We have compared the annual surface energy balance (SEB) of Zongo Glacier (16°S, Bolivia, outer tropics) and Antizana Glacier 15 (0°S, Ecuador, inner tropics). On annual time scale energy fluxes are very similar in the ablation zone: turbulent heat fluxes compensate each other and net short-wave radiation dominates the SEB. Albedo is central in controlling the melting. Consequently solid precipitation occurrence manages the annual mass balance variability. In the outer tropics, the annual melting is directly related to the annual distribution of precipitation, the period December–February being crucial. However, in the inner tropics, liquid precipitation can occur on the ablation zone, and snowline altitude remains very sensitive to air temperature. Tropical glaciers react rapidly to El Niño events, mainly because of an induced precipitation deficit in the outer tropics and to a temperature increase in the inner tropics, both leading to a rise in snowline altitude.