Regional Map and Introduction
|Venezuela and Northern Columbia
The Andes are the longest mountain range in the world, stretching over 4000 miles (6500 km)
along the entire west coast of South America, and are second in height only to the Himalaya.
The northernmost portions are somewhat isolated from the main range. The highest peaks in
Venezuela and Colombia are found in these non-volcanic ranges, the Sierra Nevada de Merida
(Pico Bolivar) and the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta
(Pico Cristobal Colon) respectively. Although
these ranges are lower than the main portions of the Andes, the high precipitation results
in permanent snow and glaciation on the higher peaks of both. The Merida range is easily
accessible, with an aerial tramway and recreational facilities on the central massif. The
Santa Marta, in contrast, is remote and poorly explored, and the current political (and
criminal) situation in Colombia greatly limits access.
Select a mountain from the clickable map above
In central Colombia, the volcanoes which dominate much of the Andes make their first
appearance. There are three major, well-separated volcanic regions in the Andes, the
northernmost in Colombia and Ecuador, the central in southern Peru, Bolivia, and northern
Chile, and the southernmost in southern Chile and Argentina. All are formed by the
subduction of the Nazca Plate (in the eastern Pacific) beneath the South American Plate.
The volcanoes of Columbia are not as famous as others in the Andes, yet among the more
than twenty volcanoes there are several large glaciated stratovolcanoes, including three
collectively known as Los Nevados (Ruiz,
Santa Isabel, and
Tolima) and the complex massif of
Nevado de Huila. Unfortunately, any travel to the
mountainous regions of Colombia is extremely hazardous now due to kidnappings and
guerrilla violence. Hopefully, things will improve someday...
By far the most famous volcanoes in the Andes are found along the "Avenue of the Volcanoes"
in Ecuador, including Chimborazo,
Cayambe. Two ranges of volcanic peaks, the
Cordillera Occidental on the west and the Cordillera Real on the east, line the central
valley which contains the capital, Quito. There are several dozen stratovolcanoes in
Ecuador, many of which (such as El Sangay) are quite
active. About ten volcanoes still have permanent snowcover and glaciers, despite the
rapid glacial retreat over the past two centuries which has left several formerly
glaciated peaks bare. Many of these peaks were first ascended by Edward Whymper (of
Matterhorn fame) and party in 1880, and the climbs are recounted in his classic book,
Travels amongst the Great Andes of the Equator. Access to the major peaks is
quite easy, with trails and even huts on most of them, and all are climbable within a
few days round-trip from Quito. Ecuador is very accomodating for tourists and
mountaineers, and the political situation is quite stable (unlike the weather).