Colombia, an overview

Colombia truly is the “Land of Magical Realism”, a phrase used to describe the style of Nobel-prize winning literature written by Colombian native, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Just like Marquez’s ethereal writing, weaving fantasy and reality like a thick ruana[1], the country and its people possess many dream-like attributes layered with dark deposits of a harsh history.Bogota

With extremely varied landscape, proximity to the equator, two oceans and five other countries as borders, Colombia is situated between a land bridge to central and North America, serves as a gateway to the rest of the Southern hemisphere, and is a keystone in Latin American politics and the continent’s economy.

Mountains, jungles, rivers, rich, fertile soil and invaluable natural resources contribute to a promising future in the scope of the world economy, while history, political differences, isolation of different cultures, poverty and crime have detracted from the political and social aspirations of the country.

Bordered by Panama to the north, Venezuela to the west, Brazil to the southwest, Peru and Ecuador to the southeast, Colombia is the only South American country with coastlines on both the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea, and boasts more than 300 beaches.

With 340 different types of ecosystems, Colombia is one of the most bio diverse countries in the world, and is home to 1,879 Regional Costumesspecies of birds, the highest diversity of birds in the world. And it is not very hard to find Colombia’s flora and fauna. Colombia has 58 National Parks (the same number as the US) that cover 55,000 square miles, or 11% of the country.

From ancient times when the indigenous people crafted gold and silver for ceremonial purposes, Colombia has been known for rich and abundant natural resources buried in the earth’s crust and cultivated on verdant sun-drenched fields. Farmers of today raise world-renowned coffee on the Andean slopes. Colombia sells much of the world’s emeralds and considerable amounts of gold, silver, and platinum, and has the continent’s highest coal production. Development of oil resources and investment by large corporations are currently Colombia’s most important economic activity. Last year, Colombia produced 1 million barrels of oil per day of petroleum, including crude oil and natural gas.

gramamaColombia is equatorial. Seasons consist of “rainy” and “dry”, summer comes in December, and winter in June, but variations in temperature depend on altitude. High mountain towns and villages, like Tunja, range from the mid-sixties during the day to lows in the mid-forties, Fahrenheit, at night, while coastal towns like Cartagena and Barranquilla bask in humidity with highs in the 90s with lows in the mid-70s.

Colombia’s multiple climate zones and varying landscapes are divided by three huge cordilleras (mountain ranges) of the Andes that contribute to the concentration of Colombia’s people into separate clusters. Distinct regions of population include the Caribbean lowlands in cities like Barranquilla and Cartagena; isolated mountain valleys include the population centers of cities like Cali and Medellin. Bogotá, the capital and largest city, is situated in a remote mountain basin at 8,200 feet, while steamy, sparsely populated low-lying areas, like Leticia, and Puerto Alegria, situated on the banks of the Amazon River, are gateways to the famous Amazon jungle.

Most Colombians today are of mixed ethnicity, including the ancestors of slaves imported by the Spaniards and Portuguese. (About 90 percent of all Africans forcibly imported into the Americas went to the Caribbean and South America). About 20 percent of Colombians claim European descent. Remaining indigenous populations make up approximately one percent of the population.TemploDoct

The Spanish conquistadors arrived in 1499, conquering the peaceful native inhabitants, who had a highly developed civilization that excelled at agriculture, gold and silver metallurgy and textiles. Colonization rapidly followed by 1525, and the people of “Nueva Grenada” (modern day Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador) gained independence from the Spanish crown in 1820. Since then Colombia has had a turbulent history. Between 1899 and 1902, civil war claimed 100,000 lives.  La Violencia erupted in 1948 when a popular candidate for president was assassinated, and lasted until 1957. Bogota’s downtown was decimated by riots, buidings destroyed and trolley cars burned, causing around  300,000 deaths and the near-overthrow of the Colombian government. From the 1970s to the 1990s the explosion of drug cultivation and exportation brought more violence and crime.

The Rafael Uribe PalaceColombia, however, has made a remarkable transition in recent years from “off-the-radar crime hotspot” to “exotic must-see destination”. An era of headline-grabbing crime cartels and drug wars during the 1980s has ceded to social, legal and legislative reforms that have made the country a safe option for a new generation of curious travelers. Within the last 10 years Colombian drug production has decreased by 60%, violence has markedly abated, and the murder rate is lower than in some US cities, including New Orleans and Baltimore.

According to Luis German Restrepo, executive director of ProColombia, the country’s tourism agency, Colombia is steadily increasing in popularity among North Americans. The total number of visitors to Colombia in 2014 was 2,879,543 a 9.5 percent increase from 2013. The main market for Colombia in 2014 was the United States with 376,410 travelers. Restrepo cited hotel infrastructure, economic stability, investment and product diversity as a few of the reasons Colombia has become a top-notch destination in Latin America.

Colombia’s people are warm, open, polite and friendly. Modern conveniences, like huge supermarkets, malls and freeways lessen the impact of being a foreigner. Retention of the old traditions, tiny villages, and unique regional styles of dress and food, however, keep the experience of living in Colombia fresh and exciting.

Top sites to see:ClaustroSanAugustin

Each region offers a fantastic array of activities that can be enjoyed every day of the year thanks to tropical weather with indiscernible seasons and no hurricanes.

Caribbean Coast:

  • Cartagena, a UNESCO World Heritage site, whose centerpiece is “Cuidad Allmurada,” the city’s huge colonial-era walled city, evokes more than 500 years of history.
  • Barranquilla, best known for its bacchanalian, annual “Carnaval”, with elaborate costumes, parades, music, and dancing in the streets, has earned Barranquilla UNESCO’s World Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
  • Santa Marta, the first permanent Spanish settlement in colonial Colombia, is a major domestic tourist destination. Here, in Tayrona National Park, Cuidad Perdida (the Lost City), discovered in the mid-1970s by treasure hunters, was one of the most important settlements of the indigenous Tayrona people.

Boyacá and the Santanderes:

  • hs2edNorth of Bogota and located in the mountainous highlands, the countryside is dotted with beautiful, well-preserved colonial towns, including Villa de Leyva and Barichara. The area is rich in history, natural beauty, and outdoor activities.
  • Paipa’s thermal hot springs, the magnificent Lake Tota, Colombia’s largest lake, Raquira and other small native villages, and the chilly but European-style capital of Tunja are delightful to explore.
  • Miles of secondary roads serve as training grounds, where international cyclists sharpen their muscles at elevations of 10,000 feet and more.

Medellin and the Coffee Region:

Spanish style architecture and filled with coffee plantations, the region is bordered by a mountainous landscape and is rich in traditions echoed in its crafts, gastronomy, and festivals that preserve its rural folklore and heritage.burroheavyload

  • A UNESCO World Heritage City, with unique traffic-saving cable cars and an elevated Tram, has a vibrant cultural scene and nightlife.
  • Guatape and Santa Fe de Antioquia are rural villages a short distance from Medellin with rustic, colonial charm and friendly locals.
  • Manizales, the capital of the Caldas department, is situated atop meandering mountain ridges. Nearby coffee farms and national parks are perfect day-trip destinations.
  • Salento, located on the western edge of Parque Nacional Los Nevados, is home to cowboys and coffee growers, and close to Valle de Cocora, where wax palms, Colombia’s national tree, rise to dizzying heights of 200 feet.

Bogota:

Colombia’s lofty capital city, located in a mountainous bowl at an elevation of 8,200 feet, displays the fantastic vibe of a modern city full of history and culture with unmatched cuisine and exquisite taste for fashion.

  • IMG_0241The legend of El Dorado is displayed at Museo del Oro (The Gold Museum), tourism thrives in the historic and quirky La Candelaria, and the Plaza de Bolivar serve as the centerpiece of the nation’s capital, where Colombia’s president, Juan Manuel Santos resides in the grand Presidential Palace.
  • Many outstanding art museums, theaters and concert hall, too numerous to name, reside alongside Bogota’s more than one hundred universities, earning Bogota the title of “The Athens of South America”.

Cali and Southwest Colombia

  • Cali, Colombia’s salsa capital is a warm, relaxed city in the Valle de Cauca, where sugarcane fields go on forever. Settled by the native Calima people as early as 1200 B.C.E. Cali’s later railroad system linked it to the rest of Colombia and the world.
  • Popayan, the White City, lies along the banks of the Rio Cauca, and is proud of its place in history as the home of priests, presidents and poets.
  • Tierradentro is an ancient site settled by an agricultural society from 500 to 900 A.D. that is a major indigenous Sogamoso Arch hutsnecropolis with monumental funeral statues and huge burial chambers decorated with anthropomorphic and zoomorphic geometric designs. This archaeological park was declared a World Heritage site in 1995.

[1] Ruana – a very thick, soft poncho-style rectangular or square outer garment with a slit for the head, that can also used as a blanket or cushion. The word “ruana” comes from the Chibcha language meaning “Land of Blankets,” woven by the indigenous Muisca natives.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ruana#cite_note-1s with sheep’s virgin wool

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