Andes Mountains – WorldAtlas


Also called ” Andes Cordillera “ in Spanish, the Andes Cordillera is the longest mountain range in the world, stretching over 6,999 km along the western margin of the South American continent. The Andes have an average height of 4000 m and a maximum width of 200-700 km, and are considered the highest mountain range outside the Asian continent. This long mountain range stretches from north to south straddling the seven South American nations of Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela. The Andes Mountains are also part of the American Cordillera, which is a continuous series of mountain ranges that spans much of North, Central, and South America.

Geography of the Andes mountains

Cactus on the Altiplano in the red colored Andes mountains in Bolivia.

Throughout their length, the Andes Mountains are divided into numerous ranges by intermediate depressions. Many highlands are located in the Andes Cordillera and some of these plateaus are home to important South American cities such as Arequipa, Bucaramanga, Bogota, Cali, Merida, Sucre, La Paz, Quito, etc. The Andes are further divided into three parts. : the Andes of the North, the Central Andes and the Andes of the South. Located in the central Andes, the Altiplano plateau at 3,750 m above sea level is considered to be the second highest plateau in the world after the Tibetan plateau at 4,500 m above sea level.

A view of Mount Aconcagua in Aconcagua Provincial Park
A view of Mount Aconcagua at Aconcagua Provincial Park, Mendoza, Argentina.

Based on climate, the Andes mountain range is subdivided into three groups: dry Andes, tropical Andes, and humid Andes. The dry Andes cross the countries of Chile, Bolivia and northwest Argentina; the tropical Andes through the countries of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela; and the humid Andes through the countries of Argentina and Chile. Located along the border between Argentina and Chile, and part of the main Cordillera of the Southern Andes, is Mount Aconcagua – which rises to 6,961m and is considered the highest mountain in the Western Hemispheres and southern. Also located in the Andes mountain range, on the border between the Argentinian province of Catamarca and the Chilean province of Copiapo, is the 6,893 m high Nevado Ojos del Salado, which is considered the highest active stratovolcano in the world, the highest mountain in Chile and the second highest mountain in the southern and western hemispheres. Some of the other notable Andean peaks include Mount Pissis, Mount Huascaran, Cerro Bonete, Nevado Tres Cruces, Mount Llullaillaco, Cerro Mercedario, Mount Incahuasi, Mount Chimborazo, etc.


A view of the Andes mountains
A view of the Andes mountains.

The Andes mountain system is believed to have formed due to the movement of tectonic plates that began during the Mesozoic Era and Tertiary Period. The Andes are located along the Pacific Ring of Fire, considered one of the most volcanic regions on the planet. Geological studies revealed that the convergence of the Nazca Plate and the South American Plate triggered mountain building activity which ultimately led to the formation of the Andes mountain range. The Andes are delimited by many sedimentary basins, including the Amazon basin, the Orinoco basin, etc. to the East ; the Patagonian terrain to the south and the Pacific Ocean to the west. The Peru-Chile trench also forms the western border of the Andes. The Andes region is also home to huge deposits of precious metals and minerals, including copper, coal, iron ore, gold, silver, etc. Geologists believe that the subduction of the Nazca Plate and part of the Antarctic Plate under the South American Plate is the cause of the earthquakes and volcanic activity that continues today in the region.


Group of hikers in the Andes mountains, Chile
Group of skiers hiking for fresh snow in the hinterland of Portillo, Chile, in the Andes mountain range. Editorial credit: OutdoorWorks /

The climate in the Andes mountains varies greatly depending on a multitude of conditions, including its geographic location, proximity to the sea, and altitudinal variations. The Andes mountain range also forms a massive climate barrier between the Pacific Ocean and the South American continent and therefore has a major impact on the climate of the entire region. The northern part of the Andes has a hot and humid climate, while the southern part experiences a relatively cooler but humid climate. The western side of the central Andes is very dry and includes the Atacama Desert, while the eastern plains of Argentina, located in the shadowy area of ​​the mountain, also have extremely dry weather.

Flora and fauna of the Andes mountains

Alpaca in the Andes mountains
Llamas (alpaca) in the Andes mountains, Peru, South America.

The Andes Mountains pass through many floristic and natural areas as they stretch from Caribbean Venezuela to Cape Horn. Over 30,000 species of vascular plants are found in the region, half of which are endemic to the Andes. The little medicinal plant Cinchona pubescens, known for its high quinine content, is widely distributed in the Andean region. The Andean states of Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru are dominated by high altitude forests and Polylepis forests. The Andean region has a rich wildlife wealth. With over 1,000 species of amphibians, two-thirds of which are endemic to the region, the Andes are the most critical areas for amphibians on the planet. In addition to this, around 400 species of fish, 600 species of reptiles, 600 species of mammals and 1,700 species of birds are found in the Andes. It is estimated that about more than two thirds of all Andean species are endemic to the region. Some of the notable mammals found here include the vicuña, guanaco, chinchillas, yellow-tailed woolly monkey, spectacle bear, mountain tapir, South American foxes, and more. Some of the important avian species that are found here include the Andean condor, Andean goose, mountain toucans, Andean twinkle, sierra finches, quetzals, royal cinclodes, etc.

Brief history of the Andes mountains

A woman enjoying the view of Machu Pichu in Peru
A woman enjoying the view of the ancient citadel of Machu Pichu in Peru.

Although the oldest human remains found in the Andean region are only 10,000 to 12,000 years old, the area is believed to have been inhabited since ancient times. The Inca civilization began in the highlands of Peru in the early 13e century and spread throughout the Andean region in the 1400s. The Incas built several roads and aqueducts throughout the mountain range. The Inca people also built spectacular sites, including the ancient Inca citadel of Machu Picchu and the capital of Cuzco. In the 1530s, the Spanish conquistadors came to the region in search of gold, and eventually the Andes became well known for their rich mineral wealth during Spanish colonial rule. In 1532, the Inca Empire was destroyed by civil war and exposure to European diseases. The remaining indigenous Andean families are those who speak the Aymara and Quechua languages ​​and currently form a significant part of the Bolivian population. It is believed that the name “Andes” is derived from the Quechua word “anti” which means “is”. The Andes Mountains are currently one of the most popular tourist destinations and offer many recreational activities such as camping, hiking and mountaineering. On January 14, 1897, a Swiss mountaineer named Matthias Zurbrigen became the first person to climb the summit of Mount Aconcagua.

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