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Exploring the Andes – Photos from Life in South America’s Magnificent Mountains


Argentina, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Chile

As the dominant mountain chain of South America and one of the longest-running chains in the world, the Andes is central to a number of holiday destinations in the region. Whether it be in the cities like Medellín, La Paz or Quito carved into the mountains, or in the far-off and isolated countrysides that awe with spectacular scenery, the mountain range that reaches its highest peak with Aconcagua in Argentina is a must visit for international travelers. From its northern sector in Venezuela and Colombia all the way to the southern sector in Argentina and Chile, there are many possibilities for ecotourism and community-based lodging for travelers interested in exploring the Andes at length.

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The Andes are home to the driest place on earth: Chile’s Atacama Desert; the world’s largest salt flat: Uyuni (10,582 square kilometers) in Bolivia; the highest navigable lake in the world: Titicaca in Peru and Bolivia; the impressive Machu Picchu in Peru; imposing volcanoes like Ecuador’s Chimborazo; and many others. These natural and archeological wonders, as well as the rapidly changing climates make the Andes unique. We sent the Guardian travel writer Kevin Rushby on an incredible bus journey from Purmamarca in Argentina to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile on a route through the Andes. As Kevin eloquently noted in his article, The high road: Argentina to Chile by bus, the journey through this part of the mountains can leave you just as breathless with its marvelous sights as it does with its rugid environment. “Buses are usually just a means of getting from A to B, but the journey across the Andes from Argentina to Chile is a true adventure, showcasing magnificent scenery, rare wildlife and, at times, extreme weather”, he wrote.

The double-deck trans-Andes bus comfortably took him and other passengers through an otherwise treacherous mountain pass while icy wind beat down. From the windows, the maté-sipping passengers were treated to phenomenal views of snow-capped peaks, free-roaming llamas, and gigantic salt lakes. Adventures like these make the Andes sought-after worldwide for its spectacular landscapes, changing scenery, and a multitude of tourism opportunities. No matter the country or climate, the Andes can keep travelers eternally interested with its wide range of eco-based activities.

In other parts of the Andes, travelers can enjoy an organic chocolate tour in Ecuador, organic coffee tours in Cuzco (Peru) and rural tourism in Argentina’s Yungas region. Notable wildlife unique to the Andes includes the guanaco (a camelid species that looks like a cross between a llama and a deer); chinchillas (squirrel-like rodents native to the area); and Andean bears (the only bear native to South America). But with widely fluctuating climates and altitudes across the more than 7,000-kilometer stretch that makes up the mountain range, there are many other mammal and bird species worth seeing in their beautiful environment.

Among many others, the Andes is also home to the indigenous Quechua people, which is divided into a number of off-set communities like the Chanka peoples of Peru and the Cañari tribe of Ecuador. Incredible sights and experiences like these await curious travelers ready to take a giant step into this unique region that features high-altitude volcanoes, fascinating wildlife, and friendly communities of people who have adapted in perfect unison to the Andes.

We invite you to read Kevin’s article: The high road: Argentina to Chile by bus and check out his stunning gallery: Crossing the Andes by bus: one of the world’s greatest journeys – in pictures. You can also visit our Andes Mountains destination page for more details.

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