Colombia: Natural and Geographic Landscape

Colombia: Natural and Geographic Landscape

Thu, 07/21/2022 - 16:35
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Colombia is considered a land of extremes. Located in northwestern South America, its geographic landscape varies from the snow-covered Andes mountains to the tropical beaches of the Caribbean Sea. Due to its variety of ecosystems, Colombia is among the top countries in terms of biodiversity.

Geography of Colombia

Colombia is situated in northwestern South America and is bordered to the northwest by Panama, to the east by Venezuela and Brazil, and to the south by Ecuador and Peru.

Colombia is considered a land of extremes. Its geographic landscape varies from the snow-covered Andes Mountains to the tropical beaches of the Caribbean Sea.

The country's natural landscape includes the tropical forests of the Amazon and Pacific/Chocó, the mountain páramos of the Andes, and the grasslands of the Llanos.

Due to its variety of ecosystems, Colombia is among the top three countries on the planet in terms of biodiversity. With 1,863 bird species, 812 amphibian species, 2,105 fish species, 477 mammal species, 634 reptile species, and 24,025 plant species, Colombia is one of 17 megadiverse countries.

Map depicting the countries on the continent of South America

Map depicting the countries on the continent of South America

The Natural and Geographic Landscape of Colombia

Natural Regions

Colombia usually classifies its geographic landscape into five, or sometimes six, natural regions.

Pacific/Chocó Natural Region

The Pacific/Chocó Natural Region, also known as the "Colombian Chocó," comprises an area of approximately 75,000 sq km (29,000 sq mi) on the west coast of Colombia. The terrain is mostly flat and covered by dense rainforests, rivers, swamps, and mangroves. Some areas experience rainfall rates that are among the highest in the world.

The region is bordered by the Pacific Ocean on the west and the Cordillera Occidental of the Colombian Andes to the east. To the south is the border with Peru. To the north is the Darién Gap and the border with Panama.

Ecologically, the region belongs entirely to the Chocó Biogeographic Region and is part of the Tumbes-Chocó-Magdalena hotspot. Due to a combination of evolutionary, ecological, climatic, and geologic factors, this region presents the highest biodiversity concentration per area in the world.

Between 7,000 and 8,000 out of the 45,000 species registered in Colombia are found in the Chocó. Endemic plant species total more than 2,000 while endemic birds comprise more than 100 species, which represent the highest endemism levels on the planet.

Andean Natural Region

The Andean Natural Region is the most populated natural region of Colombia. Along with its many mountains, it contains most of the country's urban centers. These urban centers were also the location of the most significant pre-Columbian indigenous settlements.

North of the Colombian Massif in the extreme southwest, the Colombian Andes divide into three parallel mountain chains:

  • Cordillera Occidental: the western range runs adjacent to the Pacific coast and is home to the city of Cali

  • Cordillera Central: the middle range runs up the center of the country between the Cauca and Magdalena river valleys

  • Cordillera Oriental: the eastern range extends northeast towards the Guajira Peninsula and includes the cities of Bogotá, Bucaramanga, and Cúcuta

Orinoco Natural Region

The Orinoco (or Orinoquía) Natural Region is part of the Llanos, a vast tropical grassland plain situated to the east of the Andes. The region belongs to the Orinoco River watershed.

The sparsely populated region is rich in oil and suitable for extensive ranching. The ecosystems of the region are tropical savanna with gallery forests and wetlands along the rivers.

Amazon Natural Region

The Amazon Natural Region is located in southern Colombia and is situated in the Amazon Basin. Mostly covered by tropical rainforest, it covers approximately 35% of Colombia's total territory.

The region is bounded to the west by the Cordillera Oriental of the Colombian Andes and extends to the Venezuelan and Brazilian borders in the east.

Caribbean Natural Region

The Caribbean Natural Region stretches from the Gulf of Uraga in the west to the Guajira Peninsula in the east. The region also hosts the historic port cities of Cartagena and Santa Marta, the first areas settled by the Europeans.

The natural region is traversed by rivers that flow from the Andean highlands and empty into the Caribbean Sea, including the Magdalena, Colombia's principal waterway.

Ecosystems include humid forests, dry forests, savannas, and wetlands as well as the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range and the Guajira Desert.

Insular Region

The Insular Region is considered by some not as a natural region but as a geopolitical region of Colombia. It comprises the areas outside the continental territories of the country, some of which are sometimes classified with the Caribbean Natural Region instead.

The Insular Region includes the Archipelago of San Andres, Providencia and Santa Catalina in the Caribbean Sea as well as Malpelo Island and Gorgona Island in the Pacific Ocean.

Its subregions include other groups of islands:

Map of the natural regions of Colombia

Map depicting the natural regions of Colombia

Bodies of Water

Major Rivers

Major Lakes

Biomes

Colombia's complex pattern of climate, soil, and topography has produced an extraordinary range of plants and plant communities.

They range from the mangrove swamps of the coasts, the desert scrub of La Guajira, the savanna grasslands and gallery ecosystems of the Atlantic lowlands and the Llanos, the rainforests of the Amazon and Chocó natural regions to the widely diverse and complex montane ecosystems of the Andean slopes.

  • Moist Forest: tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests

  • Dry Forest: tropical and subtropical dry broadleaf forests

  • Grasslands: tropical and subtropical grasslands, savannas, and shrublands

  • Montane Grasslands: montane grasslands and shrublands

  • Desert: deserts and xeric shrublands

  • Mangroves

Ecosystems

  • Páramo

  • Upper Montane Forest

  • Lower Montane Forest

  • Dry Forest of the inter-Andean Valleys

  • Savanna of the Llanos Oriental

  • Amazonian Rainforest and other lowlands

Ecological Regions

The following is a list of ecoregions in Colombia, as defined by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

Colombia is in the Neotropical realm. Ecoregions are classified by biome type - the major global plant communities determined by rainfall and climate.

Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests

Tropical and subtropical dry broadleaf forests

  • Apure-Villavicencio dry forests

  • Cauca Valley dry forests

  • Patía Valley dry forests

  • Sinú Valley dry forests

Tropical and subtropical grasslands, savannas, and shrublands

Montane grasslands and shrublands

Deserts and xeric shrublands

Mangroves

  • Esmeraldas-Pacific Colombia mangroves

  • Magdalena-Santa Marta mangroves

Colombia ecoregions and biomes map

Colombia ecoregions and biomes map