The territory of what is now Colombia was originally inhabited by indigenous peoples including the Muisca, Quimbaya, and Tairona. The Spanish arrived in 1499 and initiated a period of conquest and colonization ultimately creating the Viceroyalty of New Granada (comprising modern-day Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, north-western Brazil and Panama), with its capital at Bogotá.
Independence from Spain was won in 1819, but by 1830 “Gran Colombia” had collapsed with the secession of Venezuela and Ecuador.
What is now Colombia and Panama emerged as the Republic of New Granada. The new nation experimented with federalism as the Granadine Confederation (1858), and then the United States of Colombia (1863), before the Republic of Colombia was finally declared in 1886. Panama seceded in 1903. Colombia was the first constitutional government in South America, and an important promoter of the Pan American organizations, initially through the Congress of Panama and later as founder of the Organization of American States. The Liberal and Conservative parties, founded in 1848 and 1849, are two of the oldest surviving political parties in the Americas.
Colombia is ethnically diverse. The interaction between descendants of the original native inhabitants, Spanish colonists, African people originally brought to the country as slaves and 20th-century immigrants from Europe and the Middle East, have produced a varied cultural heritage. This has also been influenced by Colombia’s varied geography. The majority of the urban centres are located in the highlands of the Andes mountains, but Colombian territory also encompasses Amazon rainforest, tropical grassland and both Caribbean and Pacific coastlines. Ecologically, Colombia is one of the world’s 17 megadiverse countries, and is considered the most megadiverse per square kilometer.
Tensions between political parties have frequently erupted into violence, most notably in the Thousand Days War (1899–1902) and La Violencia, beginning in 1948. Since the 1960s, government forces, left-wing insurgents and right-wing paramilitaries have been engaged in the continent’s longest-running armed conflict. This escalated dramatically in the 1980s. Since 2010 the violence has decreased, with some paramilitary groups demobilising as part of a controversial peace process and the guerrillas losing control of much of the territory they once dominated.
Colombia is considered a strong performer of the EPI (Environmental Performance Indicator) policies, ranking second among all the Latin American countries, just after Costa Rica, and the 27th considering all the countries involved in the rank.
The name “Colombia” is derived from the last name of Christopher Columbus (Italian: Cristoforo Colombo; Spanish: Cristóbal Colón). It was conceived by the Venezuelan revolutionary Francisco de Miranda as a reference to all the New World, but especially to those under the Spanish and Portuguese rule. The name was later adopted by the Republic of Colombia of 1819, formed out of the territories of the old Viceroyalty of New Granada (modern-day Colombia, Panama, Venezuela and Ecuador).
In 1835, when Venezuela and Ecuador parted ways, the Cundinamarca region that remained became a new country – the Republic of New Granada. In 1858 the New Granada officially changed its name to the Granadine Confederation, then in 1863 the United States of Colombia, before finally adopting its present name – the Republic of Colombia – in 1886.
To refer to the country, the Colombian government uses the terms Colombia and República de Colombia.
Due to its geographical location, the present territory of Colombia was a corridor of populations between Mesoamerica, the Caribbean, the Andes and the Amazon. The oldest archaeological finds are from sites at Monsú and Pubenza, dating from about 20,000 BC. Other vestiges indicate that there was also early occupation in regions like El Abra between Tocancipá, Zipaquirá and Tequendama in Cundinamarca. These sites correspond to the Paleoindian period. In Puerto Hormiga, traces of the archaic period have been found, including the oldest pottery discovered in America, dating from about 3000 BC.
Approximately 10,000 BC, the territory of what is now Colombia was inhabited by indigenous people including the Muisca, Quimbaya, and Tairona. Hunter-gatherer societies existed near present-day Bogotá (at “El Abra” and “Tequendama”) which traded with one another and with cultures living in the Magdalena River Valley. Beginning in the 1st millennium BC, groups of Amerindians developed the political system of “cacicazgos” with a pyramidal structure of power headed by caciques. The Muiscas inhabited mainly the area of what is now the Departments of Boyacá and Cundinamarca high plateau (Altiplano Cundiboyacense). They farmed maize, potato, quinoa and cotton, and traded worked gold, emeralds, blankets, ceramic handicrafts, coca and salt with neighboring nations. The Taironas inhabited northern Colombia in the isolated Andes mountain range of Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.
Spanish discovery (1499–1525 AD)
Spanish explorers, led by Rodrigo de Bastidas, made the first exploration of the Caribbean littoral in 1500. Christopher Columbus navigated near the Caribbean in 1502. In 1508, Vasco Núñez de Balboa started the conquest of the territory through the region of Urabá. In 1513, he was the first European to discover the Pacific Ocean, which he called Mar del Sur (or “Sea of the South”) and which in fact would bring the Spaniards to Peru and Chile.
Alonso de Ojeda (who had sailed with Columbus) reached the Guajira Peninsula in 1500. Santa Marta was founded in 1525, and Cartagena in 1533. Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada led an expedition to the interior in 1535, and founded the “New City of Granada”, the name of which soon changed to “Santa Fé”. Two other notable journeys by Spaniards to the interior took place in the same period. Sebastian de Belalcazar, conqueror of Quito, traveled north and founded Cali, in 1536, and Popayán, in 1537; Nicolas Federman crossed the Llanos Orientales and went over the Eastern Cordillera.
The Caribbean people, indigenous to Colombia, experienced a reduction in population due to conquest by the Spanish as well as European-carried diseases such as smallpox, to which they had no immunity. In the 16th century, Europeans began to bring slaves from Africa.
Colonial times (1525–1808)
The Spanish settled along the north coast of today’s Colombia as early as the 16th century, but their first permanent settlement, at Santa Marta, was not established until 1525. In 1549, the institution of the Audiencia in Santa Fe de Bogotá gave that city the status of capital of New Granada, which comprised in large part what is now territory of Colombia.
With the risk that the land was deserted, the Spanish Crown sold properties to the governors, conquerors and their descendants creating large farms and possession of mines. Slaves were introduced as labor. Also to protect the indigenous population decimated, and Indian reservations were created. The repopulation was achieved by allowing colonization by farmers and their families who came from Spain. With this began the colonial period. New Granada was ruled by the Royal Audience of Santa Fe de Bogotá, but important decisions were taken to the colony from Spain by the Council of the Indies.
A royal decree of 1713 approved the legality of Palenque de San Basilio founded by runaway slaves from the 15th century, slaves had fled and sought refuge in the jungles of the Caribbean coast. The Spanish forces could not tolerate them and ended up submitting, thereby giving rise to the first free place in the Americas. Its main leader was Benkos Biohó, born in the region Bioho, Guinea Bissau, West Africa. Palenque de San Basilio was declared in 2005 as a “Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO.
In 1717 the Viceroyalty of New Granada was originally created, and then it was temporarily removed, to finally be reestablished in 1739. The Viceroyalty had Santa Fé de Bogotá as its capital. This Viceroyalty included some other provinces of northwestern South America which had previously been under the jurisdiction of the Viceroyalties of New Spain or Peru and correspond mainly to today’s Venezuela, Ecuador and Panama. So, Bogotá became one of the principal administrative centers of the Spanish possessions in the New World, along with Lima and Mexico City, though it remained somewhat backward compared to those two cities in several economic and logistical ways.
The 18th-century priest, botanist and mathematician José Celestino Mutis (1732–1808), was delegated by the viceroy Antonio Caballero y Góngora to conduct an inventory of the nature of the New Granada. This became known as the Royal Botanical Expedition to New Granada which classified plants, wildlife and founded the first astronomical observatory in the city of Santa Fe de Bogotá. On 15 August 1801 the Prussian scientist Alexander von Humboldt reached Fontibón where he joined Mutis in New Granada expedition to Quito.
Independence from Spain (1808–1824)
Since the beginning of the periods of conquest and colonization, there were several rebel movements under Spanish rule, most of them were either crushed or remained too weak to change the overall situation. The last one which sought outright independence from Spain sprang up around 1810, following the independence of St. Domingue (present-day Haiti) in 1804, which provided a non-negligible degree of support to the eventual leaders of this rebellion: Simón Bolívar and Francisco de Paula Santander.
A movement initiated by Antonio Nariño, who opposed Spanish centralism and led the opposition against the viceroyalty, led to the independence of Cartagena in November 1811, and the formation of two independent governments which fought a civil war – a period known as La Patria Boba. The following year Nariño proclaimed the United Provinces of New Granada, headed by Camilo Torres Tenorio. Despite the successes of the rebellion, the emergence of two distinct ideological currents among the liberators (federalism and centralism) gave rise to an internal clash which contributed to the reconquest of territory by the Spanish. The viceroyalty was restored under the command of Juan de Samano, whose regime punished those who participated in the uprisings. The retribution stoked renewed rebellion, which, combined with a weakened Spain, made possible a successful rebellion led by the Venezuelan-born Simón Bolívar, who finally proclaimed independence in 1819. The pro-Spanish resistance was finally defeated in 1822 in the present territory of Colombia and in 1823 in Venezuela.
The territory of the Viceroyalty of New Granada became the Republic of Colombia organized as a union of Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela (Panama was then an integral part of Colombia). The Congress of Cúcuta in 1821 adopted a constitution for the new Republic. Simón Bolívar became the first President of Colombia, and Francisco de Paula Santander was made Vice President. However, the new republic was unstable and ended with the rupture of Venezuela in 1829, followed by Ecuador in 1830.
Post-independence and republicanism (1824–1930)
Colombia was the first constitutional government in South America, and the Liberal and Conservative parties, founded in 1848 and 1849 respectively, are two of the oldest surviving political parties in the Americas.
Internal political and territorial divisions led to the secession of Venezuela and Quito (today’s Ecuador) in 1830. The so-called “Department of Cundinamarca” adopted the name “Nueva Granada“, which it kept until 1856 when it became the “Confederación Granadina” (Granadine Confederation). After a two-year civil war in 1863, the “United States of Colombia” was created, lasting until 1886, when the country finally became known as the Republic of Colombia. Internal divisions remained between the bipartisan political forces, occasionally igniting very bloody civil wars, the most significant being the Thousand Days’ War (1899–1902).
This, together with the United States of America’s intentions to influence the area (especially the Panama Canal construction and control) led to the separation of the Department of Panama in 1903 and the establishment of it as a nation. The United States paid Colombia $25,000,000 in 1921, seven years after completion of the canal, for redress of President Roosevelt’s role in the creation of Panama, and Colombia recognized Panama under the terms of the Thomson-Urrutia Treaty. Colombia was engulfed in the Year-Long War with Peru over a territorial dispute involving the Amazonas Department and its capital Leticia.
The Violence and the National Front (1930–1974)
Soon after, Colombia achieved a relative degree of political stability, which was interrupted by a bloody conflict that took place between the late 1940s and the early 1950s, a period known as La Violencia (“The Violence”). Its cause was mainly mounting tensions between the two leading political parties, which subsequently ignited after the assassination of the Liberal presidential candidate Jorge Eliécer Gaitán on 9 April 1948. The ensuing riots in Bogotá, known as El Bogotazo, spread throughout the country and claimed the lives of at least 180,000 Colombians.
From 1953 to 1964 the violence between the two political parties decreased first when Gustavo Rojas deposed the President of Colombia in a coup d’état and negotiated with the Guerrillas, and then under the military junta of General Gabriel París Gordillo.
After Rojas’ deposition, the Colombian Conservative Party and Colombian Liberal Party agreed to create the “National Front“, a coalition which would jointly govern the country. Under the deal, the presidency would alternate between conservatives and liberals every 4 years for 16 years; the two parties would have parity in all other elective offices. The National Front ended “La Violencia”, and National Front administrations attempted to institute far-reaching social and economic reforms in cooperation with the Alliance for Progress. In the end, the contradictions between each successive Liberal and Conservative administration made the results decidedly mixed. Despite the progress in certain sectors, many social and political problems continued, and guerrilla groups were formally created such as the FARC, ELN and M-19 to fight the government and political apparatus.
Medellín and Cali cartels
Emerging in the late 1970s, powerful and violent drug cartels further developed during the 1980s and 1990s. The Medellín Cartel under Pablo Escobar and the Cali Cartel, in particular, exerted political, economic and social influence in Colombia during this period. These cartels also financed and influenced different illegal armed groups throughout the political spectrum. Drug dealers and landlords will ally to fight the common enemy of the left guerrillas and created or influenced paramilitary groups.
Constitution of 1991
The new Colombian Constitution of 1991, ratified after being drafted by the Constituent Assembly of Colombia, included key provisions on political, ethnic, human and gender rights. The new constitution initially prohibited the extradition of Colombian nationals, causing accusations that drug cartels had successfully lobbied for the provision; extradition resumed in 1996 after the provision was repealed. The cartels had previously promoted a violent campaign against extradition, leading to many terrorist attacks and mafia-style executions. They also influenced the government and political structure of Colombia through corruption, to such label that by 1996 up to the third part of the senate were put by the mafia. These circumstances were extensively uncovered in the justice case called the “8000 case” 8000 Process which was the biggest political scandal of the 90s.
Since the promulgation of the Constitution of 1991 and the reforms made, the country has continued to be plagued by the effects of the drug trade, guerrilla insurgencies like FARC, and paramilitary groups such as the AUC, which along with other minor factions have engaged in a bloody internal armed conflict. President Andrés Pastrana and the FARC attempted to negotiate a solution to the conflict between 1999 and 2002. The government set up a “demilitarized” zone, but repeated tensions and crises led the Pastrana administration to conclude that the negotiations were ineffectual. Pastrana also began to implement the Plan Colombia initiative, with the dual goal of ending the armed conflict and promoting a strong anti-narcotic strategy.
Colombian armed conflict, 2002 – present
During the presidency of Álvaro Uribe, the government applied more military pressure on the FARC and other outlawed groups. After the offensive, supported by aid from the United States, many security indicators improved. Reported kidnappings showed a steep decrease (from 3,700 in 2000 to 172 in 2009 (January -October )) as did intentional homicides (from 28,837 in 2002 to 15,817 in 2009, according to police, while the health system reported a decline from 28,534 to 17,717 during the same period). The rate of reported abductions declined steadily for almost a decade until 2010, when 280 cases were reported between January and October, most concentrated in the Medellín area. While rural areas and jungles remained dangerous, the overall reduction of violence led to the growth of internal travel and tourism.
According to official statistics from the Colombian Army the FARC-EP had a total of 18,000 members as of December 2010, with 9,000 of them being regular guerrillas and the rest armed militia members operating in civilian clothing in cities and villages. An independent researcher speaking to Time magazine claimed that the FARC-EP have 30,000 such militia members in 2011, indicating a shift in rebel strategy. This opinion contradicts widely accepted official figures of 30.000 members in 2002 but over 22.500 guerrilla members, including 5.8000 militia members surrendering between that year and 2008, although the Colombian Government agrees on a shift in strategy towards militia actions, caused by the military pressure that makes more difficult for FARC to field regular guerrilla units. The FARC’s commander in chief Alfonso Cano was killed by security forces in November 2011. He was replaced by Timoleón Jiménez, who assumed the duty of first commander just days after Cano’s death. Jiménez is thought to move in the mountain corridor covering the Cesar Department, Norte de Santander and the Bolívar Department. The smaller rebel group Ejército de Liberación Nacional is estimated to have between 2900 and 5000 members as of 2010. After the demobilization of the right-wing paramilitary group Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia the country has seen the rise of a number of neo-paramilitary groups such as Los Rastrojos and Los Urabeños, who have been accused of widespread murder, drug trafficking and Land grabbing.
Meanwhile Colombia’s homicide rate almost halved between 2002 and 2006. Due to eradication policies, Colombia with a strong anti-narcotic strategy has fought against groups responsible for the production of cocaine as the FARC, achieving a great decrease in cocaine production, allowing to improve security in the country. The United States of America is still the world’s largest consumer of cocaine.
Peace process in Colombia, 2012 – present
The Peace process in Colombia, 2012 refers to the dialogue between the Colombian government and guerrilla of FARC-EP with the aim to find a political solution to the armed conflict living-officially-the South American country for 64 years (48 of whom have been with the FARC-EP). The Colombian government and rebel groups meet in Cuba. Talks have been positive and represent breakthroughs that comprise end the conflict.
The geography of Colombia is characterized by its five main natural regions that present their own unique characteristics, from the Andes mountain range region shared with Ecuador and Venezuela; the Pacific coastal region shared with Panama and Ecuador; the Caribbean coastal region shared with Venezuela and Panama; the Llanos (plains) shared with Venezuela; to the Amazon Rainforest region shared with Venezuela, Brazil, Peru and Ecuador. Colombia is the country in the planet more characterized by a high biodiversity, with the highest rate of species by area unit worldwide and it has the largest number of endemisms (species that are not found naturally anywhere else) of any country. About 10% of the species of the Earth live in Colombia, including over 1800 species of birds, more than in Europe and North America combined, and it hosts 456 species of mammals, more than any other country in the world. It is the only South American country which borders both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
Colombia is bordered to the east by Venezuela and Brazil; to the south by Ecuador and Peru; to the north by Panama and the Caribbean Sea; and to the west by Ecuador and the Pacific Ocean. Including its Caribbean islands, it lies between latitudes 14°N and 5°S, and longitudes 66° and 82°W.
Part of the Ring of Fire, a region of the world subject to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, Colombia is dominated by the Andes (which contain the majority of the country’s urban centres). Beyond the Colombian Massif (in the south-western departments of Cauca and Nariño) these are divided into three branches known as cordilleras (mountain ranges): the Cordillera Occidental, running adjacent to the Pacific coast and including the city of Cali; the Cordillera Central, running between the Cauca and Magdalena river valleys (to the west and east respectively) and including the cities of Medellín, Manizales, Pereira and Armenia; and the Cordillera Oriental, extending north east to the Guajira Peninsula and including Bogotá, Bucaramanga and Cúcuta. Peaks in the Cordillera Occidental exceed 13,000 ft (3,962 m), and in the Cordillera Central and Cordillera Oriental they reach 18,000 ft (5,486 m). At 8,500 ft (2,591 m), Bogotá is the highest city of its size in the world.
East of the Andes lies the savanna of the Llanos, part of the Orinoco River basin, and, in the far south east, the jungle of the Amazon rainforest. Together these lowlands comprise over half Colombia’s territory, but they contain less than 3% of the population. To the north the Caribbean coast, home to 20% of the population and the location of the major port cities of Barranquilla and Cartagena, generally consists of low-lying plains, but it also contains the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range, which includes the country’s tallest peaks (Pico Cristóbal Colón and Pico Simón Bolívar), and the Guajira Desert. By contrast the narrow and discontinuous Pacific coastal lowlands, backed by the Serranía de Baudó mountains, are sparsely populated and covered in dense vegetation. The principal Pacific port is Buenaventura.
Colombian territory also includes a number of Caribbean and Pacific islands. This is considered by some as a sixth region, comprising those areas outside continental Colombia, including the department of San Andrés y Providencia in the Caribbean Sea and the islands of Malpelo and Gorgona in the Pacific Ocean. However, cultural ties are with the respective coastlines.
Hydrology and climate
The hydrography of Colombia is one of the richest in the world. Its main rivers are Magdalena, Cauca, Guaviare, and Caquetá. Colombia has four main drainage systems: the Pacific drain, the Caribbean drain, the Orinoco Basin and the Amazon Basin. The Orinoco and Amazon Rivers mark limits with Colombia to Venezuela and Peru respectively.
The striking variety in temperature and precipitation results principally from differences in elevation. Temperatures range from very hot at sea level to relatively cold at higher elevations but vary little with the season. Temperatures generally decrease about 3.5°F (2°C) for every 1,000-ft (300-m) increase in altitude above sea level, presenting perpetual snowy peaks to hot river valleys and basins. Rainfall is concentrated in two wet seasons (roughly corresponding to the spring and autumn of temperate latitudes) but varies considerably by location. Colombia’s Pacific coast has one of the highest levels of rainfall in the world, with the south east often drenched by more than 200 in (500 cm) of rain per year. On the other hand rainfall in parts of the Guajira Peninsula seldom exceeds 30 in (75 cm) per year. Rainfall in the rest of the country runs between these two extremes.
Colombians customarily describe their country in terms of the climatic zones. Below 900 meters (2,953 ft) in elevation is the tierra caliente (hot land), where temperatures vary between 24 and 38 °C (75.2 and 100.4 °F). The most productive land and the majority of the population can be found in the tierra templada (temperate land, between 900 and 1,980 meters (2,953 and 6,496 ft)), which provide the best conditions for the country’s coffee growers, and the tierra fría (cold land, 1,980 and 3,500 meters (6,496 and 11,483 ft)), where wheat and potatoes dominate. In the tierra fría mean temperatures range between 10 and 19 °C (50 and 66.2 °F). Beyond the tierra fría lie the alpine conditions of the zona forestada (forested zone) and then the treeless grasslands of the páramos. Above 4,500 meters (14,764 ft), where temperatures are below freezing, is the tierra helada, a zone of permanent snow and ice.
About 86% of the country’s total area lies in the tierra caliente. Included in this, and interrupting the temperate area of the Andean highlands, are the long and narrow extension of the Magdalena Valley and a small extension in the Cauca Valley. The tierra fría constitutes just 6% of the total area, but supports about a quarter of the country’s population.
Colombia has a large number of taxonomic groups animals and flora typical equator which is, in addition to varieties of migrations wildlife from around the world. Colombia is one of the megadiverse countries in biodiversity, ranking third in living species and first in bird species. As for plants, the country has between 40,000 and 45,000 plant species, equivalent to 10 or 20% of total global species, considered very high for a country of intermediate size. In total, Colombia is the second most biodiverse country in the world, after Brazil.
Colombia has a “Protected areas of Colombia|National Protected Areas System” (SINAP) administered by the Ministry of Environment, Housing and Territorial Development. It also has a “National Parks of Colombia|National Park System”, under the Directorate of National Parks, at the end of 2007, comprising over 11% of the mainland and has 55 protected areas, which testify to the richness and biodiversity of the country and are in the Andean Region, 25 (in the Knot Pasture, 2, in the Cordillera Occidental, 4, in Central, 6, and the East, 13), in the Caribbean Region, 9, in the Orinoco, 2, in the Amazon, 10, on the Pacific Coast, 5, and finally, in the Islands, 3. The areas are classified as:National Parks (41), Fauna and Flora Sanctuary (10), National Reserves (2), Via Park (1) and Unique Natural Area (1).
For many years serious internal armed conflict deterred tourists from visiting Colombia, with official travel advisories warning against travel to the country. However, in recent years numbers have risen sharply, thanks to improvements in security resulting from former President Álvaro Uribe’s “democratic security” strategy, which has included significant increases in military strength and police presence throughout the country and pushed rebel groups further away from the major cities, highways and tourist sites likely to attract international visitors. Foreign tourist visits were predicted to have risen from 0.5 million in 2003 to 1.3 million in 2007, while Lonely Planet picked Colombia as one of their top ten world destinations for 2006. In 2010, tourism in Colombia increased 11% according to UNWTO Tourism Highlights for that year.
Popular tourist attractions include the historic Candelaria district of central Bogotá, the walled city and beaches of Cartagena, the colonial towns of Santa Fe de Antioquia, Popayán,Villa de Leyva and Santa Cruz de Mompox, and the Las Lajas Sanctuary and the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá. Tourists are also drawn to Colombia’s numerous festivals, includingFeria de Cali (Carnaval of Cali), the Barranquilla Carnival, the Carnival of Blacks and Whites in Pasto, Flower Fair in Medellín and the Ibero-American Theater Festival in Bogotá. Meanwhile, because of the improved security, Caribbean cruise ships now stop at Cartagena and Santa Marta.
The great variety in geography, flora and fauna across Colombia has also resulted in the development of an ecotourist industry, concentrated in the country’s national parks. Popular ecotourist destinations include: along the Caribbean coast, the Tayrona National Natural Park in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range and Cabo de la Vela on the tip of the Guajira Peninsula; the Nevado del Ruiz volcano, the Cocora valley and the Tatacoa Desert in the central Andean region, the Farallones de Cali National Natural Park, in the departament of Valle del Cauca; Amacayacu National Park in the Amazon River basin; and the Pacific islands of Malpelo and Gorgona, there other unique landscapes like the river of the seven colors in Meta. Colombia is home to seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Colombia lies at the crossroads of Latin America and the broader American continent, and as such has been hit by a wide range of cultural influences. Native American, Spanish and other European, African, American, Caribbean, and Middle Eastern influences, as well as other Latin American cultural influences, are all present in Colombia’s modern culture. Urban migration, industrialization, globalization, and other political, social and economic changes have also left an impression.
Historically, the country’s imposing landscape left its various regions largely isolated from one another, resulting in the development of very strong regional identities, in many cases stronger than the national. Modern transport links and means of communication have mitigated this and done much to foster a sense of nationhood. Accent, dress, music, food, politics and general attitude vary greatly between the Bogotanos and other residents of the central highlands, the paisas of Antioquia and the coffee region, the costeños of theCaribbean coast, the llaneros of the eastern plains, and the inhabitants of the Pacific coast and the vast Amazon region to the south east.
An inheritance from the colonial era, Colombia remains a deeply Roman Catholic country and maintains a large base of Catholic traditions which provide a point of unity for its multicultural society. Colombia has many celebrations and festivals throughout the year, and the majority are rooted in these Catholic religious traditions. However, many are also infused with a diverse range of other influences. Prominent examples of Colombia’s festivals include the Feria de Cali, Barranquilla Carnival, the Carnival of Blacks and Whites Pasto, Nariño, Medellín’s Festival of the Flowers and Bogotá’s Ibero-American Theater Festival
The mixing of various ethnic traditions is reflected in Colombia’s music and dance. The most well-known Colombian genres are cumbia and vallenato, the latter now strongly influenced by global pop culture. A powerful and unifying cultural medium in Colombia is television. Notably, the telenovela Betty La Fea has gained international success through localized versions in the United States, Mexico, and elsewhere. Television has also played a role in the development of the local film industry.
The language spoken is as well a matter of pride, having as many accents as cultural regions. Results special the orthodoxy in the use of the Spanish language, since the times of the creation of the Academia de la Lengua, just second in terms of relevance to the Real Academia Española, in Europe.
Famous Colombians include:
- Nobel Prize winning author Gabriel García Márquez
- Actor, film producer, voice artist, and comedian, John Leguizamo.
- Writers Fernando Vallejo, Laura Restrepo and Álvaro Mutis
- Plastic artist Fernando Botero
- Neuroscientist, and currently the Thomas and Suzanne Murphy Professor of Neuroscience and Chairman of the department of Physiology & Neuroscience at the NYU School of Medicine, Rodolfo Llinás
- Professor of microbiology and inventor, with particular expertise in biogenesis, winner of the NASA Technology Award. 2003. Raul Cuero
- Colombian-American threat analyst and “grey hat” hacker, Adrian Lamo
- Musicians Shakira, Juanes, Carlos Vives, Joe Arroyo and Fanny Lú
- Actress Sofía Vergara, Catalina Sandino Moreno and actor John Leguizamo
- Olympic-winners Mariana Pajón, Maria Isabel Urrutia, Helmut Bellingrodt, Diego Fernando Salazar, Rigoberto Urán, Óscar Figueroa, Caterine Ibargüen, Clemente Rojas, Alfonso Pérez, Jorge Julio Rocha, Ximena Restrepo, Mabel Mosquera, María Luisa Calle, Jackeline Rentería, Yuri Alvear, Carlos Mario Oquendo
- Athletes Juan Pablo Montoya in NASCAR, Edgar Rentería and Orlando Cabrera in Major League Baseball, and Camilo Villegas in professional golf.
- Soccer players Falcao (Atlético Madrid) and Mario Yepes (AC MIlan), and retired players Carlos Valderrama, Iván Ramiro Córdoba, Faustino Asprilla and Freddy Rincón
- Andrés Orozco-Estrada Houston Symphony Orchestra music director. He replaces Hans Graf, who has led the orchestra for 12 years and who will continue as conductor laureate
As in many Latin American countries, Colombians have a passion for association football. The Colombian national football team is seen as a symbol of unity and national pride.
The Colombian cuisine developed mainly from the food traditions of European countries. Spanish, Italian and French culinary influences can all be seen in Colombian cooking. The cuisine of neighboring Latin American countries, Mexico, the United States and the Caribbean, as well as the cooking traditions of the country’s indigenous inhabitants, have all influenced Colombian food. For example, cuy or macliona, which is an indigenous cuisine, is eaten in the Andes region of south-western Colombia.
Many national symbols, both objects and themes, have arisen from Colombia’s diverse cultural traditions and aim to represent what Colombia, and the Colombian people, have in common. Cultural expressions in Colombia are promoted by the government through the Ministry of Culture.
Colombia’s national symbols are representative elements within the country and outside the country. Both the flag, emblem and anthem are currently regulated by Law 12 of 1984 which dictates the general provisions of these symbols.
The Flag of Colombia, is described as a rectangle triband yellow, blue and red in 2:1:1 ratio, meaning three horizontal stripes, with yellow on top of it with half the width of the flag, blue in the middle occupying a quarter of the width and red below, occupying the last cuarto. Originated tricolor composition created in 1801 by General Francisco de Miranda, who described in his diary military use of primary colors as a flag to represent Latin American nations at that time were in the process of independence. It was definitively adopted on 26 November 1861. The meaning of the colors are: Yellow: represents all the gold found in the Colombian land. Blue: represents the seas on Colombia’s shores. Red: represents the blood spilled on the battlegrounds by the heroes who gained Colombia’s freedom.
The coat of arms of Colombia is considered the symbols of all symbols in Colombia. The coat of arms integrates the major symbols for which the Colombian identity prevails. It was updated by Protocol based in Decree 1967 of 1991 as stated in the Colombian Constitution of 1991. The coat of arms of Colombia is only used in the center of the flag of the President of Colombia, war flag of Colombia and official documents. It can also be used for educational or display purposes within the guidelines of respect for the symbol.
The National Anthem of Colombia is composed of a choir and eleven stanzas and was written by President Rafael Núñez, originally as an ode to celebrate the independence of Cartagena. The music was composed by Italian Oreste Sindici at the behest of actor José Domingo Torres, under President Rafael Núñez and presented to the public for the first time on 11 November 1887. The song became very popular and was quickly adopted, but spontaneously, as the national anthem of Colombia.
Colombia is located in northwestern South America, bordered to the northwest by Panama; to the north by the Caribbean Sea; to the east by Venezuela and Brazil; to the south by Ecuador and Peru; and to the west by the Pacific Ocean.
Colombia and Latin America are treasure houses of awesome music, art, literature and cultural events – not that you’d know as if you just searched on Amazon it seems the only books published focus on women, violence and drugs!
We have put together an idiosyncratic list of sounds, books, festivals and visual treats to explore. We hope you enjoy broadening your understanding of this beautiful and complex destination.
You can listen to podcasts in English about Colombia’s music scene here:
Some Colombian artists to check out include Bomba Estereo, Chocquibtown, Systema Solar, Los Aterciopelados, Lucho Bermudez, Juanes, Sidestepper and Toto la Momposina. From elsewhere in Latin America we really like Anna Tijoux, Calle 13, Gaby Moreno, Carla Morrison, Ceu, Violeta Parra, Mercedes Sosa, Charlie Garcia and Fito Paez.
National Public Radio in the US has an Alt Latino podcast every week in which they showcase emerging artists from a variety of genres and is well worth a listen:
Colombia is rightly famous for its master of magical realism Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Popular contemporary authors include Jorge Franco, Laura Restrepo, William Ospina, Mario Mendoza, Juan Carlos Botero, Evelio Rosero and Juan Gabriel Vasquez.
Searching The Guardian’s books section for Colombia, you can find a number of recommendations for poetry and literature that are published in English.
The Open Veins of Latin America by Eduardo Galeano is worth a read for its perspective on historical contributions to development and poverty in the region.
Fernando Botero is perhaps Colombia’s most famous artist and it is not difficult to find public displays of his paintings and sculpture in the major cities. Others worth checking out include Manzur and Obregon. It’s easy to see graffiti art right through Colombia’s big cities, in Bogota travel by Transmilenio or walk throughout NQS between Calles 63 and 80 to see some ever-changing examples.
These days Colombia produces films across a wide range of genres. Our picks (usually easy to find from a street vendor, although some are difficult to get with subtitles) include:
- La Vendedora del Rosas (The Rose Seller)
- La Estrategia del Caracol (The Strategy of the Snail)
- La Gente de la Universal (People of the Universe)
- Los Viajes del Viento (Travels of the Wind)
- Los Colores de la Montaña (Colours of the Mountain)
- Voces Pequeñas (Small Voices)
- Mi Gente Linda Mi Gente Bella Mi gente Colombiana (My Beautiful People, My Stunning People, My Colombian People)
There is always something happening in the big cities of Colombia, so if you can understand spanish it is worth checking out local publications to see what gems are coming up – often for free.
In Bogota you can often find things on:
In Manizales check out:
For Cali you can explore:
And while in Medellin you might find something that takes your fancy here:
There’s always a reason to party in Colombia – and a festival to cater to every taste. Here are some ideas to get you started. The dates for these tend to change each year, so do so googling to get up-to-date info.
- Feria de Manizales (Jan)
- Hay Festival of Literature and the Arts Cartagena (Jan)
- Bogota Ibero American Theatre Festival (March – Bi-annual)
- Rock al Parque Bogota (July)
- Festival de los Flores, Medellin (July)
- Petronio Alvarez Festival of Afro-Colombia Music, Cali (August)
- Salsa al Parque Bogota (August)
- International Theatre Festival, Manizales (Sept)
- Feria de Cali (Dec)
Although Colombia is not known as a foodie destination, there is heaps of amazing exotic fruits and other tasty treats that are worth a try. A fresh juice is always good – try yummy combos like Guanabana with Strawberry or Lulo with Yierbabuena. Other interesting fruits include Zapote, the Honey Gold Pineapple (Pina Oro Miel), the Chontaduro, Mora (berry), Maracuya (yellow passionfruit) and Nispero. At the bakery, hot Pan de Yuca and Almojabanas are usually yummy, and go pretty well with a homemade hot chocolate. At the pudding stalls, check out Three Milk Cake (Postre de Tres Leches) and the Baked Milk (Leche Asada). Bocadillo (Guava paste) and Arequipe (Caramalised Sweetened Condensed Milk) are super sweet snacks. You’ll find various forms of arepa’s (fried maize cakes) right throughout Colombia, the ones soaked in butter and cheese are usually delicious. The plains of Colombia are famous for their BBQs while the enormous Bandeja Paisa keeps the cholesterol up in Medellin and the Eje Cafetero. Keep warm with soups like Ajiaco and Sancocho de Gallina or Pescado. Ask for Calentado – a yummy mixture of beans, rice, plantains and other treats all mixed together.
There are a number of bloggers posting on their experiences living and traveling in Colombia:
You can also check out the perspective of Latino’s based overseas in these magazines:
Here are links for local and national newspapers and magazines (in Spanish).
also this source for news in English