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Colombia travel guide - Travel S Helper


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Colombia is twice the size of France and almost twice the size of Texas, having extensive Caribbean and Pacific coastlines, as well as hilly regions and even some Amazon rainforest interior. Additionally, ethnic groupings and cultures are very varied. Almost every traveler will find something to like in the nation.

Choose a temperature and enjoy it—if you find Bogotá’s light jacket weather too chilly, travel an hour down into the mountains and sunbathe next to the pool of your rented hacienda. If you’re not up for sitting still, go into the Amazon or one of the country’s many other interior jungles, snow-capped mountains, rugged deserts, vast plains, lush valleys, coffee plantations, alpine lakes, or desolate beaches.

In terms of culture, intellectual Bogotá may lead Latin America in experimental theater, indie rock, and sheer volume of bookstores, but you can also get a completely alien education in an Amazonian malocca, or delve into the massive Latin music scene of salsa and cumbia, with the most exciting dance display being the enormous Carnival of Barranquilla.

For history buffs, explore the winding alleys of South America’s original capital, Bogotá; visit ancient Spanish colonial provincial getaways like as Villa de Leyva; and travel into the northeast’s dense jungle-covered highlands to the Lost City of the Tayrona Indians. Walk the walls of Cartagena’s achingly gorgeous ancient city, gazing out over the towering fortifications that shaped South America’s colonial history.

For nightlife, this is hot. Cali is now the global center of salsa, edging out Colombia’s other lively major city party scenes, which keep the music going into the wee hours of the morning. Not to overlook the hipster playground that is the El Poblado neighborhood in downtown Medelln.

Dining options range from common inexpensive, delectable Colombian home-style meals to world-class upmarket and contemporary culinary arts in the major cities, with cuisines from every corner of the globe represented.

And although there are beautiful tropical beaches throughout Colombia’s Caribbean and Pacific coastlines, the picturesque and unspoiled Caribbean island of Providencia offers even more relaxed and quiet getaways.

Political violence has significantly decreased across the bulk of the nation, and smart tourists from around the globe have already rushed here—come before everyone else does!


Colombia’s geography is characterised by six major natural regions, each with its own characteristics: the Andean 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; the Amazonian forest region, shared with Venezuela, Brazil, Peru and Ecuador; and the island region, which includes the islands of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans

Colombia is bordered by Panama to the northwest, Venezuela and Brazil to the east, Ecuador and Peru to the south, and has established its maritime borders with neighbouring countries through seven treaties on the Caribbean Sea and three on the Pacific Ocean. It lies between latitudes 12°N and 4°S and longitudes 67° and 79°W.

As part of the Ring of Fire, a region of the world prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, Colombia is dominated by the Andes (where most of the country’s urban centres are located). Beyond the Colombian massif (in the departments of Cauca and Nariño, in the southwest of the country), they divide into three branches called cordilleras (mountain ranges): Cordillera Occidental, which runs along the Pacific coast and includes the city of Cali; Cordillera Central, which runs between the valleys of the Cauca and Magdalena rivers (to the west and east); Cordillera Atlantic, which runs between the valleys of the Cauca and Magdalena rivers (to the west and east); and Cordillera Arctic, which runs between the valleys of the Magdalena and Arctic rivers. East) and includes the cities of Medellín, Manizales, Pereira and Armenia; and the Cordillera Oriental, which extends northeast to the Guajira Peninsula and includes Bogotá, Bucaramanga and Cúcuta.

The peaks of the Cordillera Occidental exceed 4,700 m, in the Cordillera Central and Cordillera Oriental they reach 5,000 m. Bogotá, at 2,600 m, is the highest city of its size in the world.

To the east of the Andes is the llano savannah, part of the Orinoco basin, and to the south-east is the jungle of the Amazonian forest. Together, these lowland areas account for more than half of Colombia’s territory, but are home to less than 6% of the population. In the north, the Caribbean coast, home to 21.9% of the population and the major port cities of Barranquilla and Cartagena, is generally composed of low-lying plains, but also includes the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range, which includes the country’s highest peaks (Pico Cristóbal Colón and Pico Simón Bolívar) and the La Guajira desert. In contrast, the narrow and irregular lowlands of the Pacific coast, surrounded by the Serranía de Baudó, are sparsely populated and covered with dense vegetation. The main port on the Pacific is Buenaventura.

The main rivers in Colombia are the Magdalena, Cauca, Guaviare, Atrato, Meta, Putumayo and Caquetá. Colombia has four main drainage systems: the Pacific drainage, the Caribbean drainage, the Orinoco basin and the Amazon basin. The Orinoco and Amazon rivers mark Colombia’s borders with Venezuela and Peru, respectively.

Protected areas and the “national park system” cover an area of approximately 14,268,224 hectares (142,682.24 km2 ) and represent 12.77% of the Colombian territory. Compared to neighbouring countries, Colombia’s deforestation rate is still relatively low. Colombia is the sixth country in the world in terms of total renewable freshwater supply and still has large freshwater reserves.


With an estimated population of 48 million in 2015, Colombia is the third most populous country in Latin America after Brazil and Mexico. It is also home to the third largest number of Spanish speakers in the world after Mexico and the United States. At the beginning of the 20th century, Colombia had a population of about 4 million. The birth rate remained high until the early 1970s, but since then Colombia has experienced a steady decline in fertility, mortality and population growth rates. It is projected that Colombia will have 50.2 million inhabitants in 2020 and 55.3 million in 2050. These trends are also reflected in the country’s age profile. In 2005, more than 30% of the population was under 15 years of age, while only 6.3% of the population was 65 years and older. The total fertility rate was 1.9 births per woman in 2014.

The population is concentrated in the Andean highlands and along the Caribbean coast; population densities are also generally higher in the Andean region. The nine departments of the eastern plain, which account for about 54% of Colombia’s land area, are home to less than 6% of the population. Traditionally a rural society, Colombia experienced a major migration to the cities in the mid-20th century and is now one of the most urbanised countries in Latin America. The percentage of the population living in cities rose from 31% in 1938 to almost 60% in 1973, and in 2014 it was 76%. The population of Bogotá alone has grown from just over 300,000 in 1938 to around 8 million today. A total of 72 cities now have a population of 100,000 or more (2015). In 2012, Colombia had the largest IDP population in the world, estimated at 4.9 million.

Life expectancy is 74.8 years in 2015 and infant mortality is 13.6 per thousand in 2015. In 2013, 93.6% of adults and 98.2% of youth were literate, and the government spends about 4.9% of GDP on education.

Ethnic groups

Colombia is ethnically diverse, with a population descended from the original indigenous peoples, Spanish settlers, Africans brought to the country as slaves and 20th century immigrants from Europe and the Middle East, all of whom contribute to the diversity of the cultural heritage. The demographic distribution reflects a pattern influenced by colonial history. Whites live mainly in urban centres such as Bogotá, Medellín and Cali and in the emerging cities of the highlands. Mestizos also live in the larger cities. Mestizocampesinos (people who live in the countryside) also live in the Andean highlands, where some of the Spanish conquerors mixed with the women of the Indian chieftaincies. Mestizos include artisans and small traders who have played an important role in the urban expansion of recent decades.

According to the 2005 census, the “non-ethnic population”, composed of whites and mestizos (people of mixed white European and Amerindian descent), represents 86% of the national population. 10.6% are of African descent. Indigenous Americans make up 3.4% of the population. 0.01% of the population is Roma. According to an unofficial estimate, 49% of the Colombian population is of mixed European and Amerindian origin, and about 37% is white, mainly of Hispanic origin, but there is also a large population of Middle Eastern origin; among the upper class there is a significant proportion of Italian and German origin.

Many indigenous peoples declined in population during Spanish rule and many others were absorbed by the mestizo population, but the remainder now represent over eighty different cultures. The reserves (resguardos) established for the indigenous peoples occupy 30,571,640 hectares (305,716.4 km2) (27% of the total area of the country) and are inhabited by more than 800,000 people. Some of the most important indigenous groups are the Wayuu, Paez, Pastos, Emberá and Zenú. The departments of La Guajira, Cauca, Nariño, Córdoba and Sucre have the largest indigenous populations.

The Organización Nacional Indígena de Colombia (ONIC), founded at the first national indigenous congress in 1982, is an organisation representing the indigenous peoples of Colombia. In 1991, Colombia signed and ratified the current international law on indigenous peoples, the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention of 1989.

Black Africans were brought as slaves mainly to the coastal lowlands from the early 16th century until the 19th century. Today, there are large Afro-Colombian communities along the Caribbean and Pacific coasts. The population of the department of Chocó, which stretches along the northern part of Colombia’s Pacific coast, is more than 80% black. British and Jamaicans migrated mainly to the islands of San Andres and Providencia. A number of other Europeans and North Americans migrated to the country in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including people from the former USSR during and after the Second World War.

Many immigrant communities have settled on the Caribbean coast, including recent immigrants from the Middle East. Barranquilla (the largest city in the Colombian Caribbean) and other Caribbean cities have the largest populations of Lebanese, Palestinians, Phoenicians and other Middle Easterners. There are also large communities of Chinese, Japanese, Gypsies and Jews. There is a strong trend of Venezuelan migration due to the political and economic situation in the country.


The National Statistics Administration (DANE) does not collect statistics on religion and it is difficult to obtain accurate reports. However, according to various studies and a survey, about 90% of the population profess Christianity, the majority of which (70.9%) are Roman Catholics, while a significant minority (16.7%) adhere to Protestantism (mainly Evangelicalism). About 4.7% of the population are atheists or agnostics, while 3.5% claim to believe in God but do not follow any particular religion. 1.8% of Colombians belong to Jehovah’s Witnesses and Adventism, and less than 1% to other religions, such as Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Mormonism, Hinduism, indigenous religions, the Hare Krishna movement, the Rastafari movement, the Catholic Orthodox Church and spiritual studies. The remainder did not respond or responded that they did not know. In addition to the above statistics, 35.9% of Colombians stated that they do not actively practice their faith.

Although Colombia remains a predominantly Catholic country in terms of the number of baptisms, the Colombian Constitution of 1991 guarantees freedom of religion, and all religious denominations and churches are equally free before the law.


Historically an agrarian economy, Colombia rapidly urbanised during the 20th century, resulting in a situation where only 17% of the active population was employed in agriculture, generating only 6.1% of GDP; 21% of the active population was employed in industry and 62% in services, responsible for 37.3% and 56.6% of GDP respectively.

Colombia’s market economy grew steadily during the second half of the 20th century, with gross domestic product (GDP) increasing at an average rate of over 4% per year between 1970 and 1998. In 1999, the country experienced a recession (the first full year of negative growth since the Great Depression), and the recovery from this recession was long and painful. In recent years, however, growth has been impressive, reaching 6.9% in 2007, one of the highest growth rates in Latin America. According to International Monetary Fund estimates, Colombia’s GDP (PPP) was US$500 billion in 2012 (28th in the world and 3rd in South America).

Total public expenditure represents 28.3% of the national economy. Public debt represents 32% of gross domestic product. A strong fiscal climate was confirmed by an improvement in bond ratings. The annual inflation rate ended 2015 at 6.77% (compared to 3.66% in 2014). The average national unemployment rate was 8.9% in 2015, with informality being the biggest problem in the labour market (the income of formal workers increased by 24.8% in 5 years, while the labour income of informal workers increased by only 9%). Colombia has Free Trade Zones (FTZs), such as the Zona Franca del Pacifico in the Valle del Cauca, one of the most visible areas for foreign investment.

Colombia is rich in natural resources. Major exports include mineral fuels, oils, distilled products, gems, forest products, pulp and paper, coffee, meat, cereals and vegetable oils, cotton, oilseeds, sugar and sugar mills, fruits and other agricultural products, food processing, processed fish products, beverages, machinery, electronics, military products, aircraft, ships, automobiles, metal products, ferro-alloys, household and office supplies, chemicals and health-related products, petrochemicals, agrochemicals, inorganic salts and acids, perfumery and cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, plastics, animal fibres, textiles and fabrics, clothing and footwear, leather, construction equipment and materials, cement, software and others.

Colombia is also known as an important global source of emeralds, and more than 70% of cut flowers imported by the US come from Colombia. Non-traditional exports have fuelled the growth of Colombia’s foreign sales, as has the diversification of export destinations through new free trade agreements. The main trading partners are the US, China, the EU and some Latin American countries.

Electricity generation in Colombia is mainly from renewable energy sources. 70.35% is obtained from hydroelectric power generation. Colombia’s commitment to renewable energy was recognised in the 2014 Global Green Economy Index (GGEI), ranking among the top 10 nations in the world for greening efficiency sectors.

The financial sector performed well due to the good liquidity of the economy, credit growth and, in general, the positive performance of the Colombian economy. The Colombian stock exchange provides a regional market for trading shares through the Latin American Integrated Market (MILA). Colombia is now one of only three economies with a perfect score on the World Bank’s Legal Strength Index.

In 2015, the National Administrative Office of Statistics (DANE) reported that 27.8% of the population lived below the poverty line, of which 7.9% were in ‘extreme poverty’. 171,000 people were lifted out of poverty. The government has also developed a process of financial inclusion among the country’s most vulnerable population.

Recent economic growth has led to a significant increase in the number of new millionaires, including new entrepreneurs, Colombians with a net worth in excess of $1 billion.

Tourism in Colombia is an important sector of the country’s economy. The number of foreign tourist visits increased from 0.6 million in 2007 to 2.98 million in 2015.

How To Travel To Colombia

By airRegular international flights serve the major cities of Bogotá, Medellín, Cali, Barranquilla, Bucaramanga, Cartagena, Pereira and San Andrés, as well as other smaller cities on the borders with Venezuela, Ecuador, Panama and Brazil.There are daily direct flights to and from the USA, Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Spain,...

How To Travel Around Colombia

By airThe main domestic airlines in Colombia areAvianca (Colombia's main national airline)VivaColombia (the cheap Ryanair-type airline). This airline offers the cheapest fares, but the worst booking system for foreigners. For 2014, foreign credit cards are not accepted to book a flight. VivaColombia has no offices and hardly any tour...

Visa & Passport Requirements for Colombia

Citizens of most Western countries, including most European countries, all South American countries, Panama, Costa Rica, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Belize, Mexico, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Solomon Islands, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Brunei, Philippines, Taiwan, South Korea, Bhutan, Japan, Malaysia and Singapore do not need a visa...

Destinations in Colombia

RegionsAndinoRugged Andean landscapes and altiplanos with Colombia's two largest cities, Bogotá and Medellín, as well as beautiful national parks and coffee plantations.Costa NorteColombia's vibrant Caribbean has much to offer, with both historic and modern coastal towns and opportunities for diving, trekking and exploring the jungle and desert.OrinoquíaThe endless eastern...

Things To See in Colombia

A large part of Colombia is located in the Andes, which means that there are beautiful mountain landscapes. On the other hand, there are also beautiful beaches in the lowlands. The height of some of the peaks allows you to see snow even though they are in the tropics.

Things To Do in Colombia

There is a lot to do in Colombia and you can find parties and celebrations everywhere you go. Colombians especially love to dance, and if you don't know how, they will be happy to teach you. Colombia is known for its exciting nightlife.There are many groups and agencies that...

Food & Drinks in Colombia

Food in ColombiaIn many parts of Colombia, it is common to eat buñuelos (fried cornmeal balls with cheese in the batter) and arepas (fairly thick corn tortillas, often made with cheese and served with butter) with scrambled eggs for breakfast. Bogotá and the central region have their own breakfast...

Money & Shopping in Colombia

CurrencyColombia's currency is the Colombian peso, but the symbol you will encounter is the $. Most banks and exchange offices accept major world currencies such as the US dollar and the euro.ATMs are widely available, with different withdrawal limits. The banks with the highest limits are Citibank, (1,000,000 COP,...

Festivals & Holidays in Colombia

Colombia has 18 public holidays (12 Catholic and 6 civil), plus Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday. The city of Barranquilla has two additional holidays to celebrate Carnival Monday and Tuesday.The following days are public holidays in Colombia:Año Nuevo / (New Year's Day) (1 January)Día de los Reyes Magos /...

Internet & Communications in Colombia

PostThere is no government postal system in Colombia. However, the private company 4-72 is Colombia's de facto postal service, although it tends to be somewhat slow and unreliable. Residents rarely use the 4-72 service and usually turn to courier services such as Servientrega, which has many more branches than...

Traditions & Customs in Colombia

Colombians are aware of their country's bad reputation, and any indelicate remark about the history of violence may earn you a derogatory remark (probably about your country of origin) and an abrupt end to the conversation. However, Colombians are eventually willing to talk about these topics if they feel...

Language & Phrasebook in Colombia

The official language of Colombia is Spanish. Some indigenous tribes in rural areas continue to speak their own language, but almost all people from these tribes will be bilingual in their own language and in Spanish.If you have recently learned Spanish, you will be relieved to know that the...

Culture Of Colombia

Colombia lies at the crossroads of Latin America and the wider Americas, and as such has been affected by a wide range of cultural influences. Amerindian, Spanish and European, African, American, Caribbean, Middle Eastern and Latin American cultural influences are all present in modern Colombian culture. Urban migration, industrialisation,...

History Of Colombia

Colombia was inhabited by many large indigenous cultures such as the Muisca, Tayrona and Quimbaya. Some indigenous groups, such as the Caribs, lived in a permanent state of war, but others had a less warlike attitude. The region that is now Colombia was conquered by the Spanish through alliances...

Stay Safe & Healthy in Colombia

Stay Safe in ColombiaWARNING: Although security in Colombia has improved considerably, drug-related violence is still evident in some, mainly rural, areas of the country. In particular, the kidnapping of foreigners for ransom - although not as great a problem as at the beginning of the millennium - still occurs...



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