The Cauca River rises in southwestern Colombia and flows northward between the Occidental and Central cordilleras of the Colombian Andes until it joins with the Magdalena River before emptying into the Caribbean Sea. Its journey to the sea takes it through a spectacular canyon between the parallel mountain ranges.
The Cauca River rises in southwestern Colombia near the city of Popayán and flows northward between the Occidental and Central cordilleras of the Colombian Andes for 965 km (600 mi) until it joins with the Magdalena River before emptying into the Caribbean Sea. As Colombia's second-largest river, it traverses a total length of 1,350 km (840 mi) from origin to sea mouth.
The river is under the supervision of the Corporación Regional del Cauca and the Corporación Autonoma Regional del Valle del Cauca and is navigable for 640 km (400 mi) above its junction with the Magdalena River.
Its journey from headwaters to the sea takes it between the western and central cordilleras where it flows through a spectacular canyon carved out of the rock between the parallel mountain ranges.
In its middle reaches, the Cauca River flows through the broad, fertile intermontane depression of the Valle del Cauca, Colombia's largest sugarcane producer. This fertile region also hosts large rice fields and crops such as sorghum, yucca, coffee, cocoa, cotton, corn and beans.
The river then descends into the largely impassable "Cauca Canyon" (a source of gold in the colonial period) through the departments of Caldas, Risaralda, and Antioquia until reaching the town of Valdivia.
A section of the Cauca River canyon passing through the Department of Antioquia in northwestern Colombia is considered to be of great interest due to its geological and geomorphological characteristics, which give rise to stunning landscapes. Research has concluded that erosion in the Cauca River canyon has been driven by tectonic processes.
Its fertile second valley merges into a vast swamp before joining the Magdalena Basin, the third zone. This was a desolated region until the development of a coffee-based economy in the early twentieth century.
Map depicting the Cauca River in Colombia