the country from the Eastern to the Western Cordilleras with a varying width of 100 to 150 m., not including the lower river basins which penetrate much farther inland, also consists of low, alluvial plains, partly covered with swamps and intricate watercourses, densely overgrown with vegetation, but in places admirably adapted to different kinds of tropical agriculture. These plains are broken in places by low ranges of hills which are usually occupied by the principal industrial settlements of this part of the republic, the lower levels being for the most part swampy and unsuited for white occupation.
The other part of the republic, which may be roughly estimated at two-fifths of its total area, consists of an extremely rugged mountainous country, traversed from south to north by the parallel river valleys of the Magdalena, Cauca and Atrato. The mountain chains which cover this part of Colombia are the northern terminal ranges of the great Andean system. In northern Ecuador the Andes narrows into a single massive range which has the character of a confused mass of peaks and ridges on the southern frontier of Colombia. There are several lofty plateaus in this region which form a huge central watershed for rivers flowing east to the Amazon, west to the Pacific, and north to the Caribbean Sea. The higher plateaus are called paramos
, cold, windswept, mist-drenched deserts, lying between the elevations of 10,000 and 15,000 ft., which are often the only passes over the Cordilleras, and yet are almost impassable because of their morasses, heavy mists, and cold, piercing winds. The paramos
of Cruz Verde (11,695 ft.) and Pasto, and the volcanoes of Chiles (15,900 ft.), Chumbul (15,715 ft.), and Pasto (13,990 ft.) are prominent landmarks of this desolate region. North of this great plateau the Andes divides into three great ranges, the Western, Central and Eastern Cordilleras. The Central is the axis of the system, is distinguished by a line of lofty volcanoes and paramos
, some of which show their white mantles 2000 to 3000 ft. above the line of perpetual snow (approx. 15,000 ft. in this latitude), and is sometimes distinguished with the name borne by the republic for the time being. This range runs in a north-north-east direction and separates the valleys of the Magdalena and Cauca, terminating in some low hills south-west of El Banco, a small town on the lower Magdalena. The principal summits of this range are Tajumbina (13,534 ft.), Pan de Azucar (15,978 ft.), Purace (15,420 ft.), Sotara (15,420 ft.), Huila (over
18,000 ft.), Tolima (18,432 ft.), Santa Isabel (16,700 ft.), Ruiz (18,373 ft.), and Mesa de Herveo (18,300 ft.). The last named affords a magnificent spectacle from Bogotá, its level top which is 5 or 6 m. across, and is formed by the rim of an immense crater, having the appearance of a table, down the sides of which for more than 3000 ft. hangs a spotless white drapery of perpetual snow. The Western Cordillera branches from the main range first and follows the coast very closely as far north as the 4th parallel, where the San Juan and Atrato rivers, though flowing in opposite directions and separated near the 5th parallel by a low transverse ridge, combine to interpose valleys between it and the Cordillera de Baudo, which thereafter becomes the true coast range. It then forms the divide between the Cauca and Atrato valleys, and terminates near the Caribbean coast. The general elevation of this range is lower than that of the others, its culminating points being the volcano Munchique (11,850 ft.)and Cerro Leon (10,847 ft.). The range is covered with vegetation and its Pacific slopes are precipitous and humid. The Cordillera de Baudo, which becomes the coast range above lat. 4° N., is the southern extension of the low mountainous chain forming the backbone of the Isthmus of Panama, and may be considered the southern termination of the great North American system. Its elevations are low and heavily wooded. It divides on the Panama frontier, the easterly branch forming the watershed between the Atrato and the rivers of eastern Panama, and serving as the frontier between the two republics. The passes across these ranges are comparatively low, but they are difficult because of the precipitous character of their Pacific slopes and the density of the vegetation on them. The Eastern Cordillera is in some respects the most important of the three branches of the Colombian Andes. Its general elevation is below that of the Central Cordillera, and it has few summits rising above the line of perpetual snow, the highest being the Sierra Nevada de Cocui, in lat. 6° 30’ N. Between Cocui and the southern frontier of Colombia there are no noteworthy elevations except the so-called Paramo de Suma Paz near Bogotá, the highest point of which is 14,146 ft. above sea-level, and the Chita paramo
, or range, north-east of Bogotá (16,700 ft.). Between the 5th and 6th parallels the range divides into two branches, the eastern passing into Venezuela, where it is called the Cordillera de Merida, and the northern continuing north and north-east as the Sierra de Perija and the Sierra de Oca, to terminate at the north-eastern extremity of the Goajira peninsula. The culminating point in the first-mentioned range is the Cerro Pintado (11,800 ft.). West of this range, and lying between the 10th parallel and the Caribbean coast, is a remarkable group of lofty peaks and knotted ranges known as the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the highest snow-crowned summit of which rises 17,389 ft. above the sea according to some, and 16,728 according to other authorities. This group of mountains, covering an approximate area of 6500 sq. m., lies immediately on the coast, and its highest summits were long considered inaccessible. It stands detached from the lower ranges of the Eastern Cordillera, and gives the impression that it is essentially independent. The eastern Cordillera region is noteworthy for its large areas of plateau and elevated valley within the limits of the vertical temperate zone. In this region is to be found the greater part of the white population, the best products of Colombian civilization, and the greatest industrial development. The “sabana” of Bogotá is a good illustration of the higher of these plateaus (8563 ft., according to Stieler’s Hand-Atlas
), with its mild temperature, inexhaustible fertility and numerous productions of the temperate zone. It has an area of about 2000 sq. m. The lower valleys, plateaus and mountain slopes of this range are celebrated for their coffee, which, with better means of transportation, would be a greater source of prosperity for the republic than the gold-mines of Antioquia. The mountainous region of Colombia is subject to volcanic disturbances and earthquake shocks are frequent, especially in the south. These shocks, however, are less severe than in Venezuela or in Ecuador.