Andean Foothills: Location, Social Reality, Importance

The Andean foothills are minor geological formations, desert-like in appearance, derived from a mountain system that in some cases reaches the sea and forms great abysses.

The foothills exist in the extensions of all the mountain systems of the world but, when it comes to the Andes, they are known as Andean foothills.

Although it is possible to find Andean foothills in Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia and Peru, it is in the latter country where the largest are recorded.

In the south of the continent, those that extend both west and east are desert-like in appearance and reach the sea in the form of cliffs.

From Bolivia and to the north, the foothills that rise towards the Pacific Ocean are also desert-like in appearance and, for the most part, are populated.

Those that emerge towards the east connect with the Amazon jungle and, further north, with valleys, being strategic for the connection of very diverse geographical areas.

Location of the Andean foothills

The development of Latin American regions has a lot to do with the conformation of their relief.

In general terms, the Andean foothills have been underdeveloped despite harboring very valuable resources, as in the case of Peru and the great archeological sanctuaries.

The political, economic, social, cultural and environmental development of South America is directly related to the exploitation that was carried out in the Andean foothills in all periods of history.

The characteristics of the main Andean foothills of Peru, Colombia and Ecuador will be highlighted below.

Andean foothills in Peru

The Peruvian relief is made up of mountains, hills, plateaus, plains, valleys, depressions, peninsulas, points, bays and islands, and foothills that emerge from the Andes mountain range.

The eastern foothills in Peru emerge from the Andean orographic axis, which runs through the country and separates the sierra from the jungle.

These foothills played a fundamental role in the development of these two regions, due to the large amount of resources available to them and, furthermore, because they allowed passage from one area to another.

Since the Inca period, the Andean foothills were strategic because the caciques controlled the passage of goods from the mountains to the Amazon, and vice versa.

In the Andean foothills of Peru, human settlements have been established, most of which have very precarious living conditions. Communications antennas have also been located that provide services, especially to the city of Lima.

Between the western foothills of the Andes and the Pacific Ocean is the Nazca Desert, home to one of the most important archaeological finds of the 20th century.

Among the main western Andean foothills of Peru are: San Cristóbal, in the district of Rímac; and San Cosme and El Pino, in the El Agustino district.

The Lagarto ridge, in the district of Villa El Salvador; Marcavilca and Morro Solar, in the district of Chorrillos; and Huaquerones, in the district of Ate Vitarte.

Andean foothills in Colombia

These Colombian foothills run through various landforms, thanks to the three mountain branches into which the Andean system is divided.

The three mountain ranges —western, central, and eastern— present foothills that unite mountain with jungle, valleys with coast, and valleys with valleys.

The main ones are the Macarena mountains, recognized for the exuberance of their rivers; and the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, an indigenous center that has a great biodiversity.

The foothills are used in the same way for the location of communication antennas, which allow various services to be provided to cities. In Colombia, these areas are populated mainly by indigenous and peasant groups.

Unlike Peru, where the social conditions of the western Andean foothills are very difficult for the population, in Colombia they have developed as important centers of environmental conservation.

Andean foothills in Ecuador

In Ecuador, the Andean foothills congregate complete ecosystems of fauna and flora, which are especially appreciated by scientists interested in rare and endangered species.

They extend mainly towards valleys and jungles, where there are settlements of indigenous people and peasants who are dedicated to agriculture.

Social reality in the Andean foothills

In all the countries that run through the Andean mountain system, the foothills have served as a commercial port for the transit of products from one region to another.

In pre-Hispanic times, the power of the caciques depended on the control of these geographical areas.

Initially, these areas were rich in resources, but did not achieve their own development, but served for years as a source of subsistence for the surrounding regions.

This reality has produced a marked social division, because the cities that have developed thanks to the foothills, like the commercial ports, have not returned development in the form of opportunities.

In this way, the human settlements that develop in the Andean foothills have a low quality of life and many problems in the economic and political spheres.

Because the Andean foothills are cultural and ecological borders between those who inhabit the mountains, the jungle and the valleys, they become areas of high social complexity.

Importance of the Andean foothills

The Andean foothills represented the most important political weapon for the leaders in the various periods of South American history, due to their strategic position and great wealth of natural resources.

In the economic sphere, they became true commercial ports through which products from the coast were brought, such as fish and some objects that arrived in boats from Asia and Europe.

From the valleys or the jungle, fruits, minerals, handicrafts and wood were brought to the coast. Likewise, from the mountains and the foothills some agricultural products, such as potatoes and corn, left towards the jungle and the coast.

Regarding the cultural, there was a wide exchange reflected in musical instruments, dances, rituals, medicines and oral traditions.

In the environmental sphere, the Andean foothills became centers of great diversity of exotic Andean ecosystems.

Regarding technology, they have been fundamental for the strategic and efficient location of communication antennas for the provision of services such as television, radio and Internet.


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  2. Corbalán, M. (2008). Periphery and marginality in archaeological construction: late pre-Hispanic societies in the eastern foothills of the Calchaquí summits (Northwest Argentina). Maguaré , (22).
  3. Chacaltana Cortez, Sofía; Christopher Dayton; Monica Barrionuevo. “Storage systems on the coast and the Sierra de Colesuyo, Central Andes” in Comparative Perspectives about the Archeology of Coastal South America, Alexander Martín; Enrique López-Hurtado; Robyn E. Cutright eds., University of Pittsburgh Latin American Archeology Publications.
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