Before the Spanish Colonization, Colombia was ruled by indigenous tribes. The two main tribes were Taironas, who are still living at Tayrona National Park, and the Muiscas, who inhabited the highlands near Bogotá. Actual Colombia, called like this due to Christopher Columbus, began to exist since the 1800s as a huge territory that once included Venezuela, Ecuador, and some parts of Brazil. Although Colombia had its independence ending the 1820´s, it wasn't until 1855 when La República de Colombia was officially founded.
During the next 100 years, politics were dominated by the Liberal-Conservative agreement which constantly led to Belic conflicts throughout the country. This bipartidistic hatred led to popular leader Jorge Eliécer Gaitán murder which ends en El Bogotazo in 1948, and gives a start to the period of ´the violence´. This period was characterized by waves of exodus, murders, and social conflicts which give frame to the first Colombian guerrillas.
From then on, Colombia has had to fight with guerrilla movements such as FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and ELN (Army of National Liberation). Following during the 70´s and 80´s, Colombia flooded with drug traffic with a Marihuana Bonanza and the start of cocaine production and traffic. Both traffickings influenced the guerrillas and give birth to the Cali and Medellin Cartels. With this situation and knowing that Colombia was the main source of international trafficking, USA governments put pressure to lead a War Against Drugs and the extermination of Marihuana and Coca crops in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. The enormous quantities of money that cartels and guerrillas made from this activity worsened the socio-political panorama of the 80´s and 90´s. A war between drug cartels and guerrillas, between Cali´s and Medellin´s cartels, and between narcos, guerrillas and the government, led to terrorism not only in rural areas but in the main cities as well.
In recent years, Colombia started a strong transformation, giving huge strides in recovering safety and stability, working in politics that led to social progress and economic growth. Guerrillas accepted peace agreements and narco-violence has ceased. In November 2016, the president signed a peace agreement with FARC to put an end to a 53-year-old conflict. Although there´s still plenty of work to be done, Colombia is strongly on a way to achieve peace and prosperity, and tourism is rising again.
Colombia doesn’t fall short with the number of places you can visit throughout the country. From Cartagena’s unique colonial-style town to Bogotá’s museums and architecture, to Tayrona National Park’s jungle towering over beautifully preserved beaches to Colombia’s social innovation city, Medellin. Among the endless options also lies desserts like La Tatacoa, the amazing lush greenery of the Amazon rainforest, and the alpine tundra ecosystems like El Cocuy.
Bogotá, the capital of Colombia, is inhabited by eight million people and parallels New York City in many ways with its endless amount of theaters, museums, parks, restaurants and various other attractions. It is the third-highest capital in South America, located at the eastern range of the Andes with a pretty consistent climate year-round that allows for the growth of an abundance of fruits and vegetables in the surrounding fincas. Some of the best things to do in Bogotá include the following. Firstly, a visit to Monserrate, the highest point in the city that overlooks all of Bogotá, is in order. Secondly, hit up the Paloquemao fruit market filled with every type of fruit imaginable and try them all. Thirdly, take a bike tour around the city as Bogotá’s bike path network or Ciclorutas is one of the most extensive in the world. Fourthly, enjoy some of the locations outside the city like Villa de Leyva, a beautiful old colonial style town 2 hours away or Guatavita lake, a large circular emerald-colored lake located 57 kilometers northeast of Bogotá.
Medellin, the second largest city of Colombia, is located centrally among the Andes. In February, the Urban Land Institute chose Medellín as the most innovative city in the world due to its recent advances in politics, education, social development and public transportation. Wondering the best places to visit in Medellin? Checkout Pueblito Paisa, a little old town preserved since 1977 with spectacular views over the city. Definitely make a stop at El Peñol in Guatapé, one of the unique places you can visit. Situated about two hours outside of Medellin is a giant rock, with 700 steps to the top, overlooking hundreds of beautiful islands.
Cartagena, contains the walled old town with cobblestone streets and colonial-style buildings enraptured with flower facades. The town, still miraculously preserved, was founded in the 16th century and was named a Unesco World Heritage Site. It’s located along the coast with a hot a climate and is easily accessible to many surrounding islands. If you're looking to get away for the day to a nice beach and cool off from the heat, take a trip to Rosario Islands or Fenix.
When meeting new people, it’s customary to give kisses on the cheek to women and handshakes with men. Also, when meeting with friends and colleagues, the same is customary for when you arrive as well as when you leave.
Colombians are generally happy and outgoing people that like to boast about their country. They are also very friendly and hospitable to foreigners and are eager to show off their country in a different light from how it’s been known for so many years, as a drug-ridden, dangerous place filled with criminals.
Colombia is known for its family-culture with Colombians spending most weekends with family and children typically living with their parents until they get married. Friends and colleagues will always be second-place to the family.
The Colombian people drink Tinto, soft-flavored coffee with lots of Panela, the Colombian pure brown sugar. You can find Tinto on every corner of Colombia, in small cafes as well as large. If you enjoy coffee more American-style without the sugar, be sure to ask as Colombian’s like their coffee sweet.
Colombia´s most known regional music includes Champeta, Vallenato, and Cumbia.
Champeta, a more Colombian-style Reggaeton (music from Puerto Rico) that originated in the coastal regions of Colombia among inhabitants of African-descent. Secondly, there’s Vallenato which primarily comes from Colombia’s Caribbean region but is played all over Colombia. Thirdly, There’s Cumbia, a rhythm, fundamental to Atlantic coast music, is the most representative of Colombia in the world. It is played with “Gaita” (a kind of flute), drums, maracas and a guacharaca (a percussion instrument). Still, there are several more genres played such as Currulao, Chirimia, Bambuco, Torbellinos, Joropo, and Carranga.
The pace of life in Colombia is much more relaxed than in North America. Here people take their time to accomplish things and just try to enjoy life as much as possible. That also means that not much value is attached to punctuality and friends tend to be late to meetings. Additionally, in restaurants, waiters will not bother you with the bill, they will wait until you ask them to come over as they prefer not to disturb you.
Colombia’s use plenty of slang within their everyday conversation so if you want to sounds like a local, whip out some of these most commonly used Spanish slangs or herga. Chevere, meaning cool or awesome, is one of the most commonly used words and you’ll hear it just about everywhere you go. No Da Papaya is also commonly used to warn others not to give any reason for someone to do something bad to you so always be aware of your belongings and don’t flaunt anything out on the streets. De Una, is a way to say for sure when you're responding to a friend or colleague. Guayabo is the Colombian word for a hangover, which you’ll be sure to get after splitting a bottle of Aguardiente, Colombia’s national liquor. O Sea is very commonly used to say “I mean” when trying to clarify what it is you meant to say. Parse, is how you would say bro to your fellow buddies. Paila is how you would say “no way” but it is attached to the end of a sentence. Pola is the Colombian way to say cerveza or beer. These are just a few of the endless slang words used in Colombia.
Colombia has a whopping 18 holidays per year making it one of the countries with the most national public holidays in the world. And what better way to celebrate holidays than with magnificent festivals. Colombia has an incredible amount of festivals in all parts of the country.
Cali, the world capital of salsa music holds an 8-day music festival, Festival Mundial de Salsa, normally in August with a total of over 4,000 dancers, musicians and artists, and approximately 20 national orchestras. The Barranquilla carnival, the largest festival in the country is a four-day event with parades, music, dancing, drinks and much more. It is known to parallel Carnival in Brazil, one of the largest festivals in the world. Additionally, there is the flower festival of Medellin, La Feria de Las Flores, a multi-day event featuring concerts, shows, parades and celebrations which includes the parade of the silleteros where locals carry large ornate flower displays on their backs. Really there isn’t any type of festival that you can’t find in Colombia.
Colombia is home to an extremely diverse plant and animal life with the largest number of terrestrial mammals species in the world, over 1800 species of birds and the largest number of amphibians. About 10% of all the species in the world live in Colombia. The following regions are home to most plant and animal wildlife. The Cocora Valley in Quindio which is located in highest of the three branches of the Colombian Andes, Cordillera Central. The Valley is part of Los Nevados National Natural Park, home to the main location of the national tree and symbol of Colombia, the Quindío wax palm that grows up to 70 feet high as well as a plethora of other living species. Within the Serranía de la Macarena, (an isolated mountain range located in the Meta department) La Macarena National and Ecological Reserve Park was designated in 1971 with ecosystems including rainforest, dry forest, and savanna. The park is home to 50 known species of Orchids and 2000 species of other plants. Mammal species include anteaters, cougars, deer and 8 species of monkeys. There are also 550 recorded species of birds in the area, 100 species of reptiles and 1200 species of insects. Gorgona, an island in the Pacific Ocean situated 22 miles off the coast was established as Gorgons Island Natural Park in 1985 in order to preserve its rich wildlife, sub-tropical forest and the coral reefs offshore. The island’s dense tropical rainforest gives shelter to many unique species including its large abundance of snakes, three of which are venomous. Amacayacu National Park located along the Amazon river is in the Amazon department of Colombia. The park compromises 4,220 square kilometers of jungle. In order to travel here, visitors must first arrive in the city of Leticia and then embark by boat upriver to the park. From there, you can travel to Mico’s Island filled with hundreds of monkeys, Mocagua’s Island, known for its lotus flower or to Tarapoto Lake which is home to botos, Amazon’s pink river dolphins.
Being one of the world’s most biodiverse countries, Colombia is lucky to have a vast variety of breathtaking landscapes. From the beautiful Caribbean seas to the lush green vegetation of the coffee region or Eje Cafetero, to the capital and the largest city, Bogotá. Colombia’s biological richness is a product of its variety of ecosystems, including tropical forests in the Amazon and Choco, mountain habitats like the Sierra Nevada and Andes, the grasslands of the llanos and páramos, and islands like Gorgona in the Pacific and San Martin in the Caribbean, being the only country in the region with both a Pacific and Caribbean coast. Colombia’s beauty is vast and unparalleled.
Colombia is famous for its many traditional street food options you can find on almost any corner. From charcoal-brazen grilled corn to empanadas filled a mix of meat and rice or Hawaiian ingredients, to arepas filled with cheese or egg. There are a variety of options and if you happen to stumble upon the right street carts, you can get a delicious meal for just about 2,000 pesos or roughly 70 cents. The following are some of Colombia’s most typical dishes. Ajiaco, most known to the capital, is a stew with three types of potato, chicken, and corn, that is served with capers, cream, and avocado. Bandeja Paisa, most known to the city of Medellin, includes beans, rice, ground meat or carne asada, chorizo, fried egg, arepa, and chicharrón. It is usually accompanied by avocado, tomato, and special sauces. Sancocho, most common to the city of Cali, is a soup composed mostly of chicken, plantain, corn, coriander, yuca root, and other seasonings. Arequipe, a sweet condensed milk very similar to dulce de leche or caramel is served in many baked goods as well as ice creams. Aguardiente, Colombia’s national liquor, made with aniz or liquorce, is served everywhere for normally cheap prices. Colombia’s bakery items are also vast and varied with baked bread filled with yuca, all different types of cheeses, guava, arequipe and much more. Don’t leave Colombia without trying a Bañuelo, a fried cheesy round ball sold at many street carts for about 1,000 pesos or 30 cents.
Bogotá, Colombia’s Capital is also filled with an abundant amount of delicious restaurants. You can also find plenty of other cuisines, like Peruvian, Japanese, Greek, and Arabic. Some of the best areas to frequent in Bogotá for their nice restaurants are Zona T (Zona Rosa), Parque de la 93, or Quinto Camacho. All three have amazing options that are sure not to disappoint. And you can’t forget about the fruit! Colombia has the widest fruit options in the world. Fruit in Colombia is delicious, cheap and plentiful. Paloquemao is one of Colombia's most famous fruit markets with close to hundreds of fruit stands selling tons of varieties from Passion Fruit, Sugar Mango, Curuba, Lulo, Pitaya, Guanabana, Granadillas and so much more!
If there’s one thing you should do in Colombia, is visiting a coffee farm. Apart from the incredible mountain views you'll find at almost any farm, you'll be enraptured by the whole coffee process and there’s nothing better than a fresh cup of delicious coffee sipped with a breathtaking mountainous view by your side. Also, most of Colombia’s best coffee is exported with the remaining beans used for domestic consumption so if you really want to taste a great quality cup of Colombian coffee, the best place to do it is at a local coffee farm or Finca. Wondering where are the best coffee farms? They’re located in the coffee triangle of Colombia or Eje Cafetero made up of three departments: Caldas, Quindío, and Risaralda. UNESCO declared the Coffee Region of Colombia a World Heritage Site in 2011. Additionally, Colombia has some great farms located in the Sierra Nevada, the mountainous region close to the coast. There you can find some amazing fincas in Minca with even more spectacular views. On top of that, there is also a couple of coffee farms close to Bogotá where you can have a similar experience. Two hours outside of Bogotá you can find Fusagasuga and San Francisco, two places frequented often from the capital if you want to enjoy a beautiful coffee experience. There are more than 563,000 families producing coffee in the country, from the provinces that border with Ecuador, in the South, up to those that border the Caribbean Sea in the North. All coffee in Colombia is planted, cared for, and harvested by hand. The amount of labor that goes into producing a single cup is astounding and costly. If your wondering where to get a good cup of coffee in Colombia, Juan Valdez, the largest coffee franchise with export quality coffee, is known as Colombia’s Starbucks and is scoured across the country. Additionally, many small coffee shops and chains in cities are opening to sell not only the perfect cup but also a coffee experience, complete with tastings, specialized preparations and informative lectures about production. One great spot to try in Bogotá for the coffee experience is Arte y Pasión. In Medellin be sure to check out Café Pergamino and in Cartagena there’s Café San Alberto.
Colombia is home to some incredible nightlife and plenty of great salsa clubs. Cali, the world capital of salsa, has an incredible passion for both the music and the dance. The rhythms of salsa originating in Cuba, and entered the country through Barranquilla and were popularized in the late 1960s when Puerto Rican musicians performed in the Cali Fair. In Cali there are close to 250 salsa schools and nearly 100 salsa orchestras. Some of the salsa events include The Feria de Cali, a world-renowned salsa party held every December. The largest salsa festival in the world, Festival Mundial de Salsa. Monthly salsa extravaganzas at Delirio, a breathtaking experience that rivals the famed Cirque de Soleil. Petronio Alvarez Pacific Music Festival held in August attracts local and international bands that play Pacific indigenous music. Depending on where you will be traveling in Colombia, there’s always salsa nightclubs to visit. If you’re in Bogotá the best places to shake your hips to salsa are Galeria Cafe Libro in Parque 93 and Quiebra Canto (not on Wednesdays) in Macarena. In Medellín don’t miss El Tibiri (Kr 70 # 44b), a small salsa bar that’s full of sweat and character. If you’re in Cali head to Las Brisas (slightly outside the city) and 6th Avenue, where you’ll find all the outdoor salsa bars. Additionally, the main area for partying in Cali is Sexta Avenida (Sixth Avenue). Here you will find many bars and clubs to dance Salsa, Merengue, Cumbia, Tropical, Bachata and also places with pop and electronic music. A great place to start the night is the Tropical Cocktails, then you can go to Kukaramakara or Chango, the most famous club in the city.
Colombia is waiting for you!