Andes (Mountain Range)


The Longest Mountain System

The Andes, Andean Mountains or Andean Mountain Range is a mountain system in South America that stretches 7,000 kilometers across 7 countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela. It is one of the highest mountain systems in the world, with a maximum elevation of 6,962 meters above sea level at Mount Aconcagua in the Andes on the border between Argentina and Chile.

The Andes are of great importance for ecological biodiversity as well as for the peoples who live on their slopes and depend on the resources they provide, such as water, timber, pastures and fossil resources. It is also a popular tourist destination, attracting many people who want to explore the mountains, enjoy nature and learn about local culture and history.


The Inca Empire in the Andes is one of the most mysterious vanished states. The tragic fate of a highly developed civilization, which appeared in far from favorable natural conditions and died at the hands of illiterate aliens, still excites mankind.

The era of great geographical discoveries (XV-XVII centuries) gave European adventurers the opportunity to get rich quickly and fabulously in the new lands. Most often cruel and unscrupulous, the conquistadors did not go to the Americas for scientific discovery and cultural exchange between civilizations.

The fact that the papacy in 1537 recognized the Indians as spiritual beings made no difference in the conquistadors’ methods – they were not interested in theological disputes. By the time of the “humane” papal decision the conquistador Francisco Pizarro had already managed to execute the Inca emperor Atahualpa (1533), to defeat the Inca army and capture the empire’s capital city of Cuzco (1536).

There is a version that at first the Indians took the Spaniards for gods. And it is possible that the main reason for this misconception was not the white skin of the newcomers, or the fact that they rode unseen animals, or even that they possessed firearms. The Incas were struck by the incredible cruelty of the conquistadors.

At the first meeting of Pizarro and Atahualpa, the Spaniards ambushed and killed thousands of Indians and took the emperor captive, not expecting anything like this. After all, the Indians, whom the Spaniards condemned for human sacrifice, believed that human life was the highest gift, and that was why human sacrifice to the gods was the highest form of worship. But to just exterminate thousands of people who came not at all for war?!

That the Incas could have offered serious resistance to the Spaniards is not in doubt. After the murder of captive Atahualpa, for which the Indians paid a monstrous ransom – almost 6 tons of gold, the conquistadors began to plunder the country, ruthlessly melting down the Inca art of jewelry for ingots. But Atahualpa’s brother Manco, appointed by them as the new emperor, instead of collecting gold for the invaders, fled and led the fight against the Spaniards. The last emperor, Tupac Amaru, the viceroy of Peru, Francisco de Toledo could not be executed until 1572, and even after that the leaders of the new revolts were called after him.

Little has survived of the Inca civilization – after hundreds of thousands of Indians died, both at the hands of the Spanish and from work in the mines, famine, and European epidemics, there was no one to maintain the irrigation systems, the high mountain roads, and the beautiful buildings. Much was destroyed by the Spaniards to obtain building material.

A country whose inhabitants were used to supplies from public warehouses, with no beggars or vagrants, became a human disaster zone for many years after the arrival of the conquistadors.


The Andes pass through all climatic zones, so the flora and fauna of these mountain ranges are very diverse.

Different theories determine the age of the Andean mountain system from 18 million years to several hundred million years. But more importantly for the people who live in the Andes, the process of formation of these mountains is still going on.

Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and glacial retreats in the Andes continue unabated. In 1835, Charles Darwin observed from the island of Chiloé the eruption of the volcano Osorno. The earthquake described by Darwin destroyed the towns of Concepción and Talcahuano and claimed numerous victims. Such events are not uncommon in the Andes.

For example, in 1970, a glacier in Peru literally buried the town of Yungay with nearly all its inhabitants in a matter of seconds, killing about 20,000 people. In 2010, an earthquake in Chile killed several hundred people, left millions homeless and caused enormous material damage. In general, serious disasters occur in the Andes with a frightening cyclicity of once every 10-15 years.

The harshest climates are found in the central plateaus of the Andes, where precipitation, if anything, occurs even in summer in the form of snow. These very highlands are thought to be the most barren and dry in the world, which can be explained by the combination of thin, dry air, fierce winds and blinding sun.

The Andes serve as an inter-oceanic watershed: the rivers belonging to the Atlantic Ocean basin flow east of the Andes and many of them originate in the mountains, the Andes are the source of the Amazon, the largest river in the world. The rivers belonging to the Pacific basin tend to be short, and they flow west of the Andes.

Also the Andes, the longest in the world, are also a climatic barrier, isolating the Pacific coast of South America from the influence of the Atlantic Ocean, and most of the continent from the influence of the Pacific. As a result of the large length of the Andes its landscape differs significantly, and according to different natural features distinguish the Northern Andes (up to 5º S.), the Central Andes (5-28′ S.) and the Southern Andes (28-41º30º S.). Another feature of this mountain system is a distinct altitudinal zonation, which distinguishes three belts – tierra caliente, the lower forest zone, tierra freja, the upper forest zone, and tierra elada, the belt with a harsh climate.

Depending on the distance from the equator and the altitude above sea level, the Andes have both equatorial, tropical and subtropical forests with their abundance of vegetation (palm trees, bananas, ficuses, cocoa trees, bamboos, evergreen trees and shrubs) and temperate forests. Subarctic forests and tundra vegetation are characteristic of high altitudes and southern latitudes. Many important crops, such as tomatoes, potatoes, and tobacco, are thought to come from the Andes.

The fauna of the Andes includes many unique species. For example, the Andean llama camel, alpaca, vigoni, and guanaco are found nowhere else in the world. More than 900 species of amphibians, about 600 species of mammals, and more than 1700 species of birds live in the Andes. Among them are many endemics.

General Information

  • The Andes, the Andean Cordilleras, is the longest mountain system in the world, the southern part of the Cordilleras.
  • Location: bordering the continent of South America in the north and west.
  • Countries with the Andes: Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina.
  • Andean peoples: Indians, Europeans, mestizos, African-Americans, mulattoes, and Asians.
  • Languages: Mostly Spanish, but also Quechua, Aymara, Guaraní, and other indigenous languages.
  • Religion: mostly Catholicism.
  • Major cities: Caracas (Venezuela), Santa Fe de Bogota (Colombia), Quito (Ecuador), Lima (Peru), La Paz (Bolivia), Santiago (Chile).
  • The main seaports are Guayaquil (Ecuador), Valparaiso (Chile).
  • Major airports: Simón Bolívar International Airport (Caracas, Venezuela); El Dorado International Airport (Santa Fe de Bogotá, Colombia); Mariscal Sucre International Airport (Quito, Ecuador); Jorge Chavez International Airport (Lima, Peru); El Alto International Airport (La Paz, Bolivia); Santiago International Airport (Chile).
  • Major rivers: Orinoco, Marañón, Ucayali, Medeira, Pilcomayo, Bermejo, Paraná, Rio Salado, Colorado, Rio Negro.
  • The largest lakes: Titicaca, Poopo.


  • The leading industry is mining: deposits of tungsten, silver, tin, oil (Peru, Bolivia, Venezuela, Chile); copper (Chile), gold and emeralds (Colombia), iron (Bolivia).
  • Agriculture: bananas (Ecuador, Colombia), potatoes, coffee (Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador), corn, tobacco, wheat, sugar cane, olives, grapes; sheep breeding, fishery on large lakes.

Climate and weather

  • Because of the great length of the Andes there is a great diversity of climate, this mountain system stretches over six climatic belts (equatorial, northern and southern subequatorial, southern tropical, subtropical and temperate).
  • The average temperature in Caracas is about +2ºC in July and +19ºC in January.
  • Most precipitation (up to 820 mm per year) falls between May and November.
  • In the highlands of Quito, the temperature stays between +13°C … +But there is a large difference between the daytime and nighttime temperatures.
  • Rainfall (up to 1,200 mm per year) is from September to May.
  • In La Paz, the average monthly temperature is about +1ºC in November and about +7ºC in July.
  • In Chile, the average temperature ranges from +12°C to +22°C in the north and from +3°C to +16°C in the south.


  • Lake Titicaca.
  • Lauca National Park.
  • Chiloé National Park.
  • Cape Horn National Park.
  • Santa Fe de Bogota: Catholic churches of the 16th-18th centuries, National Museum of Colombia.
  • Quito: Cathedral, Museum of Musical Instruments, Museo del Banco Central.
  • Cuzco: Cuzco Cathedral, La Campa Nia Church, and Haitun Rumiyoc Street (remains of Inca structures).
  • Lima: Archaeological sites of Huaca Huallamarca and Huaca Pucciana, the Archbishop’s Palace, and the Church and Monastery of San Francisco.
  • Archeological complexes: Machu Picchu, Pachacamac, ruins of Caral, Sacsayhuaman, Tambomachay, Pucapucara, Kenko, Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Moray, ruins of Piquillact.

Fun Facts

  • The capital of Bolivia, La Paz is the highest mountain capital in the world. It is located at an altitude of 3,600 meters above sea level.
  • 200 km north of Lima (Peru) are the ruins of the city of Caral – temples, amphitheaters, houses and pyramids. It is believed that Caral belonged to the oldest civilization of the Americas and was built about 4000-4500 years ago. Archaeological excavations have shown that the city traded with vast areas of the continent of South America. Most interestingly, archaeologists have found no evidence of military conflict for about a thousand years in the history of Caral.
  • One of the most enigmatic historical monuments in the world is the monumental archaeological complex of Sacsayhuaman, located north-west of Cusco, about 3,700 meters above sea level. The fortress of the same name is attributed to the Inca civilization. But until now it was not possible to determine how the stones of these walls, which weigh up to 200 tons and were docked to each other with precision. The ancient system of underground passages has also not yet been fully explored.
  • The Moray Archaeological Complex, located 74 km from Cuzco at an altitude of 3500 meters, still fascinates not only archeologists. The huge terraces here, descending, form a kind of amphitheatre. Studies have shown that the Incas used the structure as an agricultural laboratory, as the different height of the terraces allowed to observe and experiment with plants in different climates. Different soils and a complex irrigation system were used here, and the Incas cultivated a total of 250 plant species.
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