The Andes Mountain Range. South America.

A Photographic View Taken Of The Andes Mountains From The International Space Station.

The Andes, running along South America’s western side, is among the world’s longest mountain ranges. Its varied terrain encompasses glaciers, volcanoes, grassland, desert, lakes and forest. The mountains shelter pre-Columbian archaeological sites and wildlife including chinchillas and condors. From Venezuela in the north, the range passes through Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina and Chile.

There are hundreds of peaks more than 4,500 meters (15,000 feet) tall, many of which are volcanic. The highest peak in the Andes, Aconcagua, stands at 6,962 meters (22,841 feet) and straddles the Argentina-Chile border. Aconcagua is the tallest mountain outside Asia. High plateaus are also a feature of the Andes.

The Andes Mountains is the mountainous spine which dramatically dissects South America in two from north to south, crossing seven countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela. The continent’s most magnificent natural attraction stretches for over 7,500km – from Venezuela all the way to Patagonia – and has spawned, in one way or another, the continent’s incredible natural biodiversity.

Everything about South America is directly related to its existence: not only the dramatically different landscapes but also the indigenous cultures and their histories, their diverging cuisines, the immensely diverse wilderness and the incredible wildlife, among countless other aspects.

The Andes Mountains stretch about 4,500 miles along the western coast of South America. (Image credit: CIA World Factbook)

The Andes mountain range, as seen from an airplane, between Santiago de Chile and Mendoza, Argentina, in summer. The large ice field corresponds to the southern slope of San José volcano (left) and Marmolejo (right). Tupungato at their right.
Author, Jorge Morales Piderit.

The Andes, Andes Mountains or Andean Mountains (Spanish: Cordillera de los Andes) are the longest continental mountain range in the world, forming a continuous highland along the western edge of South America.

The range is 8,900 km (5,530 mi) long, 200 to 700 km (124 to 435 mi) wide (widest between 18°S – 20°S latitude), and has an average height of about 4,000 m (13,123 ft). The Andes extend from north to south through seven South American countries: Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina.

The mountain range spans seven countries — Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina — and can be found between 10 degrees north and 57 degrees south latitudes and 70 degrees to 80 degrees west longitude. It is up to 500 miles (804 km) wide.

Along their length, the Andes are split into several ranges, separated by intermediate depressions. The Andes are the location of several high plateaus—some of which host major cities such as Quito, Bogotá, Cali, Arequipa, Medellín, Bucaramanga, Sucre, Mérida, El Alto and La Paz. The Altiplano plateau is the world’s second-highest after the Tibetan plateau.

These ranges are in turn grouped into three major divisions based on climate: the Tropical Andes, the Dry Andes, and the Wet Andes.
The Andes Mountains are the highest mountain range outside Asia. The highest mountain outside Asia, Argentina’s Mount Aconcagua, rises to an elevation of about 6,961 m (22,838 ft) above sea level.

The peak of Chimborazo in the Ecuadorian Andes is farther from the Earth’s center than any other location on the Earth’s surface, due to the equatorial bulge resulting from the Earth’s rotation. The world’s highest volcanoes are in the Andes, including Ojos del Salado on the Chile-Argentina border, which rises to 6,893 m (22,615 ft).

The Andes are also part of the American Cordillera, a chain of mountain ranges (cordillera) that consists of an almost continuous sequence of mountain ranges that form the western “backbone” of North America, Central America, South America and Antarctica.


The etymology of the word Andes has been debated. The majority consensus is that it derives from the Quechua word anti ‘east as in Antisuyu (Quechua for ‘east region’), one of the four regions of the Inca Empire.

The term cordillera comes from the Spanish word cordel ‘rope’ and is used as a descriptive name for several contiguous sections of the Andes, as well as the entire Andean range, and the combined mountain chain along the western part of the North and South American continents.


The Andes can be divided into three sections:
The Southern Andesin Argentina and Chile, south of Llullaillaco.The Central Andesin Peru and Bolivia.The Northern Andesin Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador. In the northern part of the Andes, the separate Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta range is often treated as part of the Northern Andes.

The Leeward Antilles islands Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao, which lie in the Caribbean Sea off the coast of Venezuela, were formerly thought to represent the submerged peaks of the extreme northern edge of the Andes range, but ongoing geological studies indicate that such a simplification does not do justice to the complex tectonic boundary between the South American and Caribbean plates.


The Andes are a Mesozoic–Tertiary orogenic belt of mountains along the Pacific Ring of Fire, a zone of volcanic activity that encompasses the Pacific rim of the Americas as well as the Asia-Pacific region.

The Andes are the result of tectonic plate processes, caused by the subduction of oceanic crust beneath the South American Plate. It is the result of a convergent plate boundary between the Nazca Plate and the South American Plate. The main cause of the rise of the Andes is the compression of the western rim of the South American Plate due to the subduction of the Nazca Plate and the Antarctic Plate.

To the east, the Andes range is bounded by several sedimentary basins, such as Orinoco, Amazon Basin, Madre de Dios and Gran Chaco, that separate the Andes from the ancient cratons in eastern South America. In the south, the Andes share a long boundary with the former Patagonia Terrane.

To the west, the Andes end at the Pacific Ocean, although the Peru-Chile trench can be considered their ultimate western limit. From a geographical approach, the Andes are considered to have their western boundaries marked by the appearance of coastal lowlands and a less rugged topography. The Andes Mountains also contain large quantities of iron ore located in many mountains within the range.
The Andean orogen has a series of bends or oroclines. The Bolivian Orocline is a seaward concave bending in the coast of South America and the Andes Mountains at about 18° S.

At this point, the orientation of the Andes turns from Northwest in Peru to South in Chile and Argentina. The Andean segment north and south of the Orocline have been rotated 15° to 20° counter clockwise and clockwise respectively. The Bolivian Orocline area overlaps with the area of maximum width of the Altiplano Plateau and according to Isacks (1988) the Orocline is related to crustal shortening.

The specific point at 18° S where the coastline bends is known as the “Arica Elbow”. Further south lies the Maipo Orocline a more subtle Orocline between 30° S and 38°S with a seaward-concave break in trend at 33° S. Near the southern tip of the Andes lies the Patagonian Orocline.


The western rim of the South American Plate has been the place of several pre-Andean orogenies since at least the late Proterozoic and early Paleozoic, when several terranes and microcontinents collided and amalgamated with the ancient cratons of eastern South America, by then the South American part of Gondwana.

The formation of the modern Andes began with the events of the Triassic when Pangaea began the break up that resulted in developing several rifts.

The development continued through the Jurassic Period. It was during the Cretaceous Period that the Andes began to take their present form, by the uplifting, faulting and folding of sedimentary and metamorphic rocks of the ancient cratons to the east. The rise of the Andes has not been constant, as different regions have had different degrees of tectonic stress, uplift, and erosion.

Tectonic forces above the subduction zone along the entire west coast of South America where the Nazca Plate and a part of the Antarctic Plate are sliding beneath the South American Plate continue to produce an ongoing orogenic event resulting in minor to major earthquakes and volcanic eruptions to this day. In the extreme south, a major transform fault separates Tierra del Fuego from the small Scotia Plate. Across the 1,000 km (620 mi) wide Drake Passage lie the mountains of the Antarctic Peninsula south of the Scotia Plate which appear to be a continuation of the Andes chain.

The regions immediately east of the Andes experience a series of changes resulting from the Andean orogeny. Parts of the Sunsás Orogen in Amazonian craton disappeared from the surface of earth being overridden by the Andes. The Sierras de Córdoba, where the effects of the ancient Pampean orogeny can be observed, owe their modern uplift and relief to the Andean orogeny in the Tertiary.

Further south in southern Patagonia the onset of the Andean orogeny caused the Magallanes Basin to evolve from being an extensional back-arc basin in the Mesozoic to being a compressional foreland basin in the Cenozoic.

Rift valley near Quilotoa, Ecuador.
Description, Photo location in Ecuador, on the road between Zumbahua and Laguna Quilotoa.
Author, Creationlaw.

This photo from the ISS shows the high plains of the Andes Mountains in the foreground, with a line of young volcanoes facing the much lower Atacama Desert.

Description .
This image was taken by an astronaut looking south-east across the South American continent when the International Space Station (ISS) was almost directly over the Atacama Desert near Chile’s Pacific coast. The high plains (3000–5000 meters) of the Andes Mountains, also known as the Puna, appear in the foreground, with a line of young volcanoes facing the much lower Atacama Desert (1000–2000 m elevation).
Several salt-crusted dry lakes (known as salars in Spanish) occupy the basins between major thrust faults in the Puna. Salar de Arizaro (foreground) is the largest of the dry lakes in this view.
The Atlantic Ocean coastline, where Argentina’s capital city of Buenos Aires sits along the Río de la Plata, is dimly visible at image top left. Near image centre, the transition between two distinct geological zones, the Puna and the Sierras Pampeanas, creates a striking landscape contrast. Compared to the Puna, the Sierras Pampeanas mountains are lower in elevation and have fewer young volcanoes. Sharp-crested ridges are separated by wide, low valleys in this region.
The Salinas Grandes—ephemeral shallow salt lakes—occupies one of these valleys. The general colour change from reds and browns in the foreground to blues and greens in the upper part of the image reflects the major climatic regions: the deserts of the Atacama and Puna versus the grassy plains of central Argentina, where rainfall is sufficient to promote lush prairie grass, known locally as the pampas. The Salinas Grandes mark an intermediate, semiarid region.
Author, The NASA Expedition 23 crew.
Camera location,
25° 59′ 59.8″ S,
67° 30′ 00.1″ W 

The Andes range has many active volcanoes distributed in four volcanic zones separated by areas of inactivity. The Andean volcanism is a result of subduction of the Nazca Plate and Antarctic Plate underneath the South American Plate.

The belt is subdivided into four main volcanic zones that are separated from each other by volcanic gaps. The volcanoes of the belt are diverse in terms of activity style, products and morphology. While some differences can be explained by which volcanic zone a volcano belongs to, there are significant differences inside volcanic zones and even between neighbouring volcanoes. Despite being a type location for calc-alkalic and subduction volcanism, the Andean Volcanic Belt has a large range of volcano-tectonic settings, such as rift systems and extensional zones, transpressional faults, subduction of mid-ocean ridges and seamount chains apart from a large range of crustal thicknesses and magma ascent paths, and different amount of crustal assimilations.


The history of human habitation in the Andean region of South America stretches from circa 15,000 BCE to the present day. Stretching for 7,000 km (4,300 mi) long, the region encompasses mountainous, tropical and desert environments. This colonisation and habitation of the region has been affected by its unique geography and climate, leading to the development of unique cultural and socn.

After the first humans — who were then arranged into hunter-gatherer tribal groups — arrived in South America via the Isthmus of Panama, they spread out across the continent, with the earliest evidence for settlement in the Andean region dating to circa 15,000 BCE, in what archaeologists call the Lithic Period.

In the ensuing Andean preceramic period, plants began to be widely cultivated, and first complex society, Caral-Supe civilization, emerged at 3500 BC, and lasted until 1800 BC. Also, distinct religious centres emerged, such as the Kotosh Religious Tradition in the highlands.

This was followed by the Ceramic Period. Various complex societies developed at this time, such as Chavín culture, lasting from 900 BC to 200 BC, Paracas culture, lasting from 800 BC to 200 BC, its successor Nazca culture, lasting from 200 BC to 800, the Moche civilisation, lasting from 100 to 700, Wari and Tiwanaku Empires, with both lasting from 600 to 1000, and Chimor, lasting from 900 to 1470.

In later periods, much of the Andean region was conquered by the indigenous Incas, who in 1438 founded the largest empire that the Americas had ever seen, named Tahuantinsuyu, but usually called Inca Empire.

The Inca governed their empire from the capital city of Cuzco, administering it along traditional Andean lines. Inca Empire rose from Kingdom of Cuzco, founded around 1230.

In the 16th century, Spanish colonisers from Europe arrived in the Andes, eventually subjugating the indigenous kingdoms and incorporating the Andean region into the Spanish Empire. In the 19th century, a rising tide of anti-imperialist nationalism that was sweeping all of South America led rebel armies to overthrow Spanish rule.

The Andean region was subsequently divided into a number of new states, Peru, Chile, Bolivia and Ecuador. The 20th century saw the growing influence of the United States in the region, which was increasingly exploited for its natural gas supplies. This in turn led to the rise of a number of anti-imperialist and socialist movements to oppose U.S. and multinational involvement in Andean South America.

The Andean mountain range in western South America.

First Colonisation.

After the evolution of anatomically modern humans in East Africa circa 200,000 years ago, the species spread across the African continent and into Europe and Asia. It was from the Bering land bridge between Siberia in Northeast Asia and Alaska in north-western North America that humans first crossed into the Americas.

From there, vanguards of human groups headed south, colonising the rest of the continent before reaching the Isthmus of Panama and crossing into the continent of South America. Although there had been four biologically distinct genetic human populations in North America, as has been identified by DNA analysis, only one of these populations, that known as the Paleo-Indians, pushed as far south as Mesoamerica and South America, meaning that the indigenous inhabitants of that latter continent were genetically homogenous.

Comparative analysis of indigenous religious beliefs across South America have led academics to suspect that the first Paleo-Indian colonists of the continent would have believed in a multi-layered universe in which the Earth was suspended between a celestial outer sphere and a cavernous inner sphere. There would have been strong taboos against incest, something that would have prevented inbreeding (a particular problem amongst the genetic homogeneity of the Indigenous South Americans), and instead marriage was controlled by social conventions, such as the development of moiety systems of societal duality.

The first pioneers in South America, migrating down south from the Isthmus of Panama, would likely have avoided the largely mountainous Andean region, because the upper Cordillera was glaciated, cold and sparsely vegetated, making life there difficult, whilst these early populations would have suffered from hypoxia. Instead, the early hunter-gatherer pioneers would have most likely stuck to the margins of the continent, where they could exploit the resources in the rivers, deltas and salt-water lagoons.

Gradually, generation by generation, as the population grew, these Indigenous Americans spread out throughout the continent, with some groups eventually reaching the Andean region. They would have most likely initially inhabited the coastal lowland areas, only travelling up into the mountains to obtain resources like obsidian. Gradually, as their descendants became acclimatised to the altitude, groups of humans began to move up and inhabit higher points of the Andes.

One of the earliest known Andean sites that have been properly investigated by archaeologists is that at Monte Verde in Southern Chile, which has been radiocarbon dated to 14,800 years ago. At this site, there was evidence for seasonal settlement along the sandy banks of a creek in the subarctic pine forests of the low southern Cordillera, at which were found preserved wooden and stone tools, remnants of wild vegetables such as potatoes, and the skeletal remains of five or six mastodons which had been scavenged or hunted by the human occupants.

Other Lithic period sites that have been discovered in the Andean region include Los Toldos (Santa Cruz) in Argentina, and San Vicente de Tagua Tagua, Cueva Fell (Fell’s Cave), and Quero in contemporary Chile. Pikimachay, the cave of Jaywamachay (40km southwest of Ayacucho), Huarago and Uschumachay in contemporary Peru are also important. From the evidence unearthed at all these sites it is apparent that at this time, the horse was the most commonly hunted species, although the sloth and guanaco were also apparent.

Lithic adaptation.

Due to the varied geographical areas in the Andean region, unique communities evolved to suit their own particular locations across the region in the latter part of the Lithic period.

Archaeologists have defined these different communities by their unique types of stone tool designs, describing them as the Northwestern tradition, the coastal Paijan tradition, the Central Andean Lithic Tradition, and the Atacama Maritime Tradition.

It was also in this period that Andean communities first began to domesticate crops, genetically transforming various plant species from their wild counterparts.

Post War Development.

In 1969, five Andean states — Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru — founded their own trade bloc, the Andean Pact, and in 1973 were joined by Venezuela. In 1976, Chile withdrew from the Pact after President of Chile Augusto Pinochet declared the Pact incompatible with his right-wing views. The Pact was renamed the Andean Community of Nations in 1996.

The Pink Tide.

In the 21st century, leftist presidents were elected to power in several Andean states, as a part of the wider “pink tide” then sweeping Latin America, in which the political left gained increasing power as a reaction against neoliberalism and the Washington Consensus.

In 2006, Evo Morales of the Movement for Socialism party was elected President of Bolivia, whilst later that year Rafael Correa of the PAIS Alliance was elected President of Ecuador; both Morales and Correa were socialists, nationalising industry and opposing United States and corporate influence in their respective nations. Instead, both allied themselves with the government of Venezuela, then led by Hugo Chávez and his United Socialist Party of Venezuela, and joined the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas, a trade bloc between Latin America’s socialist nations.

Agricultural terraces (andenes) were widely built and used for agriculture in the Andes.
Author, Alexson Scheppa Peisino (AlexSP).

Agriculture in South America
may have begun in coastal Ecuador with the domestication of squash about 8000 BCE by the Las Vegas culture.

Some scholars believe that the earliest civilizations on the Peruvian coast initially relied more upon maritime resources than agriculture during the formative period of their societies.

However, as in all civilizations until the late 19th century, agriculture was the principal occupation of the great majority of the people. The greatest contribution of Andean civilization to the modern world has been the plants its people domesticated. Crops grown by the Andeans were often unique to the region. 

Maize, which found its way to the Andes from Mexico, was often the most important crop at lower and intermediate elevations. The Andeans cultivated an estimated 70 different plants, almost as many as were cultivated in all of Europe and Asia. Many of these plants are no longer cultivated, or are minor crops, but important plants which were domesticated in or near the Andes include potatoes, quinoa, tomatoes, chile peppers, cotton, coca, tobacco, pineapples, peanuts, and several varieties of beans.

Animals domesticated in the Andes were llamas and guinea pigs.
The challenges of the environment required sophisticated agricultural technology. Unlike the Middle East, the Andes lacked easily domesticated and large-seeded plants such as wheat and barley and large and easily domesticated animals such as horses and cattle.

Agriculture on the desert coast required the development of irrigation. In the mountains, the elevation, cold climate and steep terrain required a range of technological solutions such as terraces (andén), exploitation of microclimates, and selective breeding. Due to the climatic uncertainties, farmers traditionally farmed several crops at several elevations and exposures. At a macro level, societies and states did the same with the vertical archipelago, establishing colonies at different elevations and locations to increase the possibilities of agricultural success.

Uniqueness .

The civilization of the Andes was one of five in the world deemed by scholars to be “pristine”, that is indigenous and not derived from other civilizations. Due to its isolation from other civilizations, the indigenous people of the Andes had to come up with their own, often unique solutions to environmental and societal challenges.

Andean civilization lacked several characteristics distinguishing it from the pristine civilizations in the Old World and from the Mesoamerican cultures. First, and perhaps most important, Andean civilizations did not have a written language. Instead, their societies used the quipu, a system of knotted and colored strings, to convey information. Few quipus survive and they have never been fully deciphered. Scholars differ on whether the knotted cords of the quipu were able only to record numerical data or could also be used for narrative communication, a true system of writing.

The use of the quipu dates back at least to the Wari Empire (600–1000 CE) and possibly to the much earlier civilization of Caral/Norte Chico of the third millennium BCE.

Andean civilizations also lacked wheeled vehicles and draft animals. People on land traveled only by foot and the transport of goods was only by humans or llama, pack animals which could carry loads of up to one-fourth of their weight, a maximum of 45 kilograms (99 lb). Llamas were not big or strong enough to be used for plowing or as riding animals for adults.

Moreover, Andean civilizations faced severe environmental challenges. The earliest civilizations were on the hyper-arid desert coast of Peru. Agriculture was possible only with irrigation in valleys crossed by rivers coming from the high Andes, plus in a few fog oases called lomas. In the Andes, agriculture was limited by thin soils, cold climate, low or seasonal precipitation, and a scarcity of flat land. Freezing temperatures may occur in every month of the year at altitudes of more than 3,000 metres (9,800 ft), the homeland of many of the highland Andean civilizations.

Finally, the Andean civilizations lacked money. Copper axe-monies (also called “naipes”) and Spondylus shells functioned as mediums of exchange in some areas, especially coastal Ecuador, but most of the Andes area had economies organized on reciprocity and redistribution rather than money and markets. These characteristics were especially notable during the Inca Empire but originated in much earlier times.


Source with thanks, Wikipedia.