Argentina Geography Lesson

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So many folk sent me e-mails that they liked this post and found it useful that I thought I’d turn it into a permanent page. The impetus was a series of e-mails with friends, readers, and clients, who seemed to be under the impression that Argentina is some little dot of a country, somewhere down there (vague hand wave in a southerly direction). I honestly don’t mean this to be condescending, so for those of you who take some of the following information for granted, please don’t take it that way. I’m responding to actual misconceptions on the part of folk I’ve corresponded with in various parts of the world. Let’s narrow it down bit by bit. First, Argentina is in South America. Not Africa (similar shape, different continent). Not Australia. It’s not the capital of Brasil. Nor Venezuela. You can see on the map below that it borders on five other countries – Uruguay, Brasil, Paraguay, Bolivia, and Chile.[Thanks to all the various websites from which I've lifted the following maps.]

Outline map of South America

And, South America is south and EAST of North America. I’m not sure why, but most folks (including some here) seem to think it’s either straight south, or actually west. That means, that during half the year (daylight savings time changes and all that), in Buenos Aires it’s an hour later than in New York and the other half of the year it’s a two-hour difference. Note also that it’s in the southern hemisphere of the planet. Beyond important considerations such as whether water goes down the drain in the opposite circular direction (it does), the seasons are flipped by half a year from the northern hemisphere. When it’s winter there, it’s summer here, etc.

World map

On to Argentina itself, and this colorful display of its 23 provinces. Yes, it’s big enough for 23 provinces (plus the autonomous Capital Federal district), at 2,360 miles (3,800 km) north to south and 884 (1,420 km) east to west. In fact, it’s just under 30% of the size of the United States. As a rough guide, think the continental United States east of the Mississippi River. For Canadians, think of the entire east – Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, and Nova Scotia. For Australians, try Queensland, New South Wales, and Victoria all rolled into one. I don’t even want to try to figure out a European comparison – a lot of your countries all bundled up together… Okay, I’ll give you one just to give you some perspective… See the province of Buenos Aires in that parrot green color? That province, and the country of Poland, are the same size. All of the UK would fit very comfortably inside the province, with room for most of Ireland. And all that, by the way, doesn’t include the fact that Argentina “owns” nearly 375,000 square miles (971,000 square km) of the continent of Antarctica. So, for those planning out their tour itineraries; no, you don’t have time to see the Iguazu Falls in Misiones, Mendozan wineries in the west, the glaciers of Tierra del Fuego in the south, and wind up back here in the city for a café cortado after lunch.

The Provinces of Argentina

Just to show where the city (the autonomous federal district) of Buenos Aires is, it’s basically the white circle in this map of the province. Out of the nation’s 40 million people, the province as a whole has around 30 million of those in it. The area usually referred to as Gran Buenos Aires, which includes 24 surrounding suburbs, has 12 million of those. Within city limits proper, we’re looking at just under 3 million.

Provincia de Buenos Aires

And that brings us to the city of Buenos Aires – originally Ciudad de la Santí­sima Trinidad y Puerto de Santa Marí­a de los Buenos Aires, City of the Holy Trinity and Port of Saint Mary of the Fair Winds. At just over 77 square miles (200 sq. km.) of surface area it’s not a small city – not huge, but not small (8.5 x 9 miles / 13.6 km x 14.5 km). As mentioned, roughly 2.9 million people live here. That makes it just slightly larger and more populous than Brooklyn (72 sq. mi. / 186 sq. km. and 2.6 million people). The city is divided into 48 barrios, or neighborhoods, each of which has a fairly distinctive character, much like the various neighborhoods of many a metropolitan city. The colorful areas along the eastern part of the city map are the areas that most tourists see, and many probably don’t see all of those, limiting their explorations to Recoleta, Palermo, San Telmo, and Puerto Madero. And, you’re unlikely to want to go to many of them, in particular those in the southwest. These traditional barrios are being, at least officially, supplanted by being combined into 15 comunas. [Note: Link to a great writeup by Robert Wright on the most recent census and changes in the city.]

Barrios of Buenos Aires

Oh, and back to those misconceptions… Buenos Aires, if you look at the maps, is on the Rio de la Plata, a river. We’re not on the ocean, we don’t have beaches. You might be thinking about Rio de Janeiro – that’s in Brasil. Beaches are south and east of here – for the most part, for beach communities, you’re looking at anywhere from 3-5 hours away. The most famous are probably Mar del Plata and Pinamar, both of which you can get to by a steady stream of buses throughout the day. Or perhaps Punta del Este, but that’s in Uruguay, the neighboring country across the river to the east – and is about an hour and a half flight, or a 3.5 hour ferry ride followed by a 2 hour bus.

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