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Some of the richest farmland lies between the western and central ranges along the Cauca River.
The Magdalena River valley, between the central and eastern ranges, is densely populated and the site of the capital, Bogotá.
Colombia produces more than 90 percent of the world's emeralds and also exports gold, iron, nickel, copper, lead, salt, coal, natural gas, and petroleum.
As of 1999, Colombia was still recovering from a recession that began in 1996.
In the face of an escalating social and political crisis, President Virgilio Barco Vargas launched a campaign in 1989 to suppress the drug trade, which resulted in hundreds of arrests, the confiscation of property worth millions of dollars, and violent retaliations by the cartels.
It embraces the northernmost point in South America, Point Gallinas, and is the only country on the continent with both Caribbean and Pacific coasts.
The Andes run the length of the country in three ranges called the Cordillera Occidental, the Cordillera Central, and the Cordillera Oriental, which comprise the highland core where most of the population lives.