The Natural Beauty of the Andes Mountains, Chile

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By Nicole Anderson

Ever since learning about the Andes Mountains while studying geography at school, I have always wanted to visit and experience this incredible range. Not that it would be possible to see it all as it is just so vast, but on a recent trip to Chile, I was able to get up into the Andes and see its beauty in this region of Chile first hand. I was certainly not disappointed.


Andes mountains 2The big picture: Some Facts

Completely dominating the skyline of the large, modern city of Santiago, this area of the Andes is only one small section of this magnificent range. Created over 50 million years ago, when the South American and Pacific tectonic plates collided, the Andes is the world’s longest continental mountain range.

The range essentially dissects the whole continent of South America along its western edge, stretching over 7,500 kilometres (4,660 miles) from Venezuela all the way down to Patagonia. It crosses 7 countries in total, namely Venezuela, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina.

The Andes are the highest mountain range outside of Asia and contain the highest volcanoes including Ojos del Salado located on the Chilean-Argentine border, standing at 6,983 meters (22,615 feet). The average height of the entire range is around 4,000 meters (or 13,000 feet) and its width varies from 200 to 700 kilometres (or between 120 to 430 miles).

The Andes are home to over 1,000 species of fauna (two-thirds of which is endemic to the region) and over 30,000 vascular plants (half endemic), 1,700 species of birds (one third endemic), 600 species of reptile (45% endemic) and 400 species of fish (rough a third being endemic or unique to anywhere else).

The Andes are also where the Amazon river starts within Peru and from which the world’s second longest river crosses through another 7 countries until meeting the Atlantic Ocean to the east.


My trips to the Andes Mountains

Starting from where we were staying and based at the time (Santiago), my fiancé James and I joined a couple of groups on two separate trips within the Andes.

To get to each destination, both trips consisted of driving in small (mini) buses provided by the tour company Turistik. We chose Turistik because they operate a number of excursions to the Andes mountains and knew the various routes and options really well.

Our journeys included travelling on quite narrow roads which seem to get narrower and more unstable the higher we climbed. This was particularly true on the second trip all the way up and out to Embalse El Yeso and all I can say is I’m pleased I wasn’t driving and that we had a very capable and experienced driver that got us there and back safely.


Andes mountains 3Valle Nevado

Located on the El Plomo foothills in the Andes Mountains, Valle Nevado is a ski resort around 50 kilometres (31 miles) east of Santiago in an area where the elevation varies between 2,500 and 3,000 meters (8,200 to 9,850 feet).

On the day we went, it started out being fine and clear but as we continued to climb in altitude, it got colder and colder. The roads were narrow and had extremely tight turns for most of the way. The great thing about that was you clearly got to see some great views as you went through different elevations, even though there were a few sheers drops along the route.


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A small community at the foot of this part of the Andes, as we started our ascent. Photo: Nicole Anderson.


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This was just one of many hairpin turns! Photo: Nicole Anderson


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There were some people that said they were starting to get a bit dizzy going up… Photo: Nicole Anderson


On the way, the bus stopped for a while to allow us to adjust to the change in altitude and stretch our legs for a little bit. One sight that amazed me as we climbed (in many areas quite steep angles) was the number of (obviously very fit) cyclists that powered up the side of the range and they didn’t even look that tired! I later learned they were training for a major race and the roads within the Andes mountains region were the location for many to train! They were amazingly fit to say the very least.


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Pulling over midway up, to stretch our legs for a while and adjust to the change in altitude. Photo: Nicole Anderson.


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They make them tough here! Cyclist chugging up the mountain range showing very little effort! Photo: Nicole Anderson.


As we neared the top the temperature continued to drop and by the time we reached the resort, it was extremely cold even though snow was not present then. We were so thankful for the heating in the bus as well as the resort, once we had finished exploring the immediate terrain and vicinity.


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Getting close to the top now, looking back down on the road we used. Photo: Nicole Anderson.


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The end of the road in sight as the resort accommodations come into view. Photo: Nicole Anderson.


Arriving at the top of the road, the area was obscured by low-level clouds which meant you couldn’t really see that far in some places. The resort area itself is quite centrally located with a number of resorts, hotels, and holiday accommodation buildings.


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The main Valle Nevado Resort right at the end of the road. Photo: Nicole Anderson.


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The side of the resort up close where you can see they display a cable car outside. Photo: Nicole Anderson.


We hiked around a bit out to see the chairlifts, a fallen sign showing distances to other South American destinations and a wild fox (which disappeared just as I reached for my camera). The chair lifts were the first to be installed in the region back in 2001 and the resort also was the first to have a mountain cable car in Chile when it opened in 2013.


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The chairlifts not in use due to the absence of snow, leading back up to the resort. Photo: Nicole Anderson.


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Fallen sign showing the distances to other places in South America. Photo: Nicole Anderson.


When we had finished exploring the area, we came inside to enjoy some warmth and hot chocolate. As it was off-peak at the time, we had our pick of where to enjoy the lovely atmosphere and picked a spot right next to the fire.


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Just because there was no snow outside doesn’t mean it wasn’t freezing! It was so good to enjoy some time by the fire after exploring. Photo: Valle Nevado staff.


The Andes Mountains closer to Argentina

Our second trip into the Andes mountains again started out from Santiago and travelled east through the Cajon del Maipo, an area well known for its ecotourism in Chile. Our final destination on this trip would be Embalse del Yeso a reservoir formed by the damming of the Yeso River. Part of the Maipo basin, this is situated just some 15 kilometres (9 miles) from the Argentina border.

Travelling there was an experience in itself. From a roads point of view, it got a bit bumpy the closer we got to the Yeso. Gone were the sealed roads, replaced by rocky paths that produced large dust clouds behind us as we drove. However, the scenery all around us certainly made up for a less than perfect road. Here are some photos taken on that trip.


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Image By Carlos yo

San Jose de Maipo

San Jose de Maipo is a beautiful little municipality in the Cordillera Province that we visited on our way. It is such a picturesque place surrounded by nature and it was also such a clean town with some very friendly people.

The total population of the area is only just over 13,000 with 9,000 residing in the town area. The whole area had a wonderful feel to it and it was a pleasure to walk through the town with its cobblestone paths and lovely parks.


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The ‘central park’ area of San Jose De Maipo. Photo: Nicole Anderson.


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Different coloured buildings throughout the town area. The supermarket where we bought a few supplies. Photo: Nicole Anderson.


We also stopped off at a lovely roadside restaurant to have lunch on the way along the Andes. Again the friendliness and hospitality of the Chilean people came to the fore and the quality of the food was actually very good.


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The exterior of the restaurant we visited on the main road up that particular route to the Andes. Photo: James Visser.


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The interesting interior of the restaurant set on the side of a hill. Photo: Nicole Anderson.


Las cáscaras (or Campamento Minero)

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A shot of a few of the miner camping ‘shells’. Photo: James Visser


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The English translation of the Spanish las cáscaras is ‘shells’. This place again was on the way to Embalse del Yeso and is an abandoned mining camp built up within the Andes mountains so that workers could withstand the harsh climatic conditions in the area.

You really had to watch your footing at this place as the ground was covered in rocks of all sizes which gave way under your feet as you walked. As we explored this old mining camp, James slipped and injured his ankle which gave him a significant bruise and he was in a bit of pain over the next couple of days.

The photo on the right is a shot of James as we were having a look inside the old miners camp buildings. Photo: Nicole Anderson.


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Life and working conditions certainly wouldn’t have been easy for the miners. Photo: Nicole Anderson.


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James and I at the site of Las cáscaras with the backdrop of more mountains and a sizable glacier at the top, just right of centre. Photo: Turistik guide.


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More of a close-up shot of that Glacier. Photo: James Visser.


It was hard to imagine how life was like here for the miners. Bitterly cold in winter and so isolated if anything went wrong. However today, it certainly made for some interesting photos at this location.


Embalse del Yeso

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Halting our hike to take in the beautiful scenery of this amazing place. Photo: James Visser.


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It was a lovely spread prepared for us once we returned from exploring the area. Photo: James Visser.

This natural attraction was certainly worth the trip. The water surface elevation of 2,568 meters (8,425 feet), surrounded by the majestic Andes mountains with their snowy peaks and glaciers beautifully contrasted with the deep blue body of water that makes up the reservoir.

I really don’t know if the pictures taken could possibly do it justice but we did our best to capture such an amazing place.

Hiking along the perimeter dividing the water’s edge with the mountain faces was a wonderful experience. Completed in 1964, the reservoir’s capacity is 250,000,000 m3 and together with the breeze present at the time, made it a perfect day.

Even more so when we enjoyed some wine with cheese and fruit platters that were brought along and set up on tables by a stunning view. No one in our group could fail to be impressed with this place.


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Savouring some Chilean wine and cheese in this beautiful spot with a lovely breeze. Things could certainly be a lot worse! Photo: James Visser.


And as if that experience wasn’t enough, have a look at a couple more of the shots we took of the sites that greeted us as we eventually started on our way back to Santiago…


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Beautifully clear, fresh, ice cold water in the Andes mountains that is perfectly fine to drink, which is something quite a few in our group did. Photo: Nicole Anderson.


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James and I in front of the beautiful waterfall that fed that stream of pure mountain water. Photo: Turistik guide.


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Everywhere you looked seemed to be a picture postcard. Photo: Nicole Anderson.


I was so pleased to have finally ticked off a place on my list that I had always wondered about, going back to my days of geography at school. Given the sheer size and stretch of the Andes mountains across multiple countries in South America, will I return to see these mountains in some other country? Who knows?

For now, I just know that I am happy to have seen and shared an experience I found so worthwhile. If you haven’t already done so, perhaps the Andes mountains will be something you will also want to experience one day. If so I hope reading this will have played a small part in encouraging your own journey to this magnificent range.


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124 thoughts on “The Natural Beauty of the Andes Mountains, Chile

  • March 1, 2019 at 4:47 pm

    I haven’t been to South America yet, but best believe the Andes is on my list! I can’t wait to go and get my adventure travel on .

    • March 4, 2019 at 9:13 am

      I can definitely believe that Francesca and the Andes, of course, is a big part of South America. Hope you have a fabulous time and thank you very much for reading and leaving a comment.

  • February 11, 2019 at 8:11 am

    The mountains of Andes looks like those in many adventure movies. I am glad that I visited your page because I learned more about it, and feels like I am travelling with you guys.
    Your photos are breathtaking!

    • February 11, 2019 at 11:19 pm

      Thank you so much for such a lovely comment Blair and I’m so happy you enjoy my sharing adventures of the great outdoors in various places. I hope you will continue to stay connected as a reader/subscriber as there are some more quite interesting locations coming, with fabulous natural beauty to share.

  • February 10, 2019 at 6:00 pm

    I have always wanted to visit South America. The view of the mountains and the views around the water are amazing.

    • February 10, 2019 at 10:20 pm

      There’s no doubting that South America is an amazing continent with so much to offer. This is only a small part of it by comparison but extremely beautiful nonetheless. Thank you for reading and commenting Melissa.

  • February 8, 2019 at 8:24 pm

    The Andes are one of my favorite things to study and I should really plan a trip up there! It’s gorgeous.

  • February 8, 2019 at 5:27 am

    Wow! The Andes are certainly a magnificent sight to see! It seems that they definitely paid off and were worth the effort to get there! I can’t imagine living there as a miner, but it seems like an absolutely beautiful place to enjoy as a visitor!

    • February 10, 2019 at 10:15 pm

      That’s for sure Sierra! Life for the miners would have been extremely harsh but today it is a different story for curious visitors who are exploring the area. Worth the effort to see it indeed. Thank you.

  • February 7, 2019 at 7:25 pm

    I’ve only ever done basic travelling but I am Looking to do more in-depth travel. I would Love to go on adventures like this!

  • February 7, 2019 at 4:54 pm

    Isn’t it so much fun when we finally get to see a place that we’ve heard so much about, studied in school, or dreamed of visiting our whole lives? I’m so glad that the beauty of the range lived up to your expectations. It would have been a big bummer if they weren’t as grand and magnificent as you’d hoped they would be. And I always found it such a shame that the resorts don’t run their ski lifts in the off-season. They could make some money and allow visitors a chance to see the resorts/ranges sans-snow!

    • February 7, 2019 at 9:25 pm

      I am so relieved that the Andes did live up to my expectations (and more) as it is a bit of an effort to get there – but thankfully it was definitely all worth it in the end. I certainly understand your comment about the ski lifts but I guess that is a business decision for the owners. Thanks so much for reading and leaving your thoughts.

  • February 7, 2019 at 2:43 pm

    The Andes mountains are really legendary and have read about them in books. Reading your experience was quite fascinating. The landscapes look really out of this world and it must have been an incredible experience for you. We too hope to get to the Andes some day.

    • February 7, 2019 at 9:20 pm

      The Andes are indeed covered well in so many travel and geography books as it is a natural feature just too massive to overlook. There are so many beautiful landscapes throughout the range and I am so happy to have seen a part of it. I do hope you see it as well and thank you for reading and commenting.

  • February 7, 2019 at 9:58 am

    You evoked memories of thinking exactly the same when I was studying Geography in school. Andes was on my list to see some day but have forgotten about. So definitely thanks and its now back on.

  • February 5, 2019 at 7:40 pm

    I have never planned or thought of visiting the Andes I must be honest but reading this post makes me put it on my list for sure. Seems like you had a great trip and the visuals surely vouch for it. The Andes are beautiful and the photo of your stop in between to stretch your legs surely gave you some great views too. The food looks great as well with the fruits and platter Thanks for sharing a unique place I must say.

    • February 7, 2019 at 7:08 am

      Thank you so much Amar. I’m so pleased that you would consider putting the Andes on your list from reading this post. I guess the photos do speak a thousand words in respect to what it’s like and I’m not that good a photographer! There is so much beauty here, I am confident you wouldn’t be disappointed.

  • February 5, 2019 at 5:51 am

    Just realize you’re really good in describing nature in different places, and I love mountains and hiking in nature. I just stopped recently since I started working at home. Andes Mountain would be a great for camping and hiking as well. Thanks for sharing.

  • February 5, 2019 at 12:39 am

    So much beauty in this trip! I absolutely love seeing and reading all about your trips!

    • February 7, 2019 at 7:02 am

      Thank you so much Danielle. I really do appreciate you being a loyal reader and I will also do my best to include as much information of value as I can. Thank you again.

  • February 4, 2019 at 5:57 pm

    I am so jealous! I love hiking but I haven’t been able to go in a while. All of these look so amazing!!! I wish I could be there right now with my own wine glass. haha! 🙂

    • February 7, 2019 at 6:58 am

      Thanks Ashley! I must admit I don’t often have a wine glass and wine with me when I hike but this was a special occasion that I think warranted it. I hope you will be able to get back to hiking and your own adventures soon.

  • February 4, 2019 at 12:50 pm

    Chile and Andes are a big dream to me. I do hope I will visit it one day. So beautiful, so unusual and ancient!