Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta
|Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta|
|Peak||Pico Simón Bolívar|
|Elevation||5,700 m (18,700 ft)|
|PNN Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta|
|Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta National Natural Park|
Sierra Nevada viewed from Valledupar
|Nearest city||Santa Marta, Colombia|
|Area||3,830 km2 (1,480 sq mi)|
The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is an isolated mountain range separated from the Andes chain that runs through Colombia. Reaching an altitude of 5,700 m (18,700 ft) just 42 km (26 mi) from the Caribbean coast, the Sierra Nevada is the world's highest coastal range. The Sierra Nevada encompasses about 17,000 km2 (6,600 sq mi) and serves as the source of 36 rivers. The range is in the Departments of Magdalena, Cesar and La Guajira.
The highest point of the Sierra Nevada group (and Colombia in general) may be either Pico Cristóbal Colón or Pico Simón Bolívar both in the municipality of Aracataca; it has yet to be determined which is higher. SRTM data and local topographic maps show that their true elevations are approximately 5,700 m (18,700 ft), lower than the 5,775 m (18,947 ft) 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 m (660 ft). 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.
Several peaks in the Sierra Nevada are intervisible with Cerro Paramillo, a 3,730 m (12,240 ft) peak  in Antioquia Department. This implies a theoretical direct line of sight of just over 500 km (310 mi), reported to be the longest between any two points on the surface of the Earth.
The tropical rainforest is made up of perennial trees, with a canopy reaching between 30 m (98 ft) to 40 m (130 ft). There is a great variety and large populations of epiphytes and lianas, and more than 3,000 species of vascular plants are found in the area. The indigenous peoples made an alcoholic beverage from fruits of the palm Attalea maripa found at the lower elevations.
Of Colombia's 340 endemic species, 44 are found in the park, for example seven species of endemic hummingbirds. Of the 3,057 endangered species, 44 are found here. The area is home to 440 species of birds, including Black-fronted Wood-quail, King Vulture, Andean Condor, Santa Marta Warbler, Santa Marta Parakeet. Mammals found in the park include: tapir, cougar, jaguar, squirrel, Transandinomys talamancae, otter, and brocket deer.
The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is home to a number of ecoregions, which vary with elevation.
The Guajira-Barranquilla 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 m (1,600 ft).
The Santa Marta montane forests lie above 500 m (1,600 ft) to 800 m (2,600 ft). 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 forest 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 m (1,600 ft) and 900 m (3,000 ft), and the drier eastern and southern flanks from 5,800 m (19,000 ft) to 1,000 m (3,300 ft). Above 900 m (3,000 ft) is a transitional forest zone of smaller trees and palms. Cloud forests occur above 1,000 m (3,300 ft); the Sub-Andean forests from 1,000 m (3,300 ft) to 2,500 m (8,200 ft) form a canopy 25 m (82 ft) to 35 m (115 ft) tall, while the higher-elevation Andean forests, between 2,500 m (8,200 ft) and 3,300 m (10,800 ft), grow to 15 m (49 ft) to 20 m (66 ft) 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 3,300 m (10,800 ft) and 5,000 m (16,000 ft). The Santa Marta Páramo is the northernmost enclave of Páramo in South America, which occur along the Andes belt. Above 5,000 m (16,000 ft) meters lies the permanent snow cap.
National Natural Park
The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta National Natural Park (Spanish: Parque Nacional Natural Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta) is Colombia's second oldest national park, established in 1964. It is located in the Cordillera Oriental range, between the departments of La Guajira, Magdalena and Cesar, in the mountain range of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. It is a sanctuary as well as a tourist attraction, because it offers different climate, terrain, flora and fauna environments, ranging from beaches to snowy mountain peaks.
All the water courses that originate in the national park drain to the Caribbean sea whether directly (e. g. rivers Ranchería, Don Diego, Palomino, Buritaca, Guachaca, Cañas, etc.) or through the Magdalena River system that includes the Ciénaga Grande de Santa Marta, (e. g., rivers Cesar, Ariguaní, Fundación, Frío, Aracataca, etc.). Roughly 1.2 million people are dependent upon the freshwater supplied by the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta rivers. There are currently about 30,000 indigenous people of the ethnic groups Koguis, Arhuacos, Kankuamos and Wiwa living in the area. This park is also home to the remnants of the Tairona Culture. In 1979 the park was designated a Biosphere reserve by UNESCO. A 2013 report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature on the world's most irreplaceable protected areas identified the park as the most irreplaceable park in the world for threatened species. 
It is composed of Cretaceous metamorphic rocks (predominantly schists and gneisses) and quartzdioritic intrusives of Tertiary age. The Quaternary of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is mainly represented by colluvial-alluvial valley fill and by recent beach deposits. The coastlines of the northwestern part of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta are indented, reflecting the alternation of rocky headlands and deep, NNW trending tectonically controlled bays. The headlands are typically 100 to 150-m-high plunging cliffs cut into schists and granites, whereas the embayments front alluvial valley deposits. The bay shores are typically steep, reflective beaches composed of very coarse sand to granules eroded from adjacent cliffs and alluvial deposits. Wide pocket beaches and tombolos are common along sectors with abundant rocky erosional remnants and stacks.
The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is home to the remnants of the native American Tairona Culture; Arhuacos, Koguis, Wiwas and Kankuamos, that live in Resguardos Indigenas (Indian reserves) located in the mid-highlands.
Recent access problems
For the last ten years, access to the highest summits has been very difficult, and this situation continues. There have been no documented recent ascents. The only safe and relatively straight forward access is from Santa Marta city to Cuchillo de San Lorenzo, but that is only to 2,800 m (9,200 ft) (although it provides excellent views of the peaks).
- Villegas & Sesana 2007, p. 381
- "Parque Nacional Natural Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta".
- "Colombia: places we protect, Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta".
- "Nature and Science". Parques Nacionales Naturales de Colombia. Retrieved 11 July 2010.
- IUCN 1982, p. 127
- "Biosphere Reserve Information, Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta". UNESCO. Retrieved 11 July 2010.
- "Scientists identify the world’s most irreplaceable protected areas". IUCN. Retrieved 21 November 2013.
- (Public Domain) USGS - Caribbean Coast: Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta Coast USGS Accessed 24 August 2007.
- IUCN (1982), IUCN directory of neotropical protected areas (in Spanish and English), IUCN, ISBN 978-0-907567-62-2.
- Villegas, Benjamin; Sesana, Laura (2007), Colombia Natural Parks, Villegas Asociados, ISBN 978-958-8156-87-3.
- "Santa Marta montane forests". Terrestrial Ecoregions. World Wildlife Fund.
- "Santa Marta Páramo". Terrestrial Ecoregions. World Wildlife Fund.
- "Sinú Valley dry forests". Terrestrial Ecoregions. World Wildlife Fund.
- Case study by Fundación Pró-Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta
- The Lure of Colombia's Lost City by Mark Henderson, The Guardian, October 24, 2009