Colombia is quickly becoming one of the most popular destinations in Latin America. The troubled times have long since passed, the weather is great, the music goes all night, and the people are some of the friendliest you’ll meet. So I’ve compiled a some interesting, fun facts about Colombia to inspire some spectacular backpacking adventures in this long-overlooked, but beautiful country, where you’re sure to have a great time.
- The first Spanish settlement in Colombia was Santa Marta, founded in 1525.
- Colombia achieved its independence from Spain in 1819, in a rebellion led by Simon Bolívar.
- After independence, Colombia was actually Gran Colombia, which also included the territories of Ecuador, Panama, and Venezuela, as a single, unified nation.
- Panama separated from Colombia, partly due to the United States involvement in building the Panama Canal. The US eventually paid Colombia $25 million (in 1921) as part of the treaty recognizing the independence of Panama.
- Colombia was the first country in South America with a constitutional government.
- The Americas had a long history of slavery, and Colombia was no exception; but it was also home to the first free town, San Basilio de Palenque, founded by escaped slaves, and officially recognized as a free city by royal decree in 1713. The town has retained its African culture, and has even developed its own language.
- Colombia was the only Latin American country to participate directly in a military role in the Korean War, particularly at the Battle of Old Baldy.
- Colombia is part of the Ring of Fire, a group of countries on the Pacific Ocean prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
- National parks and other protected lands account for 11% of Colombia’s area.
- The territory to the east of the mountains, which includes savanna and jungle, accounts for 50% of the country’s territory, but only 3% of its population.
- The four major rivers in the country are the Magdalena, Cauca, Guaviare, and Caquetá.
- Colombia is rich in natural resources, with major exports including petroleum and coal, which account for a total of 40% of exports.
- Colombia produces more emeralds than any other country.
- The country is split by the mountains, with distinct regions including the coast, mountains, and jungle.
Flora and Fauna
- Colombia is considered one of seventeen “megadiverse” countries in the world, due to its great biodiversity, considered 2nd in the world, just after Brazil, which is 10 times bigger.
- More bird species can be found in Colombia than any other country in the world, and more than Europe and North America combined.
- Colombia has more endemic species (species that exist only in one country) than any other country in the world.
- Due to the country’s high concentration of plant species, Colombia accounts for 70% of cut flowers imported to the United States.
- The Colombian flag is nearly identical to the Ecuadorian flag; the only difference is that the Colombian flag removes the coat of arms.
- Due to its long history as a Spanish colony, Colombia is ethnically diverse, with the largest group consisting of mestizos, who are an ethnic blend of indigenous and Spanish heritage. The remaining groups include large numbers of people of European descent, as well as small groups that remain purely indigenous.
- Colombia is now the 3rd largest oil producer in South America.
- One of Latin America’s few nuclear reactors can be found here, though it is used primarily for research purposes, producing neutrons for analysis.
- Colombia is the third largest Latin American country by population, after Mexico and Brazil, and is home to about 46 million people.
- Over 70% of the population can be found in cities.
- Colombia scored 3rd on the Happy Planet Index, which ranks countries according to ecological impact.
- 99% of the population speaks Spanish, although many indigenous languages survive as well. Approximately 70 languages are still spoken in the country.
- A popular snack is arepa, a flatbread made from cornflour and various fillings.
- The national sport is called tejo, an ancient sport from the pre-Colombian era that looks a bit like horseshoes or shuffleboard, though of course football/soccer is the most popular sport.
- Medical tourism is popular in Colombia, due to the high quality of treatment and relatively low cost compared to more developed countries. Cosmetic surgery and dental care are particularly popular.
- Education expenditure as a percentage of GDP is one of the highest in Latin America.
- Colombia has a rich literary tradition, though perhaps none of its authors is more famous than Gabriel García Márquez, who won the Nobel Prize for literature with his novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, which remains one of the most famous books to emerge from Latin America, and the region’s literary boom that occurred around the 1960s.
- Fernando Botero is famous for his sculptures of massively obese people and animals, with some of his works on public display in Colombian cities.
- Perhaps the world’s most famous Colombian is Pablo Escobar, whose Medellín Cartel came to control a massive drug empire in the 80s and 90s.
Hopefully that’ll provide enough fun facts for prospective adventures to Colombia. It’s a lively place that tends to be the favorite for many who travel through South America, and after a brief visit, it’s easy to see why.