The Vast Variations in Colombia’s Climate
Colombia is well known as one of the most bio-diverse countries on earth, however, it is also a tropical country with several different climates.
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How is it possible that a tropical country can have so many different climates?
The secret behind the climate in Colombia lies in its geography. The country is surrounded by three huge mountains, which split it into five natural regions: Andes, Pacific, Caribbean, Amazon, and Los Llanos (savannah). All of them offer an impressive range of climates and landscapes at varying altitudes.
Much of the western part of Colombia is covered by the Andes Mountains, where every 305m/1,000-foot increase in altitude means a 3.5f/1.7c temperature decrease. In other words, very hot temperatures at sea level cool down the higher you go.
The climate in Colombia varies significantly depending on the altitude of the different regions. The varying altitudes define the temperature of an area according to its height above sea level. Thus, geography plays a strong role in determining the climate in Colombia.
Colombia is strongly influenced by the El Niño and La Niña climatic phenomena. El Niño brings warmer, drier weather and La Niña brings colder, wetter weather.
Colombians describe their climate in three ways: hot, temperate, and cold.
The hot zone (Tierra Caliente) is from sea level to 900m/2,952f; the temperate zone (Tierra Templada) is between 900m/2,952f and 1,980m/6,500f and the cold zone (Tierra Fría) is from 1,980/6,500f to about 3,500/11,482f. Above that, páramos (moorlands) and snow-covered areas extend to approximately 4,500m/14,763f.
Altitude controls not only the climate but also the country’s plant and animal life.
Due to Colombia’s proximity to the Equator, there are not four clearly defined seasons. Instead, seasons are characterized more by rain fluctuations than by temperature changes. A year has two clearly identifiable times: the rainy season and the dry season. The rainy season comes from April to May and October to November, and the dry season is usually from December to January and July to August, though this can of course varies considerably depending on the geographical location.
In effect, Colombia is unique…
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The climate of Bogotá is greatly influenced by the altitude at which the city is located. Bogotá is at an altitude of 2,640m/8,662f above sea level on an Andean plateau giving it a climate that is sub-tropical. Bogotá’s climate is characterized by almost constant mild temperatures throughout the year with minimal seasonal differences. The average annual temperature is 58f/14c. The coolest month is July while the mildest is February.
The average annual rainfall in Bogotá is just over 1,000 mm/40 inches. There are two rainy seasons and two dry seasons. The seasons differ based solely on the amount of received precipitation. The rainy seasons are the months between March and May and those between October and November. The dry seasons occur in the months of December to February and June to September.
Cartagena de Indias
Cartagena has a typically tropical climate, warm all year round with minimal changes in seasonal temperatures. Seasonal differences will occur as a result of the amount of rain that falls and not according to the temperature.
The climate is characterized by both high temperatures and high humidity all year round. The average daytime temperatures are typically 86f/30c to 92f/33c all year round. Cartagena has two rainy seasons. Most precipitation can be found in April and May, followed by a mostly dry period. Then in October and November precipitation figures are higher once more. Sea temperatures range between 80f/27c and 84f/29c.
Santa Martha is located on the north Caribbean coast of Colombia, in the Department of Magdalena. The climate is tropical semi-arid, with a rainy period from May to November, mostly from August to October. A dry period runs from December to April. Average temperatures range from 82f/28c to 85f/30c with little variation. Precipitation amounts to 545ml./22” per annum, almost all of which occurs in the wet season. The sea temperature is from 79f/26c to 84f/29c, so is constantly pleasant.
La Guajira is a region on the northern Colombian Caribbean coast, in which the most prominent cities are Palomino and Riohacha. The climate, especially on the peninsula itself, is arid, dry, and with high temperatures, modified by sea breezes and the north-easterly trade winds that blow for most of the year. Rainfall is rare and usually occurs during the months of September to November. The wet season is overcast, while the dry season is windy and partly cloudy. It is hot and oppressive all year round.
Over the course of the year, the temperature typically varies from 75f/24c to 88f/31c and is rarely below 73f/23c or above 91f/33c. What rain does occur is between September and November, with the remainder of the year very dry. Comfortable water temperatures range from 77f/25c to 82f/28c.
Medellín, situated between mountains, flowers constantly in bloom, the sweet aroma of coffee lofting in the air, the capital of Antioquia wakes up every day with the impetus and joy of its residents. The charm of this city is complete. Medellin is the second most important city in Colombia and the capital of the Department of Antioquia. With an average daily temperature of 72/22c, which hardly varies, and at an altitude of 1,479m/4,852´ above sea level, is truly delightful.
Medellín technically has a tropical rainforest climate that borders on a subtropical highland climate. Thanks to its elevation, it is not as hot in Medellín as in other cities at the same latitude close to the equator. During the wet season, it can rain for 21 or more days each month. The wet season is from late March to December, with October being the wettest. The dry season is from December to late March, with January being the driest.
The Coffee Region
El Eje Cafetero, the coffee region of Colombia, is a triangular area with the cities of Manizales, Pereira, and Armenia as points of reference. With natural mountainous landscapes, the Coffee Region impresses with its coffee fincas (farms) located on rolling slopes and its beautiful pueblos (towns) with colorful facades, such as Salento and Filandia. Colombia’s equatorial climate means the weather is consistent year-round in Eje Cafetero.
Climate variations are considered within the triangle, with periods of tropical rain, sunshine, and heat. Altitude has a major influence on the climate in Colombia.
The climate in Pereira and surrounding areas are mostly warm and quite overcast. The average temperature typically varies from 63f/17c to 79f/26c and is rarely below 61f/16c or above 83f/28c. The elevation of Pereira is 1,411m/4,630ft. Rain falls throughout the year in Pereira, but not as extreme as in Viterbo or Manizales.
Meanwhile, in Manizales, just 53km/33m distant from Pereira, the climate is more comfortable and mostly overcast, with temperatures typically between 57f/14c and 73f/23c only occasionally falling below 54f/12c above 77f/25c. The elevation of Manizales is 2,160m/7,087ft. Rain falls throughout the year in Manizales and is considerable.
Armenia is warm and overcast. with temperatures similar to Pereira, from 62f/17c to 79f/26c and almost never lower than 60f/16c or above 83f/28c. The elevation of Armenia is 1,551m/5.089´.
The climate in Viterbo, more or less the same distance away from Pereira, is warm and humid with temperatures typically from 67f/19c to 83f/28c and seldom below 65f/18c or above 87f/31c. The elevation of Viterbo 998m/3,274ft. And the rain falls throughout the year in Viterbo and is considerable.
The Amazonas are made up of the mountainous Andes range and plains that extend to the east up to the borders with Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, and Venezuela.
It is a humid and tropical area, with high rainfall and warm daytime temperatures. The constant rain and high heat lead to intense humidity with mist common in the jungle. Throughout the year you have the chance of prolonged precipitation. No matter what time you go there you will always have to deal with a large number of rainy days. The temperature typically varies from 71f/22c to 88f/31c and is rarely below 67f/19c or above 93f/34c.
San José del Guaviare
San José del Guaviare in southeast Colombia lies along the right bank of the river Guaviare in a transition area between Los Llanos (savannah) to the north and tropical, semi-deciduous rainforests to the south.
It enjoys a tropical monsoon climate, with an annual average maximum temperature is 78f/30c, creeping down to 54f/12c at night. It is almost always humid; although during the months of December to February, it is a little less so. April to July has its rainy season, with averages of over 254 mm/10 inches per month.
Yopal, located on the western edge of Los Llanos (savannah) in eastern Colombia, is the capital of the Casanare Department. The summers are short, hot, humid, and overcast while the winters are also short, warm, muggy, wet, and mostly cloudy. Over the course of the year, the temperature typically varies from 72f/22c to 92f/33c and is rarely below 69f/21c or above 97f/36c. The wet season is from April to November with significant rainfall at times.
Neiva / Tatacoa Desert
Neiva, the capital of the Department of Huila, lies in the center and west of Colombia. It is between the Central and Eastern Cordillera, on a plain on the eastern bank of the Magdalen River. To the north is the Tatacoa desert. Neiva is one of the main cities in southern Colombia, 1,450´/442m above sea level, and has an average annual temperature of 86/30c. The climate of Neiva is tropical, very hot all year round, with a dry season from June to August – even though there are frequent light showers. The remainder of the year rain is frequent, somewhat lighter in January and February. Humidity is high with the muggier months from September to July.
Pitalito / San Agustin
Pitalito is found in the south of the Department of Huila, in the valley of the Magdalena River, 180 km south of the capital Neiva and 4,325´/1,318m above sea level. It is the second most populous city of the Department and is considered the largest producer of coffee in Colombia. The climate in Pitalito is warm, humid, and overcast. Over the course of the year, the temperature typically varies from 63f/17c to 78f/26c and is rarely below 60f/16c or above 83f/28c. Rain falls throughout the year with the most rain in November, with an average of 5.4 inches. August has the least with an average of 1.6 inches. Humidity is greatest from September to June, with December at its height.
Caño Cristales, the River of the Seven Colors, is a magical place. A river surrounded by lush foliage typical of the area it is known for its crystal waters that reveal aquatic plants that change color with exposure to the sun, in a process that goes from green to intense red. The river is situated in the middle of the Colombian Llanos Orientales, Department of Meta, within the Sierra de La Macarena National Park.
The climate at Caño Cristales is hot, very humid, and generally overcast. Annual temperatures typically vary from 70f/21c to 88f/31c and are rarely below 68f/20c or above 94f/34c. The temperature is fairly constant throughout the year, so there are no seasons as such.
The use of sunscreen and bug spray is prohibited in Caño Cristales for environmental reasons – Caño Cristales is open to visitors from early June to early November.
Pacific Coast (Nuquí)
One of the most idyllic destinations in Colombia is the Pacific coast. A wild paradise of endless beaches bathed by a changing sea of blue and green hues, waterfalls, rivers, hot springs, and dense jungles. The climate is tropical with significant rainfall all year. This is true even for the driest month. The average annual temperature is 79f/27c while precipitation is a high 160” /4,064 mm. The winters are short and hot, onerous, humid, and cloudy throughout the year. Nuquí, situated south of Bahía Solano and Ensenada de Utría, in the Gulf of Tribugá, is one of the towns that receive the most travelers during the year in the Department of Chocó. Humidity is a constant 100% so is very muggy all the while. The water temperature is an average at 81f/27c, so very agreeable.
Capurganá is a town located in northern Colombia on the Caribbean coast between the jungle of the famous Darien Gap and the white sand beaches with turquoise waters of the Gulf of UrabáIn. In this region of Chocó, there are no roads, people who want to get there or who want to move from one town to another must do so by boat.
It has a tropical rainforest climate, usually very warm, humid, and rainy all year round. The average annual temperature for Capurganá is 87f/31c and there is about 70”/1,778mms of rain a year. The average water temperature does not vary significantly over the course of the year, remaining close to a pleasant 82f/28c.