The Andean Mountain Range or Sierra
The Peruvian Andes provide the most spectacular views of snow capped mountains and glaciers in the region as it has the largest concentration of them. The Incas venerated and respected them, to them they were sacred, and decided to build Machu Picchu, the sacred city, surrounded by those breathtaking snow peaks. This region guards the spirit of Peru, its heritage and the traditions of ancient civilizations that make up what Peru is today. The sierra is mostly inhabited by native people descendants of the Incas, they have kept many of their traditions and their way of life. They work the land farming potatoes, olluco, quinoa and use llamas the same way the Incas did.
The Andes is the longest continental mountain range
The Peruvian Andes run along the western side of the country almost parallel to the Pacific and is part of a range that stretches from the north to the south of the continent. The Andean mountain range is the world’s longest and extends to seven countries, starting from north to south, from Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina for a total length of 4,500 miles/7,242 km. Crossing the Andes is not easy, most areas are inaccessible as roads have not been built, sometimes a bus ride of 100 miles/160 km can take 24 hours.
A zigzag road in the Andes
The Andes is a result of tectonic activity, the Nazca plate is drawn beneath the continent and as a result the mountain eastern ranges are older than the ones near the coast. Frequent tremors are experienced in this area. In Peru, the Andes are divided into three sections: the northern section, the central and the southern section. At places the mountain range cuts into the coastal desert and the mountains can be seen from the beach. The Andes rise like a thick wall separating the coast from the jungle.
The northern section is narrow and its mountains lower. In northern Peru where rain is more abundant vegetation is richer.
The central sierra includes high mountains with snow-capped peaks; Mount Huascaran is the highest peak in Peru reaching 22,205 feet or 6,768 meters high. West of the central range lies the Cordillera Blanca or the White Cordillera, it gets its name from the permanently white glaciers that extend along the horizon. Most of the range is located within the Huascaran National Park and includes larger peaks that are the most popular among tourists. There are over seventy peaks that rise above 18,000 feet or 5,486 meters. The largest nearest town is Huaraz and its main economic activity is tourism. On the western side of this section fertile valleys stretch out giving room for agriculture. This area includes rivers, waterfalls and rapids fed by the melting snow caps. The main source of the Amazon River is located in this area. In 2000, a National Geographic Society expedition found that its most distant source is the melting snow cap of a mountain called Nevado Mismi.
Huascaran mountain is the highest in Peru at 6768 meters
The southern sierra is broader reaching up to 400 miles or 644km from east to west. The west section is closer to the coastal desert and is characterized for its cluster of volcanoes that make up the Cordillera Occidental. These volcanoes such as The Misti, Sabancaya and the most active one, Ubinas are located near the city of Arequipa, the largest urban center in southern Peru. To the east is the Cordillera Oriental, an older mountain range with higher peaks reaching more than 19,000 feet or 5,791 meters. Within the Cordillera Oriental is the Urubamba range located on the edge of the Amazon basin, as the altitude changes so does its landscape, steep cliffs can be seen as we descent into the lowlands of the jungle. Cusco is the largest city in this area.
The Urubamba Valley locate at the edge of the Amazon basin
Between the southern ranges is the Altiplano, a plateau that slopes southward and drains into the Lake Titicaca. Lake Titicaca is shared by Peru and Bolivia and it is the world’s highest navigable lake.
The climate in the central and southern sierra is dryer, its land very rugged and its landscape is treeless. This land is almost uninhabited, few people have adapted to life above 14,000 feet or 4,267 meters because there is less oxygen at higher altitudes. Flora and fauna are scarce and the ones that have survived are native of the Andes. Few birds live in this area since trees are nonexistent. The Andean Condor, a national symbol of Peru, nests on mountain ledges and feeds from carcasses of dead animals.
Related information about the Andes
There are as many climates as altitude regions exist in the Andes. They range from the warm temperatures at low altitudes to the freezing temperatures at levels over 14,000 feet or 4,267 meters above sea level. Temperature, humidity and atmosphere pressure increase in lower elevations.
Each section of Andes has specialized fauna and flora that have adapted to its conditions.
Many Andean animals are in danger of extinction and are protected by the Peruvian government and international organizations.
Llamas, alpacas and guanacos are all relatives of the camel and have been used by residents of the Andes for centuries.
List of volcanoes along the Andes of Chile