CIPR | Center For Inter-American Policy & Research

Tulane University


The Andes are the principal mountains of South America and one of the greatest mountain systems of the world. The Andes include some of the world’s highest peaks. More than 50 of them soar higher than 6,100 m (20,000 ft) above sea level. Only the Himalayas of south central Asia are higher. The lofty plateaus and high mountain valleys of the Andes contain some of the highest permanent human settlements in the world. The Andes are the longest system of high mountain ranges on earth. They extend for more than 8000 km (5000 mi) in a narrow belt along the western edge of the South American continent, from the coast of the Caribbean Sea in the north to the island of Tierra del Fuego in the extreme south. Along almost its entire length, the Andes rise abruptly from the Pacific coast. The mountains reach into seven countries: Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina.

Settlements in the high Andes include La Paz, which is the seat of government of Bolivia, and Quito, which is the capital of Ecuador. La Paz, which is about 3,600 m (about 11,900 ft) above sea level, is the highest large city in the world. Cuzco, Peru, was the capital of the ancient empire of the Incas and is the capital of one of Peru’s 25 governmental departments. For centuries parts of the Andes have been densely populated by indigenous farmers and herdsmen. Today many indigenous people live and work in much the same way as their ancestors did under the rule of the Incas and, later, of Spanish colonists. Crops are often planted on hillside terraces, constructed to take advantage of scarce agricultural land located on steep terrain.

MSN Encarta: Andes
Photo by Kirsten Lavery, Tulane School of Law