The Andes: Traveler’s Guide to the Mountain Range in South America
The mountain range in South America we know as the Andes Mountains extends along with seven countries and up to 5,500 miles (8,900 km).
Other names are: South American Andes or simply, the Andes. In Spanish, we call them la Cordillera de Los Andes or Los Andes.
Get your hiking boots ready and tag along with me to learn about this natural wonder and everything these South American countries have to offer at the foot of the Andes.
Visit South America
The Andes’ majestic mountain ranges run across seven South American countries. From South to North, these countries have stunning landscapes—mainly due to the Andes—that you can visit when you decide to step up for the challenge of hiking the cordilleras.
Argentina is a huge country with a variety of climates and types of land.
However, the mountain range of the Argentinean Andes offers stunning blue glaciers and the Southern Patagonian icefield—it extends up to 17, 000 square kilometers.
The Iguazu Falls should also be on your list when visiting this epic country.
Among other exceptional landscapes, Chile is famous for being the world’s driest desert.
El Salar de Uyuni (the Uyuni Salt Flats) is the world-famous salt desert. A fascinating once-in-a-lifetime visual experience is perfect for experimenting with your photography skills.
Although the South American Andes cover an astonishing area, it is common that Machu Picchu comes to our minds first when we think of this mountain range. Tourists visit this impressive region once home to the Incas, where they get acquainted with the capital Cuzco. The Temple of the Sun is a must-see archaeological site.
New discoveries have brought attention to the mystical region of Chachapoyas in Peru, where you can see the fortress of Kuelap. This region is also near the world’s third-highest waterfall, Gocta.
The Ecuadorian Andes make this land one with marvelous volcanoes. The Galapagos Islands are surely a great travel destination, too!
Colombia’s trademark coffee comes from the extensive plantations in the Andean foothills.
You can also take a detour to visit the beautiful small towns in this historically-rich country.
What’s more, Medellin houses the Rio Claro (Clear River) wildlife reserve, where you can enjoy the view of crystal clear water and a wonderful rainforest.
The Merida Cordillera shapes Venezuela’s portion of the Andes, and it ends in the city of Barquisimeto.
The Origin of the South American Andes
The mountain range in South America is the result of global plate tectonic forces during the Cenozoic Era.
About 250 million years ago, the Earth’s landmass formed the single continent Pangaea.
When Pangaea broke up into the continents we know today, two of the plates collided: the continental South American Plate and the oceanic Nazca Plate—this activity produced the Andes.
The rocks that form the mountain range began as sediments, which deposited on the craton’s western flank. These deposits resulted in the variety of rocks we find in these mountain ranges—quartzite, shale, and marble.
Due to its impressive extension, experts have divided the South American Andes in three parts to identify important characteristics of each region of the mountain range according to each country.
The whole mountain range begins at the southern tip of South America and runs up to the continent’s northern coast to the Caribbean.
The Andes begin in the easternmost point of the Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire) archipelago, running west to Grande Island.
Then, the Patagonian Andes—known for their ice fields, glaciers, rivers, and lakes—end roughly at the Gulf of Penas. The ice fields between Mount Fitzroy and Lake Buenos Aires give this region an exceptional landscape variety.
Additionally, there is a line of active volcanoes—Yate, Corcovado, and Macá.
As if this region wasn’t diverse enough, forests surround both sides of the Andes.
What better boundary than a 22,831 feet mountain range? The Central Andes divide Chile and Argentina, as well as the rivers flowing to the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans.
With snow-capped peaks characterizing it, this portion of the cordillera ends with the peak of Tres Cruces (Three Crosses.)
The mountains of Loja Knot run from southern Ecuador through the Peruvian portion of the Andes. The characteristic of the Ecuadorian mountain range is that most of it is a plateau with two mountain and volcano chains at its sides.
The South American Andes end in Venezuela with the Cordillera de Mérida.
More Must-know Facts
The marvelous mountain range in South America offers rich soils with top-notch wine-growing conditions, along with an optimal temperate climate. Argentina and Chile hold top places among the best wine-producing countries in the world.
Interestingly enough, the mountain range separates South America’s western coastal area from the rest of the continent.
The Andes have the highest peaks in the Western Hemisphere, the highest being Mount Aconcagua—the 22,831 feet tall mountain that divides Chile and Argentina.
Experts have defined The Andes as a “succession of parallel and transverse mountain ranges, and of intervening plateaus and depressions.”
In addition, they usually make a distinction between eastern and western ranges—Cordillera Oriental and Cordillera Occidental (Eastern Range and Western Range.)
Make It Your Next Destination
This breathtaking mountain range in South America has tons of characteristics that call those looking for an adventure.
When visiting the Andes, you get a taste of various terrains—volcanoes, glaciers, deserts, and more.
Also, you get in touch with lands once home to ancient civilizations, and small regions that indigenous people inhabit—both of which can expand your historical and cultural knowledge.
Here are some of the most impressive places to see in the Andean region.
Sacred Valley of the Incas
As mentioned above, Machu Picchu is the trademark region of the Andes, and its stunning landscapes back this up.
Seeing the colonial towns and villages is like time traveling to Colonial and pre-Columbian times. You can visit astounding ruins of temples and fortresses while you shop for handcrafted souvenirs for those waiting for you back home!
The Village of Pisac and Ollantaytambo are surrounding regions that you should also check out while visiting Machu Picchu. It is in Ollantaytambo where the river begins its trail to the Amazon—the second-longest river on Earth.
Many tourists recommend staying in these smaller towns to avoid crowds.
The lake establishes the border between Peru and Bolivia. Islands and peninsulas are a beautiful view and they offer the experience of visiting indigenous communities.
For a greater historically-rich experience, the Uros Islands, with the iconic Isla de la Luna (Moon Island) offer great archaeological sites.
Also, Isla del Sol (Sun Island) represented the birthplace of the sun god to the Incas.
Great Food, Great Wine
The impressive vineyards of Argentina and Chile are the perfect site for those looking for a culinary adventure.
You can even stay at some wineries and have a taste of amazing food and some of the best wines in the world.
Up north in Lima, you can also find varied cuisine and really tasty seafood.
What To Do
There are various activities to engage in at the South American Andes.
Although you should be prepared for intense hours of walking, it is not necessary that you take on multiple day-trails for you to make the best of your experience.
The Andean experience offers everything from beginner-friendly one-day treks to 12-day hikes!
The most famous trail for tourists is the one along with Machu Picchu. Other trails include the regions of Patagonia, the base of Chile’s Torres del Paine, and trails in Mount Fitzroy National Park in Argentina.
The Best Track – Torres del Paine
It’s famous for the stunning view it offers, so make sure to watch at least one sunrise on this breathtaking site!
Private treks are rather expensive, so you can opt for those with a group that takes a while longer but is much cheaper.
Other hiking activities include:
- Walking around a crater lake in the Avenue of Volcanoes in Ecuador
- Climbing a volcano in Chile
- Three-day hikes in volcano of Chimborazo in Ecuador
Many adventurers also like to drive along the Argentinian portion of the Andes. From Salta in northwest Argentina, you can drive south along the road to Cafayate. Then, you can climb into the Andes through a gorge called La Garganta del Diablo (The Devil’s Throat) to finally catch a glimpse of stunning rock formations.
More Hiking Paths – Quilotoa Loop Ecuador
This amazing path connects villages at the very foot of the Andes. In these valleys, you can see beautiful wildlife like horses and llamas. The path takes about two days to hike, but there are some hostels to stay at to plan your multiple-day hikes.
Tourists like to ride horses in Torres del Paine, into the Atacama Desert or at the Salkantay trek in Peru.
Unique Train Experience
The extensive rail journey between Lima and Huancayo allows you to experience the landscape exceptionally. In the comfort of a train, you can see the deserts, high plains, and grasslands.
If you want to take a look at much more than the Andes, you can visit Ghost Town in Chile. With a unique style of brightly painted houses connected by staircases, this town is completely empty. No inhabitants except for the feeling of the history that fulfills it.
When To Go
The beauty of the South American Andes is that you can visit nearly year-round but some expert adventurers avoid January and February due to the extremely hot weather in the region.
Become an Adventurer
Reading about this jaw-dropping mountain range in South America surely sparked the traveler inside you! Be ready for your next trip to the Andes by becoming acquainted with the language of the region!
Learning Spanish promises to improve your traveling experience—being able to talk to the locals helps you find out more about the place you’re visiting and even find more hidden places that you hadn’t thought of checking out!
HSA wants to make the best out of your next trip, which is why our one-on-one classes with native Spanish speakers are prepared to teach you vocabulary, grammar to help you speak accurately, and idiomatic expressions to help you speak like a native!
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