Colombia: Natural Landscape

Colombia: Natural 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.

The Natural Landscape of Colombia

Colombia is located in northwestern South America and is bordered to the northwest by Panama, to the east by Venezuela and Brazil, and the south by Ecuador and Peru. It is the fourth-largest country in South America.

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. According to the Global Biodiversity Index, with its 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.


Colombia's climate is tropical along the coast and the eastern lowlands and cooler in the highlands and Andes. However, the country's proximity to the equator minimizes temperature variations throughout the year.

Map depicting the countries on the continent of South America

Map depicting the countries on the continent of South America

Natural Geography of Colombia

Natural Regions

Colombia generally classifies its geographic landscape into six natural regions:

  • Caribbean Region: in the north

  • Pacific/Chocó Region: in the west

  • Andean Region: at the center

  • Orinoco Region: in the east

  • Amazon Region: in the south

  • Insular Region: in the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean

Caribbean 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, wetlands, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range and the Guajira Desert.

Pacific/Chocó 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 Pacific Ocean borders the region 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 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, representing the highest endemism levels on the planet.

Andean 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.

The Andean region also hosts a significant portion of the Magdalena River and basin, the most important in Colombia regarding economic and environmental significance.

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

Orinoco Region

The Orinoco (or Orinoquía) Natural Region is part of the Llanos, a vast tropical grassland plain situated 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 region's ecosystems are tropical savanna with gallery forests and wetlands along the rivers.

Amazon Region

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

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

Insular Region

Some consider the Insular Region not a natural but 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, Malpelo Island, and Gorgona Island in the Pacific Ocean.

Its subregions include other groups of islands:

Colombia natural regions map

Map depicting the natural regions of Colombia

Bodies of Water

Major Rivers

Notable Lakes

Colombia physiographic map

Colombia physiographic map


Colombia's complex climate, soil, and topography pattern have 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


  • 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 terrestrial 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


  • Esmeraldas-Pacific Colombia mangroves

  • Magdalena-Santa Marta mangroves

Colombia ecoregions and biomes map

Colombia ecoregions and biomes map

Administrative Divisions

Colombia comprises 32 departments and a Capital District. DA grouping of municipalities forms departments, although some departments have subdivisions called provinces that are above the level of municipalities. Each department has a capital, a Governor, and an Assembly.

Indigenous territories, along with the municipalities, are at the third level of administrative division in Colombia. They are found mainly in the departments of Amazonas, Cauca, La Guajira, Guaviare, and Vaupés.

The Capital District is the country's capital, Bogotá, which has a mayor and a council and is independent of any department.

Departments of Colombia (Capital City):

  1. Amazonas (Leticia)

  2. Antioquia (Medellín)

  3. Arauca (Arauca)

  4. Atlántico (Barranquilla)

  5. Bolivar (Cartagena)

  6. Boyacá (Tunja)

  7. Caldas (Manizales)

  8. Caquetá (Florencia)

  9. Casanare (Yopal)

  10. Cauca (Popayán)

  11. Cesar (Valledupar)

  12. Chocó (Quibdó)

  13. Córdoba (Montería)

  14. Cundinamarca (Bogotá)

  15. Guainía (Inirida)

  16. Guaviare (San José del Guaviare)

  17. Huila (Neiva)

  18. La Guajira (Riohacha)

  19. Magdalena (Santa Marta)

  20. Meta (Villavicencio)

  21. Nariño (Pasto)

  22. Norte de Santander (Cúcuta)

  23. Putumayo (Mocoa)

  24. Quindio (Armenia)

  25. Risaralda (Pereira)

  26. San Andrés y Providencia (San Andrés)

  27. Santander (Bucaramanga)

  28. Sucre (Sincelejo)

  29. Tolima (Ibagué)

  30. Valle del Cauca (Cali)

  31. Vaupés (Mitú)

  32. Vichada (Puerto Carreño)

Colombia departments map

Map depicting the departments of Colombia