Major Mountain Ranges of South America
South America, the fourth largest continent, harbors some of the world’s most imposing mountains. No other continent is dominated by mountains like South America.
The continent’s most dominant geographical feature are the Andes Mountains, which stretch along the western coast of South America. This mountain range is the highest range outside of the Himalayas. There are 100 peaks exceeding 6,000 meters (19,685 feet) in elevation here.
The Andes shapes the continent’s landscape, climate, and ecosystems to a significant extent.
The western slopes, facing the Pacific Ocean, receive heavy rainfall, fostering lush forests and fertile valleys, such as the renowned Sacred Valley in Peru and the fertile wine regions of Chile. Meanwhile, the eastern slopes experience a drier climate due to the rain shadow effect, leading to arid landscapes like the Altiplano, a high plateau spanning parts of Bolivia and Peru.
The Andes Mountains were created over 50 million years ago, when the South American and Pacific tectonic plates collided. They form the world’s longest continental mountain range, spanning an astonishing length of nearly 5,600 miles and span seven South American nations: Ecuador, Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Chile, Peru, and Venezuela.
These mountains are categorized into three diverse regions—the Dry Andes, the Wet Andes, and the Tropical Andes. The towering apex of the entire range is Mount Aconcagua in Argentina, soaring to a staggering elevation of 22,837 feet. Alongside this iconic peak, others like Mount Mercedario, Mount Bonete, and Mount Ojos del Salado add to the Andes’ distinction as the continent’s longest mountain range.
Serra Do Mar
Serra Do Mar, situated in southeastern Brazil, spans about 930 miles along the Atlantic Ocean, from Espirito Santo to Santa Catarina. Covering an area of approximately 19,065 square miles, its highest summit, Pico Parana, reaches a notable elevation of 6,158 feet. The Serra Do Mar range is a biodiversity hotspot, hosting an incredible variety of plant and animal species, including numerous endangered ones.
The Wilhelmina Mountains, or Wilhelminagebergte in Dutch, are a mountain range situated in the interior of Suriname, a country located in northern South America. The mountains were named after the Dutch Queen Wilhelmina. It is one of the smaller ranges in South America, spanning only 70 miles, and its highest peak, Julianatop, is 4,199 feet tall. The Wilhelmina Mountains hold historical significance, with ancient petroglyphs and cave paintings scattered across the region, offering glimpses into early indigenous cultures.
Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta
Colombia’s Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the highest coastal mountain range in the tropics, spans 238 miles and covers an area of 6,563 square miles. Pico Cristobal Colon stands as the tallest mountain in the range and is the highest point in Colombia, reaching an elevation of around 18,947 feet (5,775 meters). Pico Simon Bolivar follows closely behind at approximately 18,700 feet (5,700 meters). These peaks contribute to the region’s natural grandeur and challenging climbs.
Peru’s Cordillera Blanca, a section of the Andes solely within Peru, extends across 124 miles and features the country’s highest peak, Huascaran, reaching an impressive 22,205 feet. This range, part of the Huascaran National Park, encompasses over 700 glaciers, making it the most concentrated ice-covered mountain range globally. Popular trekking circuits include the Santa Cruz Trek and the Huayhuash Circuit, both renowned for their stunning scenery and challenging terrain.
The Cordillera Oriental, also known as the Eastern Cordillera, is a vast mountain range that forms part of the Andes mountain system in Colombia. It spans over 745 miles and covers nearly 56,547 square miles. The Cordillera Oriental houses unique páramo ecosystems, known for their high-altitude grasslands and vibrant flora. Among its significant summits is Ritacuba Blanco, towering at approximately 17,750 feet (5,410 meters), marking the highest point within this range.
The Paine Mountains, known as Cordillera del Paine in Spanish, are a majestic mountain range situated within Torres del Paine National Park in southern Chile. The mountain range boasts iconic peaks such as the Cuernos del Paine (Horns of Paine) and the Torres del Paine (Towers of Paine), which are a series of granite peaks, towers, and spires. The highest summit, Cerro Paine Grande, reaches approximately 9,462 feet (2,884 meters).
The Cordillera Huayhuash, nestled in the Peruvian Andes, spans only 19 miles. The range encompass several notable peaks, with Yerupajá standing as the highest at an elevation of approximately 21,768 feet (6,634 meters). Other impressive summits like Sarapo and Siula also exceed altitudes of 20,000 feet (6,096 meters). Unlike more accessible trekking destinations, the Huayhuash range offers a more remote and less-traveled experience.
The Cordillera Occidental, also known as the Western Cordillera, forms part of the Andes mountain system. Running parallel to the Pacific coastline, the range creates a natural border between Bolivia and Chile. Nevado Sajama, the highest peak in Bolivia at approximately 21,463 feet (6,542 meters), is one of the prominent volcanic summits in the range. Some volcanoes, like Nevado Sajama, retain permanent snow cover.
Stretching across the Brazilian states of Minas Gerais, São Paulo, and Rio de Janeiro, the Mantiqueira Mountains form part of the larger Serra do Mar mountain system. This range spans approximately 200 miles and boasts an intricate network of peaks, valleys, and rivers. The highest point, Pedra da Mina, rises to 9,180 feet. The Mantiqueira Mountains serve as a significant source of freshwater for the surrounding regions.
What are the Tallest Mountains in South America?
Here are the 15 highest mountains in South America.
1. Aconcagua (22,841 feet / 6,961 meters)
Aconcagua is the highest mountain in South America and the entire Western Hemisphere. It dominates the Andes in Argentina. Despite its significant altitude, it’s a non-technical climb like Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, making it a magnet for climbers aiming to conquer one of the Seven Summits. The name “Aconcagua” derives from the Quechua language, possibly meaning “stone sentinel.”
2. Ojos del Salado (22,615 feet / 6,893 meters)
Ojos del Salado is the second highest mountain in South America and the world’s highest volcano. It is part of the Andres range and sits on the Chilean-Argentine border. The mountain is home to the highest crater lake on Earth at an elevation of 21,260 feet. Its name means “Eyes of the Salty One,” referring to its numerous high altitude lakes.
3. Monte Pissis (22,287 feet / 6,795 meters)
Located in Argentina, Monte Pissis ranks third in the continent’s tallest mountains. It is an active volcano and part of the Central Volcanic Zone of the Andes. Despite its considerable altitude, Monte Pissis remains less explored compared to its neighboring peaks. It was named after Pedro José Amadeo Pissis, a French geographer.
4. Huascarán (22,205 feet / 6,768 meters)
Part of Peru’s Cordillera Blanca range, Huascarán is the highest peak in Peru and the highest tropical mountain in the world. UNESCO designated the Huascarán National Park as a World Heritage Site due to its biodiversity and glacial landscapes. The peak was named after a 16th-century Inca ruler.
5. Cerro Bonete (22,175 feet / 6,759 meters)
Cerro Bonete, located in Argentina, is part of the Central Andes. The mountain’s pyramid-like shape and jagged ridges present a steep, technical climb for those seeking to bag this peak. The name “Cerro Bonete” translates to “Hat Mountain” in Spanish, a name derived from its distinctively shaped summit resembling a hat or bonnet.
6. Nevado Tres Cruces (22,142 feet / 6,749 meters)
Nevado Tres Cruces is a huge mountain massif in Chile’s Atacama Region, within the Andes Mountains. Its name, which translates to “Three Crosses,” refers to its three summits. It has two main summits, Tres Cruces Sur and Tres Cruces Centro, and a third minor summit.
7. Llullaillaco (22,109 feet / 6,739 meters)
Located on the border between Chile and Argentina, Llullaillaco is an active volcano with a history dating back to the Inca civilization. The mountain holds a place of historical significance as the highest archaeological site in the world. The “Children of Llullaillaco” are three well-preserved Inca child mummies that were discovered here.
8. Cerro Mercedario (22,047 feet / 6,720 meters)
Cerro Mercedario, located in Argentina, is the highest peak in the Cordillera de la Ramada range. It is only 60 miles north of Aconcagua. The name “Mercedario” originates from the Mercedarian Order, a Catholic religious order known for its charitable work and missionary efforts.
9. Incahuasi (21,722 feet / 6,621 meters)
Incahuasi is a volcano that lies on the border between Argentina and Chile. It is part of the Central Volcanic Zone of the Andes. The peak is known for its many archeological sites. It housed the world’s second highest ruins, an Incan temple, near the summit. Fittingly, the mountain’s name means “Inca house” in Quechua.
10. Yerupajá (21,709 feet / 6,617 meters)
Yerupajá is located in the Cordillera Huayhuash range of the Peruvian Andes. It is known for its distinctive double summit, eastern and western. Yerupajá is surrounded by glaciers, including the Yerupajá Glacier and Siula Grande Glacier. Its name refers to a revered spirit or deity in the Quechua language.
11. Nevado Sajama (21,463 feet / 6,542 meters)
Nevado Sajama is the highest peak in Bolivia. It is part of the Cordillera Occidental of the Andes mountain range. The mountain boasts rich biodiversity in its surrounding areas, Sajama National Park. The name “Sajama” originates from the indigenous Aymara language. It refers to a type of cactus found in the region.
12. El Muerto (21,286 feet / 6,488 meters)
El Muerto is a stratovolcano in the Andes Mountains, located on the border between Argentina and Chile. This peak doesn’t get many visitors given that Ojos del Salado, South America’s second highest peak and world’s highest volcano, is next door. Its name means “The Dead One” in Spanish.
13. Nevado Illimani (21,122 feet / 6,438 meters)
Nevado Illimani is located in Bolivia’s Cordillera Real. The mountain stands as an unmistakable backdrop to the city of La Paz. Its distinctive multiple peaks offer varying challenges for climbers.From the Aymara language, “Illimani” possibly means “Golden Eagle.”
14. Coropuna (21,079 feet / 6,425 meters)
Coropuna is the largest and highest volcano in Peru. It is part of the volcanic chain that stretches across the Central Andes. The mountain showcases a beautiful landscape of glaciers and volcanic terrain. Named after the deity worshipped by Incas, the mountain was considered a sacred site.
15. Huandoy (20,981 feet / 6,402 meters)
Huandoy is a mountain massif in the Cordillera Blanca of Peru. Huandoy consists of several twin summits, Huandoy Norte and Huandoy Sur, separated by a narrow ridge. The name “Huandoy” refers to a flower in the Quechua language.
Compared to Mount Kilimanjaro
Mount Kilimanjaro, standing at 19,341 feet (5,895 meters), is the tallest mountain in Africa.
While Kilimanjaro is an iconic mountain, its elevation falls short when compared to the towering peaks of the Andes in South America, which boast some of the highest summits in the world outside of the Himalayas. All 15 of tallest mountains in South America surpass Kilimanjaro in elevation.
However, unlike many of these peaks, Mount Kilimanjaro is a trekking mountain that requires no technical mountaineering skills. Therefore, people will little to no hiking experience and average physical fitness can summit Kilimanjaro. Our expert guides and a full support crew can lead you to the top.
Interested in climbing Kilimanjaro? See our trip dates and prices