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Useful Notes / Colombia

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The Republic of Colombia is one of the few countries in the world bordering two oceans.

Most notorious for its (now heavily diminished) drug production, kidnappings (also outdated) and its past dispute with the Marxist Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia — better known as FARC (now a political party).

And coffee. You can't forget the coffee.

Currently led by Iván Duque, the state is a stable pro-American democracy and usually faces tensions with its neighbors because of this. Its notorious conflict with FARC has been finally terminated thanks to strong military response from the government of Santos' predecessor, Álvaro Uribe, Santos himself and FARC has gone from being an irregular army to a political party not taken seriously enough. Unfortunately, many of those in FARC take cover in neighboring countries with "affinity" to its "ideology" (in theory communism, but in Real Life they just used to kidnap people and hold them for ransom like any other criminal group, thing that doesn't hold true anymore).


It's usually painted like a hellhole wallowing in drugs and bloodshed, which couldn't be farther from the truth. Since 2005 the country has progressively gotten better, so much The Economist has written over it in a couple of "Gotten Better countries". The drugs trade is still active, though it has been less common and more and more of the trade is moving to Mexico due in part to government crackdowns.

Colombian society is riddled with contrasts. Life in the city is widely different from that in the countryside, and its geography (the Andes divides in three chains and crosses the whole country) contributes to the way its society is divided. Bogotá is the capital city and center of government. Other important cities are Cartagena, Medellín, Cali and Barranquilla.

Subject to Spell My Name with an "S": often misspelled as 'Columbia'. Usually by Americans, as they're used to seeing that spelling associated with places in their own country (for example, the city of Columbia is the state capital of South Carolina). Also by Canadians, for the same reason, and by loads of Europeans, because the name of the country is spelt differently, but always with a 'u' instead of an 'o', in German, Bulgarian, Czech, Finnish, Hungarian, Icelandic, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Slovak, Slovenian and Ukrainian.


Colombia, like most of Latin America, is highly Roman Catholic, to the point where you can be an atheist, but people will still mistake you for a Catholic.

Also has one of the most important rock festivals in the world: Rock al Parque

    Los 32 Departamentos de Colombia y sus regiones (Administrative Division) 

  • Amazonian Region: Related with the Amazonian Rainforest, is the most important biodiversity reserve in the country (being part of the whole Amazonian Rainforest, the most important of the planet), has its departments dedicated to ecotourism and industrial exploitation of rubber and in some cases, oil. One of the most important works of Colombian literature, La Vorágine (The Maelstrom) occurs in this region. Its major city is Florencia
    • Amazonas (Amazon Department): For much people in Colombia, is the Last Frontier or a Land of Adventure, it's the Department that shares the titular rainforest and some of the eco-tourism that is one of the main industries in all the region. Its capital is Leticia.
    • Caquetá: One of the main Departments of this Region, Caquetá has industries like wood and rubber as its main means of subsistance, and also benefits from the eco-tourism. Also, has its share of violence and its mainly famous for having the original Distension Zone in the municipality of San Vicente del Caguán (Ask ANY Colombian about this and there's a surefire Flame War, so the Rule of Cautious Editing Judgment applies on this one.)
    • Guainía: Guainía has one of the last nomadic tribes in mankind, the Nukak Maku, which suffered for the colonization first and after for the drug war (fumigations are taking a toll on them) and limited access for health systems.
    • Putumayo: Has Orito, one of the most important oil reserves in Colombia (being Caño Limón-Coveñas the other one). Its capital is Mocoa.
    • Vaupés: Its industries are mainly logging and fishing, which they export to Brazil. Its capital is Mitú.
  • Andean Region: Related with the Andean mountain range, is one of the most developed regions in Colombia. Its major cities are Bogotá, Medellín and Cali. The Coffee Axis (Eje Cafetero) is famous also for coffee. Ibagué, is the Musical Capital of Colombia, and holds festivals each year to celebrate that title. Cali, capital of the Cauca Valley Department holds the title of "Salsa Capital", because salsa is the main dance there. Santander houses the Barrancabermeja Industrial Complex (Oil Refinery) that is one of the two oil refineries in the country.
    • Antioquia: One of the most developed Departments of Colombia. Has a big influence in Colombian industries. When you hear about Antioquia, you hear about textiles, the arrieros and the bandeja paisa. Their peoples call themselves paisasnote . Its capital is Medellín, which is famous for the Flower Fair (Feria de las Flores) and the Silletas. And the first Metro line in Colombia. Medellín was recently named the most productive city in Colombia, and that's mainly because of the famous laboriosity of their peoples. Medellín had also the Medellin Cartel but since Pablo Escobar was killed, they prefer to go on and show the positive side of the city.
    • Boyacá: An industrial and culinary symbol of Colombia, in the Pantano de Vargas (Vargas' Swamp) was fought the definitive battle for the Colombian Independence movement, the Battle of Boyacánote . Its capital is Tunja, but has LOTS (123, some of them greatly similar) of towns and cities that you can visit, as Duitama, Sogamoso, Nobsa, and so on...
    • Caldas: One of the Departments of the Coffee Axisnote . Is formed with what's left from the Greater Caldas (Gran Caldas, a.k.a. Viejo Caldas —Old Caldas). Its capital is Manizales. Curiosly, in Caldas (and in the rest of the Coffee Axis), there's a time to take coffee —almost as the British Spot of Tea.
    • Cauca: Originally the largest Department in Colombia, its capitol is Popayán, also called the Major City. Some of the oldest, classy and most powerful families from Colombia hail from here, and Popayán's Semana Santa (Holy Week) is one of the most beautiful celebrations in the entire world
    • Cundinamarca: Originally the Department that hosted the old Municipality of Bogotá (now the D.C., see more below), has quite a variety of climates (from the cold on the Sabana of Bogotá to the heat in the High Magdalena) and also an even bigger variety of places to visit. Its most famous cities are Fusagasugá (the Garden City), Facatativá, Girardot (with Melgar and Ricaurte form a City-Region which is an important motor for tourism), Soacha, one of the biggest (if not the biggest) city not being a department capital, and much more (really, there are A LOT)
      • Bogotá, D.C.: Simply to say, The South American Athens, The Colombian Metropolis, and seat of all the political power in Colombia, originally was a city in Cundinamarca but its special legislation as a District allows it to be managed as a Department. Most people from the rest of Colombia calls this city "the Freezer", because of the shivering cold —for Colombian standards, go figure. Home to Maloka, an interactive museum unique in Latin America, and another touristic places like the Plaza de Bolívar, and the Candelaria. All settings of a Colombian series or telenovela which are based in Bogotá are shown in shades of grey, which is Truth in Television because of the aforementioned climate.
    • Huila: Home, with Tolima of the San Juanero and the San Pedro Fairs, which are exactly that, fairs where people dances, plays music, eat tamales and simply enjoy the party. Quite fun, but sometimes overshadowed by the Barranquilla Carnival. Its capital is Neiva.
    • Nariño: The coldest zone in Colombia, door to the Andes and home to the Las Lajas Sanctuary and the Galeras volcano. It's for some people the laughing stock of Colombia (for historical reasons). Was the last Department to declare independence from the Spaniards, and originally a Royalist bastion, and has some of the strangest cuisine in Colombia. Its capital is Pasto and their adjective is Pastusos.
    • Norte de Santander (North Santander): The north of the original Sovereign State of Santander, its capital is Cúcuta, and they're also known as "toches", because they employ that word for lots of applications. North Santander is famous for the Hayacas, which are smaller tamales, and hail from Venezuela and the Sierra of Perijá. The binational commerce is the main economy activity for this Department.
    • Quindío: Another of the Departments belonging to the Coffee Axis, has also the National Park of the Coffee and Panaca, touristical attractions based on Coffee as not only a delicious drink but a main sustenance for not only the families involved with it also for the country. Its capital is Armenia. Not that Armenia in Europe.
    • Risaralda: Yet another of the Departments belonging to the Coffee Axis. Its capital is Pereira and besides the coffee, is famous for being home of some of the most beautiful women in Colombia (more info on Colombian Women)
    • Santander: The south part of the original Sovereign State of Santander, also known as "pingos", because they use the word "pingo" for a lot of situations. Except on some cities, like Barrancabermeja, which has a mixture of American, French, Dutch, Caribbean and of course Santanderean descent. The mentioned city has one of the two Oil Refineries of the country, and is known as "Colombia's Oil Capital", or also "The Warm Hug of Colombia", because of the toppling heat. Its capital is Bucaramanga, which is famous for being an entire Metropolitan Zone, formed by the municipalities of Floridablanca, Bucaramanga and Girón. Another cities of interest are Vélez (land of the Guava Bocadillo, a candy made of guava), Lebrija (land of the Pineapples), Barichara (the White City, holding one of the oldest structures known in Colombia since the Colonial age). And don't forget the extreme sports! And Panachi, the National Park of the Chicamocha Canyon.
    • Tolima: Tolima is home to bread, rice, and traditional Colombian music. Specially music, because Ibagué, its capital is called The Musical Capital of Colombia. From this Department hail various traditional music composers, and there are festivals for traditional music also.
    • Valle del Cauca (Cauca Valley): Another of the most industrialized Departments in Colombia. Part of this Department belongs to the Coffee Axis, but the other part is famous for another crop: sugar! Cauca Valley (or The Valley, as some call itnote ), this Department has a very advanced highway network that allows the Cane Trains (Trenes Cañeros) to go freely between the Ingenios (sugar refineries and/or factories). Musically speaking, the preferred genre for the vallunos (common and official adjective for them) is Salsa. Salsa is so famous there that the entire Department celebrates it in the Salsódromo, at the capital, Santiago de Cali (or Cali for short). Cali is the third most famous city in Colombia. Long ago was associated with beautiful girls, drugs and all the excentricities that the latter brought, but now, with the Cartels of Cali and North of the Valley gone and forgotten, their people clings to their desire to live and natural happiness and to the tourism that the Cali Fair (Feria de Cali) brings.
  • Caribbean (Caribe) Region: Named after the Caribbean Sea, this region is known not only for their peoples' idiosincracy, but for their particularities and unique gastronomy. Has also the Cartagena Oil Refinery Complex, which is also known as "the other refinery". Their most famous cities are Cartagena, Santa Marta, and Barranquilla. Valledupar is famous for the colombian very own music genre Vallenato, which gains its name for the common adjective of their people: vallenatosnote , and also, for the legend of Francisco el Hombre, which defeated the Devil with an accordion and singing the Lord's Prayer backwards. Also, most (if not all) of Gabriel García Márquez works, set in this region.
    • Atlántico (Atlantic Department): Its capital is Barranquilla. There are lots of reasons to go there on vacation, mind you... starting with the Carnival of Barranquilla, the most famous celebration in Colombia and one of the most famous in the world. During the Carnival Barranquilla becomes "the greatest party ever thrown", which means that in every corner of the city, you can dance, drink and have fun!. Barranquilla has also some other curious phenomena, as the Arroyos, for example. When Barranquilla was found, someone forgot to amplify the aqueducts. And then started to rain... some streets of the city become ferocious rivers and even, ALL activity in the city suddenly stops. One has to see that to believe it. And of course, there are the only Coastal soccer team in the A Division, the Junior of Barranquilla, also known as Sharks. Another place to go visit is Puerto Colombia, which has the first Seacoast Port ever in Colombian history. The cement used to build it had to be brought from Portland, United States). Puerto Colombia brought also the first Jewish and Lebanese migrants to Colombia. After that, another wave of Italian immigrants came to stay here. That's why in the Caribbean Region you can see surnames like Mebarak, Ripoll, Basile, Parodi, and so on. (In short: Remember Shakira?)
    • Bolívar: Named after the Liberator, Simón Bolívar, this Department is famous for its capital: Cartagena de Indias, or La Heroica, which is a beach paradise (or its remnants —that's a serious Tear Jerker for some of us.) and has some of the best touristic places you can ever visit. Cartagena became famous for a convention (The Americas' Summit) which uncovered some serious situations between the Secret Service and a young girl. And we'll leave it at that.. But this is not exclusive for modern times. As you can see, Cartagena was called "La Heroica"note  because had to fight two sieges: one in 1741 against Vernon (under the command of notorious Badass Blas de Lezo) and another one, in 1815 against the Spaniards. In the case that Cartagena fell to one of these sieges, Colombia would have never existed.
    • Cesar: Remember Francisco El Hombre ? He comes from there. Or more exactly, from Valledupar, the capital of this Department. Valledupar is called "The Valley" by the people from the Caribbean Region (which is the reason why some people will ask you "Cuál Valle?note " if you want to see Cane trains in Cali or want to hear some Vallenato here. Of course, the main production is agriculture and cattle raising.
    • Córdoba: Has Montería as its capitol, but their most famous municipalities are Lorica, San Pelayo, and others. San Pelayo is famous for having the Donkey Festival (Festival del Burro), a celebration regarding donkeys. It is famous, also, for being the land of the Porro, musical genre exclusive to Colombia, and one of the most representative cuisine with the Bogotan Ajiaco Santafereño and the Antioquenian Bandeja Paisa: the Mote de Queso, which is a soup, with cheese, ñame (called Yam in North America), and depending on the preparation, spices or hogao (a sauce).
    • Magdalena: Has Santa Marta as its capital: Santa Marta easily has the most beautiful beaches in Latin America: one has to visit Taganga and Playa Blanca to witness that... In the 80s, there were the Rodadero, but now as the city grows, the Rodadero became an unclean place. Fortunately, they're working for a solution.
    • Sucre: Its capital is Sincelejo, is the land of the Corralejas, some sort of wild bullfighting, and another variety of Mote de Queso. As with the majority of the Caribbean Region, their economy is based on agriculture.
  • Insular Region: The Islands, originally part of each region, now form the Insular Region, which is famous for tourism and various ecosystems. It is famous also, for the San Andres and Providence Islands, which are the only places in Colombia where English is a native language (Spanish is taught also in the schools). As of today, there's a hussle with a treaty between Nicaragua and Colombia -and we'll leave it like that. For now.-
    • San Andrés y Providencia (San Andres and Providence Islands): As said before, San Andrés and Providencia are the only places in Colombia where the English is the native language. Even when Spanish is taught in schools, the Créole and English are the main languages there. Some nice places to visit are Johnny Kay, and the mentioned Providence Island.
    • San Bernardo (in the Department of Sucre): The Islands of San Bernardo are an archipelago which belongs to Sucre Department and to the Corales del Rosario National Park. More info on the other wiki
    • Gorgona (in the Department of Cauca): Gorgona used to be a jail (like Alcatraz), but now is a National Park.
    • Malpelo (in the Department of Cauca Valley): Is an island far far away from the Colombian Mainland, but has lots of biodiversity, and is on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list.
  • Orinoco Region: Called after the Orinoco Basin, this region is dedicated to cattle raising and agriculture. Its most important city is Villavicencio.
    • Arauca: Has a promising oil and cattle rising industry. Its capital is Arauca (yes, the very same name)
    • Casanare: Once part of Boyaca Department and a Special Commisary, now it's a Department and like all Orinoco Region is dedicated to agroindustry and oil extraction. Its capital is Yopal
    • Meta: The main Llano department. Has a growing oil, and agricultural industry (See a pattern here?). Its capital is Villavicencio (known as Villao -its short/familiar name-)
    • Vichada: One of the Departments that is limited with Amazonian Region, has an agricultural industry and the hottest city on the country, its capital Puerto Carreño.
  • Pacific Region: Formed by the Pacific Coast, some Departments of the Andean Region have coasts in the Pacific (Cauca, Cauca Valley and Nariño). Its most important cities are Quibdó, Tumaco and Buenaventura. The Pacific Region has one of the most important biodiversity reserves on the planet (being only behind the Amazon Rainforest)
    • Chocó: As one of the places where rains the most in all planet, Chocó is famous for its people, cuisine and the world-class Pacific Music Band "Choc Quib Town". Its capital is Quibdó.

    Colombian Media 

Colombia's most famous people are:

  • Shakira Isabel Mebarak Ripoll: just known as Shakira by most people, you'll have almost certainly heard one of her songs. Actually a quarter Lebanese (which somewhat explains the belly-dancing).
  • Juan Pablo Montoya. Former Formula One driver, he decided to switch to NASCAR racing and has had some success there, too.
  • Nobel Prize-winning author of One Hundred Years of Solitude Gabriel García Márquez.
  • Sofía Vergara? Born in Barranquilla, started her career on a Pepsi TV ad, and now stars in Modern Family.
  • Pablo Escobar: the world's most notorious drug lord. Appearing a lot in fiction himself and an inspiration for other fictional drug lords, he was killed in 1993.

The Colombian flag

The national flag derives from that of Gran Colombia, of which Colombia is, of course, the principal territory (others included Ecuador and Venezuela). Its design is unusual in that the upper yellow stripe takes the upper half of the flag, while the blue and red stripes share the lower half. The flag's yellow, blue and red stripes symbolize gold, the seas, and the blood of its freedom fighters, respectively.


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