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Regions of Colombia Today, Bogotá and the communities surround it have a total population approaching 8 million. Not only is the city Colombia’s major population center, but it is also the country’s political, economic, educational, and cultural heart. Eco-­ nomically, Bogotá is home to many corporations, as well as to Colombia’s stock exchange and to the offices of most foreign firms conducting business in the country. It also is a major import and export center. Culturally, as you would expect for a capital city of this size, Bogotá is very cosmopolitan. In fact, its nickname is the “Athens of Latin America.” Most of its people are of European origin, it is a center of learning and the arts, and its rich history is reflected in its beautiful architecture. Unfortunately, during recent decades, Bogotá’s image has become tarnished. By the 1990s, the city had the world’s high-­ est rate of murder and kidnapping. Today, however, crime has dropped sharply, and the city actually is safer than a number of U.S. urban ­centers. A number of smaller cities dot the landscape of the region’s high basins. Much of the economic activity remains primarily agricultural, and there are still a number of subsistence farm-­ ers. One major exception is the Paz del Río steel mill near Soga-­ moso, about 125 miles (200 kilometers) north of the capital. The plant is somewhat unique. All of the raw materials needed to manufacture steel are located nearby. Iron ore, limestone, coal, and an adequate water supply are all found within a radius of about 20 miles (32 kilometers). Lower Valleys in the Cordillera ­Oriental This region is made up of valleys at elevations below 7,000 feet (2,135 meters), including the valley of the Magdalena River to the west. When the Spanish arrived in Colombia, the region was thinly populated by scattered groups of Amerindians who eked out a meager living from farming, fishing, and hunt-­ ing. There was little mineral wealth to attract Spanish settlers. Further, conditions were not suited to the growing of tropical



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