Colombia is located in the northwestern region of South America bordering to the east with Venezuela and Brazil; to the south with Ecuador and Peru; to the North with the Atlantic Ocean, through the Caribbean Sea; and to the west with Panama and the Pacific Ocean. Colombia is the 26th largest nation in the world and the fourth-largest country in South America after Brazil, Argentina, and Peru. Despite its large territory, Colombia’s population is not evenly distributed with most Colombians living in the mountainous western portion of the country as well as the northern coastline, most living in or near the capital city of Bogotá. The southern and eastern portions of the country are mostly sparsely inhabited tropical rainforest and inland tropical plains containing small farming communities and indigenous tribes.
The geography of Colombia is characterized by containing five main natural regions that present their own unique characteristics, from the Andes mountain range region shared with Ecuador and Venezuela; the Pacific Ocean coastal region shared with Panama and Ecuador; the Caribbean Sea coastal region shared with Venezuela and Panama; the Llanos (plains) shared with Venezuela; to the Amazon Rainforest region shared with Venezuela, Brazil, Peru and Ecuador. Colombia is the only South American country which borders both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
Flora and Fauna
Altitude affects not only temperature, but also vegetation. In fact, altitude is one of the most important influences on vegetation patterns in Colombia. The mountainous parts of the country can be divided into several vegetation zones according to altitude, although the altitude limits of each zone may vary somewhat depending on the latitude.
The “tierra caliente” (hot land), below 3,300 ft (1,006 m), is the zone of tropical crops such as bananas. The tierra templada (temperate land), extending from an altitude of 3,300 to 6,600 ft (1,006 to 2,012 m), is the zone of coffee and maize. Wheat and potatoes dominate in the “tierra fría” (cold land), at altitudes from 6,600 to 10,500 ft (2,012 to 3,200 m). In the “zona forestada” (forested zone), which is located between 10,500 and 12,800 ft (3,200 and 3,901 m), many of the trees have been cut for firewood. Treeless pastures dominate the páramos, or alpine grasslands, at altitudes of 12,800 to 15,100 ft (3,901 to 4,602 m). Above 15,100 ft (4,602 m), where temperatures are below freezing, is the “tierra helada”, a zone of permanent snow and ice.
Vegetation also responds to rainfall patterns. A scrub woodland of scattered trees and bushes dominates the semiarid northeast. To the south, savannah (tropical grassland) vegetation covers the Colombian portion of the llanos. The rainy areas in the southeast are blanketed by tropical rainforest. In the mountains, the spotty patterns of precipitation in alpine areas complicate vegetation patterns. The rainy side of a mountain may be lush and green, while the other side, in the rain shadow, may be parched.
- Land boundaries: total: 6,004 km
- Coastline: 3,208 km (Caribbean Sea 1,760 km, North Pacific Ocean 1,448 km)
- Climate: tropical along coast and eastern plains; cooler in highlands
- Terrain: flat coastal lowlands, central highlands, high Andes Mountains, eastern lowland plains
- Elevation extremes: lowest point: Pacific Ocean 0 m highest point: Pico Cristobal Colon 5,975 m note: nearby Pico Simon Bolivar also has the same elevation
- Natural resources: petroleum, natural gas, coal, iron ore, nickel, gold, copper, emeralds, hydropower
- Land use: arable land: 2.42% permanent crops: 1.67% other: 95.91% (2001)
- Irrigated land: 8,500 km² (1998 est.)
- Natural hazards: highlands subject to volcanic eruptions; occasional earthquakes; periodic droughts
- Environment – international agreements: party to: Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Marine Life Conservation, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands signed, but not ratified: Law of the Sea