The term is most commonly used in physical geography and is particularly applied to the various ranges of the Andes of South America and less frequently to other mountain ranges in the "ridge" that rims the Pacific Ocean. In Colombia and Venezuela, cordilleras are named according to their position: Cordillera Occidental, Central, and Oriental. Various local names are used for the cordilleras in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina.
Such mountain ranges have a complex structure, which is usually the result of folding and faulting accompanied by volcanic activity. In South America, the ranges include numerous volcanic peaks. The Andes cordillera has Ojos del Salado, the highest active volcano in the world and second-highest point in the Western Hemisphere. (Though not itself a volcano, Argentina's Aconcagua, at 6,960 m, at (22,834 ft), is the highest point in the Western Hemisphere.) Some of the volcanoes have been active in historical times.
Aside from the volcanic peaks, the crests include many narrow ridges, some of which reach into the zone of permanent snow. Between the ranges are numerous inhabited valleys, basins, and low plateaux, with a wide range of elevations.
- Alborz Cordillera, northern Iran (also written as Elburz)
- American Cordillera, the mountain ranges forming the western backbone of North America and South America
- Annamese Cordillera (Annamite Range), Laos and eastern Vietnam
- Arctic Cordillera, the mountain ranges along the northeastern edge of the Arctic Archipelago and the northeasternmost part of the Labrador Peninsula in Labrador and Quebec, Canada
- Baetic Cordillera, Spain
- Central Cordillera (New Guinea Highlands)
- Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), encompassing the Cordillera Central of the Philippines
- Cordillera Cantábrica and Cantabria (including the Picos de Europa)
- Cordillera Central, several mountain ranges share the name (in Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Philippines, Puerto Rico and Spain)
- Cordillera de Mérida, Venezuela
- Cordillera de los Andes, South America
- Cordillera de la Costa (Chilean Coast Range)
- Cordillera de la Costa (Venezuelan Coastal Range)
- Cordillera Occidental, Andes, Colombia and Ecuador
- Cordillera Occidental, Peru
- Cordillera Oriental, several mountain ranges share the name
- East Australian Cordillera, more commonly known as the Great Dividing Range
- Mexican Cordillera, consisting of the Juarez Segment, the Huayacocotla Segment, the Victoria Segment, and the Nuevoleones Cordillera
- North American Cordillera (also called Pacific Cordillera or Western Cordillera of North America), comprising the mountain ranges of western North America
- Southern Pacific Cordillera, Mindanao, Philippines
- The Encyclopedia Americana: a library of universal knowledge, p. 687 (Encyclopedia Americana Corp., 1918): "It is used particularly in physical geography, although in geology also it is sometimes applied...."
- "Informe científico que estudia el Aconcagua, el Coloso de América mide 6960,8 metros" [Scientific Report on Aconcagua, the Colossus of America measures 6960,8m] (in Spanish). Universidad Nacional de Cuyo. 2012. Archived from the original on September 8, 2012. Retrieved September 3, 2012.