If all you know about Colombia is the distressing news you hear on TV or read in the newspapers, you’re missing the charm, history, culture and most of all the friendly people of this fascinating country.
Colombia’s geography is among the most varied in South America, as are its flora and fauna. Its people form a palette of ethnic blends uncommon elsewhere on the continent and include a few dozen Indian groups. Some of which still maintain traditional lifestyles.
It’s a country of amazing natural and cultural diversity and contrast, where climate, topography, wildlife, crafts, music and architecture changes within an hour travel overland. It’s as if Colombia is several countries rolled into one.
The climate doesn’t change much during the year. Most of all the temperature changes because of the altitude. The higher you go the colder it will be.
The average temperature varies between 30°C at the Caribbean Coast to below 0°C high in the mountains of the Andes. In general there are two seasons. The winter or rainy season normally is from half March till June and from September till half of December. The summer or dry season is from half of December till half of March and from June till September, except in the north where you’ll find a long rainy season from May till November.
Average temperature and hight of some cities and regions in Colombia:
|Bogotá||10 to 20 °C||2600m|
|Medellin||20 to 25 °C||1500m|
|Cali||25 to 30 °C||1000m|
|Manizales||12 to 22 °C||2200m|
|Armenia||20 to 28 °C||1500m|
|Leticia||25 to 35 °C||100m|
|Caribbean Coast||25 to 35 °C||Sea level|
|Pacific Coast||25 to 30 °C||Sea level|
|Villavicencio||25 to 30 °C||500m|
|Popayan||18 to 22 °C||1750m|
|San Agustin||18 to 22 °C||1700m|
|Cocuy||-5 to 12 °C||3500m-5300m|
People / Culture
The Colombian people are very, very special. You’ll rarely find such joyful, open-hearted, skilled and inspiring people in South America. In fact for us they are THE highlight of Colombia if not whole South America.
Colombian population reached 44 million in late 2002 and the population density varies a great deal across the country. In Bogotá the estimated population varies between 7 and 10 million inhabitants. The rough topography limited contact between regions, forced them to be self-sufficient and developed independently and the result is still noticeable today.
The population has significant racial integration and about 75% is mixed blood. Roughly the population can be divided in 4 groups: Mestizos (50%), mixed Indian with European, Mulatos (20%), European with African blood, Zambos (5%) African with Indian blood and the rest of the population is pure White, Black or Indian.
The family and enjoying life are really important in Colombia. Just like the food and the celebration of special moments, which can be birthdays, holidays or just a free day. These things mentioned go hand in hand and it’s quite normal that you see a lot of Colombian families during the weekends just outside the cities in the nature, on the side of rivers, in parks or villages, always eating, drinking, barbeques, dancing etc.
The family in these cases are not just papa and mama with children, many times it’s also grandfather and grandmother, uncles and aunts, cousins etc. Although you find a lot of poverty in Colombia it’s not only for the rich people. You’ll be surprised by how inventive Colombians are when it concerns a special moment or party. That’s also why every city, town or little village has it’s own event. These events and parties are generally related to the typical product or culture of the region. Just to give you some examples:
|Feria de Cali||Event of the sugar cane and bullfighting|
|Feria de Manizales||Event of the coffee|
|Blanco & Negro Pasto||Event related to the racial diversity (white and black)|
|Feria de las Flores||Event in Medellín related to the production of flowers|
|Festival de Vallenato||Event in Valledupar related to this type of music|
Dancing and music are other important things in Colombia. Every region has besides their customs, typical cloths and food also his own music. Just some examples: cumbia & vallenato (Caribbean Coast), tango (Coffee region and Medellin), Salsa (valle de Cauca), Musica Llanera (Los Llanos). Really popular at the mopment and played a lot everywhere is Regueton. These different types of music are played at full volume, not only in the discotheques and pubs, no, also at home, in shops and on the streets. Colombians love dancing and they do it a lot. Whenever possible you’ll find them all on the dance floor. Most of the time it’s dancing with a partner (which can be your partner or just somebody else who is present and wants to dance with you) and not everyone alone on the dance floor. In the discos and pubs it’s stranger not to dance than to dance, even if the rhythm and movements are sometimes a little to much for non Latinos.
Well known, and maybe a result of the former mentioned lifestyle, is the phenomenal ‘mañana’ (tomorrow). Don’t be surprised if a Colombian promises you something he can’t comply. Or experience is also that it’s really difficult for a Colombian to say ‘ no’ or to tell you that something is impossible. He rather tells you ‘ yes’ when he already knows he can’t comply then to disappoint you with a no.
Other thing is that in Colombia the pattern between women and men is much more traditional than in Western countries. The real ‘Macho’ is often seen, just as the extreme forms the women work on their beauty. Plastic surgery is used a lot to perfectionize bodies and is just as normal as going to the dentist to fix teeth. This ‘macho culture’ combined with beautiful women goes hand in hand with relations between young women and older men. Before criticize this phenomenon you have to realize that these kind of relations are part of the culture and that parents tell their young girls that it’s often better to have a stabile and older man who can take care of them (and their family). A note to make by these comments is that emancipation also changed some things here in Colombia, most of all in the big cities.
Food & drinks
A visit to Colombia is not complete without tasting one or more of the typical Colombian dishes. ‘Arepas’ (pancake of corn weed eaten instead of bread), ‘bandeja paisa’ (dish with rice, beans, egg, advocado, meet, chorizo, pork skin and sometimes other ingredients as well), ‘ajiaco’ (Chicken soup with potatoes served with corn), ‘fritanga’ (plate with fried meet and organs), ‘tamales’ (substance of corn with meet, chicken and vegetables all in a leave of a banana tree, often eated as breakfast), ‘hormigas culonas’ (fried ants, specialty Hormigas Culonasin the department of Santander), ‘sancocho de pescado’ (fish soup with big pieces of fish, mostly eaten in coastal areas), just to name sone examples. Every region has it’s own specialty.
It’s really nortmal to eat a complete dish in the morning and in the afternoon and to eat a snack in the evening. These dishes normally come with a soup as a starter, a meal with something to drink and something sweet as desert. In many restaurants you can order besides the menu also the dish of the day. This is the former mentioned tree course menu with a choice between meet, chicken and sometime fish. Don’t look surprised if they serve this menu with rice and pasta and potatoes, etc.
Besides to local dishes you can also find some restaurants which serve international food. Vegetarians are not that lucky in Colombia as meet and fish is eaten in big quantities. in the bigger cities you can find some restaurants specially for vegetarians but in little villages and other regions further from the cities the choice is smaller. Fruit instead is eaten a lot and can be found everywhere.
Colombians hardly drink alcohol with their meals and prefer to drink a soda or coffee. The coffee of Colombia is well known and of high quality. However this doesn’t mean that Colombians don’t drink alcohol, on the contrary. Beer is popular, cheap and of good quality. ‘Aguardiente’ is by far the most popular alcoholic drink and is consumed is high quantities. In some regions, specially in the rural areas, you can find ‘Chicha’. This is a homemade alcoholic drink distillated from fruits or corn. Also popular is the rum. Colombia produces high quality rum and is often drunk discos.
In contrary to Western discotheques it’s not common (sometimes even impossible) to order just a glass of a alcoholic beverage. They order whole bottles which come with ice a soda and sometimes some snacks as well. For the people who don’t drink alcohol Colombia as to offer enough as well. Specially in the hotter regions in the coastal areas they serve natural frit juices. Sold everywhere on the streets and on the spot mixed with sugar and water or milk.
The quality of the water is generally better than in other Latin countries and often can be drunk from the tap. The water in Bogotá, Medellin and Manizales for example is of good quality. In the hotter areas like Cali and on the coast it’s better to buy the water in bottles or in little plastic bags. If you buy something on the street, a soda with ice cubes or a fruit juice mixed with water, you can assume that the water used is not from the tap and that you won’t have any problems.