Nariño: The Balcony of Colombia, the Door to Ecuador

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Among the lands of Colombia, one of the most fascinating for its history, geography and people is located at the south-west of the nation. To prove it, the land received the name of one of the greatest men of the Republic, the man who opened tha gates to freedom from the Spaniard rule: Antonio Nariño. The Department of Nariño, a land of 33.268 km sq., extends its territory from the slopes to the Amazon Forest to the shores of the Pacific Ocean passing by the altitudes of the Andes as a resume of what is Colombia.

By Al Rodas | Picture “Pasto” by Momposina.

Although it is not the southern region of Colombia – that is the place of the Department of Amazon -, Nariño is the southern Andean department of the country, just throughout the border with Ecuador. It is also the place where the two northern South American countries shake hands in a long fraternity of history, people and vision.

The Map of the Department of Nariño, property of Presidencia de la República de Colombia.

Three Colombian regions join in a territory of 33.268 km sq., the three of them with surprising fascination: Amazon, Andes and Pacific. The location of the Department of Nariño bordering Ecuador, makes the region an easy place to visit by tourists either coming from the same Colombia or from Ecuador. The city of Pasto is 795 kilometers at the south of Bogotá (Pasto-Popayan-Cali-Bogotá) and about 250 kilometers at the north of Quito (Pasto-Ipiales-Ibarra-Quito). To Pasto it is easy to access from the main Colombian cities by car (from Bogotá or Medellín it would take about 16 hours by bus; from Cali about 6 and from Quito about 6 hours). The department has four airports: the National Airport Antonio Nariño connects with the main Colombian airports; the National Airport San Luis Ipiales, the city that is just at the border with Ecuador; and Tumaco, in the Pacific Region, has two, Tumaco National Airport and the La Florida Airport.

La Cocha Lagoon: Balcony to the Amazon

The beauty of La Cocha has not doubts. It is one of the atractions of Colombia at only 27 kms at the south-east of the city of Pasto. It is located in a humid wood, the first slopes to the Amazon Region and at the east part of Nudo de los Pastos, a mountain system with altitudes of 2800 m.u.s.l. where the Colombian Andes are divided in the two main ranges toward the north: Western and Easter Ranges. The lagoon is an afluent of the Putumayo river, that at its time is an afluent of the Amazon river. The total area of the lagoon, according with the informations of Gaica Nariño, an ambientalist center, is 225 thousand hectars. The maximum deep is 75 meters and temperatures are among 8 and 14°C. This is one of the most visited places with a good offering of hotels and attention to tourists and it is also rich in different kind of animals and plants that are object of protection and studies.

Pasto: The Balcony of the Andes

Carnival in Pasto by Jorge L. Ricalde M.

San Juan de Pasto is the departamental capital of Nariño, a place that is famous since the colonial times as a very important spot between Quito and Popayan. During part of its history it was under the rule of Quito, one of the main cities of what was called the Vice-Royalty of New Granada. With the importance of the city of Popayan, the region would become integrated under that second city even until the creation of the Department of Nariño in 1904. The majority of the population of the department live in the mountainous part where the Colombian Andes start to have their own characteristics with the three division feautures of ranges. In Nariño it become the Western and Easter range and after, in the department of Huila, the Western range is divided again to make the Central range. High altitudes make great variaty to the views of the Andean Nariño. The most important mountains are volcanos: the Chiles volcano with altitudes of 4.718 m.u.s.l., the Cumbal volcano with its summit at 4.764 m.u.s.l., the Azufral volcano with its summit at 4.070 m.u.s.l., the Galeras volcano with 4.276 m.u.s.l. and Doña Juana volcano at 4.250 m.u.s.l. If high summits were not enough, the Department has also a surprising depression of the land named the Hoz de Minamá Cannyion.

The Galeras volcano guarding the city of Pasto. Picture by fefa.niigaki.

The Galeras volcano guards Pasto, a city that is 2.550 m.u.s.l. and has a population of 362.227. Pasto has been known in Colombia as la ciudad sorpresa (The surprising city) and the title is not mistaken: it has a fascinating view, the kindness of its people, order and commitment that atracts visitors. The Feast of Blacks and Whites between January 2 and 7 is one of the most popular events of Colombia and it was declared National Cultural Patrimony by the Congress of the Republic in 2002.

Tumaco: The Balcony of the Pacific Ocean

The other part of the Department is the Pacific Region where the main urban center is Tumaco. The city is located at west of Pasto and the region belongs to the Afro-Colombian culture, but with indigenous groups as well, the ones who are related to an ancient people called Tumacos, related also with the Incas from Peru. Tumaco is the second city of the Department of Nariño and the territory of the municipality makes the 12% of the department. The localization in a Bahia with different islans, rivers and other geographic feautures, makes Tumaco one of the most visited places of the Department.

Two brother countries

Pasto from the air, picture of the National Police of Colombia by Crca12.

When you talk about the Department of Nariño you have to mention Ecuador. It is in Nariño where you realize how near is Ecuador to Colombia, no by geography of course, but by history, culture and hopes, as it happens also with Venezuela and Panama, the countries that once make a single state. Quito is a city so familiar to Colombians as any other city and it is probably the same in Ecuador about Colombia. For this reason, economic integrations are a part of a common need for the development of the two countries of the northem Andean region. The history of a regional integration comes since the very time of the dissolution of the Republic of Gran Colombia in 1830. In 1969 Colombia and Ecuador signed an agreement of Andean Project that would become afterward the Andean Community in 1996. In 1989 both countries signed the Binational Commission of Neighborhood. Many other agreements show the necesity of walking together through development and the responsability of both countries to take care for each other. Tourism is also a good opportunity to do so, specially in the border areas. The Colombian departments that touch Ecuador are Nariño and Putumayo, but it is Nariño the most open place of interchanges since Putumayo still in its border a forest.

Ecuador is also one of the most visited countries by foreign tourists to South America and it has much to offer to international visitors, among them Colombians. It is easy to travel to Quito from cities like Cali, Neiva and, of course, Pasto. The same, it is easy to access from Ecuador to Colombia through the Department of Nariño.

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