The climate in the Andes varies greatly depending on location, altitude, and proximity to the sea. Temperature, atmospheric pressure and humidity decrease in higher elevations. The southern section is rainy and cool, the central Andes are dry. The northern Andes are typically rainy and warm, with an average temperature of 18 °C (64 °F) in Colombia. The climate is known to change drastically in rather short distances. Rainforests exist just miles away from the snow covered peak Cotopaxi. The mountains have a large effect on the temperatures of nearby areas. The snow line depends on the location. It is at between 4,500 and 4,800 m (14,800–15,800 ft) in the tropical Ecuadorian, Colombian, Venezuelan, and northern Peruvian Andes, rising to 4,800–5,200 m (15,800–17,060 ft) in the drier mountains of southern Peru south to northern Chile south to about 30°S, then descending to 4,500 m (14,760 ft) on Aconcagua at 32°S, 2,000 m (6,600 ft) at 40°S, 500 m (1,640 ft) at 50°S, and only 300 m (980 ft) in Tierra del Fuego at 55°S; from 50°S, several of the larger glaciers descend to sea level.

The Andes of Chile and Argentina can be divided in two climatic and glaciological zones; the Dry Andes and the Wet Andes. Since the Dry Andes extends from the latitudes of Atacama Desert to the area of Maule River, precipitation is more sporadic and there are strong temperature oscillations. The line of equilibrium may shift drastically over short periods of time, leaving a whole glacier in the ablation area or in the accumulation area.

In the high Andes of central Chile and Mendoza Province rock glaciers are larger and more common than glaciers; this is due to the high exposure to solar radiation.