Colombia, officially the Republic of Colombia (Spanish: República de Colombia), is a country located in the northwestern region of South America. Colombia is bordered to the east by Venezuela and Brazil; to the south by Ecuador and Peru; to the North by the Atlantic Ocean, through the Caribbean Sea; and to the west by Panama and the Pacific Ocean. Besides the countries in South America, the Republic of Colombia is recognized to share maritime borders with the Caribbean countries of Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and the Central American countries of Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica.
Colombia is the 26th largest nation in the world and the fourth-largest country in South America (after Brazil, Argentina, and Peru), with an area seven times greater than that of New England and more than twice that of France.
The word "Colombia" comes from the name of Christopher Columbus (Cristóbal Colón in Spanish, Cristoforo Colombo in Italian). It was conceived by the revolutionary Francisco de Miranda as a reference to the New World, especially to all American territories and colonies under Spanish and Portuguese rule. The name was then adopted by the Republic of Colombia of 1819 formed by the union of Venezuela, New Granada and Ecuador.
In 1830, when Venezuela and Ecuador separated, the Cundinamarca region that remained became a new country: the Republic of New Granada. In 1863 New Granada changed its name officially to United States of Colombia, and in 1886 adopted its present day name: Republic of Colombia.
Colombia has more physical diversity packed into its borders than any other area of comparable size in Latin America. The country is part of the Pacific "Ring of Fire", a region of the world characterized by frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
Colombian surface features form complicated patterns. The western third of the country is the most complex. Starting at the shore of the Pacific Ocean in the west and moving eastward at a latitude of 5 degrees north, a diverse sequence of features is encountered. In the extreme west are the very narrow and discontinuous Pacific coastal lowlands, which are backed by the Serranía de Baudó, the lowest and narrowest of Colombia's mountain ranges. Next is the broad region of the Río Atrato/Río San Juan lowland, which has been proposed as a possible alternate to the Panama Canal as a human-made route between the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans.
The chief western mountain range, the Cordillera Occidental, is a moderately high range with peaks reaching up to about 13,000 ft (4,000 m). The Cauca River Valley, an important agricultural region with several large cities on its borders, separates the Cordillera Occidental from the massive Cordillera Central. Several snow-clad volcanoes in the Cordillera Central have summits that rise above 18,000 ft (5,500 m). The valley of the slow-flowing and muddy Magdalena River, a major transportation artery, separates the Cordillera Central from the main eastern range, the Cordillera Oriental. The peaks of the Cordillera Oriental are moderately high. This range differs from Colombia's other mountain ranges in that it contains several large basins. In the east, the sparsely populated, flat to gently rolling eastern lowlands called llanos cover almost 60 percent of the country's total land area.
This cross section of the republic does not include two of Colombia's regions: the Caribbean coastal lowlands and the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, both in the northern part of the country. The lowlands in the west are mostly swampy; the reed-filled marshes of the area are called ciénagas by the people of Colombia. The Guajira Peninsula in the east is semiarid. The Sierra Nevada is a spectacular triangular snowcapped block of rock that towers over the eastern part of this lowland.
Colombia's proximity to the equator influences its climates. The lowland areas are continuously hot. Altitude affects temperature greatly. Temperatures decrease about 3.5°F (2°C) for every 1,000-foot (300-meter) increase in altitude above sea level. Rainfall varies by location in Colombia, tending to increase as one travels southward. This is especially true in the eastern lowlands. For example, rainfall in parts of the Guajira Peninsula seldom exceeds 30 in (75 cm) per year. Colombia's rainy southeast, however, is often drenched by more than 200 in (500 cm) of rain per year. Rainfall in most of the rest of the country runs between these two extremes.
Altitude affects not only temperature, but also vegetation. In fact, altitude is one of the most important influences on vegetation patterns in Colombia. 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.
The "tierra caliente" (hot land), below 3,300 ft (1,000 m), is the zone of tropical crops such as bananas. The tierra templada (temperate land), extending from an altitude of 3,300 to 6,600 ft (1,000 to 2,000 m), is the zone of coffee and maize. Wheat and potatoes dominate in the "tierra fría" (cold land), at altitudes from 6,600 to 10,500 ft (2,000 to 3,200 m). In the "zona forestada" (forested zone), which is located between 10,500 and 12,800 ft (3,200 and 3,900 m), many of the trees have been cut for firewood. Treeless pastures dominate the páramos, or alpine grasslands, at altitudes of 12,800 to 15,100 ft (3,900 to 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.
Vegetation also responds to rainfall patterns. A scrub woodland of scattered trees and bushes dominates the semiarid northeast. To the south, savannah (tropical grassland) vegetation covers the Colombian portion of the llanos. The rainy areas in the southeast 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.
Colombia is considered to be among 17 of the most megadiverse countries in the world.