The 10 Highest Mountains in South America

January 2, 2024

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The highest mountains in South America

South America is full of diverse cultures and natural beauty. While it’s perhaps most famous for the Amazon rainforest and river, South America is also home to some of the world’s highest mountains. These mountains are measured from sea level to their peak to see (as opposed to base to peak). Many of them are found in the Andes Mountain range in Argentina and Chile.

Hundreds of climbers gravitate to South America’s mountains every year. The desire to conquer the towering giants attracts seasoned professionals to amateur mountaineers. Many of these mountains don’t require technical climbing and are often considered easier to climb than their Asian counterparts.

Let’s jump straight into it and take a look at the ten highest mountains on this beautiful contine

1. Aconcagua

View of the snow-capped peak of Aconcagua
View of Aconcagua in western Mendoza province
Height: 6,961 m (22,838 ft)
Mountain range: Andes
Country: Argentina

South America’s highest mountain is Aconcagua, which measures a whopping 6,962 meters (22,841 feet). This measurement also means Aconcagua is the highest mountain in the world outside Asia. It’s located in the Andes mountain range in Argentina, near the Chilean border.

Aconcagua is generally considered easier to climb than most. It doesn’t require equipment such as ropes, axes and pins, or even supplemental oxygen. Climbers are often affected by altitude sickness, depending on how well they acclimatize.

Despite the relatively easy climb, Aconcagua has earned the nickname ‘Mountain of Death’ as it has the highest mortality rate of any mountain in South America. Approximately three people die each year trying to reach the summit. Causes of death are often attributed to frostbite and altitude sickness.

The first known attempt was made in 1883. However, it wasn’t until several years later that a Swiss mountaineer called Matthias Zurbriggen made the first successful ascent in 1897. British mountaineer Edward FitzGerald, who led the expedition, failed to reach the summit himself.

2. Ojos Del Salado

View of the summit of Ojos Del Salado
View of the summit of Ojos Del Salado
Height: 6,891 m (22,608 ft)
Mountain range: Andes
Country: Argentina, Chile

Located on the border between Argentina and Chile stands Ojos Del Salado. Along with being South America’s second-highest mountain, it’s also considered the world’s highest volcano. The last eruption occurred in 750 AD, which means Ojos Del Salado is currently dormant.

In the mountain’s upper reaches, there is a mixture of volcanic craters, lava flows, and lava domes. Unusually for a mountain, there is limited ice and snow cover or glaciers on Ojos Del Salado. This is because the mountain is near South America’s Arid Diagonal, which causes dry conditions on the mountain. Despite this, a permanent crater lake is located approximately 6,480 meters (21,260 ft) high near the summit. Its position on the mountain makes it the world’s highest lake.

Polish mountaineers Jan Alfred Szczepański and Justyn Wojsznis made the first successful ascent in February 1937. They left behind a cairn (a pile of stacked stones used as a marker). Following the Polish ascent, there wasn’t another successful climb to the summit until 1955.

Ojos Del Salado attracts far fewer climbers than neighboring Aconcagua. For centuries, the mountain was largely hidden and ignored as it is surrounded by peaks of similar heights. There is no evidence of Inca archeological sites on the mountain as there are in other areas in the region.

3. Monte Pissis

Icy winds blowing across Monte Pissis
Monte Pissis is the world’s second highest volcano
Height: 6,795 m (22,293 ft)
Mountain range: Andes
Country: Argentina

Monte Pissis is an extinct volcano in the Andes mountain range in Argentina, approximately 25 km from the Chilean border. Although the mountain is located in the dry Atacama Desert, it has extensive glaciers. Another unusual feature is the crevasses, which are deep cracks in the glaciers and ice sheets.

Polish mountaineers Osiecki and Jan Alfred Szczepański (who made the first Ojos Del Salado ascent) were the first to climb the mountain in 1937. The best time of year to climb the mountain is from December to March, which are the warmest months in the region.

The mountain is named after the French geologist Pedro José Amadeo Pissis, who worked for the Chilean government in the 19th century. It’s the world’s second-highest volcano after Ojos Del Salado, which is also located in the Andes mountain range.

4. Huascarán

A farm in a small wooded area with Huascarán looming in the background
Huascarán looms in thee background
Height: 6,768 m (22,205 ft)
Mountain range: Cordillera Blanca
Country: Peru

Mount Huascarán is located in Cordillera Blanca, the world’s highest tropical mountain range. The mountain stands 6,768 meters (22,205 feet) above sea level, which makes it the highest point in Earth’s tropics.

The mountain has two distinct summits. The south summit is the higher of the two, although the north summit still has an elevation of 6,654 meters (21,831 ft). It’s surrounded by Huascarán, which the mountain gives its name to. The national park became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1985 due to its spectacular landscape and its wildlife and vegetation.

In 1932, an German–Austrian expedition was the first to reach Mount Huascarán’s southern summit. They took what would become the standard route mountaineers still climb today (named the Garganta route). An American expedition claimed to reach the northern summit in 1908, although this event is often disputed.

In 1970, an earthquake caused part of the mountain’s north side to collapse, which led to a large avalanche. A wall of ice and rocks fell from the mountain and crushed the town of Yungay and the village of Ranrahirca below. An estimated 20,000 people died as a result of the avalanche.

5. Cerro Bonete

View of Cerro Bonete
The peak of Cerro Bonete is 6,759 meters high
Height: 6,759 m (22,175 ft)
Mountain range: Andes
Country: Argentina

Located in the province of La Rioja, Argentina, Cerro Bonete is the fifth-highest separate mountain in South America. The best conditions to climb the mountain are from mid-December to mid-March when the weather is warmest.

While the mountain isn’t particularly difficult to climb, it does have fairly steep and rocky terrain. The ascent isn’t technically demanding, but it does demand a good level of fitness and prior mountaineering experience. Some climbers practice with Cerro Bonete before they attempt the mammoth Aconcagua.

6. Tres Cruces

View of Nevado Tres Cruces as seen from the summit of Ojos del Salado
View of Nevado Tres Cruces as seen from the summit of Ojos del Salado
Height: 6,749 m (22,142 ft)
Mountain range: Andes
Country: Argentina, Chile

Nevado Tres Cruces is a massif (series of connected peaks) in the Andes mountain range on the Argentina-Chile border. The massif is of volcanic origin; the last eruption was around 28,000 years ago, but it could erupt again in the future.

Tres Cruces has two main peaks: Tres Cruces Sur (the highest peak) and Tres Cruces Centro (6,629 m/21,749 ft). Tres Cruces Norte is a third, minor peak that reaches 6,030 m (19,780 ft). These three peaks give the massif its name (Tres Cruces), which means ‘Three Crosses’ in Spanish.

It often snows or hails on the higher peaks during winter. There are also strong winds and seasonal temperature changes in the local area.

In 1937, Polish mountaineers Stefan Osiecki and Witold Paryski were the first to ascend Tres Cruces Sur.

7. Llullaillaco

View of Llullaillaco
View of Llullaillaco
Height: 6,739 m (22,109 ft)
Mountain range: Andes
Country: Chile

After Ojos Del Salado, Llullaillaco is the world’s second-highest volcano. It’s also the highest archaeological site in the world, as three mummified children were found at the mountain’s summit in 1999. It’s presumed the Inca children were used as sacrifices around 1,500 CE. Due to the extreme dryness in the air around the summit, the mummies were well preserved.

Llullaillaco is a dormant stratovolcano. This means it has steep sides and a distinct cone shape. It’s located near the Atacama Desert, which is one of the driest places on Earth. The cold, dry conditions in the region mean vegetation is scarce.

Although the first documented ascent was in 1950, people have been climbing the mountain for hundreds of years. Mice have also been found near the summit, which is the highest place a mammal has been found in the world.

Lava flow from past eruptions has created structures called coulees on the mountain. This is caused when lava pouring down the side of the volcano cools and leaves parallel ridges.

8. Mercedario

View of the Cordillera de la Ramada in the San Juan province
View of the Cordillera de la Ramada. Mercadario is the closest peak
Height: 6,720 m (22,047 ft)
Mountain range: Cordillera de la Ramada
Country: Argentina

South America’s eighth-highest mountain is Mercedario, located in the San Juan Province, Argentina. The first documented ascent was by Polish mountaineers Adam Karpiński and Wiktor Ostrowski in 1934. The south side was first climbed in 1968 by a Japanese expedition. There is evidence of Inca ruins just below the summit, which suggests people were ascending then mountain hundreds of years ago.

The route up Mercedario isn’t technical and can be climbed by most people who have good physical fitness. Ideally, climbers will have climbed 6,000 meters (19,685 feet) before attempting Mercedario.

Far fewer people climb Mercedario than Aconcagua. During peak season (December to February), there will be around five expeditions ascending Mercedario, whereas Aconcagua would typically see 80 expeditions.

9. Incahuasi

View of Incahuasi
The Inca ruins found on the summit is what gave Incahuasi its name
Height: 6,638 m (21,778 ft)
Mountain range: Andes
Country: Argentina, Chile

This volcanic mountain lies on the border between Argentina and Chile. The peak is famous for its Inca archeological sites, including a ceremonial structure. Although it’s unknown when the first ascent was made, Walter Penck (a German mountaineer) made the first recorded ascent to the summit in 1912.

Peak climbing season is from early December to late March. As Incahuasi is a dry mountain, it can be difficult to find water, which is why many climbers ascend in the winter when there is the most rainfall. There are no glaciers, but there is limited snowpack.

Like Ojos Del Salado, Incahuasi lies on the Arid Diagonal, which is an extremely dry region. It predominately features deserts and little vegetation. There is limited public transport in the area, which means most climbers hitchhike to reach Incahuasi’s base camp.

10. Nevado Sajama

Road at the foot of the Nevado Sajama volcano in the National Park in Bolivia
Road at the foot of the Nevado Sajama volcano in the National Park in Bolivia
Height: 6,542 m (21,463 ft)
Mountain range: Andes
Country: Bolivia

Nevado Sajama is an extinct stratovolcano in Sajama National Park, Bolivia. It’s unknown when the volcano’s last eruption was, and the peak is now covered with an ice cap. Due to the extreme steepness, climbing Nevado Sajamai can be physically demanding. Climbers must have good physical fitness to make a successful ascent.

Climbing expeditions begin in the nearby village ofSajama. The whole climb can take approximately 12 hours, with at least three hours of that required to reach base camp. The last 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) of the ascent can be difficult due to the significant amount of glaciers.

Nevado Sajama is a sacred mountain in the local community and is the focus of several myths. There are around 40 archaeological sites on the mountain, with the majority located in the lower elevations of the mountain. The famous Sajama Lines (ancient network of paths) are also located near the mountain.

Overview: South America’s highest mountains

RankMountainHeight (m)Height (feet)Mountain RangeCountry
2Ojos Del Salado6,89122,608AndesArgentina, Chile
3Monte Pissis6,79522,293AndesArgentina
4Huascarán6,76822,205Cordillera BlancaPeru
5Cerro Bonete6,75922,175AndesArgentina
6Tres Cruces6,74922,142AndesArgentina, Chile
8Mercedario6,72022,047Cordillera de la RamadaArgentina
9Incahuasi6,63821,778AndesArgentina, Chile
10Nevado Sajama6,54221,463AndesBolivia

Aconcagua is South America’s highest mountain at 6,961 meters (22,838 feet). It’s also the world’s highest mountain outside of Asia. Many of these mountains aren’t technically difficult to climb, but they do require good physical fitness. The shorter mountains are often used as practice before mountaineers attempt Aconcagua.

The mountains in South America are often surrounded by arid land. This means vegetation is often scarce, and few communities live in the region. The dry conditions mean that the various mountain archaeological sites are well preserved.

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