The Andes are the longest mountain range in the world.
Located along the entire western coast of South America, the Andes mountain range is about 7,000 kilometers (4,300 miles) long, about 200 to 700 kilometers (120 to 430 miles) wide.
Along their length, the Andes are split into several ranges, which are separated by intermediate depressions.
The Andes are the world’s highest mountain range outside of Asia.
The average height of Andes Mountains is approximately 4,000 meters (13,000 feet).
The highest elevation in the Andes is Mount Aconcagua in Argentina, which is 6,961 meters (22,838 feet) above sea level. It is the highest mountain outside Asia.
The peak of Chimborazo in the Ecuadorean Andes is the farthest point from the center of the earth. Chimborazo mountain stands 6,268 meters (20,564 feet) above sea level, is actually 6,384 kilometers (3,944 miles) from the Earth’s core, making it 2 kilometers (1.24 miles) higher than its counterpart in the Himalayas due to differences in the planet’s diameter on different continents. So Chimborazo is, in fact, the place on Earth that is closest to the moon and outer space.
Many Andean peaks are volcanic. Some are inactive. But others still erupt at times.
The world’s highest volcano is in the Andes, Ojos del Salado on the Chile-Argentina border, which rises to 6,893 meters (22,615 feet).
Cotopaxi, in Ecuador, is the highest active volcano in the world. It rises to 5,897 meters (19,347 feet).
Two of South America’s major river systems begin in the Andes. They are the Amazon and the Orinoco systems.
High in the mountains at an altitude of 3,812 meters (12,507 feet) between Bolivia and Peru is Lake Titicaca. It is is the highest commercially navigable body of water in the world.
In the Bolivian Andes, at a height of 3,650 meters (12,160 feet), Salar de Uyuni is located, which is the world’s largest salt flat at 10,582 square kilometers (4,086 square miles).
The Andes were formed only 45 million years ago yet the massive forces that pushed them up have been at work for 140 million years as the Nazca tectonic plate is thrust under the South American continent.
The Andes can be divided into three sections:
1. The Southern Andes in Argentina and Chile
2. The Central Andes in Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia
3. The Northern Andes in Venezuela and Colombia
The Andes are the location of several high plateaus – some of which host major cities, such as Quito, Bogotá, Arequipa, Medellín, Sucre, Mérida and La Paz [photo below].
Within the Andes are many different kinds of lands and ways of life. There are great modern cities. There are small villages where people live much as their ancestors did centuries ago. There are dense forests and barren plains. There are fertile farmlands and stony soils where little grows.
About a third of all the people in South America live in the Andes. Most of them live in cities and towns.
Mining activities are carried out in the mountain range, with iron, gold, silver, tin and copper being the main production materials. [Photo: Yanacocha-Gold-Mine]
The Inca Civilization developed in the northern Andes during the 1400s. The Incas formed this civilization through careful and meticulous governmental management. The government sponsored the construction of aqueducts and roads, some of which, like those created by the Romans, are still in existence today.
Devastated by deadly European diseases to which they had no immunity, the Incas were conquered by an army of 180 men led by Pizarro in 1532. One of the few Inca cities the Spanish never found in their conquest was Machu Picchu, which lay hidden on a peak on the edge of the Andes where they descend to the Amazon. Machu Picchu (sometimes called the “Lost City of the Incas”) is one of the most well known sites of the Inca Empire.
Mountain hikers love to trek across several different hiking destinations in the Andes ranges. The most famous hike in the Andes – perhaps the world – is the Inca Trail through the Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu is both arduous and awe-inspiring.
Beside Inca Trail, Ausangate, Tierra del Fuego National Park, El Cocuy National Park and Huascarán National Park, are also some options for hiking in the Andes Mountains.
The mountain range is home to a rich variety of fauna and flora, with about 30,000 species of vascular plants, 1000 species of amphibians, 600 species of mammals, 1700 species of birds, 600 species of reptiles and 400 species of fish.
The etymology of the word Andes has been debated. The majority consensus is that it derives from the Quechua word anti, which means “east” as in Antisuyu (Quechua for “east region”), one of the four regions of the Inca Empire.
The Andes are dotted with Cinchona pubescens trees, which produce quinine, coveted as a treatment for malaria.