What is Colombia known for?
This is the right question to ask yourself when deciding whether it is worthwhile to discover this beautiful country.
And the answers will amaze you!
In the last decade, governments have been able to give back some of the peace lost during the 50-year conflict with the guerrillas.
I have been traveling around Colombia since 2015. This post will explain why I fell in love with its landscapes, people, cities, and way of life.
Trust me. You’ll start packing your bag before the end of this article.
Let’s start with something yummy.
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👉 Check out all of our travel guides for destinations in Colombia.
Plan the perfect Colombia trip
In this section, you’ll find the most important things to know about Colombia: weather, best places, is it safe, best beaches, etc.
Famous Colombian cuisine
Is Colombia famous for its food?
From my French point of view, I would say no — even if every Colombian on earth would disagree with me.
Still, there is plenty of delicious or strange food to try.
27# Try hundreds of tropical fruits
Colombia offers more than 400 varieties of native fruits, plus the ones everyone knows, such as mangoes, oranges, and coconuts.
Fruit juices are a delight to try. For instance, lulo is a very aromatic fruit consumed in juices, but there are other, more exotic fruits, such as arazá, gulupa, and maracuyá (passion fruit), granadilla, and guanabana.
Fruits are such a big thing in Colombia that you can also try them in the form of fruit salads and other preparations in almost every street market in Colombia.
For example, the Paloquemao market in Bogotá offers a variety of fruit preparations. You can buy the ‘Berraquillo’ (which translates strong), an alleged aphrodisiac preparation that includes raw river live crabs, borojó (a fruit), vitamins, tonic wine, duck embryo, milk, and honey. This exotic elixir costs about 15,000 COP (4 dollars).
There are other fruit-rich markets in different cities: Minorista (Medellín), Bazurto (Cartagena), Alameda (Cali), and El Playón (Barranquilla).
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26# Eat Massive meals (then take a nap)
Another trait of typical Colombian food is the size of the portions you are served, so make sure you open up your appetite before eating.
There are three typical examples of this. The first one is the ajiaco, allegedly Colombia’s national dish. This consists of a thick, savory soup made of two different kinds of potatoes, corn, some herbs, and chicken. It’s typically served with a side of rice and avocado.
Another typical Colombian soup is sancocho, made of chicken alone, or a combination of pork, chicken, and cow rib, plus potato, arracacha (a kind of tuber), manioc, corn, and green plantain. It also comes accompanied by rice and avocado.
The bandeja paisa (Antioquia) consists of red kidney beans, ground beef, rice, a fried egg, a sausage, avocado, fried ripe plantain, and fried pork. Some restaurants offer the ‘típico montañero,’ a variation of the same platter that adds chicken and a piece of black pudding (a blood and rice sausage).
25# Arepas, empanadas, and patacones
These three kinds of food can be eaten as a snack between meals or as an accompaniment to other dishes.
Arepas are corn patties that can be made with cheese in the dough or on top, which melts while they are being grilled. You can also eat them with meat, chicken, or other fillings. The meat, chicken, or shrimp can go on top as well. Among famous Colombia’s arepas is the ‘arepa de huevo,’ typical of the Caribbean coast, which is fried and has an egg inside.
On the other hand, the empanadas are small pies whose pastry is made of corn or wheat flour. They are usually fried and filled with a mix of meat or chicken, rice, peas, and even potato.
Patacones are slices of fried mashed plantain that can be served on their own, with just a pinch of salt, or served with ‘queso costeño’ (ground, salted cheese) on top.
Colombia is known for its People
For me, this is the main reason why people want to visit Colombia.
24# Friendly inhabitants
Colombians are known for their special pride in their varied culture and indigenous ancestors. Even though the country has lived difficult moments for decades in the recent past, the resilience and happiness of its nationals are visible from the first moment you arrive.
Colombians spin around the national soccer team, cycling, national holidays, drinking, eating, dancing, carnivals, and work.
Family is another important part of Colombian culture. It’s often seen that elderly parents are taken care of by their children or grandchildren, and there are always celebrations around important dates, such as birthdays or anniversaries.
People in the cities are somewhat punctual, but still, in general terms, Colombians are not so keen on arriving on time. “Ahorita” is one of the most used expressions meaning “in a bit,” referring to the time it takes until they arrive at an appointment; problem is, “ahorita” can take forever.
Most Colombians often promise they will do things but don’t keep their promises, mainly regarding appointments or small tasks. Colombians are usually helpful, generous, playful, and kind despite this minor drawback in their habits.
23# Famous Colombian Celebrities
Some of the Colombian artists are well-known internationally. Such is the case of singer, writer, and dancer Shakira; or how about late writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez and his famous magic realism?
Hollywood has also seen some Colombian celebrities pass by, such as Bogotan actor John Leguizamo and actress Sofia Vergara.
There are other singers, such as Carlos Vives, Juanes, J Balvin, and Sebastian Yatra, who sings ‘Two oruguitas’ in Disney’s Colombian-inspired movie ‘Encanto.’
Sportspeople such as former Formula 1 driver Juan Pablo Montoya, Liverpool’s soccer striker Luis Díaz, cyclists Nairo Quintana and Egan Bernal (first Colombian to win the Tour de France), soccer players Falcao García and James Rodriguez are also beloved Colombians.
You’ll have fun
There is always a reason to dance, sing, and have fun in Colombia.
22# Carnivals and festivals
Almost every city and small town in Colombia celebrate some kind of festivity at any time of the year. These are the most popular ones:
→ Carnaval de Barranquilla: the capital of Atlantico Department’s world-famous carnival is the biggest celebration in Colombia, with lots of music, costumes, dancing, parades, and plenty of drinking. It takes place between the end of February and the beginning of March. La Batalla de Flores (Battle of flowers) is the most colorful and popular parade.
→ Black and White Carnival: this is one of the most symbolic Colombian carnivals in the country, declared a Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2009. It is held between the 2 and 7 of January in Pasto, the capital of Nariño. The origins of the festival date back to colonial times, when indigenous peoples gave thanks for their harvests. The carnival is divided into four stages: Carnavalito (Little carnival), the arrival of the Castañeda family, the day of Blacks, and the day of Whites, in which people throw corn starch, water, and balloons at each other.
→ Feria de Cali: it is also known as the Sugar Cane Festival, and it’s held in Cali, the capital of Valle del Cauca Department, between December 25 and 30. The two most important events are the Salsódromo, where couples and groups dance to salsa music, and the Superconcert, which gathers the most popular bands. Salsa lovers can also attend the World Salsa Festival (usually in November).
→ Feria de las Flores (Flowers festival): This festival takes place in Medellín. It began in 1957 as a tribute to the “silleteros”, those men who, during the colonial period, began to carry goods from one region to another instead of animals. Indeed, depending on the time of the year, oxen, mules or horses could not cross certain passages in the mountains of the Andes. Today, the silleteros no longer carry goods, but instead and only during the feria, they carry a seat covered by splendid floral compositions, which is still very heavy. The event includes other activities, such as a parade of classic and antique cars. It takes place in August.
21# Dancing Salsa
The famous Puerto Rican salsa band leaders Richie Ray and Bobby Cruz, who have lived in Colombia for the last few decades, say that Cali is the last salsa stronghold. There are many academies for families, individuals, and children of all levels of skills.
But salsa is not only danced in Cali. You may find bars and clubs dedicated to this kind of music in Bogotá, Medellín, and Barranquilla, where they even have their style (like salsa choke), a bit slower than the frantic pace of the footwork of salsa dancers in Cali.
Other rhythms you may dance to throughout Colombia are champeta and reggaeton, very sensuous dances based on African sounds.
20# Playing music in the streets
Colombians’ passion for music shows in the number of street musicians, even in big cities like Bogotá and Medellín. However, street music is more common in warm cities like Cali, Barranquilla, and Cartagena.
Every region of Colombia is different. You may find more drums, percussion, and marimba on the Pacific coast. If you go to the Caribbean coast or the city of Valledupar, vallenato is the most widely played music, which features instruments such as gaitas, guacharacas, and accordions.
In Los Llanos (the eastern plains), joropo is the most popular music. This rhythm is made with instruments such as harp, capachos (a smaller variation of the maracas), and cuatro (a small guitar with four strings). The male vocals are known for their rhythmic screams. The dance of joropo consists of jumps and stumps.
19# An explosive Tejo game
Tejo is considered Colombia’s true national sport, although more than a sport, it’s a form of entertainment that includes beer, barbecue, and fun with family and friends.
Some people associate it with a sort of air bowling. It consists of a heavy disc of metal (called Tejo) that you have to throw from one end to the other of the alley. There is a base at a 45-degree angle that contains clay on each end.
Buried in the middle of the clay goes a cylinder called bocín, on whose edge (the only part of the cylinder that can be seen), four paper triangles filled with a mild although noisy explosive (called mechas) are placed at equal distances from each other to form a cross.
The players generally bet on who will pay for the beer at the end of the game. The loser pays all. It is not uncommon to see some Colombians drink up to 30 beers each during a Tejo afternoon, mainly in the departments of Boyaca and Cundinamarca, where they are heavy beer drinkers.
Playing Tejo is one of the best things to do in Colombia.
What’s Colombia famous for: Economy
The richness of Colombia’s soil allows it to export many products worldwide. Let’s see which ones.
18# Best Coffee Beans
Growing coffee has been Colombia’s leading agricultural and economic activity for more than a century.
Currently, more than 550,000 Colombian families depend on coffee to make their living. Picking the coffee beans is still made by hand so that they can choose the best ones (the ripe ones).
Colombia is the third-largest coffee exporter globally, after Brazil and Vietnam.
What makes Colombian coffee one of the best in the world is the perfect weather (at altitudes between 1,500 masl and 1,800 masl), the variety (arabica), productive soil, and the right measure of rainfall, apart from the production techniques that give it the great flavor it’s widely known for.
- Learn more about the Coffee zone.
17# Beautiful Colombian Emeralds
Colombian rough emeralds are considered the purest due to their warmer and intense green color, a characteristic only present in these Colombian gems. The country produces two-thirds of the emeralds in the world.
You can buy certified emeralds in Bogotá and Cartagena. Avoid buying them from people in the streets, even if the price appears to be attractive and the salesperson’s pitch sounds convincing.
You can find jewelry with emeralds cast in it or buy the gem alone. Prices of the sole gems range from 110,000 COP to 36 million COP (30 to 10,000 dollars).
Colombia is famous for its wild beauty
You can say that Colombia is a rough diamond in terms of its natural beauty. It has all kinds of weather, from desert to Colombian mountains covered with snow.
Its vast uncharted territory makes the country unique because, literally speaking, there are places where there is almost no human intervention. These are some of the most well-known places to explore when visiting Colombia.
👉 Discover more famous Colombian landmarks
16# The rainbow river of Caño Cristales
This rainbow river owes its beautiful colors to a kind of algae that forms on the river bed during the rainy season, between mid-June and the end of November.
You need to hire a guide or buy a package to go there. The area is so well protected that you are not allowed to put mosquito repellent on your skin or take plastic bottles with you.
Caño Cristales is located in Sierra de la Macarena, a stand-alone mountain range in the country’s eastern plains.
- Read our experience in Caño Cristales.
15# Los Nevados national park
Three peaks are part of this Colombia national park that, if you are a keen climber, you will find most exciting: El Ruiz, Tolima, and Santa Isabel.
These mountains feature different kinds of weather, from warm and humid rainforests to cold paramos and snow. The only sad aspect is that the snow from the peaks is bound to disappear soon due to global warming.
- Read our experience in Los Nevados National Park.
14# Tayrona National Park
This vast, 150-square-kilometer protected area in the north of Colombia has stunning beaches and a thick rainforest that you can explore on your own.
However, I recommend not leaving the trails, for you may get lost, and the cell phone signal might not be the best to help you out. Also, there are wild animals, such as jaguars, alligators, and snakes, so it’s best to keep on the track.
Once in the park, you should spend one or more nights. There are a few hotels and places for camping. Not all beaches are safe for swimming because some have strong currents that make it dangerous to get in. You can swim in the rivers that come from the mountain.
13# Multi-day hike to the Lost City
Ciudad Perdida, or Lost City (discovered in the 70s by an explorer called Franky Rey), is a town built 650 years before Peruvian Machu Picchu was erected, around 700. The now-extinct Tayrona indigenous people constructed it.
Getting there and back takes you 4 or 5 days on foot, and for that, you must use the service of a local agency.
This fantastic trek features thick rainforests, crossing crystal-clear rivers, and seeing Kogui people’s villages. The view of the Lost City with the beautiful waterfall behind it is something that will remain in your memory forever.
- Read our Ciudad Perdida Experience.
12# The stunning Providencia Island
Providencia is an island in Colombia’s Caribbean sea, near San Andres. Unlike San Andrés, Providencia provides a much quieter experience. You can dive there and enjoy the seven-color sea without the crowds you find in San Andrés.
Unfortunately for the inhabitants of this paradise-like island, hurricane Iota hit them on November 16, 2020, and there is still lots of reconstruction work to do. But visiting this place will contribute to its economy. You can rent a golf car and enjoy the beauty of this place.
- Find more beautiful places to visit in Colombia.
11# All the landscapes you can think off
As we said before, Colombia has all kinds of weather and landscapes imaginable. There are two extensive deserts: La Tatacoa, in the Huila Department, and La guajira, in the northernmost part of the country.
Part of the Amazon jungle is located in the south of Colombia, and it’s so thick that the only way to get there is by taking a plane to Leticia. Colombia has two oceans: The Pacific and the Atlantic, with unique cultural and landscape characteristics.
Three main mountain ranges are part of the Andes Mountains that extend from Argentina and trifurcate into Colombia. These mountains have glaciers, rainforests, and paramos. If you prefer the flatlands, you may also find extensive savannas in the country’s east.
10# One of the richest biodiversity on earth
Colombia hosts about 10% of the world’s biodiversity, with plant and fauna species that have not even been classified by science.
The country is the richest in orchids and bird species, with almost 2,000, making it attractive for bird watchers. The world has counted 10,000 bird species, whereas the rest of South America has 3,435 birds.
Colombia is the second most diverse in plants, butterflies, freshwater fishes, and amphibians. It’s number one in frog species, some of which feature beautiful colors and are highly poisonous.
This country showcases more than 300 types of ecosystems due to the different altitudes and thermal floors that range from zero masl to 5,800 masl.
9# Colorful Orchids
In 1936, the orchid was declared Colombia’s national flower. Colombia has the highest number of orchid species, more than 4,000.
Half of those plants are exclusive, which means they cannot be found elsewhere in the world. The sad part is that some species are endangered due to pesticides in nearby crops.
8# Giant wax palm trees
Colombia has the tallest palm trees worldwide and can be found in Valle del Cocora, Valle de Samaria, and Toche.
This is Colombia’s national tree but, like orchids, is also endangered. However, you may still enjoy the view as the wax palm trees adorn the landscape of the Andean mountain range.
Colombia is also known for bad things
Colombia is a country that has gone through some bad moments during its history. These are the two that most people remember:
7# Pablo Escobar
This drug mogul and killer left many bad things in the country, among which is a great deal of bad reputation and the association of Colombians with cocaine and violence. That’s why many Colombians are tired of hearing about him.
Almost 30 years after Pablo Escobar’s death (December 2, 1993), the country has been freed from the shadow of Escobar to a certain extent. Nevertheless, the drug business was inherited by smaller gangs that still pose a challenge for the government to eradicate.
You can find painted murals and stories about the drug lord in Medellín. Guides will tell you that he was no hero due to the sad consequences that his actions left, such as setting bombs in planes and shopping malls, killing thousands of innocent people, and spreading terror throughout the country.
6# Internal conflict
The fight between the government and the FARC guerrillas has left bloodshed.
Due to inequality and poverty, this guerrilla group started opposing the government. Years later, the group abandoned its reason to be and dedicated to drug trafficking, kidnapping, and extorting civilians.
The whole conflict led to almost 300,000 lives lost and instability. In 2016, the government and Farc signed a peace agreement. However, some guerrilla people did not adhere to the pact and continued to be outlaws. The country still has issues to solve in this regard.
Lively Colombian Cities
Colombia is a country with at least 5 cities with populations that surpass one million people, so there’s a lot of activity going on. What makes the main cities attractive?
TPMT note: You should always be more careful in big cities. Read our general safety tips.
👉 Discover our favorite Colombian cities.
5# Bogotá, the capital city
Bogotá is the capital of the country. More than 8.3 million people live there. The weather is cool throughout the year, and it’s regarded by Colombians from other cities as “bad,” although this might not be so true.
There is a lot of nightlife, restaurants, and excellent museums to visit, such as the Gold Museum, the one with the largest amount of gold pieces in the world. The National Museum and Botero museum also stand out.
One of the city’s landmarks is Monserrate, the east mountain with a church on top where you can go on foot, by cable car, or by a small cable train. The salt cathedral in the nearby town of Zipaquira is another must-see.
4# Cali, the salsa capital
The capital of the Valle del Cauca Department is known for salsa music and dancing. We can dare say it’s the salsa capital of the world. There, you can find academies for learning and nightclubs for dancing. The annual Feria de Cali festival is mainly dedicated to this rhythm.
Cali is also known for its beautiful warm weather and green vegetation. Food and drinks such as ‘lulada’ and ‘champús’ are great, unique refreshments.
3# Medellín, a city of eternal spring
With the shadow of Pablo Escobar aside, the capital of Antioquia is known for its ‘eternal spring’ weather and beautiful women.
The people there are amicable and helpful. The recuperated neighborhood of Comuna 13 is a great place to visit. You can go there by cable car.
Nightlife, shopping malls, and food in Medellín also make the city attractive. Don’t forget to include a few day trips to explore the Antioquia department if you go there. It’s one of my favorite departments.
2# Santa Marta, ideal for exploring the Sierra Nevada
The center of the capital of Magdalena Department has been recently rebuilt and now offers excellent restaurants, bars, and historical places to visit.
Santa Marta is the start of the trip to Tayrona Park and Lost City. It features beautiful beaches and views of the Sierra Nevada, the tallest coastal mountain globally.
1# Cartagena, the perfect romantic city
The capital of the Bolivar Department is the second most widely visited city in Colombia, after Bogotá.
Its walled city was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1984. The houses inside its old town have been perfectly restored, and its narrow streets make it an excellent experience for photography enthusiasts.
You can go to the Rosario Islands by boat and enjoy white sandy beaches.
Bottom Line: What’s Colombia famous for
As you can see, the list of things famous in Colombia is quite long. The way of life of its inhabitants and the beauty of its landscapes largely counterbalance its bad insecurity reputation (which remains a significant problem in the non-tourist areas).
Leave your fears and prejudices at home and join the millions of travelers who fall in love with Colombia every year.