Colombia is located in the northwest of South America. It is bordered to the northwest by Panama; to the east by Venezuela and Brazil; to the south by Ecuador and Peru. It shares maritime limits with Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti.
Colombia has a land size of 1,141,748 km2 (440,831 sq mi) and it is the 25th largest nation in the world and the fourth-largest country in South America (after Brazil, Argentina, and Peru).
Colombia can be divided into six distinct natural regions: the Andean Region, covering the three branches of the Andes mountains found in Colombia; the Caribbean Region, covering the area adjacent to the Caribbean Sea; the Insular Region, comprising the islands in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the Pacific Region adjacent to the Pacific Ocean, the Orinoquía Region, part of the Llanos plains mainly in the Orinoco river basin and finally, the Amazon Region, part of the Amazon rainforest. See the map below:
The Andean Region
The Andes mountains form the most populous region of Colombia and contain the majority of the country’s urban centers. In the 1980’s about 78 percent of the country’s population lived in this area. Near the Ecuadorian frontier, the Andes Mountains divide into three distinct, roughly parallel chains, called cordilleras, that extend northeastward almost to the Caribbean Sea.
There are three Andean mountain ranges in Colombia. They are cordillera occidental, cordillera central and cordillera oriental.
Altitudes reach more than 18,700 ft (5,700 m), and mountain peaks are permanently covered with snow. The elevated basins and plateaus of these ranges have a moderate climate that provides pleasant living conditions and in many places enables farmers to harvest twice a year. Torrential rivers on the slopes of the mountains produce a large hydroelectric power potential and add their volume to the navigable rivers in the valleys.
The Cordillera Occidental is relatively low and is the least populated of the three cordilleras. Summits are only about 9,840 ft (2,999 m) above sea level and do not have permanent snows. Few passes exist, although one that is about 4,985 ft (1,519 m) above sea level provides the major city of Cali with an outlet to the Pacific Ocean. The relatively low elevation of the cordillera permits dense vegetation, which on the western slopes is truly tropical.
The Cordillera Central is the highest of the mountain systems. Its crystalline rocks form a towering wall dotted with snow-covered volcanoes that is 500 mi (805 km) long. There are no plateaus in this range and no passes under 10,825 ft (3,299 m). The highest peak in this range, the Nevado del Huila, is the highest volcano peak in Colombia and reaches 17,602 ft (5,365 m) above sea level.
The Cordillera Oriental
The Cordillera Oriental is the widest of the three branches of the Colombian Andes. The range extends from south to north culminating in the towering Mount Cocuy (Sierra Nevada del Cocuy), which rises to 18,022 feet (5,493 metres). Beyond this point, near Pamplona, the cordillera splits into two much narrower ranges, one extending into Venezuela, the other, the Perijá Mountains, forming the northern boundary range between Colombia and Venezuela. The Perijás then descend northward toward the Caribbean to the arid La Guajira Peninsula, the northernmost extension of the Colombian mainland.
The Caribbean Region
The Caribbean lowlands consist of all of Colombia north of an imaginary line extending northeastward from the Golfo de Urabá to the Venezuelan frontier at the northern extremity of the Cordillera Oriental. The semiarid Guajira Peninsula and Guajira–Barranquilla xeric scrub, in the extreme north, bear little resemblance to the rest of the region.
This is the Gulf of Urabá:
Going to the opposite side (next to Venezuela) you find “La Guajira.” It is a very dry desert like area with cacti! It is one of the areas where indigenous people live. The color of the sand is so bright!
In the southern part rises the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, an isolated mountain system where the highest mountains of Colombia are. They are an impressive granitic massif that ascends abruptly from the Caribbean littoral to snow- and ice-covered summits. They rise to 18,947 feet (5,775 metres)! at the “twin peaks” of Cristóbal Colón and Simón Bolívar, the highest point in the country. There is a still an ongoing discussion about which mountain is higher, so some literature says it’s the Cristóbal Colón one and some say it’s Pico Simón Bolivar and then some say they are the same height hense the twin peak reference. To take you pick for the peak! ^ ^
And this is a general view of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta:
This Caribbean region merges next to and is connected with the Andean highlands through the two great river valleys. After the Andean highlands, it is the second-most important region in terms of economic activity. Approximately 17% of the country’s population lived in this region in the late 1980s.
Most of the country’s commerce moves through the cities of Cartagena, Barranquilla, Santa Marta, and the other ports located along this important coast. Inland from these cities are swamps, hidden streams, and shallow lakes that support banana and cotton plantations for major commodity crops, countless small farms, and, in higher places, cattle ranches. Cartagena, in reality ‘Cartagena de Indias’ is the most visited city in Colombia. I will dedicate a post to this city very soon! ^ ^
The Insular Region
The Insular Region comprises the areas outside the continental territories of Colombia and includes the San Andrés y Providencia Department in the Caribbean sea and the Malpelo and Gorgona islands in the Pacific Ocean. Its subregions include other groups of islands:
- Archipiélago de San Bernardo (in the Morrosquillo Gulf, Caribbean).
- Islas del Rosario (Caribbean)
- Isla Fuerte (Caribbean)
- Isla Barú (Caribbean)
- Isla Tortuguilla (Caribbean)
- Isla Tierra Bomba (Caribbean)
The Archipelago of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina or San Andrés and Providencia, is one of the departments of Colombia, and the only one in North America. It consists of two island groups in the Caribbean Sea about 775 km (482 mi) northwest of mainland Colombia, and eight outlying banks and reefs. The largest island of the archipelago and Colombia is called San Andrés and its capital is San Andrés. The other large islands are Providencia and Santa Catalina Islands which lie to the north-east of San Andrés; their capital is Santa Isabel.
This is a video about San Andres:
The Pacific Region
In this region there are the very narrow and discontinuous Pacific coastal lowlands, which are backed by the Serranía de Baudó, the lowest and narrowest of Colombia’s mountain ranges. The Serranía del Baudó is separated from the West Andes by the Atrato valley where the Atrato River flows and Quibdó is located. From the south the range extends from the Baudó River north and slightly west along the coast into Panama terminating at the Golfo de San Miguel. The range is called Serranía del Sapo when it is in Panama. Technically the landform extends south of the Baudó River down to Malaga Bay, but the area has been eroded into low hills and marshlands. (1)
Here are some photos from all over this region:
From Cabo Corrientes north to Punta Ardita and on into Panama the Baudó Mountains meet the ocean in steep cliffs, rising up to as high as 70 m (230 ft), with small indentations in the coast providing small pocket beaches, some sandy, but most are shingle or cobble. However, near river mouths the coast has been eroded and there are wide sandy beaches, tidal flats and even mangrove swamps.
Yes… there you can catch amazing waves as a surfer or windsurfer… imagine that you can even hang out with whales as you do it!