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The Andes is South America's longest mountain range, forming a continuous chain of highland along the western coast of South America. It is over 7,000 km (4,400 miles) long, 500 km (300 miles) wide in some parts (widest between 18° to 20°S latitude), and of an average height of about 4,000 m (13,000 ft).

The Andean range is composed principally of two great ranges, the Cordillera Oriental and the Cordillera Occidental, often separated by a deep intermediate depression, in which arise other chains of minor importance, the chief of which is Chile's Cordillera de la Costa. Other small chains arise on the sides of the great chains. The Cordillera de la Costa starts from the southern extremity of the continent and runs in a northerly direction, parallel with the coast, being broken up at its beginning into a number of islands and afterwards forming the western boundary of the great central valley of Chile. To the north this coastal chain continues in small ridges or isolated hills along the Pacific Ocean as far as Venezuela, always leaving the same valley more or less visible to the west of the western great chain. The mountains extend over seven countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela, some of which are known as Andean States. One theory says the name Andes comes from the Quechua word anti, which means "high crest". Another theory says that the name Andes derived from the Spanish word "andén" which means terrace in reference to the cultivation terraces used by the Incas and other related peoples.

The Andes mountain range is the highest mountain range outside Asia, with the highest peak, Aconcagua, rising to 6,962 m (22,841 ft) above sea level. The summit of Mount Chimborazo in the Ecuadorean Andes is the point on the Earth's surface most distant from its center, because of the equatorial bulge. The Andes cannot match the Himalayas in height but do so in width and are more than twice as long.

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