The Sierra Nevada de
Santa Marta is an isolated mountain
range apart from the Andes chain that
runs through Colombia. Reaching an
altitude of 5,700 metres above sea
level just 42 km from the Caribbean
coast, the Sierra Nevada is the world's
highest coastal range. The Sierra
Nevada encompasses about 17,000 km²
and serves as the source of 36 rivers.
Its range covers the Magdalena Department,
Cesar Department and La Guajira Department.
The highest point of
the Sierra Nevada group (and Colombia
in general) may be either Pico Cristóbal
Colón or Pico Simón
Bolívar; it has never been
determined which is higher. SRTM data
and local topographic maps show that
their true elevations is approximately
5,700 metres, lower than the 5,775
metre elevation that is often quoted.
The Sierra Nevada is
a compact group, relatively small
in area, and completely surrounded
by lands with elevations below 200
metres. The main backbone of the Andes
cannot be reached from the Sierra
Nevada without dropping below this
level. This makes its highest point
the world's fifth most prominent summit.
The Sierra Nevada de
Santa Marta is home to a number of
ecoregions, which vary with elevation.
xeric scrub region lies near the Caribbean
seacoast to the north of the range.
The Sinú Valley dry forests
cover the range's lower slopes, up
to an elevation of 500 meters.
The Santa Marta montane
forests lie above 500-800 meters elevation.
The montane forests are separated
from other moist forests by the lower-elevation
dry forests and xeric shrublands,
and have large numbers of endemic
species. The montane forests ecoregion
has several distinct plant communities,
distinguished by altitude and rainfall;
moist lowland forests cover the windward
northern and western flanks of the
range between 500 and 900 meters elevation,
and the drier eastern and southern
flanks from 800 to 1000 meters elevation.
Above 900 meters elevation is a transitional
forest zone of smaller trees and palms.
Cloud forests occur above 1000 meters
elevation; the Sub-Andean forests
from 1000-1150 to 2500 meters elevation
form a canopy 25-35 meters tall, while
the higher-elevation Andean forests,
between 2500 and 3300 meters elevation,
grow to 15-20 meters in height.
The Santa Marta Páramo,
a high altitude belt of montane grasslands
and shrublands interspersed with marshes
and acid bogs, occupies the zone between
3300 and 4500-5000 meters. The Santa
Marta Páramo is the northernmost
enclave of Páramo in South
America, which occur along the Andes
belt. Above 4500-5000 meters lies
the permanent snow cap.