Colombia has an area twice that of France and almost twice Texas, with long coasts on both the Caribbean and the Pacific, plus mountainous regions and even some Amazon jungle areas inland. The ethnic groups and cultures are quite diverse as well. The country has something to offer almost any traveller.
Pick a climate, and it's yours—if you find the light jacket weather of Bogotá cold, drive an hour down through the mountains and sunbathe next to the pool of your rented hacienda. If you don't want to sit still, head off into the Amazon or any of the country's other many inland jungles, snow-capped volcanoes, rocky deserts, endless plains, lush valleys, coffee plantations, alpine lakes, deserted beaches.
For culture, intellectual Bogotá might lead the rest of Latin America in experimental theater, indie-rock, and just sheer volume of bookstores, but you could also get a completely alien education in an Amazonian malocca, or you could delve into the huge Latin music scene of salsa and cumbia, with the most exciting dance display being the enormous Carnival of Barranquilla.
For history, wander the narrow streets of South America's original capital in Bogotá, check out old Spanish colonial provincial retreats like Villa de Leyva, trek through the thick jungle-covered mountains of the northeast to the Lost City of the Tayrona Indians. Walk the walls of Cartagena's achingly beautiful old city, looking over the fortified ramparts upon which the colonial history of South America pivoted.
For nightlife, hot Cali is today's world capital of salsa, claiming that competitive distinction even over Colombia's other vibrant big city party scenes, which keep the music going long into the small hours of the morning. Not to dismiss the hipsters playground around the El Poblado neighbourhood in Medellín downtown.
For dining, you'll find everything from the ubiquitous cheap, delicious Colombian home-style meals to world-class upscale and modern culinary arts in the big cities, with cuisines from all corners of the world represented.
And for relaxing, there are gorgeous tropical beaches along Colombia's Caribbean and Pacific coasts, but you can find even more laidback and peaceful retreats on the idyllic and unspoilt Caribbean island of Providencia.
The political violence has subsided substantially throughout the majority of the country and savvy travelers have already flocked here from around the world—come before everyone else catches on!
Colombia is the only country in South America with coastlines on both the North Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea as well as the country with the second-most biodiversity in the world. Lying to the south of Panama, Colombia controls the land access between Central and South America. With Panama to the north, Colombia is surrounded by Venezuela to the east, Brazil to the southeast, and Ecuador and Peru to the south west. The country was named in honor of Christopher Columbus, following the Italian version of his name (Cristoforo Colombo). Although Columbus never actually set foot on the current Colombian territory, in his fourth voyage he visited Panama, which was part of Colombia until 1903.
Traveling in Colombia is definitely worthwhile. From Bogotá, with a temperate climate 2,600 m (8,530 ft) above sea level and at a constant temperature of 19 degrees Celsius, a drive of one or two hours North, South, East or West can take you to landscapes which are as diverse as they are beautiful. To historic city centres and towns, modern and energetic party cities, oriental plains which stretch out far beyond the horizon with little modulation. rugged contours of the higher Andean region, the Guajira peninsula and its desert, idyllic beaches, the tropical jungle of the Amazon and the Choco with abundant flora and fauna, snowy peaks and volcanoes, ancient ruins, the Magdalena River valley and its hot weather, beautiful coral reefs and an abundant underwater marine life together with pleasant relaxed tropical islands, and the ability to rest and relax in a privately rented hacienda that lets you have and enjoy these treasures to yourself. Such a diversity comes in with an equal diverse amount of traditions and foods. Colombia is one of the equatorial countries of the world, but unique in its extreme topography and abundance of water and has something for everyone.
The geography of Colombia is characterized by its six main natural regions that present their own unique characteristics, from the Andes mountain range region shared with Ecuador and Venezuela; the Pacific coastal region shared with Panama and Ecuador; the Caribbean coastal region shared with Venezuela and Panama; the Llanos (plains) shared with Venezuela; the Amazon Rainforest region shared with Venezuela, Brazil, Peru and Ecuador; to the insular area, comprising islands in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
Colombia is bordered to the northwest by Panama; to the east by Venezuela and Brazil; to the south by Ecuador and Peru; it established its maritime boundaries with neighboring countries through seven agreements on the Caribbean Sea and three on the Pacific Ocean. It lies between latitudes 12°N and 4°S, and longitudes 67° and 79°W.
Part of the Ring of Fire, a region of the world subject to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, Colombia is dominated by the Andes (which contain the majority of the country's urban centres). Beyond the Colombian Massif (in the south-western departments of Cauca and Nariño) these are divided into three branches known as cordilleras (mountain ranges): the Cordillera Occidental, running adjacent to the Pacific coast and including the city of Cali; the Cordillera Central, running between the Cauca and Magdalena River valleys (to the west and east respectively) and including the cities of Medellín, Manizales, Pereira and Armenia; and the Cordillera Oriental, extending north east to the Guajira Peninsula and including Bogotá, Bucaramanga and Cúcuta.
Peaks in the Cordillera Occidental exceed 4,700 m (15,420 ft), and in the Cordillera Central and Cordillera Oriental they reach 5,000 m (16,404 ft). At 2,600 m (8,530 ft), Bogotá is the highest city of its size in the world.
East of the Andes lies the savanna of the Llanos, part of the Orinoco River basin, and, in the far south east, the jungle of the Amazon rainforest. Together these lowlands comprise over half Colombia's territory, but they contain less than 6% of the population. To the north the Caribbean coast, home to 21.9% of the population and the location of the major port cities of Barranquilla and Cartagena, generally consists of low-lying plains, but it also contains the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range, which includes the country's tallest peaks (Pico Cristóbal Colón and Pico Simón Bolívar), and the La Guajira Desert. By contrast the narrow and discontinuous Pacific coastal lowlands, backed by the Serranía de Baudó mountains, are sparsely populated and covered in dense vegetation. The principal Pacific port is Buenaventura.
The main rivers of Colombia are Magdalena, Cauca, Guaviare, Atrato, Meta, Putumayo and Caquetá. Colombia has four main drainage systems: the Pacific drain, the Caribbean drain, the Orinoco Basin and the Amazon Basin. The Orinoco and Amazon Rivers mark limits with Colombia to Venezuela and Peru respectively.
Protected areas and the "National Park System" cover an area of about 14,268,224 hectares (142,682.24 km2) and account for 12.77% of the Colombian territory. Compared to neighboring countries, rates of deforestation in Colombia are still relatively low. Colombia is the sixth country in the world by magnitude of total renewable freshwater supply, and still has large reserves of freshwater.
Colombians customarily describe their country in terms of the climatic zones. Below 1,000 meters (3,281 ft) in elevation is the tierra caliente (hot land), where temperatures are above 24 °C (75.2 °F). About 82.5% of the country's total area lies in the tierra caliente.
The majority of the population can be found in the tierra templada (temperate land, between 1,001 and 2,000 meters (3,284 and 6,562 ft)), where temperatures vary between 17 and 24 °C (62.6 and 75.2 °F) and the tierra fría (cold land, 2,001 and 3,000 meters (6,565 and 9,843 ft)). In the tierra fría mean temperatures range between 12 and 17 °C (53.6 and 62.6 °F). Beyond the tierra fría lie the alpine conditions of the forested zone and then the treeless grasslands of the páramos. Above 4,000 meters (13,123 ft), where temperatures are below freezing, is the tierra helada, a zone of permanent snow and ice.
With an estimated 48 million people in 2015, Colombia is the third-most populous country in Latin America, after Brazil and Mexico. It is also home to the third-largest number of Spanish speakers in the world after Mexico and the United States. At the beginning of the 20th century, Colombia's population was approximately 4 million. The birth rate remained at high levels until the early 1970s, but since then, Colombia has experienced steady declines in its fertility, mortality, and population growth rates. Colombia is projected to have a population of 50.2 million by 2020 and 55.3 million by 2050. These trends are reflected in the country's age profile. In 2005 over 30% of the population was under 15 years old, compared to just 6.3% aged 65 and over. The total fertility rate was 1.9 births per woman in 2014.
The population is concentrated in the Andean highlands and along the Caribbean coast, also the population densities are generally higher in the Andean region. The nine eastern lowland departments, comprising about 54% of Colombia's area, have less than 6% of the population. Traditionally a rural society, movement to urban areas was very heavy in the mid-20th century, and Colombia is now one of the most urbanized countries in Latin America. The urban population increased from 31% of the total in 1938 to nearly 60% in 1973, and by 2014 the figure stood at 76%. The population of Bogotá alone has increased from just over 300,000 in 1938 to approximately 8 million today. In total seventy-two cities now have populations of 100,000 or more (2015). As of 2012 Colombia has the world's largest populations of internally displaced persons (IDPs), estimated to be up to 4.9 million people.
The life expectancy is 74.8 years in 2015 and infant mortality is 13.6 per thousand in 2015. In 2013, 93.6% of adults and 98.2% of youth are literate and the government spends about 4.9% of its GDP in education.
Colombia is ethnically diverse, its people descending from the original native inhabitants, Spanish colonists, Africans originally brought to the country as slaves, and 20th-century immigrants from Europe and the Middle East, all contributing to a diverse cultural heritage. The demographic distribution reflects a pattern that is influenced by colonial history. Whites tend to live mainly in urban centers, like Bogotá, Medellín or Cali, and the burgeoning highland cities. The populations of the major cities also include mestizos. Mestizocampesinos (people living in rural areas) also live in the Andean highlands where some Spanish conquerors mixed with the women of Amerindian chiefdoms. Mestizos include artisans and small tradesmen that have played a major part in the urban expansion of recent decades.
The 2005 census reported that the "non-ethnic population", consisting of whites and mestizos (those of mixed white European and Amerindian ancestry), constituted 86% of the national population. 10.6% is of African ancestry. Indigenous Amerindians comprise 3.4% of the population. 0.01% of the population are Roma. An extraofficial estimate considers that the 49% of the Colombian population is Mestizo or of mixed European and Amerindian ancestry, and that approximately 37% is White, mainly of Spanish lineage, but there is also a large population of Middle East descent; among the upper class there is a considerable input of Italian and German ancestry.
Many of the Indigenous peoples experienced a reduction in population during the Spanish rule and many others were absorbed into the mestizo population, but the remainder currently represents over eighty distinct cultures. Reserves (resguardos) established for indigenous peoples occupy 30,571,640 hectares (305,716.4 km2) (27% of the country's total) and are inhabited by more than 800,000 people. Some of the largest indigenous groups are the Wayuu, the Paez, the Pastos, the Emberá and the Zenú. The departments of La Guajira, Cauca, Nariño, Córdoba and Sucre have the largest indigenous populations.
The Organización Nacional Indígena de Colombia (ONIC), founded at the first National Indigenous Congress in 1982, is an organization representing the indigenous peoples of Colombia. In 1991, Colombia signed and ratified the current international law concerning indigenous peoples, Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989.
Black Africans were brought as slaves, mostly to the coastal lowlands, beginning early in the 16th century and continuing into the 19th century. Large Afro-Colombian communities are found today on the Caribbean and Pacific coasts. The population of the department of Chocó, running along the northern portion of Colombia's Pacific coast, is over 80% black. British and Jamaicans migrated mainly to the islands of San Andres and Providencia. A number of other Europeans and North Americans migrated to the country in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including people from the former USSR during and after the Second World War.
Many immigrant communities have settled on the Caribbean coast, in particular recent immigrants from the Middle East. Barranquilla (the largest city of the Colombian Caribbean) and other Caribbean cities have the largest populations of Lebanese, Palestinian, Phoenician and other Middle Easterners. There are also important communities of Chinese, Japanese, Romanis and Jews. There is a major migration trend of Venezuelans, due to the political and economic situation in Venezuela.
The National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE) does not collect religious statistics, and accurate reports are difficult to obtain. However, based on various studies and a survey, about 90% of the population adheres to Christianity, the majority of which (70.9%) are Roman Catholic, while a significant minority (16.7%) adhere to Protestantism (primarily Evangelicalism). Some 4.7% of the population is atheist or agnostic, while 3.5% claim to believe in God but do not follow a specific religion. 1.8% of Colombians adhere to Jehovah's Witnesses and Adventism and less than 1% adhere to other religions, such as Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Mormonism, Hinduism, Indigenous religions, Hare Krishna movement, Rastafari movement, Orthodox Catholic Church, and spiritual studies. The remaining people either did not respond or replied that they did not know. In addition to the above statistics, 35.9% of Colombians reported that they did not practice their faith actively.
While Colombia remains a mostly Roman Catholic country by baptism numbers, the 1991 Colombian constitution guarantees freedom of religion and all religious faiths and churches are equally free before the law.
Historically an agrarian economy, Colombia urbanised rapidly in the 20th century, by the end of which just 17% of the workforce were employed in agriculture, generating just 6.1% of GDP; 21% of the workforce were employed in industry and 62% in services, responsible for 37.3% and 56.6% of GDP respectively.
Colombia's market economy grew steadily in the latter part of the 20th century, with gross domestic product (GDP) increasing at an average rate of over 4% per year between 1970 and 1998. The country suffered a recession in 1999 (the first full year of negative growth since the Great Depression), and the recovery from that recession was long and painful. However, in recent years growth has been impressive, reaching 6.9% in 2007, one of the highest rates of growth in Latin America. According to International Monetary Fund estimates, in 2012 Colombia's GDP (PPP) was US$500 billion (28th in the world and third in South America).
Total government expenditures account for 28.3 percent of the domestic economy. Public debt equals 32 percent of gross domestic product. A strong fiscal climate was reaffirmed by a boost in bond ratings. Annual inflation closed 2015 at 6.77% YoY (vs. 3.66% YoY in 2014). The average national unemployment rate in 2015 was 8.9%, although the informality is the biggest problem facing the labour market (the income of formal workers climbed 24.8% in 5 years while labor incomes of informal workers rose only 9%). Colombia has Free trade Zone (FTZ), such as Zona Franca del Pacifico, located in the Valle del Cauca, one of the most striking areas for foreign investment.
Colombia is rich in natural resources, and its main exports include mineral fuels, oils, distillation products, precious stones, forest products, pulp and paper, coffee, meat, cereals and vegetable oils, cotton, oilseed, sugars and sugar confectionery, fruit and other agricultural products, food processing, processed fish products, beverages, machinery, electronics, military products, aircraft, ships, motor vehicles, metal products, ferro-alloys, home and office material, chemicals and health related products, petrochemicals, agrochemicals, inorganic salts and acids, perfumery and cosmetics, medicaments, plastics, animal fibers, textile and fabrics, clothing and footwear, leather, construction equipment and materials, cement, software, among others.
Colombia is also known as an important global source of emeralds, and over 70% of cut flowers imported by the United States are Colombian. Non-traditional exports have boosted the growth of Colombian foreign sales as well as the diversification of destinations of export thanks to new free trade agreements. Principal trading partners are the United States, China, the European Union and some Latin American countries.
The electricity production in Colombia comes mainly from renewable energy sources. 70.35% is obtained from the hydroelectric generation. Colombia's commitment to renewable energy was recognized in the 2014 Global Green Economy Index (GGEI), ranking among the top 10 nations in the world in terms of greening efficiency sectors.
The financial sector has grown favorably due to good liquidity in the economy, the growth of credit and in general to the positive performance of the Colombian economy. The Colombian Stock Exchange through the Latin American Integrated Market (MILA) offers a regional market to trade equities. Colombia is now one of only three economies with a perfect score on the strength of legal rights index, according to the World Bank.
In 2015, the National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE) reported that 27.8% of the population were living below the poverty line, of which 7.9% in "extreme poverty". 171,000 people have been lifted out of poverty. The Government has also been developing a process of financial inclusion within the country's most vulnerable population.
Recent economic growth has led to a considerable increase of new millionaires, including the new entrepreneurs, Colombians with a net worth exceeding US $1 billion.
Tourism in Colombia is an important sector in the country's economy. Foreign tourist visits were predicted to have risen from 0.6 million in 2007 to 2.98 million in 2015.