Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia


The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is a coastal mountain range in northern Colombia with an area of ​​about 17,000 square kilometers. Located on the coast of the Caribbean Sea, it is one of the highest coastal mountain formations in the world with two peaks over 5,700 meters above sea level. The highest peak in the mountain range is either Pico Simon Bolivar or Pico Cristobal Colon. The mountain range is the source of at least 36 rivers, including Magdalene, Cesar, and Gaira Rivers. The Santa Marta Range is home to several ecosystems that represent a unique cultural and historical wealth and was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1979. It is the location of the lost city of Ciudad Perdida.



A river that flows through the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.

The Santa Marta Mountains are a volcanic massif in northern Colombia in the departments of La Guajira, Cesar and Magdalene. It is bounded in the south, east and west by a coastal lowlands and in the north by the Caribbean Sea, with only 22 kilometers separating the peaks from the sea. The mountain range rises abruptly from the Caribbean coast and stretches for about 42 kilometers before reaching the snow-capped Cristobal Colon peak, considered by many to be the highest peak in Colombia. However, Pico Simon Bolivar may also be the highest peak in the region, as authorities have yet to determine the higher of the two peaks. Local data, including topographic maps, shows the two peaks are around 5,700 meters tall, rather than 5,775 meters as previously estimated.

Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta
An indigenous village in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.

The Santa Marta Mountain Range is the highest coastal range in the tropics and one of the highest in the world. However, compared to most of the tall coastal peaks, it covers a smaller area, stretching over approximately 17,000 square kilometers. The mountain range is separated from the Andes in central Colombia. In addition to the mountains, the Sierra Nevada region includes tropical forests, waterfalls, natural pools, cultural and historical sites, and the indigenous people who have lived in the area for centuries. The Santa Marta Range receives an estimated annual rainfall of 4,000mm at higher elevations between 500 and 1,500 meters.


Yellow-billed Toucanet Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta
Massive rocky outcrops in the mountainous region of Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.

Until recently, the geological composition of the mountain range was relatively unknown. According to the available data, however, the mountain range includes tertiary gneiss, granite, diorite, syenite and eurite. Due to its isolation and the west-east direction, the massif probably formed in front of the Andes, which run from north to south. The Smithsonian research team revealed that the Santa Marta Range stretched approximately 2,200 kilometers from northern Peru to northern Colombia for the past 170 million years and rotated to its current position on the Caribbean coast. The mountain range has fascinating features including an indented coastline, steep coves, and high cliffs.


Bird in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta
A yellow-billed toucan in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.

The mountain region consists of tropical rainforest with perennial trees, the canopy of which is 30-40 meters high. There are over 300 vascular plants in the area, including maripa, which is used by locals to make alcoholic beverages. The Santa Marta Range has several ecoregions, including the mountain forest ecoregion. The mountain forest is located at an altitude of just above sea level at around 800 meters and contains various plants such as the Andean royal palm. Below the Montane forest ecoregion are the xerian bushland and dry forest, while above are the cloud forests and the sub-Andes forest ecoregions. The Santa Marta Paramo ecoregion is located at an altitude of 3,300 to 5,000 meters and contains mainly the paramo vegetation.


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