|Country Information & Lifestyle|
Gateway to South America
Welcome to Colombia, the Gateway to South America, a tropical country of incredible diversity and charm. Its ever-changing geography, a history loaded with mystery and adventure, its people and cultures, have fascinated the world for centuries. Coming to Colombia is to discover a completely new world.
Colombia is situated in the northwest corner of South America and is the only country in the region with coasts on both the Caribbean and Pacific Ocean. With the archipelago of San Andres and Providenca 435 miles off the Caribbean coast, Colombia also shares maritime borders with Nicaragua and Costa Rica.
Colombia is bordered on the northwest by Panama, on the east by Venezuela and Brazil, and on the southwest by Peru and Ecuador. Through the western half of the country, three Andean ranges run north and south. The eastern half is a low, jungle-covered plain, drained by spurs of the Amazon and Orinoco Rivers, inhabited mostly by isolated tropical-forest Indian tribes. The fertile plateau and valley of the eastern range are the most densely populated parts of the country.
Colombian people have many reasons to be proud of their country. The contrasting natural regions, profuse flora and fauna, the ethnic diversity of the people and the richness of their cultural and artistic patrimony are some of them. Although its excellent coffee and the purity of its emeralds have made the country famous, Colombia is also the homeland of the El Dorado legend and the magical universe of Garcia Marquez's Macondo.
Being in the middle of the planet, on the Equator, Colombia enjoys sunlight all year round. The climate varies from the tropical heat on the costs, to the perpetual snows of the mountains.
Colombia has five regions, each with its own unique climate and geographical features, so let's take a trip around them to see what each has to offer.
The Caribbean region extends for 1.600 km along the Caribbean coast. It comprises desert on the peninsula of La Guajira; mountains covered by rain forest and perennial snow that form the Sierra de Santa Maria, the highest coastal mountain in the world, swamps and plains in the departments of Magdalena, Cesar and Sucre; bays with white sandy beaches such as the Gulf of Morrosquillo; jungles in the Gulf of Uraba, and a dazzling view of the Caribbean.
Cartagena is a beautiful and romantic city that enchants its visitors with its colonial atmosphere. Dubbed "La Heroica" ("The Heroic") for its stern resistance against constant attacks from Spain in the Independence War, Cartagena has beautiful beaches like El Laguito and Bocagrande, a trendy area surrounded by hotels, shops, restaurants, bars and discos. Walking around the old town is a trip back in time, where churches, squares, monasteries and narrow colonial streets dimly lit come to life from a land of fantasy and dreams.
Just 20 miles off the coast lie the archipelagos of Rosario and San Bernardo, coral paradises with islets of mangrove. The Islas del Rosario are a beautiful set of islands in pristine waters, ideal for snorkelling, scuba diving or just relaxing and forgetting about the world. Some 700 km from the coast, the archipelago of San Andres and Old Providence forms an oasis of life amid the sea, with islands, keys and reefs spread over 500 km.
The longest mountain range in the world, the Andes, enters Colombia in the Nudo de los Pastos, in the south of the country, where it divides into two. In the Colombian Massif it separates into three mountain chains that cross Colombia from south to north and create rugged terrain, with peaks higher than 5,3000 meters above sea level, expansive highland plains, deep canyons and broad valleys. These mountain chains are where the majority of the population lives.
The Pacific Coast stretching for 808 miles is one of the wettest regions on Earth. The northern part, where the hills of Baud sink into the ocean forming bays and sounds, is a jungle region of great biodiversity. The flatter south is bordered by cliffs and beaches lined with mangrove and crossed by wide rivers.
Located 56 km. from the coast, the islands of Gorgona and Gorgonilla one of the country's national parks are sanctuaries of flora and fauna. Their waters are visited by enormous humpbacked whales arriving from the South Pacific, while more than 300 km. from the coast, the island rock of Malpelo emerges from the depths of the ocean, surrounded by remarkable underwater life.
The vast region of Orinoquia is a plain that spreads out eastwards and extends as far as the river Orinoco on the border with Venezuela. Its savannas spotted with scrub and rive rain forests, crossed by broad rivers, the Orinoquia covers over 230.000 km2 representing 20% of the country. The Serrania de La Macarena rises in the southwest, a formation independent of the Andes and endowed with an immense biodiversity, in which natural elements of the Andes, the Amazon and the Orinoquia merge.
The Amazon rain forest is home to the highest variety of animals and plants in the world. In the Colombian part, it covers around a third of the country's territory. Sitting on the banks of the Amazon River and capital of the Amazonas department, Leticia is the region's most important city. Leticia can be easily reached by air from many parts of the country. The city offers many hotels and restaurants and is a great starting point for adventure-seeking explorers. Guided tours take travellers to the heart of the jungle, to the magnificent lakes in the Yahurarcacas region and the Tarapoto, as well as those found nearby in Brazil and Peru.
Santa Fe de Bogota the capital is a modern, dynamic city and is situated on a highland plain of fertile soils dedicated to dairy farming and flowers for export. Located in the middle of the country high above the Andes Mountains it is an exciting city full of history and culture, good restaurants, museums, great shopping and amazing nightlife.
Sunday is definitely a day to go out and experience the ciclovia, where the main streets are closed to traffic and filled with people jogging, skating, riding bicycles, doing aerobics, or just strolling around meeting friends and enjoying the morning. There are many parks around the city surrounded by restaurants, bars and cafes and shopping can be done in the traditional markets, where handicrafts and typical wares can be found.
With its romantic cobblestone streets and colonial balconies and patios, La Candelaria captures everyone at first sight. Sitting in front of any of its numerous of churches while drinking a cup of delicious Colombian coffee and admiring the monumental Andes Mountains that embrace this historical quarter of Bogota, is undoubtedly the best memory of the capital of Colombia.
Medellin, the "City of Eternal Spring" is the main producer of textiles and apparel and is located in a valley surrounded by mountains, close to agricultural and mining regions. The paisas, as the locals are affectionately called, are known for their entrepreneurship and hospitality. The Feria de las Flores is a parade where "silleteros" display their flowers in colourful and beautiful arrangements around the city. The bullfighting tradition lives in Medellin, with the Feria Taurina de La Candelaria.
Founded in 1536, Santiago de Cali is a warm and welcoming city and is developed around its sugar plantations and haciendas. The Hacienda El Paraiso, is where the most important romantic American novel - Maria - takes place. Cali is also a very dynamic city, and becomes a huge party during the Feria de Cali that vibrates to the sounds of salsa music, giving Cali the appellative of "salsa capital of the world".
In Colombia's magic villages you will find the architecture, culture and myth of the region all together. Each of them left its stamp on the buildings of its time, making a magic that revives the past and casts the mind back to times and places it has never dreamt of before. Cobbled streets wind their way through the Spanish-colonial white-walled, clay-tiled houses to chapels and massive churches, as the living testimony of the Spaniards who trod on Colombian soil and were bewitched by the exuberance and abundance of Nature around them.
Each of these little villages stands in a shroud of fantasy, a dreamland of chattering fauna and riotous. Many of the great legends of yesteryear started from such places and enchanted the settlers whose imagination today turns to the land of El Dorado and the gods of the indigenous muiscas.
So, allow these magic villages, so full of energy and history, to bewitch you too. It's a feeling that strikes you in a flash, come round a bend in the road and there stands the village. Discover the mysticism of these magic lands!!
A road winds its way through a desert landscape of compact red and yellow earth until it gets to a village where the houses, streets, churches, artwork and cemetery are made of stone. This is Barichara Colombia's prettiest village, and stands just as it was in the days of the Spanish colonies, beautiful and well-preserved. The village is full of history and beautiful buildings and the houses remind you of Andalusia, with white walls, red tiles and yellow stone floors unique in the world.
Barichara is a jewel set in a desert, a treasure-trove of buildings that offers a visual and unforgettable paradise. Barichara is a place where it is possible to travel back in time to the colonial era, when buildings were built of bahareque (compressed mud) and walls were whitewashed. The village earned its distinction of being a National Monument in 1978 and the people will tell you many a story of the great days of the village.
The village is set on top of a vast arid plateau. The climate is mild with clear blue sky during the day turning to red, orange and pink as the sun sets. The calm, slow pace of life will intoxicate you as you wander the streets where you will come across shops selling handicrafts, figurines, rugs, jewellery and much more. There are churches, chapels, a beautiful old cemetery, and nearby are caves, waterfalls and lots of adventure. Barichara meaning place of rest, is 118 km from Bucaramanga and 445 km from Bogota, and truly is an oasis of tranquillity.
Close to Barichara is the small village of Guane accessed by a historic path where the population maintains the colonial architecture. Only 9 km away you will find yourself immersed in a dramatic desert landscape. It is also worth visiting the Santa Lucia Church, one of the lovely colonial buildings in the village.
Guane is known for its fabrics made from sisal hemp and paper, which are turned into rugs and baskets. The local crafts and architecture reflect endless and magical stories, the white-walled houses and clay-tiled roofs are a tribute to Old Guatavita, the village which lies in silence underneath the waters of the dam. The new village was rebuilt street by street, house by house, story by story.
Not far from the village is Lake Guatavita, the centre of a legend, the scenario of the original El Dorado. This place guards the stories of gods and gold, which give this place its unique character. The sacred lake of Guatavita was the ceremonial site where the Indians worshipped Chie, the goddess of water.
The road snakes though mountains on its way to Salento. This village brings back the memories of the heyday of the peasant coffee-farming communities in the Coffee Triangle. Known as the cradle of the wax-palm, Salento is a paradise suspended in time, whose houses and balconies, ablaze with riotous colour from the flowers, remain untouched. The buildings in Salento are typical of the Antioquian style of the warm and friendly people there.
In addition to Salento, the Coffee Triangle has much to offer. A trip up into the mists to the Valle del Cocora is like a fairy story. Take the trip by horseback through extraordinary setting of giant wax-palms up into the mists, a trip you will never forget.
Villa de Leyva is one of the magical, beautiful and diverse villages which attracts tourist most. The square is surrounded by desert and is probably the largest of its kind in Colombia. The buildings there have made it a film set for local TV and film productions such as "La Pola", Paraiso Travel and La Gente Honrada.
However, the heart of the city undoubtedly belongs to the department of Boyac. This is where the grace and the character of Villa de Leyva lie. The streets are lined with white-washed houses with ref-tile roofs and the cobblestone streets, many of which date back to Spanish colonial times, impart a magical touch to the encounter with the history and legends in which this land is embedded.
This authentic colonial town will leave unforgettable impressions, where religion, architecture, green landscapes, and the passion of the boyacenses are singularly blended. Visit the many convents and churches prayer and on the road to Arcabuco is the oldest wheat mill in Colombia, today a museum.
Roquira is located on the road to Chiquinquira and the villagers produce ceramics and weaving's. At the ostrich farm you can learn about the industrial production of ostriches and taste their healthy meat.
Providencia and Santa Catalina Islands are bursting with every shade of colour, on the surface and under water, full of life and the mangroves add their green to the display of the tiny brightly-flashing fish that nestle in their roots. The people of Providencia are cheerful, charming, lovers of music and good food and always ready to share the island life with visitors. The islanders live mainly on fishing and tourism and their buildings has remained the same as it was in colonial days.
San Andres, 700 km from the Colombian mainland, is a miniature paradise with influences from England and Spain, pirates and corsairs, blended into a rich culture which moves to the beat of reggae. Your first glimpse of Sand Andres Island is the sea of seven colours, home to many-hued fish and coral, working their magic on the visitor. After and afternoon on the beach or duty-free shopping, night falls and the air is alive with music and dancing from reggae, soca, and calypso, to meringue and salsa.
A quarter of an hour by launch from San Andres is the tiny island of Johnny Cay, famous for its white sand beaches. and Coco Locos: Johnny Cay. You can walk all round the island are exotic coral formations with pools that reflect and merge with the deep, blue of the sky. The soundtrack to all this is reggae and the colours are those of the Rastafarians.
Santa Marta in the Sierra Nevada, is the oldest city in South America, and the bay and all their surroundings are full of indescribable magic and a certain charm that is hard to describe. The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is home to a unique and complex network of ecosystems and guards archaeological remains of the Tayrona culture in sites like Pueblito and Ciudad Perdida, with their enigmatic terraces and perfectly designed roads.
The beaches of the Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona, fringed by a virgin and exuberant nature, are among the most beautiful in the world. The rivers and jungles that descend the mountainside are full of animal life. Parrots and hollering monkeys stand out as they alert other animals to the presence of hikers. The Cienaga Grande de Santa Marta is the stage for surreal sunrises where the line of the horizon is so hazy that observers cannot tell whether they are sailing on the skies or gliding on the water. Taganga, on the contrary, is famous for its sunsets.
A traditional dish in Bogota and the Andean region is Ajiaco, a soup made of chicken, corn, potatoes, avocado and guascas, a local herb. Ajiaco is served with white rice, salad with a hint of lemon, avocado, or sweet or salty tostadas. Along the Caribbean coast, pork and whale liver are used in mild spicy food and coconut rice is a common dish along the coastal cities.
In the Llanos of the east, barbecued meat is common and dishes such as the ternera llanera are cooked on a vertical spit over an open fire. Local resources such as beef and other livestock, as well as freshwater fish, are typical ingredients in Amazonian cuisine.
Tamales are corn cakes wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed. They can be filled with everything from chicken, potatoes, peas, carrots, to rice. The tamales vary in shape and fillings in each region, and almost every region has its own variation. Caldo de costilla is a dish typical of Colombian cuisine, from the Andean region.
The Indians of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta were never truly vanquished by the Spaniards. If they protect their sacred mountain home, the Indians of northern Colombia believe they will keep the entire planet in balance. Descendants of an ancient South American civilisation called the Tayrona and numbering perhaps 45,000 today, the Kogi, Arhuaco, and Wiwa peoples fled death and pestilence four centuries ago, seeking refuge in a mountain paradise. To this day the Kogi, Arhuaco, and Wiwa remain true to their ancient laws.
A Colombian folk tale tells of a hellish man, The Sombreron, who wears a big sombrero that covers his head to his calves. He also may appear with a black gown, and aura of mystery surrounds him. Peasants say that the Sombreron meets drunks at nights and tells them: "If I get you, I'll put it on you", words that horrify walkers. In Antioquia, people have seen him as a rider with a sombrero and square black poncho in dark nights. He has heavy chains and two big dogs accompany him. Strong winds and storms follow him through his pass.
El Dorado was the myth, but what lay beyond that myth was an unknown land of complex geographical features ranging from lush rain forests to snow capped mountains, from arid deserts to grass rich savannas and fog shrouded valleys.
Myth, half-truth or whatever, Colombia has so much, come and see for yourself just what this beautiful country and her people have to offer.