shares many plant and animals species with the Patagonian steppe, in addition to its unique salt flats and local species. The endangered vicuña, another llama relative, exists only here in the puna, and the area is also a good one to spot the Andean condor.

The Pampas

Fanning out from Buenos Aires is an area known as the Pampas, an immensely fertile, flat grassland that made Argentines so wealthy in the late 19th century. The Pampas are generally divided into "wet" and "dry" regions, with the eastern wet Pampas roughly corresponding to Buenos Aires province, and the western dry Pampas roughly corresponding to La Pampa province. The more valuable land of the wet Pampas has been given over to the profitable business of growing corn, wheat, and soybeans, while cattle grazing still dominates the dry Pampas.

Wetlands

The Río de la Plata river system, made up primarily of the Paraná and Uruguay rivers and their confluence near Buenos Aires, is comparable in scale to the Nile or Amazon. North of Buenos Aires, the area between the two rivers is home to a rich wetlands known as Mesopotamia, the best example of which is the Iberá reserve in Corrientes province. Dense gallery forest, made up of ceibo, willows, canelones and others, grow on the riverbanks and on some islands in the delta.

The wetlands are one of the best places in Argentina to spot wildlife, including the La Plata river dolphin and river otter, marsh deer, maned wolf, caiman, water boa, and a cornucopia of bird life.

Forest

2600 years old

While there are technically no tropical rainforests in Argentina, there are wet subtropical forests in the northeastern reaches of the country. Animals include the tapir, tufted capuchin monkey, howler monkey, capybara (carpincho), and jaguar.

In the southern Andes, the most common forests are broad-leafed southern beech. While there are no true pines in South America, there are some interesting conifers like the monkey-puzzle tree (paraguas) and the alerce, an especially long lived and endangered giant.

Marine Life

A wealth of marine life makes its home just off the patagonian coast, including the southern sea lion, southern elephant seal, southern fur seal, orca, and Commerson's dolphin. This is whale country; the southern right whale, blue whale, humpback whale, fin whale, and sei whale have all been spotted here.

Magellanic penguins live along the patagonian coast too, most notably at Punta Tombo.

National Parks

Thankfully, Argentina has a well established and well run park system to protect these national treasures. The Argentine National Park Administration oversees 34 protected areas, including national parks, natural monuments, and education reserves; check out their website for more info. Argentina also has some provincial reserves worth exploring, most notably at Península Valdés and Iberá.

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