If you have to remember one interesting fact about Colombia, it should be the following:
Colombia is a lot more than fat guys with mustaches selling drugs to Australians
We have clichés for every country.
You probably think French people are romantic assholes with a baguette under their left arm and a bottle opener in their right pocket.
And I love clichés because most of the time, they are fun and accurate.
Unfortunately, it’s not the case with Colombia. Because of its bloody past, people only know the old stories about drugs, FARC, and Pablo.
Guys, it’s time to update your information about this fantastic country. Let me tell you 24 interesting facts about Colombia. Be ready to plan your trip directly after the first reading of this article. Check out my favorite travel gears before leaving 😉
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Interesting Facts about Colombia: Geography
1. Colombia is a big country
Don’t think that you will be able to visit all of Colombia in one month. The surface of the country is equivalent to the sum of France + Spain + Portugal.
Also, even though the trunk roads are acceptable, you will have to be patient if you plan to travel off the beaten path.
Fortunately, internal flights are cheap, especially if you book them in advance.
2. Colombia has many neighbors
Colombia has land borders with five countries. It’s a great hub to travel to the nations around. Going up north, you can island hopping on San Blas before arriving in Panama from Capurgana or Cartagena. In the South of Colombia, you can book a multi-day trip on the Amazon river and travel to Peru or Brazil.
And if you’re not keen to take the boat, you can catch a bus in the direction of Ipiales and cross the border to reach Ecuador.
Colombia is also sharing its most significant land border with Venezuela. But considering the political and economic situation in the country, you should avoid getting there.
Also, you won’t be able to reach Panama by land as there is no road in the Darien Gap.
3. Colombia has two coastlines
Colombia is the only country in South America with access to the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.
The Pacific region is very humid with one of the highest precipitation rates in the world. This part of Colombia is not touristy yet and offer unique landscapes made of black beaches and lush vegetation. Boats are the common modes of transport to move from one place to another.
The Caribbean coast is part of the usual Colombia gringo trail with the visit of the old city in Cartagena and the exploration of Tayrona Park. But you will still be able to find hidden gems like Capurgana or Punta Gallinas.
If you’re looking for white beaches and crystal blue water, the best would be to explore the islands instead of staying on the coast. Fly to Providencia or travel to the archipelago of San Bernardo or the Rosario Islands from Cartagena.
In my opinion, Colombia is a great country to spend cheap Caribbean Holidays.
4. The Andean mountains are divided into 3 branches
One of the interesting facts about Colombia is to be at the intersection of 3 tectonic plates (Nazca, Caribbean, and South American). The important activities between these plates gave birth to the Colombian Cordillera.
The Cordillera Occidental is the lowest one and makes the separation between the Pacific coast and the Cauca Valley (Cali). You can hike around Popayan (La Purace)
The Cordillera Central is probably the most famous because of its popular treks in Los Nevados –Cocora Valley, Tolima, El Ruiz, Laguna Otun, etc.
The Cordillera Oriental separates the Magdalena Valley (A large river crossing Colombia from South to North) from the Llanos (A vast savanna mainly flooded during the rainy season). There are many day trips from Bogota to discover fantastic Paramos like Sumapaz or Chingaza. And from Guican or Cocuy, you can explore the marvelous Sierra Nevada del Cocuy near the border with Venezuela.
More information about the Andean Cordillera here
@Credit: Initial map from Wikipedia.
5. The 2nd highest coastal mountain range in the world
Another interesting fact about Colombia is the Sierra Nevada. These mountains on the Caribbean coast are isolated from the Andes chain. The peak Cristobal Colon is the highest summit of Colombia with 5700 m.
For the indigenous living there, the mountain is considered as sacred and the access it’s not open to the public. However, some companies organize The Lost City Tour.
6. Bogota is one of the highest capital in the world
As you can see on the previous map, Bogota is in the middle of the Cordillera Oriental. With more than 8 million inhabitants and at an average of 2640 m above sea level, it’s the third highest capital in South America (After La Paz and Quito).
Because of its elevation, Bogota is located in Tierra Fria (Cold land). The temperature drops at night. Don’t forget to take a warm jacket if you’re going out 😉
Don’t hesitate to use these interesting facts about Colombia to plan your future trip!
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Interesting Facts About Colombia: Nature
Because of its geographical situation and its different landscapes, Colombia is a paradise for the fauna and flora. The following interesting facts about Colombia should excite more than one wildlife lover.
7. Colombia is one of the seventeen megadiverse countries
Megadiverse countries are nations who possess the highest number and diversity of animals and plants on earth.
Colombia represents more than 10% of all the species (Fauna and Flora) on earth! And if you compare the surface (Km2) and the number of species, Colombia is taking the 2nd place.
Also, with more than 1880 species of birds and 71 of which being endemic, Colombia is ranked at the first place for the avian biodiversity.
Even though there is plenty of room for progression, the government is doing its best to protect its astounding environment. 59 natural areas belong to the Parque Nationales Naturales de Colombia. It represents more than 11% of the global surface of the country.
8. The tallest palm trees in the world
It’s one of my favorite interesting facts about Colombia.
Salento is not only famous for its delicious red coffee beans. From the colorful city center, you can jump at the back of a jeep and reach Cocora Valley in 20 min.
After a lovely hike through the forest and a steep hill, you will have a panoramic view of a vast valley where giant wax palm trees are popping up like mushrooms. Some can measure up to 60 m!
Moreover, Salento is a fantastic place for enjoying the countryside of Colombia. Read the best things to do in Salento.
9. The best Páramos in the world
Páramo is a specific biome that occurs mainly in the Colombian Andes. To put it in simple terms, it’s the tundra/tussock grass/wetland between the timberline and the snowline.
Frailejón is another specific plant which belongs to this unique ecosystem. It looks like a magic troll doll without arms and with a brown-green skin.
Also, the temperature can vary a lot due to the high altitude. Don’t forget to apply your sunscreen before going on a treck in the Páramos. And take your boots and a rain jacket. The weather can change in a few minutes.
The Páramo de Oceta near Mongui is deemed to be the most beautiful in the world and Sumapaz near Bogota is the largest one.
10. El Eldorado, a lake full of gold
Did you already hear about the legend of El Eldorado?
A secret city where gold is supposed to be present in every corner. Treasure hunters have spent hundreds of years to find this place lost in the jungle.
We even use its name in our everyday life to describe a great opportunity.
But did you know that the legend was born from the Guatavita lake in Colombia?
During the XVI century, conquistadores were greedy for gold. They could have done anything to find this precious metal. When they heard about a lake where the Muiscas used to throw hundreds of jewelry made of gold, they didn’t hesitate one second.
For many years, they tried to empty the lagoon. But they failed and never found the treasures they expected. For them, only one conclusion came to their mind:
The treasure has to be somewhere else
Interesting Facts About Colombia: History
After the discovery of the Americas by Christopher Colombus, Spain quickly became a dominant empire. And thanks to viceroys, they have been able to manage a vast kingdom for more than 3 centuries remotely. But everything started changing when France invaded Spain in 1808. Let’s learn interesting historical facts about Colombia.
11. Colombia had 5 different appellations within 5 centuries
After the establishment of the first colony (Santa Marta) in 1525 by Rodrigo de Bastidas, the Spanish conquered Colombia in only 25 years.
To keep an eye on its new territories, Spain created The Audienca in 1549 to manage the different governments. But, the communication with the Viceroyalty of Peru wasn’t effective – Because of the landscapes.
200 years later, they established in 1740 the Viceroyalty of New Grenada to improve the centralization of their authority. It was in charge of Colombia, Panama, Venezuela, and Ecuador.
When France invaded Spain in 1808, some governments and subjects took this opportunity to gain more freedom and ask for independence. The first attempt didn’t last long, but it gave a decisive push in this direction. And in 1819, Simon Bolivar – a revolutionist from Venezuela – defeated the Spanish armies in Colombia, before leading his army to Venezuela and Peru.
While the Empire of Spain was collapsing, Bolivar created The Gran Colombia in 1819. His dream was to unify Colombia, Panama, Ecuador, and Venezuela into a great nation. Unfortunately, only a few of his so-called friends shared his point of view.
After many rebellions, the Gran Colombia exploded in 1830. Only Colombia and Panama remained together under the name Republic of New Grenada.
It was the beginning of a long arm wrestling between the Liberal and Conservative party. And in 1886, the country officially became the Republic of Colombia.
In 1903, because of constant civil conflicts and the implication of the United States – to build a future world-famous canal -, Panama became in his turn independent.
12. Simon Bolivar (El Libertador) is the most well-known hero in Colombia
Simon Bolivar was born in Venezuela and grew up in a wealthy family. After the death of his both parents, well-educated tutors took his instruction in charge. And thanks to Simon Rodriguez (one of the tutors), Bolivar met many European rationalist thinkers like Montesquieu and Rousseau during his second travel in Europe.
Bathed by the Enlightenment and impressed by the coronation of Napoleon, Bolivar decides to break South America free from the Spanish Empire.
The task was not easy, and he had to run away a few times from the Spanish armies. But after many attempts, Bolivar struck a decisive blow against the Viceroyalty of New Grenada. With a small army, he crossed the Andean mountains and attacked by surprise the city of Bogota.
In three days the capital fell into his hands. It was the beginning of the end for the Spanish Empire and the birth of the Gran Colombia.
Interesting Facts About Colombia: Entertainments
I’m sure the poet Horace went to Colombia before writing his famous sentence “Carpe Diem.” Because of its bloody past, Colombians learned to enjoy life to the fullest. The music, the dance, and the sport are an integral part of their cultural legacy.
Let’s find out the interesting leisure facts about Colombia.
13. Colombia, “the land of a thousand rhythms”
In Colombia, the hairs of your skin can feel the pulsation of the music. From traditional Salsa music to hard rock underground parties, you will hear a full spectrum of different sounds which will invite you to move your body on the dance floor.
With such a large number of communities and many different musical influences coming from Africa, Europe, and modern America, each region has composed its musical styles.
The music on the Caribbean and the Pacific coast have been influenced a lot by the African culture, especially after the abolition of Slavery. For example, Cumbia is more present on the Caribbean Coast of Colombia, but Champeta is typical from Cartagena de Indias. And if you hear an accordion, you’re probably listening to a Vallenato song.
The percussions played on the Pacific coast create a rhythm a lot more different. The Group Chocquibtown, which is based there, is very successful.
Small towns in the Andean Region used to dance on Bambuco music, and the Colombian cowboys (Llaneros) are driving herds with soft harp sounds (Joropo music).
But in my opinion, it’s the Salsa that transforms Colombia into such a tireless dancer. The inhabitants have quickly adopted this music coming from Puerto Rico. Kids are learning the first steps with their mothers, old grandmas are dancing near the speakers in the street and boys are kissing their first love on salsa songs.
Different styles of salsa appear over time, but the hips are still moving the same.
More recently, other styles of music have become very popular in Colombia. Local artists are using their musical background to create their proper rock, pop, techno or even jazz style.
Add the following artists if you’re planning to backpack to Colombia.
14. Colombia is one the cheapest place for diving
Do you like to dive?
I love it too. It’s like being in another dimension with colorful people doing many duck faces. And the experience is quite better if you don’t have to be bound to the instructor.
But, you must pass your Open Water to swim alone like a mermaid in Poseidon’s Kingdom. It can be quite expensive depending on where you live.
Fortunately, in Colombia it’s cheap. It’s a situation where you’re spending and saving money at the same time – Like during the sales ^^
There are two places to pass your diplomas (around 250$)
But don’t expect to observe as many colorful reefs and fishes than in the red sea or around the Philippines.
If you’re looking for something more exciting – You will probably need the Open Water Advanced-, you should check out Isla Gorgona or Bushnell near Isla Fuerte.
In the Caribbean sea, the sea is flat during the “raining season”- between March and October. Hence, the visibility will be better!
15. Football is a religion
In Colombia, the real name of Jesus is James, and his apostles are Ronaldo, Suarez, Messi, James, Falcao, Neymar, and Ibrahimovic.
Ok, I may exaggerate a little. Many Colombians are Catholic so Jesus will be Jesus forever. But I think we can say that Football is as much important as religion in Colombia.
It’s a social/cultural thing. It unifies the country and breaks the barriers between poor and rich people. Many Colombians know by heart more than one hundred European cities because of the different football leagues.
When the national team is playing, everyone watches the game. Plastic chairs and TV screens are set up on the streets, and Aguila’s caps (Colombia beer) are popping like fireworks.
In Medellin, the stadium is well-known for its tremendous ambiance during the local derby. You should check this out!
16. Tejo is an explosive game
Tejo is the national game of Colombia, and it’s also a great excuse to drink beers with friends. Two teams face off by throwing iron disks into a box full of clay.
The team with the closest iron disks from the center of the box gain points. It’s the same spirit than Petanque or curling.
And you don’t know the best yet.
They add small papers full of gunpowder on the clay. You have to target these “little bombs” to get more points and made an explosion with the impact – Like a firecracker.
Parties of Tejo are usually free, and the owner makes money by selling beers or sodas. Don’t need to say that the more you’re drunk, the harder it is.
Tejo is one of the 40 reasons why you should plan a trip to Colombia.
17. Festivals are plentiful in Colombia
Colombians express their feeling through the dance. Every rhythm of music has a history and a group of fans ready to spread the sounds in the country.
Festivals and fairs are all along the year, and they can last many days (From 2 to 7 days). Usually, people watch the parades during the day and move their hips like crazy at night.
It’s one of my favorite interesting facts about Colombia. And I highly encourage you to participate to one of them during your trip.
I wrote down a few to help you:
- Carnival of Barranquilla: February
- Vallenato festival (Valledupar): April
- Rock in the Park (Bogota): July
- Feria de las Flores (Medellin): August
- Feria de Salsa (Cali): December
- Feria de Manizales: January
- Festival Blanco y Negro (Pasto): January
- Jazz festival (Mompox): October
Find more events in my Free Colombia Guide Book
18. Like the number of Public holidays
Colombians only have 2-3 weeks of holidays. Fortunately, Colombia is one of the countries with the highest number of public holidays. 18!
To allow the inhabitants to enjoy the festivals and discover more of their country, the majority of the public holidays fall on a Monday.
And let me tell you that Colombians don’t like to spend their days off at home. They rush to the coasts and other highlights. Check out the dates below as you should book a few days in advance if you realize that a “Holly Monday” is coming. Calendar 2018
Source: Office Holidays
Interesting Facts About Colombia: Cultural And Economics Ones
19. The third producer of Coffee in the world
After Brazil and Vietnam, Colombia is the third producer of coffee in the world and enjoys big popularity in the global market.
Why is there such craze for the Colombian Coffee? Other countries are also growing Arabica beans after all. The answer is simple.
Quality and great marketing.
At the end of the nineteen century, there was a crisis in the coffee market, and the prices fell. In 1927, the government created the National Federation of Coffe Growers of Colombia to help the many local Colombians producers.
To gain market shares, they opted for a differentiation strategy by selecting the best beans for the exportation. And because many farmers only have a few acres of lands, the federation created the brand, Juan Valdez, to express the artisanal and local values.
Then the coffee growers sell their coffee beans to the federation, which takes care of the exportation.
Many local farmers are located in the Zona Cafetera (Armenia, Pereira, Manizales) and the Department of Antioquia.
20. Shiny Emeralds
Did you know the Castafiore Emeralds (cf Tintin) probably come from Colombia? Indeed, the country accounts for more than 60% of the global market!
Most of the mines are located in the eastern Andes, but buyers usually met in Cartagena de Indias.
21. An artist in love with generous shapes
Fernando Botero is a world famous artist whose works are exposed in many countries. He is well-known to give generous curves to his sculptures.
They look like balloon fill up with air and ready to explode.
I recommend you to visit one of the two expositions in Bogota or Medellin.
22. A writer who popularizes the Magical Realism
Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Gabo is one of the most famous writers in South America. He is known for popularising Magic realism, a literary style where magical elements appear in realistic situations.
Gabo grew up on the Caribbean Coast, and many of his books have been inspired by the lifestyle of the Costeños and the experience he had during his childhood.
Bestsellers like “Hundred Years of Solitude” or “Love in the time of Cholera” have been translated into many languages.
Don’t forget to pack one of them in your luggage!
Interesting Facts About Colombia: Food and Drinks
23. Plentiful of fruits
Imagine a colossal basket of fruits without hundreds of different colors. It’s how I visualize Colombia. There are fruits for everyone and every taste.
First, there are the ones you cut in half. Then, you eat the inside with a spoon. It’s perfect for a snack. I’m sure you know the most famous one, the Passion Fruit! You can also try Grenadilla and Lulo.
In South America, there are some fruits and staples which are supposed to increase your libido – Most of the time they smell terrible. It’s the case of the Borojo fruit.
If you like the bitter taste, you should try the Star Fruit. And the juice is fantastic too!!
And don’t hesitate to try the ones with a weird shape like the Dragon Fruit, Guanabana -a mammoth fruit- or the Guama – You have to suck the flesh around the beans.
I kept the worst for the end. Try the Noni fruit. It stinks like an old cheese which has been forgotten in a shoe box with the runners still inside. Gross.
Tip: Drink minimum one juice a day
24. Aguardiente, a social beverage!
When doing party, Colombians love to carry around the bottle of alcohol they bought, and they give chupitos – small shots- to everyone!
As you know, parties are the best occasions to create new friendships.
Aguardiente is the national alcohol. It’s an anise-flavored liquor that literally means “Firewater”. But relax, it’s not that strong – around 29%.
You have to drink it very cold otherwise you won’t appreciate it. The Aguardiente de Antioquia is the one you will be able to buy everywhere. There are two different kinds, with (Red) or without sugar (Blue). If you want to maximize your chance to avoid a hangover the next morning, you should definitively choose the blue one.
Edit: Daphne informed me there are two other colors: Green and Yellow :0! Did you try?
*I’m using pictures from Shutterstock
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OTHER FANTASTIC DESTINATIONS IN COLOMBIA
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