Rivers in Colombia. Atrato is in the far northwest of the country near the Panama border
The Atrato River

The Atrato River (Spanish: Río Atrato) is a river of northwestern Colombia. It rises in the slopes of the Western Cordillera and flows almost due north to the Gulf of Urabá (or Gulf of Darién), where it forms a large, swampy delta.[1] Its course crosses the Chocó Department, forming that department's border with neighboring Antioquia in two places. Its total length is about 650 km (400 mi), and it is navigable as far as Quibdó (400 km / 250 mi).

Flowing through a narrow valley between the Cordillera and coastal range, it has only short tributaries, the principal ones being the Truando River, the Sucio River, and the Murrí River. The gold and platinum mines of Chocó line some of its confluents, and the river sands are auriferous.[1]

Northwestern Colombia encompasses an area of great diversity in wildlife. During the Pleistocene era at the height of the Atrato river, where it intersected the Cauca-Magdalena, the area was covered by a sea. It is proposed that this created a geographic barrier that may have caused many species to diverge through the process of allopatric speciation.[2] For example, Philip Hershkovitz proposed that the cotton-top tamarin (Saguinus oedipus) and the white-footed tamarin (Saguinus leocopus) diverged by the Atrato, and are today principally separated by the river.[2]


In the 19th and early 20th centuries the San Juan River (Colombia) and the Atrato attracted considerable attention as a feasible route for a trans-isthmian canal,[1] but the Panama Canal was built instead.

The Constitutional Court of Colombia found in November 2016 that the Atrato River basin possesses rights to "protection, conservation, maintenance, and restoration." This ruling came about as a result of degradation to the river basin from mining, impacting nature and harming of Indigenous peoples and their culture. The court referred to the New Zealand declaration of the Whanganui River as a legal person holding environmental personhood. The court ordered that joint guardianship would be undertaken in the representation of the Atrato River basin. Similarly to the New Zealand declaration, the representatives would come from the national government and the Indigenous people living in the basin.[3]


  1. ^ a b c   One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Atrato". Encyclopædia Britannica. 2 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 876.
  2. ^ a b Hershkovitz, P (1977). Living New World monkeys (Platyrrhini): with an introduction to Primates.
  3. ^ "Press Release: Colombia Constitutional Court Finds Atrato River Possesses Rights". CELDF. 2017-05-04. Retrieved 2019-03-25.

Coordinates: 7°22′56″N 77°06′39″W / 7.38222°N 77.11083°W / 7.38222; -77.11083