|Government|| republic; executive branch dominates government structure|
|Currency||Colombian peso (COP)|
|Area|| total: 1,138,910 km2 |
land: 1,038,700 km2
note: includes Isla de Malpelo, Roncador Cay, Serrana Bank, and Serranilla Bank
water: 100,210 km2
|Population||41,008,227 (July 2002 est.)|
|Religion||Roman Catholic 90%|
Colombia is the only country in South America with coastlines on both the North Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea. Lying to the south of Panama, Colombia controls the land access between Central and South America. With Panama to the north, Colombia is surrounded by Venezuela to the east, Brazil to the southeast, Ecuador and Peru to the south west.
- Distrito Capital de Bogota,
- Bogota - Capital
- Cali - city of Salsa, Valle del Cauca
- Medell�n - the city of eternal spring, Antioquia
- Cartagena - the "heroic" city, Bolivar
- Pasto - the "surprise" city, Nari�o
- Bucaramanga - the Beautiful City, Santander
- Popay�n - the white city, Cauca
- Ports and harbors
- Bahia de Portete
- Puerto Bolivar
- San Andres
- Santa Marta
- San Agust�n and Tierradentro - archeological sites in south-western Colombia
- El Parque Tayrona - Tayrona Park is an incredible place to visit if you have the chance while in the Santa Marta area on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. This little delightful spot is located about 30 minutes from the city of Rodadero. You have to hike for about 20 minutes from the parking area, but it is well worth it. Once there, you have beautiful beaches, hammocks to rent for the night, food, water and surf (be careful though, there is a strong riptide - experienced surfers only!). Additionally, you can get a guide to take you to a native village in the nearby mountains for a truly cultural experience and insight into the life of the native South Americans of Santa Marta. A must see if you can!
- Villa de Leyva, the Natural Sanctuary of Iguaque and the small 1658 hotel at Hacienda Baza, in Tiban�.
- Isla Gorgona - This former prison island in the Pacific Ocean is now a nature reserve open for visitors. There is abundant wildlife like monkeys, snakes, whales and seaturtles. It offers excellent diving conditions.
- Ciudad Perdida is pre-Columbian city located in the Colombian jungle close to Santa Marta. Built between the eighth and the fourteenth century by the Tayrona Indians. Nowadays only stone circular shaped terraces covered by jungle remain.
Although there is still a certain amount of violence in remote areas, the government now has a greater presence in the country and guerrilla attacks, which used to occur on a regular basis, are now far less common. It is now possible to travel by road and explore areas that would have been closed to tourists in the past. This is particularly true during the longer vacations, when the government organises convoys, escorted by troops, along popular routes.
And travelling in Colombia is definitely worthwhile. From Bogota and its temperate climate 2,600 metres above sea level, a drive of one or two hours North, South, East or West can take you to landscapes which are as diverse as they are beautiful. To the East are the oriental plains which stretch out far beyond the horizon with little modulation. To the North are the more rugged contours of the higher Andean region. To the South the weather is sub-tropical and has flora and fauna concomitant with this, and to the West one also finds hot weather with corresponding vegetation.
Tropical along coast and eastern plains; cooler in highlands; periodic droughts
Flat coastal lowlands, central highlands, high Andes Mountains, eastern lowland plains
- Natural hazards
- highlands subject to volcanic eruptions; occasional earthquakes
- Highest point
- Pico Cristobal Colon 5,775 m
note: nearby Pico Simon Bolivar has the same elevation
Colombia was one of the three countries that emerged from the collapse of Gran Colombia in 1830 (the others being Ecuador and Venezuela). Panama declared its independence from Colombia in 1903 with the support of the United States of America. A 40-year insurgent campaign to overthrow the Colombian Government escalated during the 1990s, undergirded in part by funds from the drug trade. Although the violence is deadly and large swaths of the rural countryside are under guerrilla influence, the movement lacks the military strength or popular support necessary to overthrow the government. Illegal anti-insurgent paramilitary groups have grown to be several thousand strong in recent years, challenging the insurgents for control of territory and illicit industries such as the drug trade and also the government's ability to exert its dominion over rural areas. While Bogota continues to try to negotiate a settlement, neighboring countries worry about the violence spilling over their borders.
Keep to the safe and tourist areas and you'll be fine, if you want to do some more extra exploration on your own, ask someone about the conditions before you step ahead.
There are regular international flights into major cities including Barranquilla, Cartagena, Cali, Medellin and Bogota as well as to other smaller cities in the borders with venezuela and Ecuador.
There are daily direct flights to and from the U.S, Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Spain, and South America.
Bogota's international airport, Aeropuerto El Dorado, has two terminals that is serviced by domestic and international carriers. Taxis are regulated, reasonably priced and safe from the airports. A taxi ride from the airport to the centers takes approximately 20 minutes.
Connections can be made from the Caracas main terminal to most cities in Colombia. From the main terminal, Maracaibo (Venezuela) has buses that run to the cities (Cartagena, Baranquilla, Santa Marta) on the coast. The border at Maicao is a relatively easy, straight-forward entry into Colombia from Venezuela.
It is very straightforward to enter Colombia from Ecuador. Travel to Tulcan, where you can get a taxi to the border. Get your exit stamps from the immigration offices and go with another taxi to Ipiales. From there you can travel further to Cali, Bogot�, ...
Most western countries don't need a visa. Irish citizens need to apply for a visa at a Colombian embassy and can't extend their visa.
On entrance you get a print or a stamp in you passport. It lets you stay anywhere from 15 to 90 days depending on the mood of the immigration officer.
You can apply for a one month visa extension at a DAS-office in most cities and costs around COP$ 60.000. You need two copies of you passport's main page, two copies of the page with the entrance stamp, two copies of a ticket en route out of the country and four photographs. The procedure takes some time and includes taking your fingerprints.
There are six domestic carriers in Colombia. AeroRepublica, Avianca, Aces, Satena, Sam and Aires have well kept fleets and regular service to major towns and cities in Colombia. The major Colombian airports have been certified as highly Safe by international organizations.
There is limited train service in Colombia. There is metro service in Medellin and its surroundings. There is inter-city service around Bogota and Cali.
Steering wheel is on the left. Most cars have standard transmission ("stick shift"). Colombias have historically preffered 4-Cylinder engines and European and Japanese cars. Foreign visitors may drive if they show an international driver's license. (A multilingual endorsment card issued by automobile and driver's clubs around the world). Insurance is cheap and mandatory. The Speed limit in residential areas is 30 km/h, in urban is 60 km/h. Most two lane highways have a limit of 80 km/h and the few newest highways have limits from 100 to 120 km/h. The country has a well maintained network of roads that connect all major cities in the Andean areas as well as with the ones in the Caribbean Coast. There may be significant landslides on roads and highways during the rainy season (November to February), in which traffic gets interrumpted. This usually is resolved within 6 hours to 4 days. There are many toll crossings, the fee is about $3.00 USD. There is also plenty of dirt roads of variable quality. International land travel is only possible to Ecuador and Venezuela.
Travel by bus is widespread and has different levels of quality. The longer the distance the newer and more comfortable the service is. It is highly recommended to keep an eye on the belongings and to not carry valuables, excess cash (more than $ 20,000 COP visible) and unnecessary items. Never accept food or drinks from strangers. Avoid talking to strangers at bus stops or terminals. It's best to travel along with Colombian friends. It is possible to be stopped at police check points. A calm attitude is the best key to avoid inconveniences. Long distance trips rarely cost over $55.00 USD. (one way).
There is only one true metro system in Colombia. It is in Medellin, in the Antioquia department. It connects the cities that make up what is known as "Medellin" - some stations include Niquia (at one end), Itagui (at the other), Bello, Envigado, and Hospital. The metro is made up of two light rail lines (one east-west line, and one north-south line), and one line called the MetroCable. Riding it is a unique experience, as passengers travel up the mountains in gondolas. The MetroCable has 4 stations, including the transfer to the east-west line. There is a military presence in each metro station, however they are usually very courteous towards tourists. Beware, however, the Metro police do not like anyone, even "turistas," to take pictures of the Metro and may go even as far as to confiscate your camera. Ask a policeman before breaking out your camera if it's permissible; he/she may be in a good mood that day, and look the other way.
If you've recently learned Spanish, its a relief to know that the Colombian variety is clear and easy to understand. The Spanish does vary, however, from Cartagena to Bogota to Cali. Generally the Spanish on the coasts is spoken more rapidly, and Spanish from Medellin has its own idiosyncrasies.
English is taught in school, and Colombians are often exposed to subtitle Hollywood films, so while shy, many Colombians know at least a few basic phrases in English. Expect to meet teenage Colombians who will want to practice their English skills with you.
Colombians from more affluent backgrounds will have lived and worked in the US, Canada, England and possibly Australia for a period of three to 24 months in order to learn English. Many University text books are in English, and the majority of high ranking professionals, executives and government workers in Colombia speak English.
French and German are also spoken to a much lesser extent. Colombians have a very unusual mannerism of pointing to objects with their mouths. This is because pointing with the finger as considered a rude gesture in Colombia.
The Colombian textile industry is well-recognized and reputable around South America and Europe. Clothing and lingerie are particularly regarded as high quality and very affordable. Leather garments, shoes and accessories are also of interests for foreigners.
Colombian emeralds and gold (18k) jewelry can also be very attractive for visitors. A very Colombian style of jewelry is the copies of precolombian jewelry, which are fabricated with gold, silver and semiprecious stones.
The "mochila" is a traditional, hand-woven Colombian bag, normally worn over the shoulder. They are commonly sold in shopping malls, especially in the Santa Marta/El Rodadero area. Mochilas used to come in three sizes - a large one to carry bigger things, a medium one to carry personal belongings, and a small one to carry coca leaves. Coca leaves were carried by the natives to eliminate hunger, and to combat altitude sickness.
Handicrafts such as intricately designed jewellery is commonly sold in markets and on street corners. Many street vendors will approach people, selling t-shirts, shorts, glasses, bracelets, watches, necklaces, souvenirs, and novelty photographs. If you want to buy something, this is a good time to exercise your bartering skills. Usually you go down by 2,000 to 3,000 pesos, however 2,000 is the generally accepted rule. For example, if someone is selling a shirt for P$10,000, try asking if you can pay P$8,000. Go from there.
If you don't want to buy anything, a simple, "Gracias," (thank you) and a non-committal wave of your hand will deter would-be sellers.
In many areas of Colombia, especially the coast and Medellin, it is common to have bu�uelos (deep fried balls with cheese in the dough) and arepas (rather thick corn tortillas, often made with cheese and served with butter) with scrambled eggs for breakfast. Bogota has it's own breakfast delicacy of tamales - maize and chopped pork or chicken with vegetables and eggs, steamed in banana leaves. Often served with home-made hot chocolate.
Empanadas, made with potato and meat with a pouch-like yellow exterior, are delicious and entirely different from their Mexican counterparts. Pastry is prevalent, both salty and sweet, including Pan de Bono, Pan de Yuca, Pan Gloria, and Roscon. These vary in quality, ask the locals for the best niche places to indulge in.
For lunch, especially on Sundays, you should try a sancocho de gallina (rich chicken soup, served with part of the chicken itself, rice and vegetables/salad). Sancocho is widespread throughout the country, with countless regional variants. On the coast it features fish, and is highly recommended. Another stew, served in Bogota and the periphery, is Ajiaco.
"Bandeja paisa" is common in most places, though it originates from Medellin. This includes rice, beans, fried plantain, arepa, fried egg, chorizo, chicharron (pork skin) and some sort of meat. It's a very fat dish but you can leave what you don't like and if your lucky enough you could find a gourmet bandeja paisa in a good retaurant in Bogot� or Medellin. They are more light and little.
There are a few chains throughout the country. Kokoriko serves roasted chicken, and El Corral charbroiled burgers. Both are excellent. Cr�pes and Waffles, as the name indicates, is an upscale breakfast/brunch restaurant with spectacular... cr�pes and waffles. There are many international food restaurants including Rodizios (Brazilian steak house style), Paella houses etc.
A great variety of tropical fruits can be tasted and the corresponding variety in juices. Some of the most odd ones you can find around the globe (really) to the most sweet ones. You just must know how to find and prepare them. Anyway everybody would be pleased to teach you. Some examples of those exotic fruits includes: tamarindo, mangoes, guanabanas, lulo, mangostinos (really great and rare even for Colombians) and a great variety in citrus. Besides you can find some of those rich and strange flavors in prepared food like ice cream brands or restaurant juices.
In Colombia there are a great variety of "tamales" if you like them but be aware they are very different from their most famous mexican cousins. They differ from region to region but all of them are delicious. They call "envuelto" to the sweet tamale made of corn.
Regarding coffee, commercially and home-made you can find a lot of products made out of this very famous colombian product like wines, cookies, candys, milk-based deserts like "arequipe", ice-cream, etc.
Colombians are famous to have a very sweet taste so you are going to find a lot of deserts and local candys like "bocadillo" made of guayaba (guava fruit) or the most famous milk-based "arequipe" (similar to its Argentinian cousin "dulce leche" or the french "confiteure du lait"). this is the simplistic view since every region in Colombia has its own fruits, local products and therefore its own range of sweet products. If you are lover of the rare candies, you could get artisan made candies in the little towns near Bogot� and Tunja.
Organic food is a current trend in big cities, but in little towns you can get fruits and veggies all very natural and fresh. Colombians don't use to keep food for winter. Since there are no seasons in the traditional sense. So don't ask them for dryed items like dryed tomatos or fruits. All you have to do is go shopping to the little groceries near by and pick up the freshest of the harvest of the month (almost everything available and fresh all the year). With pickles and related conserved food you can find them in supermarkets but are not common in family houses.
Concerning potatoes, you must know the pre-Columbian civilizations had about 200 varieties of this plant. Well, Colombia as an Andean country it is not the exception. Even McDonalds recognized the quality of this product and buy them. But being there you don't want to go to McDonalds, you've got to try the local preparations like "salted potatos" (papas saladas) or "stewed potatos" (papas chorriadas).
All in all, in Colombia can be fun to be explained of the ingredients and the preparation of a lot of exotic recipes.
Colombia offers an enormous variety of fruit and hence fruit juices. Do not miss them!
For breakfast, take a home-made hot chocolate. It is generally prepared with panela (dried cane juice), cinnamon and cloves, which gives it a special taste.
Concerning alcoholic beverages, the most common are probably beer, rum (the best one seems to be the one from Caldas) and aguardiente.
Colombia's national alcoholic beverage, Aguardiente tastes strongly of anise, and is typically bought by the bottle or half bottle. Drink it in shots or sip on it with ice.
Of course, prepare your palate to drink the most soft coffee in the world. An advice is to ask for a "perico" which is a little cup of soft coffee with local milk. The proper proportion of coffee and milk to be in heaven. This name is most common in Bogot� and cundinamarquesan towns around.
If you are lucky enough, and if you are staying in a familiar "finca cafetera" (coffee plantation) you can ask your colombian friends not only for the selected coffee (quality export) but for the remaining coffee that the farmers leave to their own use. This is manually picked, washed, toasted in rustic brick stoves and manually ground. It has the most exquisite and rare flavor and aroma ever found.
Commercially you can find a lot of products made out of coffee too like wines, ice-creams, soda-pops and other beverages.
Hacienda Baza in Boyac� offers very good food, and a colonial hotel experience as authentic as possible. The Hotel has 12 rooms built in what was a Dominican Monastery. Every room has its own chimney, ensuite and all modern facilities. It is surrounded by wonderful gardens and mountains. Walking and horseriding are the activities, apart from resting and sampling very good food. Rates are low, ranging from 40 to 80 US dollars a day. See http://www.haciendabaza.com/ for details.
In Villa de Leyva, hoster�a Duruelo offers very good facilities and food, with the attractive of the city.
The Colombian Spanish is considered by many around the world as the purest and there are many universities and language schools that have language programs.
Colombia Education is generally strict and is kept to high standards. Most Colombian degrees can be legalized in foreign countries.
Post secondary education is much cheaper than in most countries.
Colombia has several good universities to choose from, most located in major cities - Universidad Javeriana, Universidad de Los Andes, Universidad de Medellin, Universidad Nacional, Universidad EAFIT, Universidad Bolivariana, Universidad de Antioquia, Universidsd del Valle . . . the list goes on. Check your chosen university's website for details on being an international student. Many universties dating from the 19th century or earlier.
The Colombo-Americano is an English/Spanish cultural centre that offers courses in ESL and Spanish for all levels. The Colombo-Alem�n is for Colombians that wish to learn German. EAFIT also has a program where in exchange for you teaching English, they give you Spanish lessons; contact EAFIT for more information.
Alianza Colombo-Francesa teaches French and is specialized in cultural exchange.
Speaking English, Spanish, and at least one other language will virtually guarantee you employment in Colombia. Independent travellers will usually be able to teach English for extra money, especially in smaller cities where the "English demand" is high.
If you want to work for a national company, such as Bancolombia/Conavi, Avianca, or Presto, you must be able to speak Spanish with near-native fluency. Depending on your qualifications, companies may offer Spanish lessons, however always make sure that you are indeed eligible for the position advertised.
Colombia suffers from a terrible reputation of dangerous and violent country. However the last few years the safety has increased dramatically. For South American standards Colombia is relatively safe and more and more people come to discover that.
Colombia's ongoing civil war is over 40 years old, and doesn't show any signs of stopping soon. A agreement between para-militaries and the goverment resulted in the disarment of 80% of the paramilitaries in 2005. Most of them found a new job in the regular army and with combined forces guerillas are being pushed back along the pacific coast and into the llanos and the amazon. Outside these areas you're unlikely to meet either guerilla or paramilitaries.
Most of the Pacific coast and the Amazon region as well as Darien gap near Panama are dangerous areas. Very few travellers go here and you should inform well before setting of to these regions. River police, highway police, newspapers and fellow travellers can be a usefull source of information.
Colombia has the highest kidnapping rate in the world. However kidnappings of travellers are very rare. Politicians, rich Colombians and foreign executives are the main targets, however, if you stay near the main cities and always travel by plane, there is virtually no chance you'll get kidnapped.
Like most South American countries it suffers from a high crime rate, mainly in the big cities. Take the usual precautions and you should be fine. Keep your eyes open; don't wear jewellery; take taxis at night.
In recent years, there have been reports of scopolamine (a date-rape drug that is absded to the victim and absorbed through the skin. Scopolamine makes the victim highly open to suggestion, allowing the attacker to use it. As it is powdered, it can be blown into the victim's face or placed on a piece of paper which is haner to confiscate your wallet, keys, or anything else they may want. Always be cautious, especially when approached by strangers.
While it may be cheaper to smoke marijuana than tobacco; cocaine seems to costs next to nothing and it's officially allowed to carry small amounts of the drug; the police will set you up for a bribe anyway, if you get caught. Be aware that street vendors that sell drugs could always be setting you up with corrupt police officers for bribes. That is if you're lucky, you might end up in jail instead. Drug dealing and trafficking are punished by long imprisonments and Colombian prisons are hell.
Drink only bottled water outside the major cities. The water in major cities is safe. Anywhere else, never get drinks with ice cubes in them, and always make sure that the water you are served in restaurants comes from a bottle (they should open it in front of you). Doing anything else may result in you hugging the crapper for a few days.
If you're staying with relatives or friends especially you could ask for boiled water since families are used to have it around.
In cities like Bogot� and Manizales the quality of the water is optimum. In Manizales for example the water besides of being processed it comes from pristine natural sources near a nevado. In Bogot� the water comes from the high mountains 3,330 m above sea level.
In the coastal cities you better watch what you drink in streets or beaches.
Generally avoid discussing politics or the present war in public, except with well-known acquaintances or relatives that have your trust and confidence. In general the heart of Colombians suffer of great pain to remember all the victims of the political & narco wars of the past and the actual conflict.
Always say please (Por favor, or hagame el favor) and thank you (muchas gracias) for anything, to anyone. Colombians, at least in Bogota, tend to be very polite and formal, and explicitly good manners win major brownie points. Sometimes can sound rude to Bogotans when sombody call you and you answer with just an "Ehhh?" being the appropiate form: "Se�ora?" or "Se�or?" depending on who's calling you.
In addition, Colombians tend to speak their minds and opinions quite freely. They are also not shy of asking questions about health, salary or social status and thinking that is actually offensive to others or considered personal information.
Most Colombians are naive in racist issues since the white or criole persons blend naturally with natives and Afro-Colombians in everyday life (education, living, politics, marriage). So the word "negro" can be used regardless of who's saying it or whom is called this way. You can hear expressions like "negrito" or "mi negro", in a restaurant or streets. You could hear someone calling "negra" to a woman regardless the race of the person. And in general Afro-Colombians don't find it offensive.
Some differences between Brits and Americans are not perceived by most Colombians. Don't let this offend you as an English-speaking visitor.
Regarding table manners, a lot of the more traditional elder Colombians hate when the guest leaves some of the food uneaten on the plate. This sometimes can be uncomfortable to visitors due to the "exotic" food that can be served, like tamales (with the green wet leaves envelope and everything). However, you can explain your fears to certain food, they'll understand. When you were eating with young people, you can negotiate and even ask what is going to be eaten in the first place.
Colombians like to dance a lot. It's part of cultural ancestry. And as in another Central and South American countries it's very common to hear and feel the rhythmic music like salsa, son, merengue, cumbia or reggae-ton. Despite all what you might think of all the sensual movements of men and women, people just enjoy music and dancing and not always are used for sexual encounters or as sexual signs. Here you could find salsa in children "pi�ata" parties or even in parties for old people. North Americans and Europeans could find this odd or confusing because of the use of salsa and Latin rythms in The West. A colombian dancing naively could be missinterpreted and in general colombian women (or men) are not "easy" just because of the way they dance. It is applied in the same way as in Brazil an almost-naked "garotta" dancing samba in the carnival is not inviting you to have sex with her but inviting you to enjoy, to be happy, to join to the celebration, to join the exuberant disinhibition and to be part of a free life (sort of a ritual thing imprinted in the Colombian genes).
Regarding religion, most Colombians are Catholic and it�s important to them to keep certain ceremony and respect for all related to religion. You could visit great architectural churches in the inside but taking pictures can be found disrespectful. Young people are more open to know about other religions and debate about this subject.
Colombians are very conservative about homosexual issues so it's not common to find a couple of men kissing in the street. Young people are more open-minded, but don't expect too much.
Colombians use their hands to show the height of people and animals in a different way. Avoid using your hand with the palm facing down to describe the height of another person... it is used for animals and can be insulting! Use your hand with the palm facing inward to describe the height of another person.
If you have to beckon someone, wave your fingers palm facing down; NEVER crook your index finger palm facing up. Try to avoid beckoning older persons.
- Colombian Routes (http://tr.eltiempo.terra.com.co/rutas_por_colombia/indexFlash.html) - Interactive map in Spanish containing main tourist routes
- Article in Wikipedia about Colombia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colombia)
- http://poorbuthappy.com/colombia - The poor but happy Colombia Guide.
- http://elpais-cali.terra.com.co/paisonline/ - El Pa�s, newspaper from Cali
- http://www.eltiempo.com - El Tiempo, national (rather Liberal) newspaper
- http://www.neivanos.com/ - Newspaper (Peri�dico)Huila
- http://www.elnuevodia.com.co/ Newspaper of Tolima "The new day" El nuevo d�a
- http://www.elheraldo.com.co/ "El Heraldo" newspaper of Barranquilla
- http://www.elcolombiano.terra.com.co/portada.asp De Medell�n
- http://www.elmundo.com/ From Medell�n
- http://www.eldiario.com.co/ El Ot�n de Pereira
- http://www.elespectador.com/ From Bogot�
- http://www.eluniversal.com.co/ From Cartagena
- http://www.lapatria.com/ From Armenia
Fotos de Colombia
- Fotos de la Cultura, la Vida Cotidiana, de Baile, Architectura, etc (http://www.travel-impressions.de/taganga/pelican.htm)
- http://www.lahoja.com.co/ La Hoja de Medell�n
- http://www.semana.com - Semana, weekly news magazine
- http://www.kinetoscopio.com/ Kinetoscopio, movie reviews and critic