15 Amazing Facts About The Andes Mountains

It’s one of the most fascinating mountain ranges in the world for multiple reasons.

In this post, you’ll discover the ultimate list of facts about the Andes Mountains.

1. It’s located along the western edge of South America

The Andes Mountain range runs all across the western edge of South America and is the highest mountain range outside of Asia. Because it’s so huge, the range is divided into 3 distinctly different areas:

  • The Northern Andes.
  • The Central Andes.
  • The Southern Andes.
South America map andes
Map of the Mountains in the west of South America / Wiki Commons

2. It covers an area in 7 different countries

Because the Andes stretches all across South America, it covers areas in multiple countries, 7 in total:

  • Venezuela
  • Colombia
  • Ecuador
  • Peru
  • Bolivia
  • Chile
  • Argentina

The Northern Andes covers areas of Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador. The Central Andes covers areas in Peru and Bolivia and the Southern Andes in Chile and Argentina.

Andes facts in Peru
Andes in Peru / Pixabay

3. The Andes Mountains hold an amazing record

One of the most fascinating facts about the Andes Mountains is that it’s the longest continental mountain range in the entire world! It has a total length of 7,000 kilometers (4,350 miles).

Its width varies between 200 and 640 kilometers (124 and 398 miles). The range reaches its maximum width in the Central Andes in Bolivia.

Andes in Bolivia
Mountains in Bolivia / Jonathan Lewis / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en

4. It’s part of a much larger chain of mountains as well

Perhaps one of the most amazing facts about the Andes Mountains is that it’s actually part of an even larger chain of mountain ranges, stretching all the way north to Canada and Alaska!

This chain is referred to as the American Cordillera and is basically the eastern part of the Pacific Ring of Fire. This cordillera is often referred to as the “western backbone” of the Americas and runs from the utmost southern tip of South America at Tierra del Fuego to the Alaska and Brooks Range in Alaska in North America.

Other notable mountain ranges in the American Cordillera are the Rockies, the Sierra Nevada, and the Cascades.

Canadian Rockies
The Canadian Rockies, part of the American Cordillera / Wiki Commons

5. The highest mountain outside of Asia is located in the Andes

Most of the highest peaks of the Andes are located in the Central and Southern Andes. The average height of the mountain range is about 4,000 meters (13,123 feet), making it the highest mountain range outside of Asia.

There are numerous peaks over 6,000 meters (19,685 feet) high, and some are even approaching 7,000 meters (22,965 feet). This includes one of the most famous mountains in the world, Aconcagua in Argentina, which stands 6,961 meters (22,838 feet) above sea level.

This makes it the highest mountain outside of Asia as well!

It’s also home to some of the highest volcanoes in the world, including the highest active volcano in the world, the Ojos del Salado on the Chile-Argentina border. This volcano reaches a height of 6,893 meters (22,615 feet).

The peak of Chimborazo in Ecuador, on the other hand, is with a height of 6,263.47 meters (20,549.4 feet) the furthest place away from the center of the earth!

Chimborazo in Ecuador
Chimborazo in Ecuador / Pixabay

6. It’s home to the second-highest plateau in the world

Apart from being home to some of the highest mountains and volcanoes in the world, the Andes Mountain range is also home to the second-highest plateau in the world.

This plateau is referred to as the Altiplano, Collao, or Andean Plateau, and only the Tibetan Plateau, which contains the highest mountains in the world including Mount Everest and K2, is higher.

Even though most of the Altiplano is located in Bolivia, it also covers areas of Peru, Chile, and Argentina. The most prominent feature of the plateau is the fact that it’s dominated by a vast number of active volcanoes.

Altiplano Bolivia
Altiplano in Bolivia / Pixabay

7. The highest capital in the world is located in the Andes

The Altiplano isn’t the only high plateau in the mountain range, there are multiple more. This in combination with the fact that the area has been inhabited by people for over 6,000 years, which culminated in the formation of the Incan Empire, the largest empire in pre-Columbian America.

Many of these big cities are located on the plateaus, and the highest capital city in the world is located on the Altiplano Plateau, La Paz in Bolivia. This remarkable city is located at a height of about 3,650 meters (11,975 feet) with some parts extending to a height of 4,200 meters (13,780 feet).

Some other large cities in the Andes are Quito in Ecuador, Santiago in Chile, and Medellín and Cali in Colombia. The largest city in the Andes is Bogotá in Columbia which has a population of over 10 million inhabitants.

La Paz Bolivia
La Paz in Bolivia / Pixabay

8. It’s assumed that the word “Andes” is of Incan origin

You’re probably aware that the Incas lived in the Andes and built one of the most famous landmarks in the world here referred to as “Machu Picchu.” This remarkable structure even made it to the list of New 7 Wonders of the World. What you might not know is that the word “Andes” might originate from one of the languages spoken in the Incan Empire as well!

While it’s not exactly sure where the name Andes originated from, many historians assume it’s derived from the Quechua word “anti.” This word referred to “East,” referring to the “East Region” of the Incan Empire.

Machu Picchu in the Andes Mountains
Machu Picchu / Pixabay

9. They were formed during two long geological periods

Just like all the mountain formations in the world, the Andes were formed because of the movement of tectonic plates. More specifically the compression of the South American Plate and the subduction of the Nazca and Antarctic Plates.

This process went on for millions of years, starting all the way back in the Mesozoic Era (252 to 66 million years ago), and lasting all the way into the Tertiary Era (66 to 2.6 million years ago).

fun facts about the Andes Mountains
Andes in Peru / Pixabay

10. The Andes is bordered by the dries place on earth

The mountain range is bordered in the central part by the Atacama Desert, one of the most fascinating deserts in the world which is considered to be the driest place on the planet.

One of the most interesting facts about the Andes Mountains is that the range is directly responsible for creating this ultra-arid place as its peaks cast a double rain-shadow over the desert, making it impossible for any precipitation to pass.

This gives many parts of the desert a Mars-like appearance and environment, which is the main reason it has been used as a testing ground for Mars missions!

Atacama Desert looks like mars

11. The range is home to the highest navigable lake in the world

One of the most amazing lakes on the planet, sometimes referred to as the “highest navigable lake in the world,” can also be found in this mountain range.

This lake is called “Lake Titicaca” and is located in the Andes on the border of Peru and Bolivia. It’s far from being the highest lake in the world though, but because it covers an area of 8,372 square kilometers (3,232 square miles), it’s the highest lake in the world that can be navigated by large commercial vessels.

interesting facts about Lake Titicaca
Lake Titicaca in Bolivia / Pixabay

12. The climate can change drastically based on the location

Because this is such a vast mountain range, there are multiple climate zones, based on both the latitude and the altitude. The northern part of the Andes is mostly hot and rainy with an average temperature of 18 °C (64 °F) in Colombia.

Because it’s relatively warm in the northern part of the range, the difference in climate can be quite extreme. One such example is the active composite volcano named Cotopaxi, the second-highest peak in Ecuador with an elevation of 5,897 meters (19,347 feet).

The peak of this prominent mountain is covered in snow and this is just a few kilometers away from the hot and humid rainforests which cover its base.

Cotopaxi and rainforest
Cotopaxi and rainforest below. / Pixabay

13. The snow line gets higher as you move further north

The further south you go, the colder the climate. This also means that the snow line moves higher and higher if you travel from south to north because of the warmer climate.

The snow line moves quite drastically as well, situated around:

  • 4,800 and 5,200 meters (15,748 and 17,060 feet) – Dry parts of the northern parts.
  • 4,500 and 4,800 meters (14,764 and 15,748 feet) – Tropical parts of the northern parts.
  • 4,500 meters (14,760 feet) – Area around Aconcagua.
  • 500 – 2,000 meters (6,600 feet) – Southern part of the range.
  • 300 meters (980 feet) – The utmost southern tip in Tierra del Fuego.
Snow on Aconcagua in Argentina
Snow on Aconcagua in Argentina / Pixabay

14. It’s home to a small tree which produces medicine for malaria

Similar to the change in climate based on the location, the flora of this mountain range varies greatly. The northern parts are covered with rainforests, even though these are vanishing rapidly.

One of the most intriguing facts about the Andes Mountains is that it’s home to over 30,000 species of vascular plants, the highest concentration anywhere in the world.

Perhaps the most fascinating plant species is a small tree referred to as the “Cinchona pubescens,” also referred to as “Quina.” This tree produces quinine in its bark, a form of medication that is used as a malaria treatment.

Cinchona pubescens
Cinchona pubescens / Forest and Kim Starr / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/deed.en

15. 1,000’s of animal species live in the Andes Mountains

A vast number of animal species live in the Andes, many of which are endemic. Here’s an overview:

  • 1,000 species of amphibians of which 2/3 are endemic, making it one of the absolute hotspots for these animals in the world.
  • 600 species of mammals living here, including some dangerous ones such as mountain lions.
  • 1,700 species of birds, including flamingos.
  • 600 species of reptiles of which nearly half are endemic.
  • 400 species of fish of which about 30% are endemic, many of which are found in Lake Titicaca.

A common sight in the Peruvian Andes is herds of alpacas grazing in the valleys between majestic mountains, and what an amazing sight it is, don’t you think?!

Alpacas in the Andes
Alpacas in the valleys / Marturius / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en