Andes, the longest mountains in the world

Andes, the longest mountains in the world

The Andes are the longest and one of the highest mountain systems on Earth, fringing all of South America to the north and west; the southern part of the Cordilleras. In some places the Andes reach a width of more than 500 km. The average height is about 4,000 m.

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The Andes are a major inter-oceanic watershed. To the east of the Andes flow the rivers of the Atlantic Ocean basin. The Amazon River itself and many of its large tributaries originate in the Andes, as well as tributaries to the Orinoco, Paraguay, Parana, Magdalena, and Patagonia rivers. To the west of the Andes flow mostly short rivers belonging to the Pacific basin.

The Andes also serve as South America’s most important climatic barrier, isolating areas west of the Main Cordillera from the influence of the Atlantic Ocean and east of it from the influence of the Pacific Ocean.

The mountains lie in five climatic belts:

  • Equatorial,
  • subequatorial,
  • tropical,
  • subtropical,
  • temperate.

They are characterized by sharp contrasts in the moisture content of the eastern (leeward) and western (leeward) slopes.

Due to the considerable length of the Andes, their individual landscape parts differ from each other. According to the nature of the relief and other natural differences, there are usually three main regions – the Northern, Central and Southern Andes.

The Andes extend through the territories of seven South American states:

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

Vegetation and Soils

The soil and vegetation cover of the Andes is very diverse. This is due to the high altitudes of the mountains, a significant difference in moisture content of the western and eastern slopes. Altitudinal zonation in the Andes is clearly expressed. There are three altitudinal belts – Tierra Caliente, Tierra Fria and Tierra Elada.

In the Andes of Venezuela there are deciduous forests and shrubs on mountain red soils.

The lower parts of the windward slopes from the Northwest Andes to the Central Andes are covered with mountainous moist equatorial and tropical forests on lateritic soils (mountain guillea) and mixed forests of evergreen and deciduous species. The appearance of equatorial forests differs little from the appearance of these forests in the flat part of the continent; various palms, ficuses, bananas, cocoa trees, etc. are typical.

At higher altitudes (up to 2,500-3,000 m), the vegetation varies; bamboos, tree ferns, coca bush (a source of cocaine), and hinnow are typical.

Between 3000 and 3800 m – high-mountainous guillemot with stunted trees and bushes; epiphytes and lianas are common; bamboos, tree ferns, evergreen oaks, myrtles, and heather are typical.

Above that, there is mostly xerophytic vegetation, paramos, with numerous composites; mossy bogs on the flat areas and lifeless stony spaces on the steep slopes.

Above 4500 m, a belt of eternal snow and ice.

South, in the subtropical Chilean Andes – evergreen shrubs on brown soils.

In the longitudinal valley – soils resembling black earth.

Vegetation of high mountain plateaus: in the north – mountain equatorial meadows Paramos, in Peruvian Andes and in the east of Puna – dry high altitude tropical steppes halka, in the west of Puna and the whole Pacific west between 5-28 ° south latitude – desert vegetation types (in Atacama desert – succulent vegetation and cacti). Many surfaces are saline, which prevents the development of vegetation; in such areas there is mainly wormwood and ephedra.

Above 3000 m (approximately up to 4500 m), there is semi-desert vegetation, called dry puna; dwarf shrubs (toloy), cereals (feather grass, reedgrass), lichens, and cacti grow.

To the east of the Main Cordillera, where there is more precipitation, there is steppe vegetation (puna) with numerous cereals (feather grass, feather grass, reedgrass) and cushion-shaped shrubs.

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On the wet slopes of the Eastern Cordillera, tropical forests (palms, hinwood) rise up to 1500 m, up to 3000 m reach the low evergreen forests dominated by bamboos, ferns, lianas; at higher altitudes – highland steppes.

A typical inhabitant of the Andean highlands is polylepis, a plant of the Rosaceae family, common in Colombia, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Chile; these trees can also be found at an altitude of 4,500 m.

In central Chile, forests have been substantially reduced; forests once rose on the Cordillera as high as 2500-3000 m (higher were mountain meadows with alpine grasses and shrubs, and rare peat bogs), but now the mountain slopes are mostly bare. Nowadays, forests are found only in the form of isolated groves (pines, araucaria, eucalyptus, beeches and sycamores, with juniper and geraniums in the undergrowth).

On the slopes of the Patagonian Andes south of 38°S. – subarctic multi-tiered forests of tall trees and shrubs, predominantly evergreen, on brown forest (asolized to the south) soils; the forests are rich in mosses, lichens and lianas; south of 42°S. – mixed forests (there is an array of araucarian forests at 42°S). Beeches, magnolias, tree ferns, tall conifers, and bamboos grow. On the eastern slopes of the Patagonian Andes are mostly beech forests. In the extreme south of the Patagonian Andes, tundra vegetation.

In the southernmost part of the Andes, in Tierra del Fuego, forests (of deciduous and evergreen trees, such as southern beeches and canelos) occupy only a narrow coastal strip in the west; above the forest border, the snow belt begins almost immediately. To the east and in some places to the west, subantarctic mountain meadows and peatlands are common.

The Andes are home to the cinnamon tree, coca, tobacco, potatoes, tomatoes and other valuable plants.

Animal life

The animal life of the northern Andes is part of the Brazilian zoogeographic area, and is similar to that of the surrounding plains.

The Andean fauna south of 5° S. latitude belongs to the Chilean-Patagonian subregion. The Andean fauna as a whole is characterized by the abundance of endemic genera and species.

The Andes are home to llamas and alpacas (representatives of these two species are used by the local population to obtain wool and meat, as well as pack animals), snap-tailed monkeys, the relict spectacled bear, pudu and gaemal deer (which are endemics of the Andes), vicunas, guanacos, aza fox, sloths, chinchillas, marsupial possums, anteaters and the rodent degu.

In the south – blue fox, Magellanic dog, endemic rodent Tuco-tuco and others. Many birds, among them – hummingbirds, found at altitudes above 4000 m, but especially numerous and diverse in the “fog forests” (humid rainforests of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and the extreme northwest of Argentina, located in the fog condensation band); endemic condor, rising to a height of 7 thousand meters; and others. Some species (such as chinchillas, which in the XIX – early XX centuries were intensively exterminated for the sake of getting pelts; wingless chomga and Titicaca whistle, found only near Lake Titicaca; and others) are in danger of extinction.

A feature of the Andes is the great species diversity of amphibians (over 900 species). Also in the Andes there are about 600 species of mammals (13% endemics), over 1,700 species of birds (of which 33.6% are endemics) and about 400 species of freshwater fish (34.5% endemics).


One of the main environmental problems in the Andes is the clearing of forests that are no longer regenerating; Colombia’s rainforests have been particularly hard hit and are being intensively reduced to plantations of cinquefoil, coffee beans, and rubber trees.

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Having a developed agriculture, the Andean countries face problems of soil degradation, soil contamination with chemicals, erosion, and desertification due to overgrazing (especially in Argentina).

Environmental problems in coastal areas include sea water pollution near ports and major cities (not least caused by the dumping of sewage and industrial waste into the ocean) and uncontrolled fishing in large quantities.

As elsewhere in the world, greenhouse gas emissions (mainly from power generation and the iron and steel industry) are an acute problem in the Andes. Oil refineries, oil wells, and mines also make a significant contribution to pollution (their activities cause soil erosion and groundwater pollution; the mines in Patagonia have had a negative impact on the biota of the area).

Many species of animals and plants in the Andes are threatened by a number of environmental problems.


  • Lake Titicaca;
  • Lauca National Park;
  • Chiloé National Park; Cape Horn National Park;
  • Santa Fe de Bogotá: Catholic churches of the 16th and 18th centuries, National Museum of Colombia;
  • Quito: Cathedral, Museum of Musical Instruments, Museo del Banco Central;
  • Cuzco: Cuzco Cathedral, La Campaña Church, and the Street of Haitun-Rumijoc (remains of Inca structures);
  • Lima: Huaca Huallamarca and Huaca Pucciana archaeological sites, Archbishop’s Palace, San Francisco church and monastery;
  • Archaeological sites: Machu Picchu, Pachacamac, ruins of Caral, Sacsayhuaman, Tambomachay, Pucapucara, Kenko, Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Moray, ruins of Piquillakt.

Interesting Facts

  • The capital of Bolivia, La Paz is the highest mountain capital in the world. It is located at an altitude of 3,600 meters above sea level.
  • 200 km north of Lima (Peru) are the ruins of the city of Caral – temples, amphitheaters, houses and pyramids. It is believed that Caral belonged to the oldest civilization of the Americas and was built about 4000-4500 years ago. Archaeological excavations have shown that the city traded with vast areas of the continent of South America. Especially interesting is that archaeologists have found no evidence of military conflicts for about a thousand years in the history of Caral.
  • One of the most mysterious historical monuments in the world is the monumental archaeological complex of Sacsayhuaman, located northwest of Cusco, about 3,700 meters above sea level. The fortress of the same name is attributed to the Inca civilization. But until now it was not possible to identify how the stones of these walls, which weigh up to 200 tons and were docked to each other with precision. The ancient system of underground passages has not yet been fully explored either.
  • The Moray Archaeological Complex, located 74 km from Cuzco at an altitude of 3500 meters, still fascinates not only archeologists. The huge terraces here, descending, form a kind of amphitheatre. Studies have shown that the Incas used this structure as an agricultural laboratory, as the different height of the terraces allowed to observe and experiment with plants in different climatic conditions. Different soils and a complex irrigation system were used here, with a total of 250 plant species grown by the Incas.

Inca Empire

The Inca Empire in the Andes is one of the most mysterious vanished states. The tragic fate of a highly developed civilization, which appeared in far from favorable natural conditions and died at the hands of illiterate aliens, still excites mankind.

The era of great geographical discoveries (XV-XVII centuries) gave European adventurers the opportunity to get rich quickly and fabulously in the new lands. Most often cruel and unscrupulous, the conquistadors did not go to the Americas for scientific discoveries or cultural exchanges between civilizations.

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The fact that the papacy recognized the Indians as spiritual beings in 1537 made no difference in the conquistadors’ methods; they were not interested in theological disputes. By the time of the “humane” papal decision the conquistador Francisco Pizarro had already managed to execute the Inca emperor Atahualpa (1533), to defeat the Inca army and capture the empire’s capital city of Cuzco (1536).

There is a version that at first the Indians took the Spaniards for gods. And it is possible that the main reason for this misconception was not the white skin of the visitors, or the fact that they rode on unseen animals, or even that they possessed firearms. The Incas were struck by the incredible cruelty of the conquistadors.

At the first meeting of Pizarro and Atahualpa, the Spaniards ambushed and killed thousands of Indians and took the emperor captive, not expecting anything like this. After all, the Indians, whom the Spaniards condemned for human sacrifice, believed that human life was the highest gift, and that was why human sacrifice to the gods was the highest form of worship. But to destroy thousands of people who had not come at all for war?

That the Incas could have offered serious resistance to the Spaniards is not in doubt. After the murder of captive Atahualpa, for which the Indians paid a monstrous ransom – almost 6 tons of gold, the conquistadors began to plunder the country, ruthlessly melting down the Inca art of jewelry for ingots. But Atahualpa’s brother Manco, appointed by them as the new emperor, instead of collecting gold for the invaders, fled and led the fight against the Spaniards. The last emperor, Tupac Amaru, the viceroy of Peru, Francisco de Toledo could not be executed until 1572, and even after that the leaders of the new rebellions were called after him.

Not much has survived of the Inca civilization – after hundreds of thousands of Indians died, both at the hands of the Spanish and from mine work, famine, and European epidemics, there was no one to maintain the irrigation systems, the high mountain roads, and the beautiful buildings. Much was destroyed by the Spaniards to obtain building material.

A country whose inhabitants were accustomed to supplies from public warehouses, with no beggars or vagrants, became a human disaster zone for many years after the arrival of the conquistadores.

Different theories determine the age of the Andean mountain system from 18 million years to several hundred million years. But, more importantly for the people who live in the Andes, the process of formation of these mountains is still going on.

Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and glacial retreats in the Andes continue unabated. In 1835, Charles Darwin observed from the island of Chiloé the eruption of the volcano Osorno. The earthquake described by Darwin destroyed the towns of Concepcion and Talcahuano and claimed numerous victims. Such events are not uncommon in the Andes.

For example, in 1970, a glacier in Peru literally buried the town of Yungay with almost all its inhabitants in a matter of seconds, killing about 20,000 people. In 2010, an earthquake in Chile killed several hundred people, left millions homeless and caused enormous material damage. In general, serious disasters occur in the Andes with a frightening cyclicity – once every 10-15 years.

Top 10 longest mountains in the world

In encyclopedias and ratings we again and again come across the evaluation of mountain systems of the Earth in relation to sea level. And of course, because this figure is attractive to tourism – it is so interesting to climb to the very top, to admire the strange mountain flora and fauna, to breathe fresh oxygen and assess the marvelous panorama from the bird’s flight.

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But after all, mountains are such an amazing natural element, that you can explore them according to a variety of parameters: the composition of the rocks, age, number of interlayers, the cause of formation, and so on.

Today we decided to find out what is the longest mountain system on the planet of the listed (Scandinavian, Ural Mountains or Cordilleras).

There are chains in the world that are rightly considered the longest. Of course, they often belong to the record-breaking mountains and other parameters, such as the Altai or the Himalayas.

But the leaders of the ranking, of course, would be the Cordilleras, stretching from north to south and crossing almost the entire continent of North America. Incidentally, this area contains 1.5 dozen different large states. That is, the Cordilleras have the longest mountain chain on the planet, namely 18 thousand kilometers.

But in our ranking, the Andes, the part of the Cordilleras that stretches across South America, gets the prize. We present you the longest mountains in the world.

10. Altai, 1847 km

Not without reason they are called the “golden mountains” – the local rocks are abundant in natural fossils and valuable minerals, and the mountains themselves are rich in clear waters and dense green massifs.

Flowing mountain springs and waterfalls, famous alpine meadows and pine forests attract curious visitors from all over the world. UNESCO has even included Altai in its heritage list.

The ridges that make up the Altai Mountains range over the territory of four countries, including the Russian Federation and China.

Interestingly, depending on the location and altitude you can see different natural zones – mountain tundra, taiga, forest, steppe, etc.

9. Ural, 2000 km

The Ural Mountains spread their ridges from the north to the south of the Eurasian continent. In fact, it naturally divides the latter into two huge territories, which used to be separate continents.

The majesty of the mountain system, which stretches for 2,000 kilometers, is admired by tourists from all over the world. The local lakes are found along its length, attracting fans to fish or quietly hunt in the lap of nature.

Interestingly, the Ural Mountains have been considered a treasure trove of rare minerals since Peter the Great epoch. It was here for the first time in Russia found deposits of gold and semi-precious stones (emerald, malachite, amethyst). As for the industry, the local logging sites produce tons of wood of excellent quality.

8. Atlas, 2092 km.

The long mountain range is located in the northwestern part of the African continent, starting from the Atlantic coast and extending to the Tunisian coast. The Atlas Mountains cover two climatic belts: the subtropics and the tropics. In the north, traces of prehistoric glaciation can be seen.

In the desert part, where the Sahara Ridge extends, amazing salt lakes and unique natural oases have emerged.

In the cool areas up to a height of 800 meters one can find evergreen trees and cork oaks, but in the arid south only some cereals, feather grass and wormwood have survived.

7. The Himalayas, 2330 km

It lies between the Tibetan mountains and the Indo-Gangetic plain. The Himalayas are not only long mountains (2330 km), but also the highest mountains on the planet. They cover the territory of five Asian states.

In the rocks of the Himalayan mountains there are valuable materials: ores (copper, arsenic, chromium), deposits of gold, salt, and fuel material (coal, oil, gas). The world’s best mountaineers gather here, dreaming of conquering the peaks (and there are still many unconquered).

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6. 6 Appalachian Mountains, 2400 km

Located in the east of the North American continent and covers the territory of the modern USA and Canada. The northern Appalachian Mountains are a plateau with masses of hills where traces of prehistoric glaciers can be found.

In the southern part, the ridges are parallel and pierced by deep valleys. Deposits of ores (iron, titanium), fuel materials (oil, gas, coal) are found in the rocks. The Appalachian Mountains are also famous for forests dating back to Permian times.

5. Kunlun, 3,000 km

Considered to be one of the largest Asian mountain systems on land. Territorially Kunlun are located in China, skirting Tibet from the north. Here are the sources of the largest rivers. The mountains themselves were formed in the late Triassic period – which is about 250 million years ago.

Since ancient times, caravan trails were laid on the mountain passes, the southern branch of the Silk Road. Due to the dryness and poverty of the mineral composition of the land, the fauna and flora of the region are rather poor.

Wormwood and cereals grow here, and at an altitude of 3.5-4 km among spruces and junipers can be found some species of ungulates, wolves, foxes and leopards.

4. The Great Dividing Range, 3,244 km

The ridge consisting of granite, limestone, volcanic rocks is not picturesque. Located in Australia, the Watershed Range is a valuable source of fossil minerals such as coal, oil, gold, and gas. It is also the source of industrially and economically important rivers on which hydropower plants and dams are built.

Despite the poverty of the territory the Australians managed to organize national parks to attract tourists.

3. Rocky Mountains, 4,830 km

It is also part of the Cordilleras of the North American continent, encompassing areas of Canada and America. It is considered a true national symbol – it was here that the Indians began to settle.

Nowadays, valuable minerals are mined here, as a result of which the ecosystem has been badly damaged. Rocky mountains are picturesque – travelers come here for exciting fishing, hiking and skiing (there are the best resorts in the country).

By the way, the famous Yellowstone Reservation is also located in the Rocky Mountain region.

2. transantarctic mountains, 8105 km

Unique Transantarctic Mountains, more than 8,000 km long, are difficult to see – the glacial layer is several kilometers long.

The system runs through Antarctica, dividing it into western and eastern regions. It is one of the oldest on the planet, being of volcanic origin. So in the surface layers there are huge seams of coal, but to get to them at the moment, it is expensive because of the eternal glaciers and the special status of Antarctica.

1. the Andes, 9000 km

The portion of the Cordilleras located on the South American continent is half the length of this huge mountain system. Andes Mountains cover the territory of 7 countries and are divided into 3 parts: northern, southern and central, each with its own climatic zone.

Here there are mined ores (gold, silver, iron, copper), oil, cultivated valuable agricultural crops (grapes, cereals, bananas, olives, etc.). It is in the Andes that alpacas and llamas, valuable for their wool, are kept in highland farms.

Nature has generously endowed the earth with landscapes. Mountains are not only tourist attractions for active leisure, but also depositories of valuable minerals, habitat of unique animals and plants. That is why mankind should take care of the preservation of mountain systems and conduct industrial activities more intelligently.

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