The Andes is a chain of highlands that lie on the western coast of South America. This mountain range boasts an average height of 4000 M (13000 FT).

Covering around 7000 km, this misty mountain range stretches from north to south through seven South American countries; Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Argentina and Chile. The Andes boasts several sub-ranges that are separated by depressions. These ranges have been categorised into three groups based on climate. These are the Wet Andes, the Dry Andes and the Tropical Andes.

The Andes are the perfect playground, popular with travellers on a gap year, long distance walkers as well as the man or woman looking for an adventure to take them away from the grind of the 9 to 5.

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Geography of the Andes

The Armchair Mountaineer looking at Ruminahui, Ecuador (Cotopaxi National Park)

The Armchair Mountaineer looking at Ruminahui, Ecuador (Cotopaxi National Park)

This mountain range can be divided into three parts. The northern Andes lies in Colombia and Venezuela. The central Andes is located in Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador. The southern Andes occupies Chile and Argentina. The Andes encompass a vast range of geographical areas, from rainforest to snow covered mountains and even one of the driest places on earth; the Atacama Desert.

When you travel to the northern part of the Andes, you will come across Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta range. This mountain range is around 200 km in length. The submerged peaks of the northern most part of the Andes make a prominent presence on islands like Curacao, Bonaire and Aruba. The Andes is also home to some of the world’s famous plateaus? These plateaus are the birthplaces of major cities like Bogota, Quito, Medellin, Arequipa, La Paz, Merida and Sucre, some of the highest cities on earth.

The Andes is spread across the Mesozoic – tertiary orogenic belt. This belt of mountains is located in the Pacific ring of fire and is rich in volcanic activity. The formation of the Andes can be attributed to the plate tectonic processes following a subduction of the oceanic crust underneath the South American plate. 

Wildlife in the Andes

Vicuna, trying not to make eye contact with The Armchair Mountaineer.

Vicuna, trying not to make eye contact with The Armchair Mountaineer.

The Andes can offer some mesmerising experiences when you get an opportunity experience the diverse flora and fauna. This mountain range is home to more than 3500 species of animal. The diversity of animals in this mountain range is high, with more than 1700 species of birds, 600 species of mammals, 400 species of fish and 600 variants of reptiles. The Andes have emerged as a particular centre of attraction due to the amphibians present in the region, something note by Edward Whymper in the 19th Century during his travels in Ecuador.

While traversing the Altiplano, the best views of guanaco and vicuna are prevalent. The locals of this region tame alpaca and Ilama for wool and meat. The largest bird; the Andean condor can be found all over the Andes, however, its density is very low. 

Animals that are found in the Andes are foxes, cougar. Birds that can be traced in the open habit include humming birds, giant coot, Andean goose, lesser rhea and flamingos in some lakes. 

Lake Titicaca is the home for various endemics. The endangered ones are Titicaca water frog and Titicaca flightless grebe. Some species of hummingbirds live at an altitude of more than 4000 m. However, the diversity can be best experienced in at lower altitudes where humid Andean forests are located. These forests are spread across Ecuador, Colombia, Bolivia, Peru and northwestern Argentina. Birds found in humid Andean forests include Andean cock-of-the-rock, quetzals, mountain toucans, etc.

After watching the animals, the trip to the Andes will be well complimented when you explore the floral diversity. The Andean region comprises of several floristic spots that are prevalent in Cape Horn, Caribbean Venezuela, etc. 

Around 30000 variants of vascular plants can be found in the Andes. Almost 50% of the plants are endemic to the region. In the Bolivian region, Cinchona pubescens can be found in abundance, which is a source of quinine. Other crucial crops that grow in the Andes are potatoes and tobacco. 

The Andean areas covering Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia are rich in Polylepis forests. These trees grow at an altitude of 4500m and above. These trees have now become endangered. 

Now, enough scene setting, it is time to make some notable tracks and tick off some major Andean peaks.

Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571

In 1972 a plane crashed in the Andes. It was carrying 45 people. A few day after the crash 27 were still alive, another 8 died in an avalanche shortly after. The chance of any surviving at altitude in the remoteness of the snowy Andes was minimal, but over two months after the crash 16 survivors were found.


One of the most striking aspects of this epic story of survival is the fact that the survivors were driven to cannibalism in order to survive. confronted with a small amount of rations they soon realised their chance sou getting out alive were so slim that the only source of food was the fellow passengers who had sadly died in the crash and its aftermath.

This is one of the most amazing tales of survival in the high mountains as well as an extraordinary trek out of the Andes and back to civilisation. As well as spawning the film Alive, there have been a number of books on the subject.

Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu.

Climbing & Walking in the Andes

This is a list of a few notable peaks or treks in the Andes. Despite the extremly high elevation the Andes offers the less experienced climber or mountain walker the chance to get to the top of some seriously big hills. Below is a list of potential adventures for those looking to experience the wild Andes. They have been categorised as trekking or climbing and range from Aconcagua in Argentina to Chimborazo in Ecuador as well as the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.


Country: Argentina
Altitude: 6961 metres
Ascent Type: Trekking

Aconcagua is the highest mountain in the Andes at some 6961 metres high. It is found in Argentina and is the most spectacular backdrop to the vineyards of Mendoza province. The peak is located 15 km from the international border with Chile and 5 km from San Juan province. It is situated in Aconcagua Provincial Park. Aconcagua is characterised by large glaciers. Ventisquero Horcones is the largest and it is 10 km long descending from the south face and ending near Confluencia camp. 

A group led by the German geologist Paul Gussfeldt made the first known attempt of reaching the peak of Aconcagua in 1883. The group approached the mountain through Rio Volcan. In 1897, the mountain relented and Mattias Zurbriggen became the first recorded person to climb it as part of Edward FitzGerald's expedition.

Ojos de Salado

Country: Chile / Argentina
Altitude: 6873 metres
Ascent Type: Trekking / Climbing

Nevado Ojos de Salado is the highest mountain in Chile and is situated 600 km north of Aconcagua. The proximity to the Atacama Desert results in prevailing dry conditions although layers of snow do become prevalent during the winter. A crater lake has been formed at an elevation of 6390 metres, having a diameter of 100 m approximately. 

Although the vast majority of this climb at this mountain falls under the hiking category actually reaching the final peak requires a little bit of scrambling and may require ropes to surmount some loose and tricky rock. Justyn Wojsznis and Jan Alfred Szczeppanski of a Polish expedition group performed the first successful climb in 1937. 


Country: Ecuador
Altitude: 6263 metres
Ascent Type: Trekking / Climbing

Chimborazo is the highest most point in Ecuador and was famously first climbed by Edward Whymper along with the Carrel brothers. Up to the early part of the nineteenth century this mountain was considered to be the tallest on earth and was the target of an attempt in 1802 by Alexander von Humboldt.

The El Castillo route is the least challenging and offers a good opportunity to tick off a large Andean summit without technical climbing. Having said this it is a high mountain with glaciers, exposure and possibility of harsh weather ocnditions so there is no place for complacency and there sould be a place for a guide and good physical preparation.



Country: Ecuador
Altitude: 5897 metres
Ascent Type: Trekking / Climbing

Cotopaxi is the second highest mountain in Ecuador and an active volcano. Its almost perfect cone shape means it lends itself to being photogrpahed as a kind of bluprint of what a volcano should look like.

There have been 87 known eruptions of this volcano, the most recent activity being in 2015 when steam emanated fomr the summit crater. In good weather the mountain is visible from Ecuador's capital; Quito.

Th emountain was first climbed by German geologist, Wilhelm Reiss in 1872 and repeated thereafte rby many poeple, including Edward Whymper. There is not need for much alpine experience to ascend - it is a slog - but crampons, ice axes and of course, the mandatory local guide must be part of your plans.

Monte Pissis

Country: Argentina
Altitude: 6793 metres
Ascent Type: Trekking

Monte Pissis is located in La Rioja province in Argentina. The mountain is located around 550 km north of Aconcagua. The elevation of Monte Pissis is around 6882 m, which was confirmed by an Argentine expedition in 1994 with the use of GPS technology. As the mountain is near the Atacama Desert, dry conditions prevail. However, an extensive glacier can be found in this region. 

Monte Pissis is located is remote and the elevation is high. Therefore, climbers need to take a long approach, however, climbing is not challenging and more recent road construction due to mining in the area has aided accessibility. Even if you do not have specialised skills, you can make an ascent comfortably. The ideal time to climb the mountain is between December and March, as this is the warmest period of the year. The first successful climb was registered by Polish climbers Szczepanski and Osiecki in 1937. The mountain was climbed again in 1985.            


Country: Peru
Altitude: 6654 metres
Ascent Type: Trekking / Climbing

Huascaran is the part of Cordillera Blanca in the western Andes. The mountain is located in the Peruvian province of Yungay. Huascaran is the fourth highest mountain located in the western hemisphere and the highest peak in Peru. The mountain got its name after the King Huascar of the Inca Empire.

Huascaran features two distinct summits. The higher peak known as Huascaran Sur has an elevation of 6768 m. The other peak, which is called Huascaran Norte, has an elevation of 6654 m. Garganta, a saddle separates both the peaks. 

An eponymous national park is home to the mountain and has become popular for mountaineering and trekking. The climbing activity begins from the village of Musho. The climbing consumes around five to seven days. Climbers may face moderate difficulty while ascending.

A joint Austrian-German expedition reached the peak of Huascaran Sur on July 20, 1932. The route, which the team followed, is currently known as Garganta route.


Country: Chile / Argentina
Altitude: 6739 metres
Ascent Type: Trekking

Llullaillaco is located at the border of Chile and Argentina, having an elevation of 6739 m. The mountain lies in the area rich in volcanic peaks. Llullaillaco has been ranked as the 7th highest mountain in the Andes. 

The volcano pattern of the mountain has resemblance with that of the Puna de Atacama. Small snow patches are found in some areas. The snow line of this mountain is the highest in the world with an elevation of 6500 m (due to its desert location).

The summit can be climbed through a few routes and requires no specialised climbing experience but there are real of snow which could mean the need for ice axe and crampons. 

Inca Trail TO MAchu Picchu

Country: Peru
Altitude: 4200 metres
Ascent Type: Trekking

Located in the Peruvian Andes, the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is made up of three overlapping routes, which are One Day, Classic and Mollepata; the latter being the longest route. The ascent required for the two longer routes are more than 4,200 metres (13,800 ft.) above sea level. The trail covers varied Andean environments that includes alpine tundra and fog forests. The trail passes through numerous Inca ruins, tunnels and settlements on its way to the Sun Gate of Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu was constructed at the height of the Inca Empire, somewhere in the middle of the fifteenth century. This astounding UNESCO listed World Heritage Site draws large crowds, so much so that the Peruvian authorities have had to put a limit to the number of daily visitors. A maximum of only 500 people are permitted on the Inca Trail per day. It is no wonder then that this extraordinary relic of the Incas has been voted as on eof the seven wonders of the world.

It is well worth the trip, the permit and the effort to see this unique site. Just don't book your flights for February as the Inca Trail is closed for cleaning. If all of this doesn;t sound like th ekind of wilderness you are searching for from your annual foray into the hills, then include it as part of a wider trip. There is nothing quite like it anywhere in the world.

Torres del Paine

Torres Del Paine

Torres Del Paine

Country: Patagonia (Chile)
Altitude: 2500+ metres
Ascent Type: Trekking / Climbing

Whilst not a trek or walk or indeed a lcimb in itself the Torres del Paine or Towers of Paine are a notable group of mountains in Patagonia. The Torres del Paine National Park (another UNESCO site) is a spectacular place for hiking and trekking. The three extraordinary rock towers provide an epic backdrop or indeed epic climbing for the experienced mountaineer. There is a wealth of clearly marked trails as well as huts (refugios) to stay in all catering for short day hikes or multi day trips, including an amazing circuit of th etowers, which takes about 8 or 9 days.

Preparing for Long-distance walking in the Andes

Ensure that You Are Fit

Before you start the trekking expedition, check your fitness level. The more you are fit, the more you will enjoy the scenic beauty. Walk regularly to keep your body fit. Other activities like going up and down stairs, yoga, swimming, etc. also add up to your stamina.

Take Care of Your Feet

Before going on any trek, purchase good quality socks and trekking boots / shoes. Wear the boots and go for some reasonably long trials. This will help prevent blisters developing during the trek. 

Blisters can be prevented if you double up with thin and thick pairs of socks together. After walking some distance, you should remove the socks and apply talcum powder to your feet so that the sweat does not develop and put on the socks and boots again. When you spend the night in the camp, put on a pair of sandals to make your feet comfortable. 

Vaseline is also a good preventative measure for combatting areas where blisters may appear.

Acclimatise Properly

Some best treks in the Andes consume extended periods of time. Acclimatise properly so that you derive the best experiences of the trek. The altitude throught this region can be deceptive, especially when you arrive in cities like La Paz at 3500 metres and Quito at just below 3000 metres above sea level. Because of this altitude and proximity to the equator make sure you regularly apply sun cream - even on a cloudy day you can easily end up getting burnt.

After reaching an altitude, take rest for some time. You need to drink plenty of water in order to avoid dehydration. Coca tea is also a nice option to eliminate the chances of dehydration. The meals that you will be eating should comprise of low fat, protein and high carbohydrate contents. While retiring to camp, take your supper early for digestion to take place properly. Avoid taking sleeping pills and reduce the consumption of alcohol and cigarettes. 

Make a Wise Selection of Clothes and Kit

While trekking the Andes, you may experience a wide variation in temperature; remember the Andes stretch from the equator to ... well not too far from Antarctica. Ensure that you get a comfortable and versatile kit from your home as purchasing the same in Latin America is probably more expensive. Be sure to have the right kit for the conditions you will encounter. Things that you need to bring are a sleeping bag, boots, rucksack, thermarest, trousers, waterproof jacket. Things like socks, sunhats, are more easily purchased locally.

Familiarize With Village Etiquette

Locals are fond of welcoming trekkers. You should greet them politely. Natives of the Andes may offer you accommodation. You may refuse. Locals may wish to talk to you. It is better if you learn some Quechua and Spanish words beforehand. When you hike in remote areas, show interest in learning the customs of the locals. 

Sharing Coca Leaves

In social activities and rituals, coca has been used for more than 2000 years. Coca leaves are treated as a sacred gift from nature. Sharing coca leaves with strangers is equivalent to shaking hands. 

These are a handful of the tips that you should follow while trekking the Andes. The Andes are among the world’s largest mountain ranges covering most parts of Latin America. Trekking the mountains will provide you with a special experience but it is advisable to hire a reputable tour operator to make your expedition memorable and safe.




I quit the rat-race to live a more adventurous life. This is my journey.