History of Colombia

Colombia Flag

When the first spaniards arrive to what is now Colombia, the largest and widespread culture was the Chibchas. They were concentrated mainly in the highland basins and valleys of the Cordillera Oriental.

The first Spanish settelment was established in 1510 on the coast of the Gulf of Uraba (Caribbean Sea) but was abandoned after a few years. Santa Marta and Cartagena (founded in 1525 and 1533, respectively) were the earliest permanent settlements. Bogota was founded in 1538, followed by more than twenty other settlements by the middle of the sixteenth century. About the same time, spaniards moving northward from Peru reached southern Colombia and founded Pasto and Popayan. Spanish settlement grew and expanded during the seventeenth century, stimulated by the sources of gold and silver. Gradually, an increasing number of sttlers turned to agriculture. Large estates were established using the Indians and later Africans for forced labor.

Colombia was part of the territory known as the Viceroyalty of Nueva Granada (established in 1740), which also extended over present-day Panama, Venezuela, and Ecuador. The population of Colombia was estimated at aproximately 800,000 in 1770. It is believed to have crossed the 1-million mark early in the nineteenth century.

In 1811 the populationin parts of Colombia rose up against Spanish colonial rule. A period of armed struggle followed. "Greater Colombia" whose independence was declared in 1819, extended over the former Viceroyalty. It disolved in 1830, when Venezuela and Ecuador declared their independence. Colombia and Panama became the Republic of New Granada. Political and economic rivarly between the different social groups plunged the country in a long period of internal instablility with intermittent civil wars and dictatorships. This continued into the twentieth century. In an attempt to overcome the regional conflict and dissension, the country was given a new Constitution and, in 1863, turned in a Federation of nine states called the United States of Colombia.

In 1886 a new Constitution abolished the Federation and divided Colombia into departments with some local authonomy. In 1903 Panama withdrew from Colombia and declared its independence.


Colombia Map Colombia Map - Click for larger view

Agriculture has traditionally been the chief economic activity in Colombia. An extremely wide variety of crops is grown, depending on altitude, but coffee is by far the major crop and its price on the world market has affected Colombia's economic health. Among the commercial crops, coffee is grown between elevations of 3,000 and 6,000 ft (914 and 1,829 m); bananas, cotton, sugarcane, oil palm, and tobacco are grown at lower elevations. Between 6,000 and 10,000 ft (1,829 and 3,048 m) potatoes, beans, grains, and temperate zone fruit and vegetables are grown.

Colombia is rich in minerals, including petroleum, natural gas, iron, nickel, coal, copper, gold, silver, platinum, and emeralds. The saltworks at Zipaquirá, near Bogotá, are world famous. Hydroelectric potential was developed during the 1970s and 80s. The manufacturing sector of the economy has expanded greatly in recent decades, although it is heavily dependent on imported materials. Beverages and processed foods, textiles, clothing and footwear, metal products, cement, and chemicals are the chief manufactures. Tourism is also a sizable source of income.

Oil replaced coffee as the nation's leading legal export in 1991. Other important official exports include petroleum-related products, coal, cotton, bananas, cut flowers, and sugar. Cocaine is the major illicit export, accounting for about 25% of foreign exchange earnings. Once most of the raw materials were grown in Peru and Bolivia, but cultivation has increased in Colombia as a result of those nations coca-eradication programs. The drug trade (Colombia also produces heroin and grows cannabis) has brought riches to some, but has seriously disrupted the fabric of Colombian society with its violence. Industrial and transportation equipment, foodstuffs, chemicals, and paper products lead Colombia's imports. The United States and Germany are the chief trade partners.

Colombia joined the Andean Group, an economic organization of South American nations, in 1969, and has signed free-trade pacts with other Andean countries and Mexico. During the early 1990s the economy was growing quickly in comparison with that of other Latin American countries, and inflation and unemployment were under control. However, government spending and foreign debt soared in the late 1990s, the country suffered its worst recession in a century, and labor unrest and internal problems related to the drug trade continued to threaten the country's economic stability.


Colombia is an ethnic mosaic, reflected in its culture, folklore, arts and crafts. The different roots and traditions of the Indians, Spanish and Africans have produced interesting fusions, particularly in crafts, sculpture and music. Pre-Columbian art consists primarily of stone sculpture, pottery and goldwork. Indian basketware, weaving and pottery date back to pre-Columbian times but now fuse modern techniques with traditional designs. Colombian music incorporates both the African rhythms of the Caribbean, Cuban salsa and heavily Spanish-influenced Andean music. Colombia's literary giant is Gabriel García Márquez, whose works mix myths, dreams and reality in a style critics have dubbed 'magic realism'. García Márquez insists his work is documentary, which says a lot about the nature, rhythm and perception of life in Colombia.

The best of Colombia's exciting new writers is Moreno Durán, who has been burdened with the reputation of being the best Latin American novelist to emerge since the regional upsurge in literary talent in the 1950s. Spanish is Colombia's official language and, except for some remote Indian tribes, all Colombians speak it. There are also about 75 Indian languages still used in the country. While the education system includes English in its curriculum, it remains little known and rarely spoken

Catholicism remains the dominant religion although over three million followers have recently left the Catholic faith and hooked up to other congregations (Anglican, Lutheran, Mormon, etc) or various religious sects. Colombian cuisine consists largely of chicken, pork, potato, rice, beans and soup. Interesting regional dishes include: ajiaco (soup made with chicken and potato which is a Bogotano speciality); hormiga culona (a sophisticated dish, unique to Santander, consisting largely of fried ants); and lechona (whole suckling pig, spit-roasted and stuffed with rice, which is a speciality of Tolima). The variety of fruit is astounding, the coffee and beer more than adequate and the wine execrable


About 60% of Colombia's population are mestizos, and some one fifth are of European descent. Indigenous peoples, who account for only about 1% of today's population, live on the edge of some of the major cities and in remote areas. About 15% of the people are of mixed African and European descent. The small (less than 5%) black population is concentrated along the coasts and in the Magdalena and Cauca valleys. Spanish is the official language. The population is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic. There are universities in all the major cities

Weather and Climate

Colombia Climate

The Climate of Colombia is characterized for being tropical and isothermal as a result of its geographical location near the Equator presenting variations within five natural regions and depending on the altitude, temperature, humidity, winds and rainfall. Each region maintains an average temperature throughout the year only presenting variables determined by precipitation during a rainy season caused by the Intertropical Convergence Zone.


Entry Requirements

Before travelling to Colombia always contact the Colombian Consulate General. British nationals are usually granted a 90 day visa free of charge but the Colombian authorities reserve the right to refuse this visa. When travelling you need to make sure that your passport has at least 6 months of validity and you have a return ticket

Public Holidays

Public Holidays Colombia 2015
New Year’s Day 1 January 2015 (Thu)
Epiphany 12 January 2015 (Mon)
Saint Joseph's Day 23 March 2015 (Mon)
Maundy Thursday 2 April 2015 (Thu)
Good Friday 3 April 2015 (Fri)
Labor Day 1 May 2015 (Fri)
Ascension 18 May 2015 (Mon)
Corpus Christi 8 June 2015 (Mon)
Sacred Heart Holiday 15 June 2015 (Mon)
Saint Peter and Paul's Holiday 29 June 2015 (Mon)
Declaration of Independance 20 July 2015 (Mon)
Battle of Boyacá 7 August 2015 (Fri)
Assumption 15 August 2015 (Sat)
Columbus Day 12 October 2015 (Mon)
All Saints' Day 1 November 2015 (Sun)
Independence of Cartagena 11 November 2015 (Wed)
Immaculate Conception Day 8 December 2015 (Tue)
Christmas Day 25 December 2015 (Fri)

Travel Advisory

There is no nationwide advisory in effect for Colombia. However, you should exercise a high degree of caution due to the unpredictable security situation.

The decision to travel is your responsibility. You are also responsible for your personal safety abroad. The purpose of this Travel Advice is to provide up-to-date information to enable you to make well-informed decisions.

Take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance before you travel.