Colombia , officially the Republic of Colombia , is a country in north-western South America. Colombia is bordered to the east by Venezuela and Brazil; to the south by Ecuador and Peru; to the north by the Caribbean Sea; to the north west by Panama; and to the west by the Pacific Ocean. Colombia also shares maritime borders with Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Colombia is the 26th largest nation in the world and the fourth largest in South America (after Brazil, Argentina, and Peru). It has the 29th largest population in the world and the second largest in South America, after Brazil. Colombia has the third largest Spanish-speaking population in the world after Mexico and Spain.
The territory of what is now Colombia was originally inhabited by indigenous tribes including the Muisca, Quimbaya, and Tairona. The Spanish arrived in 1499 and initiated a period of conquest and colonisation which ultimately led to the creation of the Viceroyalty of New Granada (comprising modern-day Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Panama) with its capital at Bogotá. Independence from Spain was won in 1819, but by 1830 "Gran Colombia" had collapsed with the secession of Venezuela and Ecuador. What is now Colombia and Panama emerged as the Republic of New Granada. The new nation experimented with federalism as the Granadine Confederation (1858), and then the United States of Colombia (1863), before the Republic of Colombia was finally declared in 1886. Panama seceded in 1903.
Colombia has a long tradition of constitutional government, and the Liberal and Conservative parties, founded in 1848 and 1849 respectively, are two of the oldest surviving political parties in the Americas. However, tensions between the two have frequently erupted into violence, most notably in the Thousand Days War (1899-1902) and La Violencia, beginning in 1948. Since the 1960s, government forces, left-wing insurgents and right-wing paramilitaries have been engaged in the continent's longest-running armed conflict. Fuelled by the cocaine trade, this escalated dramatically in the 1990s. However, the insurgents lack the military or popular support necessary to overthrow the government, and in recent years the violence has been decreasing. Many paramilitary groups have demobilised as part of a controversial peace process with the government, and the guerrillas have lost control in many areas where they once dominated. Meanwhile Colombia's homicide rate, for many years the highest in the world, has almost halved since 2002.
Colombia is a standing middle power with the fourth largest economy in South America. It is very ethnically diverse, and the interaction between descendants of the original native inhabitants, Spanish colonists, African slaves and twentieth-century immigrants from Europe and the Middle East has produced a rich cultural heritage. This has also been influenced by Colombia's varied geography. The majority of the urban centres are located in the highlands of the Andes mountains, but Colombian territory also encompasses Amazon rainforest, tropical grassland and both Caribbean and Pacific coastlines. Ecologically, Colombia is one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries.
Colombia is the 26th largest nation in the world and the fourth largest in South America. It is bordered to the east by Venezuela and Brazil; to the south by Ecuador and Peru; to the north by Panama and the Caribbean Sea; and to the west by the Pacific Ocean. Colombia is the only country in South America to touch both Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
Part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, a region of the world subject to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, Colombia is dominated by the Andes mountains. Beyond the Colombian Massif (in the south-western departments of Cauca and Nariño) these are divided into three branches known as cordilleras (from the Spanish for "rope"): the Cordillera Occidental, running adjacent to the Pacific coast and including the city of Cali; the Cordillera Central, running between the Cauca and Magdalena river valleys (to the west and east respectively) and including the cities of Medellín, Manizales and Pereira; and the Cordillera Oriental, extending north east to the Guajira Peninsula and including Bogotá, Bucaramanga and Cúcuta. Peaks in the Cordillera Occidental exceed 13,000 ft (4,000 m), and in the Cordillera Central and Cordillera Oriental they reach 18,000 ft (5,500 m). At 8,500 ft (2,600 m), Bogotá is the highest city of its size in the world.
East of the Andes lies the savanna of the Llanos, part of the Orinoco River basin, and, in the far south east, the jungle of the Amazon rainforest. Together these lowlands comprise over half Colombia's territory, but they contain less than 3% of the population. To the north the Caribbean coast, home to 20% of the population and the location of the major port cities of Barranquilla and Cartagena, generally consists of low-lying plains, but it also contains the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range, which includes the country's tallest peaks (Pico Cristóbal Colón and Pico Simón Bolívar), and the Guajira Desert. By contrast the narrow and discontinuous Pacific coastal lowlands, backed by the Serranía de Baudó mountains, are covered in dense vegetation and sparsely populated. The principal Pacific port is Buenaventura.
Colombian territory also includes a number of Caribbean and Pacific islands.
The climate of Colombia is primarily determined by its proximity to the equator, with tropical and isothermal climate predominating. Other influences are the trade winds and the effect of the Intertropical Convergence Zone on precipitation. Colombia is also affected by the El Niño and La Niña phenomena.
Temperatures generally decrease about 3.5°F (2°C) for every 1,000-ft (300-m) increase in altitude above sea level, presenting perpetual snowy peaks to hot river valleys and basins. Rainfall is concentrated in two wet seasons (roughly corresponding to the spring and autumn of temperate latitudes) but varies considerably by location. Colombia's Pacific coast has one of the highest levels of rainfall in the world, with the south east often drenched by more than 200 in (500 cm) of rain per year. On the other hand rainfall in parts of the Guajira Peninsula seldom exceeds 30 in (75 cm) per year. Rainfall in the rest of the country runs between these two extremes.
The hot and humid Colombian Pacific coast, one of the rainiest regions in the world.
Altitude not only affects temperature but is also one of the most important influences on vegetation patterns. 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. Below 3,300 ft (1,000 m) are the tropical crops of the tierra caliente (hot land). The most productive land and the majority of the population can be found in the tierra templada (temperate land, 3,300-6,600 ft or 1,000-2,000 m), which provide the best conditions for the country's coffee growers, and the tierra fría (cold land, 6,600-10,500 ft, 2,000-3,200 m), where wheat and potatoes dominate. Beyond this lie the alpine conditions of the zona forestada (forested zone, 10,500-12,800 ft, 3,200-3,900 m) and then the treeless grasslands of the páramos (12,800-15,100 ft, 3,900-4,600 m). Above 15,100 ft (4,600 m), where temperatures are below freezing, is the tierra helada, a zone of permanent snow and ice.
Colombian flora and fauna also interact with climate zone patterns. Scrub woodland of scattered trees and bushes dominates the semi-arid north-eastern steppe and tropical desert. To the south, savanna (tropical grassland) vegetation covers the eastern plains, the Colombian portion of the Llanos. The rainy areas in the south east 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. As a result Colombia is one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries.