EXPLAINING COLOMBIA’S DIVERSITY
Colombia’s stunning mega-diversity, summed up simply as being second only to Brazil, a country which is 7 times the size, can only be understood if you begin to examine its geography.
Starting with the mountains, an Andean knot enters the country from Ecuador and after 100km or so splits into 3 Andean chains – Western, Central and Eastern. The highest of the 3, the Central Andes, volcanic in its creation and punctuated by glacier capped volcanoes along its length, is older and higher than the Western, which was created by the Nazca plate subduction below the South American plate, as was the Eastern Andes, the oldest and widest of the 3 ranges, noted for its large plateau or altiplano’ on which the capital Bogota sits, reaching heights of over 5,350masl (17,500ft).
This colossal Andean landscape or region is itself divided by two major rivers, the Cauca and Magdalena that nestle in two massive, fertile, tropical inter-Andean valleys. ‘Las Cordilleras’ essentially split the even vaster Amazon basin with the lowland tropical forest of the Pacific or ‘Choco’ biogeographical region that stretches from the jungles of the Darien down to northern Ecuador. Here it is important to highlight that Colombia has not one but two major rainforests, with the jungles of the Pacific plain (‘Choco
region’) being more diverse per KM/sq than its Amazonian counterpart.
Bordering the northern edge of the Amazonian plain the Guaviare River roughly separates the basin to Colombia’s other large, flat expanse. Here the tropical savannas of the ‘Llanos’ (plains) are the result of acidic soil and a climate that leaves it with a harsh, long dry season from November to April. During the wet season large areas of the Llanos are flooded providing the backdrop to the original Colombian cowboys – ‘Los Llaneros’. This immense, flat grassland drains to the Orinoco River and stretches deep into Venezuela.
To the north, along the Caribbean, 1,000 miles or 1,600km of coastline stretch from the Darien to the northernmost tip of South America – La Guajira peninsula and desert on the border of Venezuela.
Most special of all, is the topographical incident that is the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia’s highest mountains that tower at over 5,770masl or 18,900+ft. These snow covered peaks lie just 50km as the crow flies from the
stunning beaches and jungles of Tayrona national park, making it the highest coastal range on Earth. This island of evolution leads us on to our conclusion.
Colombia’s dizzying collection of snow-covered mountains with their various climatic floors, lush valleys, endless plains, impenetrable forests, arid deserts and endless coastlines, all geographically isolated from each other, formed over millions of years, has allowed Colombia to be the hotbed of evolution for an equally massive range of flora and fauna.
This natural abundance of food, water and favourable climatic conditions eventually attracted humans, who thrived here, adapting and eventually evolving into the many pre-Hispanic cultures that we know of today, fundamentally unique to one another, lords and kings over their own isolated pockets of the country. It is no coincidence that Colombia has over 70 indigenous dialects that are still spoken today, distant traces of the great and beautiful golden peoples that once inhabited Colombia’s territory before the arrival of the Spanish.
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