objective: this research aimed to identify the causes of maternal mortality in the department of caldas (colombia) from 2004 to 2008, and to construct indicators of maternal mortality for the years contemplated; as well as a description of the phenomenon according to socio-cultural and demographic variables, accessibility, opportunity and quality of health services during pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum and the pre-existing pathological and obstetric history in the deceased mothers. methodology: the study was retrospective, descriptive of the population comprised of 49 maternal mortality events occurred in the department of caldas from 2004 to 2008, based on information provided by the territorial health direction of caldas. due to the poor quality of the information, only a descriptive analysis of each of the variables was possible, a deeper characterization of the phenomenon to reveal underlying causes and associations between them was not possible. results: the findings of this study demonstrate the need to qualify the personnel responsible of the health care of pregnant women in order to control risk factors and preventable components of maternal mortality in the department of caldas. conclusions: it is necessary to strengthen the epidemiological surveillance system that allows for timely and good quality for making decisions related to the reduction and eventual elimination of avoidable maternal mortality.