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Land of winds > The land > Geography | Issue 06. Jul.-Ago.2011
By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza

The Colombian Andes

The Colombian Andes
The section of the Andean Cordillera that runs north and south through the western half of Colombia is part of the Northern Andes range (Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador). This region belongs to the ecological area known as “Tropical Andes”, whose natural richness becomes rapidly evident when one appreciates its very high biological diversity. The Tropical Andes is home to 45,000 flora species (20,000 plants found nowhere else at least) and over 6,000 species of animals (15,000 occur nowhere else). It is identified as a hotspot and called “the world centre of biodiversity” by Dr. Norman Myers.


Colombia, in Wikipedia.
Andean Region of Colombia, in Wikipedia.
Cartografiando la riqueza de los Andes tropicales, en IPS/Diversidad [es].

Picture 01. The Colombian Andes (Nevado del Huila).
Picture 02. The Colombian Andes (Sierra Nevada del Cocuy).
Picture 03. The Colombian Andes (Laguna Verde).
Picture 04. The Colombian Andes (temperate rainforest).
Picture 05. The Colombian Andes (Espeletia, commonly known as frailejon).

Video 01. The Andean Region of Colombia [es].

The Colombian Andes
In Colombia the Andes form three distinct ranges: the Cordilleras Oriental, Central, and Occidental. The Andes Mountains divide at the Nudo de los Pastos (Pasto Knot) or Macizo de Huaca (Huaca Massif, a mountainous enclave located between northern Ecuador and the department of Nariño, to the south of Colombia) into two ranges: the Cordillera Occidental and the Cordillera Central, separated by a geological fault stretching around 400 km in width, occupied by the Patía River to the south and the Cauca River to the north. Further north, the massive Cordillera Oriental begins at the Nudo de Almaguer, from where it splits from the Cordillera Central.
The Cordillera Occidental extends from the Nudo de los Pastos to the Nudo de Paramillo (Antioquía and Córdoba departments), where it branches into several ridges (Serranías Ayapel, San Jerónimo, Abibe). Rivers flowing into the Pacific Ocean, such as the San Juan River, are fed by numerous streams descending from the Cordillera’s western flank. Small rivers and streams run down the eastern flank of the range into the the Cauca River, while several more on the Atlantic slope feed the Atrato and Sinú Rivers.
The highest peak in this section is the glacier-capped Cumbal volcano, the southernmost historically active volcano of Colombia (4764 m). Other summits worth mentioning are Chiles (a volcano on the border of Colombia and Chile, 4748 m), Farallones de Cali (a mountain, 4100 m), Cerro Tamaná (a mountain, 4200 m) and the Frontino Paramo (at 4080 m). The Cordillera Occidental is home to several National Parks, such as Las Orquídeas (warm forest, Antioquía department), Munchique (mountain forest, Cauca department), Paramillo (paramo and forests, Antioquía and Córdoba departments) and Tatamá (paramo, Chocó, Cauca and Risaralda departments).


Nudo de los Pastos, in Wikipedia [es].
Cordillera Occidental (Colombia), in Wikipedia.
Nudo de Paramillo, in Wikipedia [es].
Serranía de Abibe, in Wikipedia [es].
Patía River, in Wikipedia.
San Juan River (Colombia), in Wikipedia.
Cauca River, in Wikipedia.
Atrato River, in Wikipedia.
Sinú River, in Wikipedia.
Cumbal Volcano, in Wikipedia.
Chiles (volcano), in Wikipedia.
Farallones de Cali, in Wikipedia.
Frontino Paramo, in Wikipedia [es].
Las Orquídeas National Natural Park, in Wikipedia [es].
Munchique National Natural Park, in Wikipedia.
Paramillo National Natural Park, in Wikipedia [es].
Tatamá National Natural Park, in Wikipedia [es].

Picture 06. Nudo de los Pastos.
Picture 07. Serranía de Abibe.
Picture 08. Cordillera Occidental.
Picture 09. Patía River.
Picture 10. Cauca River.
Picture 11. Atrato River.
Picture 12. Cumbal Volcano.
Picture 13. Farallones de Cali.

Video 02. Cumbal, walks of ice and sulfur (trailer) [es].
Video 03. Expedition to the Paramillo National Natural Park (trailer) [es].

The Colombian Andes
The Cordillera Central extends northward from the Nudo de los Pastos to the Serranía de San Lucas (Bolívar department). The Cauca River lies between the Cordillera Occidental and the Central, while the Magdalena River rises at the bifurcation of the Cordilleras Central and Oriental receiving the San Jorge, César, and Cauca rivers in the swampy floodplain of the northern lowlands. Among its highest peaks we find the sadly famous Nevado del Ruiz (5321 m), Nevado del Huila (5750 m), Nevado del Tolima (5216 m) and Nevado del Quindío (5.150 m). The region has remarkable landscapes enshrined in National Parks such as Selva de Florencia (warm forest, Caldas department), Los Nevados (paramo and Andean forest) and Las Hermosas (paramo and Andean forest, Cauca and Tolima departments).


Cordillera Central (Colombia), in Wikipedia.
Serranía de San Lucas, in Wikipedia.
Magdalena River, in Wikipedia.
Nevado del Huila, in Wikipedia.
Nevado del Ruiz, in Wikipedia.
Nevado del Tolima, in Wikipedia.
Nevado Quindío, in Wikipedia.
Selva de Florencia National Natural Park, in Wikipedia [es].
Los Nevados National Natural Park, in Wikipedia.
Las Hermosas National Natural Park, in Wikipedia.

Picture 14. Serranía de San Lucas.
Picture 15. Magdalena River.
Picture 16. Nevado del Huila 01.
Picture 17. Nevado del Huila 02.
Picture 18. Nevado del Ruiz.
Picture 19. Nevado del Tolima.

The Colombian Andes
The Cordillera Oriental extends from southeast to northeast from the Nudo de Almaguer or Colombian Massif (Cauca department), to the Perijá Mountains in La Guajira. The western part belongs to the Magdalena River basin, while the eastern part forms the western limits of the rainforest including the river basins of the Amazon, Orinoco, and Catatumbo Rivers. At its northernmost extent (Norte de Santander department), the range splits into two branches near the Colombian-Venezuelan border: the Serranía de Perijá to the north and the Cordillera de Mérida (Venezuela) to the northeast. The former reaches the Guajira Peninsula while the latter is separated from the Colombian Andes by the low Táchira depression.
Within the Cordillera Oriental there is a set of highlands known as the Sierra Nevada del Cocuy, containing several high peaks covered with snow. Another set of highlands is located between Cundinamarca and Boyacá departments: the Altiplano Cundiboyacense, corresponding to the ancient territory of the Muisca people. Its altitude is about 2600 m.a.s.l and comprises three distinctive flat regions, the Bogotá Savannah, the valleys of Ubaté and Chiquinquirá, and the valleys of Duitama and Sogamoso. The Sumapaz Paramo (meaning “uttlerly peaceful moorland”) extends on the Altiplano between the Orinoco and the Magdalena River basins, and is considered the largest paramo ecosystem in the world. Other moorlands in the region are the Chingaza Paramo (of importance as it forms the main natural drinking water source for Santa Fe de Bogotá), the Pisba Paramo and the Choachí Paramo.


Cordillera Oriental (Colombia), in Wikipedia.
Colombian Massif, in Wikipedia.
Altiplano cundiboyacense, in Wikipedia.
Sierra Nevada del Cocuy, in Wikipedia.
Sumapaz Paramo, in Wikipedia.
Pisba Paramo, in Wikipedia [es].

Picture 20. Nudo de Almaguer.
Picture 21. Sierra Nevada del Cocuy.
Picture 22. Sumapaz Paramo.

Besides cradling remarkable landscapes, unique ecological niches and places of unbelievable beauty, the Colombian Andes surround the most important cities of the country: Bogotá, Santiago de Cali (Valle del Cauca department), Medellín (Antioquía department), Neiva (Huila Department), Bucaramanga (Santander department), Popayán (Cauca department), Ibaqué (Tolima department) and San Juan de Pasto (Nariño department).

Bogotá, in Wikipedia.
Cali, in Wikipedia.
Medellín, in Wikipedia.
Neiva, in Wikipedia.
Bucaramanga, in Wikipedia.
Popayán, in Wikipedia.
Ibagué, in Wikipedia.
San Juan de Pasto, in Wikipedia.

Picture 23. Bogotá (cathedral).
Picture 24. Bogotá (panoramic view).
Picture 25. Cali (view from the statue of Cristo Rey).
Picture 26. Medellín (panoramic view).
Picture 27. Neiva.
Picture 28. Bucaramanga.
Picture 29. Popayán.
Picture 30. San Juan de Pasto (cathedral).

Although, on occasions, the Colombian Andes are not included in travel agencies packages or geographical guides with a focus on the Andes Mountains, they are an important and imposing part of the range, which offers visitors a warm welcome and provides them with a rich learning experience and some memorable surprises. Called the backbone of the continent, the Andes Mountains stretch along the Pacific coast from the Caribbean Sea to the Tierra del Fuego Island, and it is here, at its northernmost extent, where their slopes hide in their folds the echoes of tamboras and maracas.


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