Armenia / El Eden, Colombia
Puerto Asis, Colombia
Bucaramanga / Palonegro, Colombia
Bogota / Eldorado, Colombia
Barranquilla / Ernestocortissoz, Colombia
Cucuta / Camilo Daza, Colombia
Cartagena / Rafael Nunez, Colombia
Cali / Alfonso Bonillaaragon, Colombia
Barrancabermeja / Yariguies, Colombia
Ibague / Perales, Colombia
Ipiales / San Luis, Colombia
Apartado / Los Cedros, Colombia
Leticia / Vasquez Cobo, Colombia
Medellin / Olaya Herrera, Colombia
Monteria / Los Garzones, Colombia
Neiva / Benito Salas, Colombia
Puerto Carreno / A. Guauquea, Colombia
Pereira / Matecana, Colombia
Popayan / Guillermo, Colombia
Pasto / Antonio Narin, Colombia
Providencia Isla / El Embrujo, Colombia
Rionegro / J. M. Cordova, Colombia
Riohacha / Almirante Padilla, Colombia
San Jose Del Guaviare, Colombia
Santa Marta / Simon Bolivar, Colombia
San Andres Isla / Sesquicentenario, Colombia
Arauca / Santiago Perez, Colombia
Quibdo / El Carano, Colombia
Valledupar / Alfonso Lopez, Colombia
Villavicencio / Vanguardia, Colombia
Location: Northern South America, bordering the Caribbean
Sea, between Panama and Venezuela, and bordering the North Pacific
Ocean, between Ecuador and Panama
Geographic coordinates: 4 00 N, 72 00 W
Map references: South America, Central America and the Caribbean
total: 1,138,910 sq km
land: 1,038,700 sq km
water: 100,210 sq km
note: includes Isla de Malpelo, Roncador Cay, Serrana Bank,
and Serranilla Bank
Area - comparative: slightly less than three times the size
total: 6,004 km
border countries: Brazil 1,643 km, Ecuador 590 km, Panama
225 km, Peru 1,496 km (est.), Venezuela 2,050 km
Coastline: 3,208 km (Caribbean Sea 1,760 km, North Pacific
Ocean 1,448 km)
continental shelf: 200-m depth or to the depth of exploitation
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
territorial sea: 12 nm
Climate: tropical along coast and eastern plains; cooler
Terrain: flat coastal lowlands, central highlands, high
Andes Mountains, eastern lowland plains
lowest point: Pacific Ocean 0 m
highest point: Nevado del Huila 5,750 m
Natural resources: petroleum, natural gas, coal, iron ore,
nickel, gold, copper, emeralds, hydropower
arable land: 4%
permanent crops: 1%
permanent pastures: 39%
forests and woodland: 48%
other: 8% (1993 est.)
Irrigated land: 5,300 sq km (1993 est.)
Natural hazards: highlands subject to volcanic eruptions;
occasional earthquakes; periodic droughts
Environment - current issues: deforestation; soil damage
from overuse of pesticides; air pollution, especially in Bogota,
from vehicle emissions
Environment - international agreements:
party to: Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change,
Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Marine Life
Conservation, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution,
Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands
signed, but not ratified: Antarctic-Environmental Protocol,
Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping
Geography - note: only South American country with coastlines
on both North Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea
Background: Colombia was one of the three countries that
emerged from the collapse of Gran Colombia in 1830 (the others being
Ecuador and Venezuela).
A 40-year insurgent campaign to overthrow the Colombian Government
escalated during the 1990s, undergirded in part by funds from the
Although the violence is deadly and large swaths of the countryside
are under guerrilla influence, the movement lacks the military strength
or popular support necessary to overthrow the government.
While Bogota continues to try to negotiate a settlement, neighboring
countries worry about the violence spilling over their borders.
Formal Name: Republic of Colombia.
Short Form: Colombia.
Term for Citizens: Colombian(s).
Size: 1,138,910 square kilometers.
Topography: Mainland territory divided into four
major geographic regions: Andean highlands (composed of three mountain
ranges and intervening valley lowlands); Caribbean lowlands; Pacific
lowlands; and Ilanos and tropical rainforest of eastern Colombia.
Colombia also possesses small islands in both Caribbean Sea and
Climate: Striking variety in temperature resulting
principally from differences in elevation; little seasonal variation.
Habitable areas consist of hot (below 900 meters in elevation),
temperate (between 900 and 1,980 meters), and cold (from 1,980 meters
to about 3,500 meters) climatic zones. Precipitation generally moderate
to heavy, with highest levels in Pacific lowlands and in parts of
eastern Colombia; considerable year-to-year variations recorded.
Data as of December 1988
Located in the northwest corner of the South American continent,
Colombia encompasses an area of more than 1.1 million square kilometers.
It is the only country in South America with both Caribbean (1,760
kilometers) and Pacific coastlines (1,448 kilometers). Colombia
also has international borders with five Latin American nations:
Panama, Venezuela, Brazil, Peru, and Ecuador . There were no major
outstanding international boundary problems between Colombia and
its neighbors in the late 1980s. All of the borders had long been
delineated, and most had been demarcated by surveys and the placement
of markers, although tropical jungle terrain and hostile Indians
had impeded survey operations in some areas along the borders with
Venezuela and Brazil. Colombia and Venezuela did, however, dispute
sovereignty over the seabed in the Golfo de Venezuela, an area of
potential petroleum wealth .
In addition to its mainland territory, Colombia possesses a number
of small islands in both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean.
The combined areas of all these islands do not exceed sixtyfive
In the Caribbean, off the coast of Nicaragua and 640 kilometers
from the Colombian coast, Colombian territory includes an archipelago
of thirteen small cays grouped around the Isla de San Andrés and
the Isla de Providencia. Other small islands, cays, and banks in
the same area--which belong to Colombia but also are claimed by
Nicaragua--are Isla de Santa Catalina, Cayos de Roncador, Banco
de Quita Sueño, Banco de Serrana, and Banco de Serranilla. Several
small islands also lie off Colombia's Caribbean coast south of Cartagena.
These include the Isla del Rosario, Islas de San Bernardo, and Isla
In the Pacific, Colombian territory encompasses Isla de Malpelo,
which lies about 430 kilometers west of Buenaventura. Nearer the
coast, a prison colony is located on Isla Gorgona. Isla Gorgonilla
lies off the southern shore of Isla Gorgona.
Data as of December 1988
Geographers have devised different ways to divide Colombia into
regions. It is most appropriate to divide the country into four
geographic regions: the Andean highlands, consisting of the three
Andean ranges and intervening valley lowlands; the Caribbean lowlands
coastal region; the Pacific lowlands coastal region, separated from
the Caribbean lowlands by swamps at the base of the Isthmus of Panama;
and eastern Colombia, the great plain that lies to the east of the
Data as of December 1988
Near the Ecuadoran frontier, the Andes Mountains divide into three
distinct, roughly parallel chains, called cordilleras, that extend
northeastward almost to the Caribbean Sea. Altitudes reach more
than 5,700 meters, 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. In
the late 1980s, approximately 78 percent of the country's population
lived in the Andean highlands.
The Cordillera Occidental in the west, the Cordillera Central in
the center, and the Cordillera Oriental in the east have different
characteristics. Geologically, the Cordillera Occidental and the
Cordillera Central form the western and eastern sides of a massive
crystalline arch that extends from the Caribbean lowlands to the
southern border of Ecuador. The Cordillera Oriental, however, is
composed of folded stratified rocks overlying a crystalline core.
The Cordillera Occidental is relatively low and is the least populated
of the three cordilleras. Summits are only about 3,000 meters above
sea level and do not have permanent snows. Few passes exist, although
one that is about 1,520 meters 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 Occidental is separated from the Cordillera Central
by the deep rift of the Cauca Valley. The Río Cauca rises within
200 kilometers of the border with Ecuador and flows through some
of the best farmland in the country. After the two cordilleras converge,
the Cauca Valley becomes a deep gorge all the way to the Caribbean
The Cordillera Central is the loftiest of the mountain systems.
Its crystalline rocks form an 800-kilometer-long towering wall dotted
with snow-covered volcanoes. There are no plateaus in this range
and no passes under 3,300 meters. The highest peak in this range,
the Nevado del Huila, reaches 5,439 meters above sea level. The
second highest peak is a volcano, Nevado del Ruiz, which erupted
violently on November 13, 1985. Toward its northern end, this cordillera
separates into several branches that descend toward the Caribbean
Between the Cordillera Central and the Cordillera Oriental flows
the Río Magdalena. This 1,600-kilometer-long river rises near a
point some 180 kilometers north of the border with Ecuador, where
the Cordillera Oriental and the Cordillera Central diverge. Its
spacious drainage area is fed by numerous mountain torrents originating
high in the snowfields. The Río Magdalena is generally navigable
from the Caribbean Sea as far as the town of Neiva, deep in the
interior, but is interrupted midway by rapids. The valley floor
is very deep; nearly 800 kilometers from the river's mouth the elevation
is no more than about 300 meters.
In the Cordillera Oriental at elevations between 2,500 and 2,700
meters, three large fertile basins and a number of small ones provide
suitable areas for settlement and intensive economic production.
In the basin of Cundinamarca, where the Spanish found the Chibcha
Indians, the European invaders established the town of Santa Fe
de Bogotá (present-day Bogotá) at an elevation of 2,650 meters above
To the north of Bogotá, in the densely populated basins of Chiquinquira
and Boyacá, are fertile fields, rich mines, and large industrial
establishments that produce much of the national wealth. Still farther
north, where the Cordillera Oriental makes an abrupt turn to the
northwest near the border with Venezuela, the highest point of this
range, the Sierra Nevada de Cocuy, rises to 5,493 meters above sea
level. In the department of Santander, the valleys on the western
slopes are more spacious, and agriculture is intensive in the area
around Bucaramanga. The northernmost region of the range around
Cúcuta is so rugged that historically it has been easier to maintain
communications and transportation with Venezuela than with the adjacent
parts of Colombia.
Data as of December 1988
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, in the extreme north, bears little resemblance
to the rest of the region. In the southern part rises the Sierra
Nevada de Santa Marta, an isolated mountain system with peaks reaching
heights over 5,700 meters and slopes generally too steep for cultivation.
The Caribbean lowlands region is in roughly the shape of a triangle,
the longest side of which is the coastline. Most of the country's
commerce moves through 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, countless small farms, and,
in higher places, cattle ranches.
The Caribbean region merges into 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 economic activity.
Approximately 17 percent of the country's population lived in this
region in the late 1980s.
Data as of December 1988
In the 1980s, only 3 percent of all Colombians resided in the Pacific
lowlands, a region of jungle and swamp with considerable but little-exploited
potential in minerals and other resources. Buenaventura is the only
port of any size on the coast. On the east, the Pacific lowlands
are bounded by the Cordillera Occidental, from which numerous streams
run. Most of the streams flow westward to the Pacific, but the largest,
the navigable Río Atrato, flows northward to the Golfo de Urabá,
making the river settlements accessible to the major Atlantic ports
and commercially related primarily to the Caribbean lowlands hinterland.
To the west of the Río Atrato rises the Serranía de Baudo, an isolated
chain of low mountains that occupies a large part of the region.
Its highest elevation is less than 1,800 meters, and its vegetation
resembles that of the surrounding tropical forest.
The Atrato Swamp--in Chocó Department adjoining the border with
Panama--is a deep muck sixty-five kilometers in width that for years
has challenged engineers seeking to complete the Pan American Highway.
This stretch, near Turbo, where the highway is interrupted is known
as the Tapón del Chocó (Chocon Plug). A second major transportation
project involving Chocó Department has been proposed. A second interoceanic
canal would be constructed by dredging the Río Atrato and other
streams and digging short access canals. Completion of either of
these projects would do much to transform this somnolent region.
Data as of December 1988
The area east of the Andes includes about 699,300 square kilometers,
or three-fifths of the country's total area, but Colombians view
it almost as an alien land. The entire area, known as the eastern
plains, was home to only 2 percent of the country's population in
the late 1980s (see fig.
3). The Spanish term for plains (llanos) can be applied only
to the open plains in the northern part, particularly the piedmont
areas near the Cordillera Oriental, where cattle raising is practiced.
The region is unbroken by highlands except in Meta Department,
where the Macarena Sierra, an outlier of the Andes, is of interest
to scientists because its vegetation and wildlife are believed to
be reminiscent of those that once existed throughout the Andes.
Many of the numerous large rivers of eastern Colombia are navigable.
The Río Guaviare and the streams to its north flow eastward and
drain into the basin of the Río Orinoco, the largest river in Venezuela.
Those south of the Río Guaviare flow into the basin of the Amazon.
The Río Guaviare divides eastern Colombia into the llanos subregion
in the north and the tropical rainforest, or selva, subregion
in the south.
Data as of December 1988
The striking variety in temperature and precipitation results principally
from differences in elevation. Temperatures range from very hot
at sea level to relatively cold at higher elevations but vary little
with the season. At Bogotá, for example, the average annual temperature
is 15°C, and the difference between the average of the coldest
and the warmest months is less than 1°C. More significant, however,
is the daily variation in temperature, from 5°C at night to
17°C during the day.
Colombians customarily describe their country in terms of the climatic
zones: the area under 900 meters in elevation is called the hot
zone (tierra caliente), elevations between 900 and 1,980
meters are the temperate zone (tierra templada), and elevations
from 1,980 meters to about 3,500 meters constitute the cold zone
(tierra fría). The upper limit of the cold zone marks the
tree line and the approximate limit of human habitation. The treeless
regions adjacent to the cold zone and extending to approximately
4,500 meters are high, bleak areas (usually referred to as the páramos),
above which begins the area of permanent snow (nevado).
About 86 percent of the country's total area lies in the hot zone.
Included in the hot zone and interrupting the temperate area of
the Andean highlands are the long and narrow extension of the Magdalena
Valley and a small extension in the Cauca Valley. Temperatures,
depending on elevation, vary between 24°C and 38°C, and
there are alternating dry and wet seasons corresponding to summer
and winter, respectively. Breezes on the Caribbean coast, however,
reduce both heat and precipitation.
Rainfall in the hot zone is heaviest in the Pacific lowlands and
in parts of eastern Colombia, where rain is almost a daily occurrence
and rain forests predominate. Precipitation exceeds 760 centimeters
annually in most of the Pacific lowlands, making this one of the
wettest regions in the world; in eastern Colombia, it decreases
from 635 centimeters in portions of the Andean piedmont to 254 centimeters
eastward. Extensive areas of the Caribbean interior are permanently
flooded, more because of poor drainage than because of the moderately
heavy precipitation during the rainy season from May through October.
The temperate zone covers about 8 percent of the country. This
zone includes the lower slopes of the Cordillera Oriental and the
Cordillera Central and most of the intermontane valleys. The important
cities of Medellín (1,487 meters) and Cali (1,030 meters) are located
in this zone, where rainfall is moderate and the mean annual temperature
varies between 19°C and 24°C, depending on the elevation.
In the higher elevations of this zone, farmers benefit from two
wet and two dry seasons each year; January through March and July
through September are the dry seasons.
The cold or cool zone constitutes about 6 percent of the total
area, including some of the most densely populated plateaus and
terraces of the Colombian Andes; this zone supports about onefourth
of the country's total population. The mean temperature ranges between
10°C and 19°C, and the wet seasons occur in April and May
and from September to December, as in the high elevations of the
Precipitation is moderate to heavy in most parts of the country;
the heavier rainfall occurs in the low-lying hot zone. Considerable
variations occur because of local conditions that affect wind currents,
however, and areas on the leeward side of the Guajira Peninsula
receive generally light rainfall; the annual rainfall of thirty-five
centimeters recorded at the Uribia station there is the lowest in
Colombia. Considerable year-to-year variations have been recorded,
and Colombia sometimes experiences droughts.
Colombia's geographic and climatic variations have combined to
produce relatively well-defined "ethnocultural" groups among different
regions of the country: the Costeño from the Caribbean coast; the
Caucano in the Cauca region and the Pacific coast; the Antioqueño
in Antioquia, Caldas, Risaralda, and Valle del Cauca departments;
the Tolimense in Tolima and Huila departments; the Cundiboyacense
in the interior departments of Cundinamarca and Boyacá in the Cordillera
Oriental; the Santandereano in Norte de Santander and Santander
departments; and the Llanero in the eastern plains. Each group had
distinctive characteristics, accents, customs, social patterns,
and forms of cultural adaptation to climate and topography that
differentiates it from other groups. Even with rapid urbanization
and modernization, regionalism and regional identification continued
to be important reference points, although they were somewhat less
prominent in the 1980s than in the nineteenth and early twentieth
Data as of December 1988