The culture of the Andes is no less famous. Even those who have never been to the area, and are unfamiliar with the way of life, are familiar with the distinctive sound of the Andean panpipe in such popular songs as Simon & Garfunkel's version of "El condor pasa," as Tina Turner's "Look Me in the Heart" and Elton John's "The One." For thousands of years before the Spaniards arrived, the Indians developed a series of unique cultures adapted to the cold climate and thin air of the Andes. They even evolved extra large lungs so they could breathe more easily. Their history will be discussed more fully in the section on Peru.
Many of the languages spoken by the Indians—such as Quechua (the Inca language) and Aymara—are still spoken today. The historical importance of the exotic Quechua language is reflected in the names as Aconcagua ("white sentinel"), the tallest peak in the New World; Huascarán (named for an Inca chieftain); and Illampú (snow), as well as that of the Andes themselves (one theory suggest that the name comes from the Quechua word for "copper," which is found in abundance in the area). Quechua even has official status in Peru and Bolivia alongside Spanish. In Bolivia, Aymara is also official.
Only the far western part of Venezuela is in the Andes, which covers the states of Mérida, Táchira and Trujillo. The first of these is home to Sierra Nevada National Park, where if you are lucky you may catch sight of the rare spectacled bear—South America's only ursine. Mountaineers can also scale such heights as Bolívar Peak and Humboldt.
Colombia is one of the leading coffee-producing countries of the world. Unfortunately, it has also become one of the leading drug-producing countries of the world, as the plant from which many illegal drugs are made grows naturally here, and Colombian drug cartels are notorious. In spite of this and other problems, Colombia can be a very pleasant place to visit. Its second largest city, Medellín, is nestled among the mountains, and has an exciting night life.
As its name suggests, Ecuador lies on the equator. Cotopaxi ("neck of the moon"), one of the highest active volcanoes in the world, is located here, which you can see on your Andes tours. In Ecuador you might also want to visit the charming Andean village of Guamote, where you can ride horseback through the mountains.
The seat of the mighty Inca Empire had its center here in Peru; it had, however, been in existence for less than a hundred years when the Spaniards arrived and overran it. But the Inca were only the most recent in a long line of rich Peruvian cultures, the most ancient of which was the Chavín (900-300 B.C.) The ruins of these cultures have been preserved as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including Machu Picchu and Chavín de Huántar, just to name a few. Colca Canyon is also renowned for its breathtaking beauty, and handicrafts can be bought here.
One of the most remote countries in South America because of its mountains, Bolivia has also long been a center of Indian culture; it is home to Tiwanaku, another archaeological heritage site whose ruins of stone block have earned it the nickname "Stonehenge of the Americas." Skiers will enjoy Chacaltaya and Huayna Potosi on their Andes travel adventure.
The Andes form all but the southernmost extremity of this country's boundary with Argentina. The enormous "Christ of the Andes" statue straddles this boundary, marking the resolution of a dispute between the two countries. Torres del Paine ("Blue Towers") National Park lies at the southern limit of the Andes range; it was named for three immense rock formations that overlook the lovely Lake Pehoe. One can go sightseeing by boat.
This last country on our list, Argentina is physically and culturally unlike the other countries we have discussed so far. Except for its mountainous western boundary, the country is largely lowlands, and there have never been many native peoples living here. In the Andean Northwest region, one can spend the night in a small mountain pueblo — or visit Humahuaca, dominated by its mighty Monumento de la Independencia. Also in this part of the country is Nahuel Huapi National Park, where one can go hiking, rock climbing… or take a trek through Bariloche.
As you can see, there is no shortage of things to see and do in the Andes. It's a huge and varied region!
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