Spanish and French versions of the article:
A few years ago, only a few travellers wanted to discover Colombia, because it had synonyms such as drug traffic, cocaine production, violent guerrilla and underdeveloped country. Today, the country’s situation has changed considerably: the Colombian nation cultivates its culture by postponing a return to the dark days of the past. Colombians go « pa’lante » (forward) and that is one of the reasons why I fell in love with its people during my academic exchange here in its capital city, Bogotá. Let me present you some facts that will make you want to visit my beautiful host country !
First of all, I would like to mention two particularities that you may already known about the country. Indeed, many people know that Colombia is one of the happiest countries in Latin America, as Costa Rica, Mexico and Chile. In addition, Colombians consider their Spanish to be the purest in the world, since Medellín received the XIII Congress of the Spanish Language Association in 2007.
Now, here are 10 things you need to know about Colombia, 10 facts that I learnt about Colombia after having spent 8 months on its territory:
- « Colombia » derives from the name of Christopher Columbus. Simón Bolívar chose this name when its independence was proclaimed in 1819. The country is the cradle of the legend of El Dorado, in the lake Guatavita, located in the department of Cundinamarca, about one hour and a half by bus from the capital city. (I will tell you more about this legend in a following article).We can compare its flag with that of Ecuador and Venezuela. Its characteristic is that the yellow band is wider than the blue and red ones. They connotate the presence of gold, the sea, and finally, the blood spilled during the wars.
- Colombia is the only country in South America with coasts with both oceans. That is why it must be the third largest country in the world in terms of water resources: it has more or less 1,200 rivers, 1,600 lakes, 1,900 marshes…. An example is the Caño Crystal River in the Sierra de la Macarena, known as the « River of 7 Colours ». Its waters of green, yellow, red, orange and purple tones due to the presence of seaweeds have been recognized as a World Heritage Site.
- Colombia has an incredible diversity of territories. I can mention the heavenly islands of San Andrés, Providencia and Rosario in the Caribbean; the Lost City in Sierra Nevada; the Guajira Desert, the Tatacoa Desert in Huila Department; the beach on the Caribbean coast in the North, as well as the Pacific coast in the West; the Natural Parks such as Tayrona near Santa Marta in the North, Bahia Malaga near Buenaventura in the West; the Sumapaz and Chingaza páramos near Bogotá; the Llanos in the East near Venezuela; the wild Amazonian forest in the Southeast; valleys in the Coffee Region and in the valley del Cauca; Cundinamarca hills that rise up to 3,000 metres above sea level. We can therefore imagine that this diversity of landscapes is logically accompanied by an huge variety of climates, depending on the department: it is generally 30 degrees in Cartagena, while in Bogotá the temperature varies between 10 and 15 degrees.
- Colombia is characterized by its fantastic ethnic diversity. Indeed, as we mentioned the diversity of the territories, we notice a strong regionalism. There are 86 ethnic groups in the country. Of course, the population is composed of white and indigenous people, as a consequence of the racial mixing caused by the colonization of South America in the 15th century. In addition, it is important to highlight the presence of the Black community. According to a declaration by the Colombian Ministry of Culture in 2010, communities of afrodescendents represent 10.31% of Colombia’s total population.
- Colombia is the second most biodiverse country in the world, after Brazil. Indeed, 20% of all plant species are present. However, it is the number one in orchid species. Its 4,270 registered species have made the orchid a national symbol. In addition, travellers will have the opportunity to admire the world’s largest palm trees in the Cocora Valley, in the Quindío department. These are the 59.2 metres high wax palm trees.
- Colombia is the second largest producer and exporter of coffee in the world, after Brazil once again. Here, we drink « tinto ». It is a kind of black coffee, thick, mixed with water, sweetened with « panela », a variety of sugar. The commercial image of Colombian coffee is Juan Valdez, the equivalent of Starbucks.
- Colombia is the world’s second largest producer of emeralds, behind Zambia. Its product is characterized by its finesse. According to the Mexican newspaper El Universal, the emerald comes from a legend. It comes from the tears of the indian Fura when her beloved Tena died. Her despair penetrated the earth until it turned into green stones.
- Colombia has built the world capital of salsa. Cali, also known as « the gateway to heaven », organizes every year, at the end of December, the Salsa Festival, during which dance professionals and amateurs meet in a positive atmosphere.
- The aguardiente is the national alcoholic drink: each Colombian department has an authorization to produce its own « aguardiente ». The recipe includes cane juice, water, alcohol and anise. The percentage of alcohol varies from 24 degrees without sugar to 40 degrees. Therefore, we understand that its name comes from a mixture of the words « water » and « burning » (« agua » and « ardiente »).
- Colombia has changed a lot in terms of security and modernity. In the 1990s, Medellín was considered « the most violent city in the world » because of the existence of powerful drug cartels. In 2013, Medellín was elected « the most innovative city in the world » by the American newspaper The Wall Street Journal. The situation has improved a lot and I can tell you that it has nothing to do with the stereotypes we imagine in Europe.