Colombia: Weather Overview
Colombia sits within the tropical climate zone, bridging the equator, which usually means uniform weather conditions. But it is a topographically diverse country, home to a section of the Andes Mountains; it has two coasts, one on the Caribbean and one on the Pacific; and it is very large. These factors combine to create many microclimates and great regional climatic variation. While regional climates are most significantly affected by altitude and locals traditionally split their country into three climate zones based on this, proximity to the two coasts and to the equator also make a great difference and this guide will split Colombia into the following five climatic regions: the Caribbean, the Pacific, the Andes, the Amazon and Orinoquia. Generally, Colombia is hot and wet with rainfall at its highest on the Pacific coast; humidity is high; the wet season lasts from May till November; the Caribbean coast is at low risk of hurricanes.
The Caribbean Region
The lowlands leading up to the Caribbean coast in the northeast of Colombia receive a tropical climate. Temperatures stay up in the low 30s during the day and in the mid-20s at night throughout the year, though the wet season is slightly hotter than the dry season. Heat is made all the more apparent by high humidity levels that exist all year. The wet season falls between May and November. Almost all of the areaâs annual rainfall of 2000-2500 mm falls during this period. The dry season is incredibly dry for a tropical location and some months see no rain at all. The wet season is characterised by heavy downpours and high winds. The plateau regions are poorly irrigated and flood regularly. Despite the northeast direction of the trade winds, rainfall actually decreases towards the east. This is due to the increasingly flat and low lie of the land which is not conducive to precipitation; without any significant topographical features to interrupt the trades, they flow over the region without dropping their moisture. For this reason, the north-eastern La Guajira Peninsula is a mostly barren desert, and the entire region is very windy throughout the year, making temperatures more bearable. January and February are the windiest months.
This region is the only region in Columbia that is at risk of hurricanes. The hurricane season lasts from June till November and is at its peak in August and September. However, hurricanes are very rare as the hurricane belt actually runs south of the Colombian coast, skirting the Venezuelan north coast and sweeping up towards Central and North America, leaving a relatively safe gap in the protective bay that could be said to exist from the La Guajira Peninsula up to the northeast tip of Nicaragua. The northeast of the Caribbean region is the area at highest risk.
Cartagena, in the middle of the Caribbean coast, sees an average high of 32°C for most of the year, dropping a whole degree to 31°C for a few months after the peak of the wet season. October is its wettest month, receiving 218 mm of rain; February is its driest month seeing only 2 mm of rain. To the east of Cartagena sits the city of Barranquilla which receives an average high of 33°C which drops to 31°C from December till February. The city receives less rain, 157 mm falls in October and only 4 mm in total from January till March.
The Pacific Region
The alternating lowlands and low mountains near the Pacific coast in the northwest of Colombia also have a tropical climate, but rainfall is higher. Monumentally higher. This is one of the wettest places in the world; the average rainfall for the region is 4000 mm, but some areas receive 12,000 mm. Madness! There is still a wet and dry season but only comparatively so as rainfall is high year-round, merely increasing May and November. This immense amount of rain is carried in on winds from the Pacific Ocean and forced to fall by the irregular topography of the region. Rainfall actually falls as it approaches the Andes as the winds are drained of their moisture in their journey from the coast. Humidity is high at all times. Temperatures are usually slightly lower than on the Caribbean coast as in this area the Pacific is a couple of degrees cooler than the Caribbean in summer.
Buenaventura, in the middle of the Pacific Coast, receives annual rainfall over 7000 mm. October is its wettest month with over 821 mm of rain, and January is its direst months with 383 mm of rain, which is wetter than the Caribbean coastâs wettest month. The city has an average high temperature of 30°C between January and July, dropping to 29°C from August till December.
Starting in Venezuela and curving down the west coast of South America, stretching the length of South America, the Andes is the longest mountain range on land. The climate of the northern Andes, in Columbia, are warm, wet and, as in all mountains, increasingly cold at higher elevations. Below 1000 m the Andes share the tropical climate of their surrounding regions. Temperatures reduce as you travel upwards and 2000 m and 3000 m it usually between 18°C in the day and 5°C at night. The rapid cooling of humid air causes regular mist and low cloud in the area often described as âcloud forestsâ. This is where Bogota sits. Rainfall is moderate but frequent, highest between April and November. Higher up snow and high winds are characteristic. Above 4000 m temperatures rarely get above 10°C and glaciers exist.
The Andes create a huge natural barrier to rain travelling on the northeast trade winds. Its eastern slopes are therefore very wet and are the starting point for many rivers. The western slopes are quite dry despite the west coast of Colombia being the wettest part of the country, as most of the rain from the Pacific falls before it reaches the mountains.
The southern portion of Colombia is covered by the western Amazon Rainforest. Here the humid tropical climate prevails again. Rainfall is incredibly high, though not as high as on the Pacific coast, and day time temperatures linger around 30°C. Constant rain and high heat lead to high humidity; mist is common and the sky is often cloudy or hazy. The wetter season lasts from April till October. In Mitu between 300 mm and 400 mm of rain falls each month during the rainy season, while in January, the driest month, only 136 mm fall.
The Orinoquia Region
East of the Andes and south of the Caribbean region is an area of low plains surrounded by highlands. The region mostly receives a sub-tropical steppe climate which is typically arid and windy with large fluctuations in temperature. However, rainfall is actually very high in the south and western parts of this region towards the Andes and the Amazon, reducing towards the northeast. The region is covered in grasses and shrubs and is suitable for grazing animals, but is only sparsely populated.