Near the Ecuadoran frontier, the Andes Mountains divide
three distinct, roughly parallel chains, called
extend northeastward almost to the Caribbean Sea.
more than 5,700 meters, and mountain peaks are permanently
with snow. The elevated basins and plateaus of these
ranges have a
moderate climate that provides pleasant living conditions
many places enables farmers to harvest twice a year.
rivers on the slopes of the mountains produce a large
power potential and add their volume to the navigable
rivers in the
valleys. In the late 1980s, approximately 78 percent of
country's population lived in the Andean highlands.
The Cordillera Occidental in the west, the Cordillera
in the center, and the Cordillera Oriental in the east
different characteristics. Geologically, the Cordillera
and the Cordillera Central form the western and eastern
sides of a
massive crystalline arch that extends from the Caribbean
to the southern border of Ecuador. The Cordillera
however, is composed of folded stratified rocks overlying
The Cordillera Occidental is relatively low and is the
populated of the three cordilleras. Summits are only about
meters above sea level and do not have permanent snows.
exist, although one that is about 1,520 meters above sea
provides the major city of Cali with an outlet to the
Ocean. The relatively low elevation of the cordillera
vegetation, which on the western slopes is truly tropical.
The Cordillera Occidental is separated from the
Central by the deep rift of the Cauca Valley. The Río
within 200 kilometers of the border with Ecuador and flows
some of the best farmland in the country. After the two
converge, the Cauca Valley becomes a deep gorge all the
way to the
The Cordillera Central is the loftiest of the mountain
Its crystalline rocks form an 800-kilometer-long towering
dotted with snow-covered volcanoes. There are no plateaus
range and no passes under 3,300 meters. The highest peak
range, the Nevado del Huila, reaches 5,439 meters above
The second highest peak is a volcano, Nevado del Ruiz,
erupted violently on November 13, 1985. Toward its
this cordillera separates into several branches that
the Caribbean coast.
Between the Cordillera Central and the Cordillera
flows the Río Magdalena. This 1,600-kilometer-long river
a point some 180 kilometers north of the border with
the Cordillera Oriental and the Cordillera Central
spacious drainage area is fed by numerous mountain
originating high in the snowfields. The Río Magdalena is
navigable from the Caribbean Sea as far as the town of
in the interior, but is interrupted midway by rapids. The
floor is very deep; nearly 800 kilometers from the river's
the elevation is no more than about 300 meters.
In the Cordillera Oriental at elevations between 2,500
2,700 meters, three large fertile basins and a number of
provide suitable areas for settlement and intensive
production. In the basin of Cundinamarca, where the
the Chibcha Indians, the European invaders established the
Santa Fe de Bogotá (present-day Bogotá) at an elevation of
meters above sea level.
To the north of Bogotá, in the densely populated basins
Chiquinquira and Boyacá, are fertile fields, rich mines,
industrial establishments that produce much of the
Still farther north, where the Cordillera Oriental makes
turn to the northwest near the border with Venezuela, the
point of this range, the Sierra Nevada de Cocuy, rises to
meters above sea level. In the department of Santander,
on the western slopes are more spacious, and agriculture
intensive in the area around Bucaramanga. The northernmost
of the range around Cúcuta is so rugged that historically
been easier to maintain communications and transportation
Venezuela than with the adjacent parts of Colombia.
Data as of December 1988