The Andes, also known as Cordillera de los Andes, is an 8,000-kilometer mountain chain stretching from the Caribbean island of Trinidad to Cape Horn. The mountain system started to rise during the Cretaceous period (130 million years ago) when the South American continental plate overrode and submerged under the Pacific the Nazca and Cocos plates. The rising of the mountains still continues, as evidenced by constant earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. The intrusion of rising magma into ancient marine sediments explains the abundance of limestone and metallic ores (gold, silver, copper, iron, and tin) that are the foundation of the national economies of countries such as Bolivia, Peru, Chile, Colombia and Venezuela. Frequent volcanic activity adds calcium, sodium and potassium to the soil, rendering it very fertile, but it also means that many settlements in the mountains and their forelands have been devastated. There is almost no city along the Andes that has not been either destroyed or severely damaged by earthquakes.
The Andes are a sequence of parallel ranges that converge in "knots" (nudos) and enclose high basins (altiplanos or cuencas). These high basins have a great cultural significance for South America because in them developed prehispanic cultures such as the Muisca-Chibcha (Colombia), Caras and Quitu (Ecuador), Huari and Inca (Peru), Chiripá and Tiwanaku (Bolivia), and Atacameño (northern Chile). The Andes are also the realm in which the cultivation of potato, maize, and quinoa, and the domestication of llamas (descended from wild guanacos), occurred. The highest peak in the Andes, Mount Aconcagua in Argentina (6,958 meters), is the tallest mountain in the Americas and the western hemisphere.
Lamb, Simon. Devil in the Mountain: A Search for the Origin of the Andes. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004.
CÉsar N. Caviedes