What You’ll Find On Your Trip to Colombia: Culture, Food, and More
Colombia has a large variety of scenic destinations, landscapes, cultures, and delicious gastronomy. It’s among top travel destinations in Latin America and has several wonders to discover.
A trip to this beautiful country is an excellent way to practice your language skills in the field and test your Spanish fluency with native speakers.
Grab a map, pack your bags, and join me in exploring Colombia’s history, cultural insights, and best places to visit!
A Brief History of Colombia
Prehispanic Colombia began in the 5th century B.C. as the first settlers populated the region. Relatively small tribes showed marvelous advances in agriculture, livestock, hunting, and fishing.
The Spanish conquest of Colombia and colonization took its toll on the country’s indigenous population and gave room to conflict and a battle for the country’s resources.
Colombia gained its independence from Spain on July 20th 1810 in the city known as Santa Fé Bogotá.
Since then, Colombia has faced social and political conflicts that continue to shape the country. Up until the 19th century the country was under political federalism and centralism. Civil wars fueled armed confrontations and triggered a slow economic growth.
The 20th century was more prosperous for Colombia and brought economic and social reforms. The need to modernize public policies and superior education sparked an unprecedented event known as “El Bogotazo”.
El Bogotazo was a revolt that set the city on fire for three days due to the assasination of one of the country’s most important leaders; President Jorge Eliécer Gaitán. It took place on April 9th, 1948 and marked a turn of events for Colombia.
Colombia’s following history was heavily marked by corruption, drug trafficking, guerrillas, paramilitary groups, and violence. Luckily, the turn of the century, brought Colombians a highly different context to what they were used to.
In September 2016 a peace and ceasefire agreement was signed with the FARC guerrillas, although the war didn’t end immediately, this remarkable event was a pivotal moment for Colombia’s future.
Colombia’s economy is finally taking off and is recognized for being a country with art, culture, remarkable gastronomy, music, excellent coffee, and new technologies. The resilience Colombians have is worth applauding and the appeal it has continues to attract travelers and expats from all over the world.
Cultural Features of Colombia
Colombia is a rich and diverse country that’s home to 50.3 million people. Its ethnic variety stands out for being a melting pot of more than 80 indigenous cultures, afro-latino population, and other groups that identify as mestizos (mixed).
The country’s official language is Spanish and there’s approximately 65 different indigenous dialects.
Learn more: Colombian Slang: Talk Like a Native
The major religion in Colombia is Catholicism, meaning that most of the national holidays and festivals have religious purposes. There’s also non-religious festivities that stand out and make Colombia a country full of celebrations where music, passion, dance, and joy collide.
Some of the country’s major festivities are:
- Semana santa (Holy week)
- Colombia’s independence day
- Carnaval de negros y blancos (Black and White Carnival)
- Carnival of Barranquilla
- Feria de Manizales (Manizales fair)
- Feria de Cali (Cali fair)
- Fiesta de la Candelaria (Candelaria festival)
- Carnival of fire
- International film festival of Cartagena
- National film festival of Colombian music
Music and Arts
The arts are a trademark of Colombia and local musical genres like cumbia and vallenato are appreciated all over the world. The country is home to recognized musicians, writers, and artists who broke barriers and acquired international fame.
A few emblematic figures of Colombia’s modern culture are:
- Award winning author and Nobel Laureate Gabriel García Marquez
- Contemporary artist Fernando Botero
- Pop singer Shakira
- Grammy winning rock band Aterciopelados
- Alternative band Bomba Estereo
- Singer J Balvin
Colombian cuisine is a fusion of different cultures, traditions, and flavors. The use of regional and local ingredients vary depending on the area of the country you visit. Some of the best Colombian food comes from street food vendors and mom and pop kitchens.
Although there are dozens of delicious dishes, I chose only a few representative flavorful representatives. Let’s take a look:
Recognized as the national dish of Colombia, la bandeja paisa is made of red beans, white rice, chicharrón, chorizo, fried egg, plantain, avocado, and arepa.
One of the most popular meals. Arepas are a pastry made from cornmeal topped with your choice of meats, cheese, or fruits.
A chicken soup with corn on the cob, yucca, and plantains.
A heartening soup with corn, chicken, different types of potatoes, and local herbs.
A dish made of slices of plantain stuffed with your choice of cheese.
A delicious black cake made of rich chocolate,dried papaya, chocolate chunks, and different types of frosting.
Make time to try each and every one of these Colombian delicacies in your trip to this magnificent country.
Traveling to Colombia
A trip to Colombia is worth your time and investment due to the variety of beaches, landscapes, climate, and culture. There’s much to see and taking the time to fully immerse yourself in the country guarantees different activities and beautiful destinations.
The country is large but it’s easily connected with frequent international flights to Cartagena, Bogotá, Medellín, and Cali. Entering the country by land is also a possibility if you wish to connect with a trip to Panama, Ecuador, or Venezuela.
Not many countries require a visa for visiting Colombia, nevertheless, you can always check the visa requirements for your nationality as you prepare for your trip.
What to Do in Colombia
Visit the major touristic places in Colombia and enjoy the diversity of landscapes, culture, and sightseeing every region has to offer during your trip.
Colombia has 32 departments and five main regions:
- Región Caribe (the Caribbean coast)
- Región del Pacifico (the Pacific coast)
- Región de la Orinoquía (Orinoco river basin)
- Región de la Amazonía (Amazon rainforest)
- Zona Andina (the Andes)
- Región Insular (islands)
Travel Destinations in Colombia
Colombia’s capital is a city that never sleeps and has dozens of things to offer travelers. The city center, museums, and squares are home to an infinity of restaurants, hotels, and urban art spots.
2. Cartagena de Indias
El puerto de Cartagena (port of Cartagena) is one of the most important in Latin America. This colonial site is surrounded by a wall built to protect the city from pirates and buccaneers. The colorful streets are picturesque and ideal for snapping photos. The delicious warm weather, go-slow vibe, and lovely beaches make Cartagena worth the visit.
3. Tayrona National Park
El parque nacional natural Tayrona is one of the most sought-out travel destinations in the country. It’s home to a large and diverse ecosystem with abundant biodiversity. It’s a perfect spot for ecotourism enthusiasts and for those who love nature surroundings.
The city of Medellin is home to modern museums, plazas (squares), parks, and industries. The city is known as “la ciudad de la eterna primavera” (the city of eternal spring) due to the pleasant weather all year long.
5. La Guajira
La Guajira is one of Colombia’s furthest regions in the Caribbean. It’s home to the fascinating indigenous Wayuu, uncharted beaches, national parks, and magical sceneries. La Guajira is ideal for cultural immersion and for experiencing Colombia’s traditions.
Is Colombia Safe?
Colombia definitely has a bad reputation due to its violent history and past. Nevertheless, the country works hard in ensuring safe travels for tourists. The unfair image Colombia has is far from reality.
Visiting Colombia requires you to use your common sense and follow your instincts. Like in any other Latin American country, there are areas that are not advised for travelers to visit. The best thing you can do is plan ahead, do your research, and prepare accordingly.
Colombia’s current covid restrictions allow travelers to enter the country as long as they present a valid negative PCR test upon arrival. They’re also welcoming vaccinated tourists since June 2021. There are a few mobility restrictions that continue to change as the pandemic unfolds.
I recommend you review the safety measures, follow tourism protocols, and prioritize outdoor activities if you’re planning a trip soon.
¡Vamos a Colombia!
Let’s go to Colombia!
A visit to Colombia is a fantastic opportunity for you to improve your Spanish abilities. The warm welcoming nature of Colombians offers multiple engagement opportunities in majestic tourist spots.
Guarantee your trip will be smooth sailing by elevating your Spanish skills in a free class with native speakers.
Being able to communicate in Spanish enables you to move around easily in a foreign country. What’s more, you learn how to use transportation, order at restaurants, shop for souvenirs, and connect with the locals through meaningful conversations.
Allow yourself to experience Colombia and fully grasp the richness of the country during a Spanish immersion trip.
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