South America is well known for being home to the Andes, which are the longest chain of mountains in the world. These mountains traverse the continent from north to south, cutting across seven countries. Some of the highest permanent settlements in the continent and the world are found on these mountains.
Five Highest Permanent Settlements in South America
Sitting at an elevation of 5,130 meters above sea level, La Rinconada is the highest permanent settlement worldwide. The town is located in the Andes of Peru, near a gold mine in Ananea District. As of 2012, La Rinconada had a population of around 50,000 people. The inhabitants of the town work in the nearby gold mines, mainly as artisanal miners. Due to its location high in the Andes, La Rinconada experiences an alpine climate, with an average annual temperature of 1.2 °C.
Parinacota is a tiny hamlet in the highlands of Chile. It is built inside Lauca National Park, near a small town and commune known as Putre. As of 2002, the population of the hamlet was around 29 people. The village is named after Parinacota, a volcanic mountain that forms part of the Central Volcanic Zone of the Andes. Parinacota sits at an altitude of 4,400 meters, and it is listed as the fourth highest permanent settlement in the world.
Cerro de Pasco
Cerro de Pasco is an important mining center in the central region of Peru and the capital of the Pasco region. It is built at the top of the Andes Mountains. The elevation of the city is 4,300 meters, making it the third highest city in South America and the highest or second highest permanent settlement in the world with over 50,000 inhabitants. The development and growth of the city were influenced by the discovery of silver in the area in 1630. Cerro de Pasco experiences an alpine climate, and its average annual temperature is about 5.5 °C.
El Alto is Bolivia's second largest city after Santa Cruz de la Sierra. It is located on the Altiplano highlands or Andean Plateau. El Alto has an average altitude of 4,150 meters, and it is a fast-growing urban center with a population of 974,754 inhabitants as of 2011. The city grew from a settlement of railway workers early in the 20th century, and it became a formally incorporated city in 1987. The climate of El Alto is a rare variety of the subpolar oceanic climate, designated as Cwc in the Koppen classification.
Potosi is also a Bolivian city, built at the foot of the Cerro de Potosi Mountain. It sits at an elevation of 4,090 meters, making it the fifth highest settlement area in South America and one of the highest cities in the world. The growth of the city was influenced by the discovery of silver in the Cerro de Potosi Mountain in 1545. The mountain, which is located on the Bolivian Tin Belt, has the biggest silver deposits in the world. As of 2012, Potosi was occupied by around 240,966 people.
Other High Settlement Areas in the Continent
All of the above cities have elevations exceeding 4,000 meters. Other high settlement areas in South America include Puno, Juliaca and La Oroya in Peru, Oruro and La Paz in Bolivia, and Apartaderos in Venezuela. The highest town in Colombia is Vetas with an altitude of 3350 meters while that of Ecuador is Papallacta at 3,300 meters above sea level.