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    Land of winds > The land > Geography | Issue 20 (Jul.-Aug. 2014)
    By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza

The Colombian Massif

The Colombian Massif

Also known as Nudo de Almaguer, the Colombian Massif is a group of mountains that form part of the southern Andes of Colombia. Located between the Nudo de los Pastos and the confluence of the Central and Eastern branches of the Cordillera, the Massif extends over a wide area comprising Cauca and Huila departments, and part of Nariño, Caquetá and Tolima departments. With heights that range from 2600 to 4700 metres, the Massif includes snow capped mountains, more than a dozen paramos dotted with over 360 lakes and steep slopes and valleys covered with upper-Andean forests and cloud forests.

The Massif is one of the planet's richest equatorial regions in water sources. Five very important rivers originate in the Massif: the Patía (Pacific slope), the Cauca and the Magdalena (Caribbean slope), and the Putumayo and the Caquetá (Amazon basin). The list of lakes includes El Buey (which feeds the Magdalena River), Rionegro, San Rafael, Los Andes, San Patricio, Santiago (in Las Papas paramo), Ortiz, La Magdalena (the source of the river of the same name, in Las Papas paramo), Cusiyaco (which flows into the Caquetá River), Cutanga and Sucubún. Among the Andean paramos we can mention Barbillas, Las Papas, Yunquillo, Moras, El Letrero, Santo Domingo, Delicias, Guanacas, Bordoncillo, Cutanga, Paletará and Doña Juana. Prominent geographical features include volcanoes such as Cerro de Las Petacas (3100 mts.), Cutanga (4300 mts.), Sotará (4580 mts.), Puracé (4646 mts., one of the country's most active volcanoes), Pan de Azúcar (4670 mts.) and the snow-capped Huila (5750 mts., the highest active volcano in Colombia).

The biological diversity is huge. The native fauna comprises spectacled bear, danta or paramo tapir, puma or mountain lion, pudú deer, wool monkey (churuco), caí monkey (maicero), tigrillo (oncilla or tiger cat), condor, paramo eagle, guácharo (oilbird), pava, gallineta and Andean cock-of-the-rock. The region's flora is amazingly diverse: different species of cedar and oak, laurel, yarumo, balso, chonta and caimo, among many other trees, as well as many different species of Espeletia, some of which are native to Colombia and are commonly known as frailejones, and many flowering plants of the orchid family and tree ferns in cloud forests. Protected natural areas have been establish to protect natural heritage including the so called "Andean Belt Constellation Biosphere Reserve" (which includes three National Parks: Cueva de los Guácharos, Puracé and Nevado del Huila), which was recognized as Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1979, and the Santuario de Flora y Fauna Galeras.

The Colombian Massif

The Colombian Massif is also characterized by its cultural diversity: the highlands are inhabited by the Yanacona, Paez and Misak (Guambiano); areas on the middle part of the rivers Huila and Caquetá are mostly inhabited by rural communities and Afro-descendants, and to a lesser extent, by Inga and Camëntsa communities. Physical evidence of past cultures can be found in the vast historic necropolis known as the "Colombian Massif necropolis" (collective graveyards): El Tambo, Los Ídolos, Chimayoy, Briceño and La Unión (Nariño department), Morales and Tierradentro Archaeological National Park (Cauca department).

During the colonial period the Massif was an important crossroads for both culture and commerce and the mining region par excellence. There are several towns in this area including Rioblanco, Popayán, Paispamba (Sotará), Silvia or Almaguer. It is a primarily rural region, whose local economy is based on small farm; coffee, manioc, coca, banana and sugar cane are cultivated in lowland areas, while potatoes and maize are grown in the highlands.

Indigenous and farming communities have organized themselves since the mid 80s to claim their rights and improve their lives (including road infrastructure, education, health, etc.) and, in the 1990s, to resist against the eradication of coca crops in their region. The area has been scene of violent and continuous clashes between the army, the paramilitary and the guerrilla, and is featured by a history of struggles against mining companies.

Colombian Massif, in Wikipedia.
Article. "Colombia prehispánica – Macizo colombaino / Alto Magdalena", by Ana M. G. de Mahecha and Santiago Mora Camargo. In Virtual Library "Luis Ángel Arango" [es].
Article. "El Macizo colombiano, arca limnológica de Colombia", by Tomás Alfredo. Boletín de la Sociedad Geográfica de Colombia, 33 (113), 1978 [es].
Article. "El Macizo colombiano – El trasfondo del conflicto del Cauca", by Alfredo Molano Bravo. In El Espectador [es].

Picture 01. Lake in the Colombian Massif.
Picture 02. Moorland in the Colombian Massif.
Picture 03. Colombian Massif 01.
Picture 04. Colombian Massif 02.
Picture 05. Colombian Massif 03.
Picture 06. Colombian Massif 04.
Picture 07. Santiago Lake.
Picture 08. Magdalena Lake.
Picture 09. San Patricio Lake.
Picture 10. Puracé National Park 01.
Picture 11. Puracé National Park 02
Picture 12. Cueva de los Guácharos National Park.
Picture 13. Nevado del Huila National Park.
Picture 14. Spectacled bear in the Nevado del Huila National Park

Picture A | Picture B

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