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The Andes: The Crown of South America

South America’s pride, the Andes is the continent’s 4,500-mile-long spine that has earned the title of the world’s longest continental mountain chain. With awe-inspiring landscapes that are must-see spectacles in themselves, this cordillera is also home to dozens of distinct cultural groups, each possessing their own language, history, and civilization – yet all sharing the same spirit of the Andes. 

 

No matter what destination you’re considering to visit along the expansive backbone of the South American continent, contact Surtrek South American Travel so that we can start planning your Andean adventure.

Highlights

 

  • Stroll through the narrow, cobblestone streets of UNESCO World Heritage Cities such as Quito and Cuenca
  • Go horseback riding in the foothills Ecuador’s Cotopaxi Mountain as majestic condors soar overhead
  • Meet members of indigenous communities while haggling for bargains at the Otavalo handicrafts market
  • Step back in time as you explore legendary Inca and pre-Inca ruins
  • Herd wild horses across the lunar landscape of the paramo highlands
  • Observe herds of wild alpacas grazing across sweeping Altiplano plains
  • Feel the wind blowing through your hair while mountain biking down an active volcano

 

How to choose an Andean vacation

 

Amazingly long (4,300 miles), and surprisingly thin (between 120 to 430 miles wide), the Andes is also the world's highest mountain range outside of Asia ...high enough to leave you breathless in more ways than one.

 

This region extends from north to south through seven South American countries (Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela), hosting several high plateaus and major cities that are ideal destinations for any vacation.

 

In deciding on which Andean vacation to choose, you may want to consider which Andean city will best serve as your base. We think that the following five Andean cities deserving special consideration for those seeking unforgettable Latin American travel experiences.

 

  • Quito, Ecuador: With a historic district considered the most beautiful city in all of South America, Quito is the jewel in Ecuador's crown. Ensconced in a long and narrow Andean valley, while skirted by the peaks of the area’s “Avenue of the Volcanos,” most travelers sense of a wave of sheer awe the moment they touch down in Quito. [Also, keep in mind that Quito serves as a convenient jumping-off point for traveling to the nearby Amazon rainforest as well as for taking a short flight to the country’s legendary Galapagos Islands.]
  • Machu Picchu: Still the uncontested Mecca of Latin America, Machu Picchu reigns supreme. In a spectacular location, it’s the best-known archaeological site on the continent. This fabled "lost city of the Incas," is South America's greatest attraction, one that draws ever-increasing numbers of visitors from around the globe.
  • Bogota, Colombia: The place that seven million people call home, Bogota’s energy as the metropolitan heart of Colombia is in part fueled by its hundreds of eclectic dining hot-spots, fantastic wines, and increasingly frequent “foodie” festivals.
  • La Paz, Bolivia: Dizzying in every respect, La Paz rests at an altitude of 3,650 meters (over two miles above sea level). Thanks to its historic isolation, a visit here will give you a glimpse at the way indigenous peoples have managed to retain many of their traditions ways. The result is that many people consider La Paz the most quintessentially South American capital city.

 

In sum, on a summer vacation to this region, you will find snowcapped Andes Mountains towering above, seeming to glow in the moonlight. The Andes of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Chile especially are well suited for everything from active nature adventures to indulgent shopping and dining in its big cities or more relaxed activities like daily walks, hikes, and archeological digs. For a break from the routine, the Andes has it all!

 

What you’ll experience on an Andean vacation

 

The Andes is a land waiting to be explored and sensed. Whether hiking or horseback riding in the foothills Ecuador’s Cotopaxi Mountain, observing the enigmatic ruins of Machu Picchu, or even bargaining for handicrafts at the Otavalo market, there’s a mystical air about the Andes. In this region, otherworldly experiences await you everywhere, be it the vast Uyuni salt flat or the Mars-like Atacama Desert. For adventure seekers, you’ll find mountain trekking, whitewater rafting, or herding wild horses across the lunar landscape of the paramo highlands the thrill of a lifetime. Then too, opportunities for cultural contacts with indigenous communities abound, whether at local markets, working haciendas, or visits with local families or schools. Similarly, you will get a chance to step back in time as you experience legendary Inca and pre-Inca sites such as Sacred Valley, Lake Titicaca, and Ingapirca. And, to top all of this off, the Andes is also known for its unique chances for wildlife watching, as you can observe herds of wild alpacas grazing across Altiplano plains and majestic condors floating through mountain canyons. For these and other experiences, Surtrek welcomes you on your own unique and personalized journey through South America’s Andes.

 

Is it safe to visit the Andes?

 

Most definitely! The vast Andean region is generally a safe place to visit, especially those areas that you’ll be visiting while accompanied by your experienced Surtrek guides. Like any destination — especially one so extensive as the Andes — there are sites that travelers should avoid, but your local guides will direct you well away from any area with a questionable reputation. Travelers should also note that the crime rates in the Andes and the US cities aren’t too different, though travelers should exercise a little extra caution and use “common sense.” You can avoid putting temptation in the path of questionable people by never leaving your belongings unattended; keeping your wallet, purse, cell phone, and money on you and close to you; not carrying large sums of cash on you, withdrawing money inside the bank, etc. By following these and other common-sense tips, you’re much more than likely to have an incident-free and highly rewarding travel experience here in the Andes.

 

Best time to tour the Andes

 

When traveling to and through the southern Andes (southern Argentina &/or Chile), keep in mind that the Southern Hemisphere’s summer takes place during the Northern Hemisphere’s winter. This means that the best time to visit the southern Andes is from November to early March – though you'll meet up with larger numbers of tourists during this peak season.

 

As for the northern “Tropical” Andes of Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Colombia, the temperatures here remain relatively constant throughout the year. While the destinations here can be easily visited year-round, the very best months to visit this region is during the dryer period that extends from May to November. The somewhat rainier “wet season” extends from December to April. Also, note that Machu Picchu is closed in February due to rain and for maintenance.

 

What to pack for the Andes

 

In most parts of the Andes, you’ll experience all four seasons in one day – from the intense, high-altitude sun during the daytime to chilly winter-like nights.

 

Though you’ll receive a detailed packing list after you book your once-in-a-lifetime Andean adventure tour with Surtrek, the following tips and general pack list provides useful guidelines for traveling in the Andean mountains:

 

Andean Packing Tips

 

  • Pack warm, fast-drying clothes (synthetics and wool are good, but avoid cotton, especially directly against the skin).
  • Bring quality, ankle-supporting hiking boots that either dry quickly or are water-resistant.
  • For trekking through the páramo highlands, you’ll find rubber boots (“wellies”) are the best choice for keeping your feet dry (most lodges provide these).

 

Essential Items

 

As for the essential items to bring along when traveling through the Andes, this list is meant to be suggestive rather than comprehensive:

 

  • Passport
  • Money belt or neck pouch
  • Bank card and credit card
  • Backpack and daypack
  • Layered clothes for warm and cool weather, as one can encounter both in an afternoon in the Andes or when traveling between regions
  • Raincoat
  • First-aid kit
  • Sunscreen
  • Any medications prescribed by your doctor
  • Swiss army knife or leatherman (included in checked luggage)
  • Watch with alarm clock
  • Flashlight or headlamp with extra batteries
  • Plastic bags for separating dirty and clean clothes and shoes
  • Notebooks and pens/pencils
  • Hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Camera
  • Needle and thread
  • Biodegradable soap (if in backcountry areas)

 

Getting to the Andes

 

Keep in mind, wherever you choose to journey across the vast Andean mountain chain, you’ll be met by a Surtrek representative the moment you touch down at the closest international airport. From there you’ll be continuously accompanied by this representative or guide throughout your adventure until the time of your final departure.

 

  • Reaching Sites in the Ecuadorian Andes: ​​​Travelers flying into Ecuador will most likely arrive at Quito’s new Mariscal International Airport (UIO), located 10 miles from the city’s downtown.  From Quito, ground transportation is available to other sites in the Ecuadorian Andes, such as Cotopaxi Volcano and National Park, Quilotoa and Cuicocha lakes, and Papallacta Resort and Spa. To reach Cuenca, which is Ecuador’s other UNESCO-declared World Heritage City, travelers can fly out of Quito or take a scenic 8-hour ride through the Andes to reach that city, dubbed the “Athens of Ecuador.” In addition, the luxury trans-Andean Tren Cruceo train service carries passengers from Quito through the Ecuadorian Andes to cities such as Latacunga, Ambato, and Riobamba before reaching the port city of Guayaquil, on the country’s coast.
  • Traveling to the Peruvian Andes: Travelers to Peru touch down at Lima’s Jorge Chavez International Airport (LIM), with many travelers who are heading on to Machu Picchu flying on to the city of Cusco the next day, with most flights to Cusco leaving during the mornings. From Cusco, trains to Machu Picchu depart from outside of the city, carrying travelers through the Sacred Valley and Ollantaytambo before arriving at the town of Aguas Calientes, at the foot of the Machu Picchu citadel. Frequent flights from Lima also carry travelers to Lake Titicaca (arriving in Puno), as well as Arequipa and its strikingly scenic Colca Canyon nearby.
  • Visiting the Bolivian Andes: Most travelers flying into Bolivia land at the El Alto International Airport (LPB) just outside of the capital city of La Paz. From there, major Andean attractions such as the “World's Most Dangerous Road,” the ancient pre-Inca ruins of Tiwanaku, Lake Titicaca, and its Sun Island can be reached by car, van or bus. More distant destinations such as the Uyuni salt flat can also be reached from La Paz by plane.
  • Getting to Sites in the Chilean & Argentine Andes: Santiago de Chile’s Comodoro Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport (SCL) is the arrival point for almost all travelers to the Chilean Andes, as well for many travelers to the Argentine Andes. From the Chilean capital city, domestic flights can be taken for traveling the long distances north and south over the Chilean Andes to destinations such as the Atacama Desert (landing in Calama), the Lake District (landing in Puerto Montt) or even further south to Andean destinations in Patagonia (Torres del Paine National Park, Puerto Natales or Punta Arenas). Santiago de Chile can also serve as an arrival point for those wanting to experience nearby Mendoza, (the Argentine city of wine-fame) or even the badlands of Salta, in northern Argentina. Farther south of Mendoza is the resort city of San Carlos de Bariloche (Argentina), where the Lloa Lloa Lodge provides activities for every taste and inclination. Flights to Salta, Mendoza, and San Carlos de Bariloche can also be taken from the Argentina capital of Buenos Aires.
  • Making your way to the Colombian Andes: Travelers to Columbia will discover what neither Sir Walter Raleigh nor the Spanish conquistadors were ever able to find: El Dorado. However, rather than the famed empire of gold, this is the name of the Bogota’s international airport (BOG). Though visitors to Colombia will likely want to spend several days in the capital city, other Colombian destinations in the Andes across the country can be reached by ground transportation or air. Note that the drive time to Medellin is just over eight (8) hours and the drive time to the Coffee Triangle is just over seven (7) hours, though each destination can be reached by air in about an hour.

 

Why tour the Andes with Surtrek?

 

Based here in the Andes since 1993, Surtrek has been introducing adventurous travelers to authentic, environmentally friendly, tailor-made luxury travel experiences across South America. Over this time, we have become adept at offering some of the best and most complete tour services through and across the Andes.

 

With our experienced travel team of 25 members strong — including native speakers of five different languages — we will work one-on-one with you to custom-design an Andean tour that perfectly suits your particular interests and needs.

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Traveler Reviews
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Reviews

“My wife and I just completed a 5-day tour around the Cotopaxi volcano and the stunning Quilotoa loop – overall an excellent trip and wonderful experience.”Bernd Bassalleck