History of Colombia
Colombia’s history is as diverse as its landscape. As the gateway to South America from the North American continent, and owing to its strategic location at the confluence the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans, the country has naturally attracted travelers and settlers for centuries.
The country is popularly believed to have been part of route the first native humans traversed while migrating South from North and Central America. While most such migrant populations traveled further southwards, such as the Incas, many smaller groups settled in isolated areas across the Andean region. Some of these civilizations also left behind interesting pottery and intricate goldwork, now displayed in museums that you can visit on your Colombia tour with us.
In 1499, the Spanish arrived at Santa Marta, led by Alonso de Ojeda, a companion to Christopher Columbus who Colombia is named after. The Spanish were astounded by the prolific amount of gold owned by the local people, which ultimately spawned the legend of El Dorado, leading to aggressive Spanish colonization of the country. Nearly 30 years later, the Spanish founded Cartagena to become a doorway to the country, eventually evolving into a prolific center for trade and commerce. On your Enchanting Travels tour, discover the towering fortifications constructed by the Spanish to protect Cartagena.
Driven by their desire for gold, Spanish Conquistadors journeyed further into the interiors of Columbia towards the territory of the Muiscas – an advanced indigenous civilization who were settled in the Eastern Cordillera of the Andes. The Spanish city of Santa Fe de Bogota was established within Muisca territory and today, it serves as the national capital. Around the same time, the cities of Popayan and Cali were established by rival Conquistadors, who then battled for supremacy until King Carlos V of Spain brought the city under the Viceroyalty of Peru in 1550. Today, the many carefully preserved colonial buildings and religious traditions of Popayan lay testament to Spanish influence.
The Spanish ruled Colombia for nearly 250 years, transporting thousands of African slaves into the country and stamping out the indigenous people in their wake. Cartagena became the largest slave trading port in all of Latin America. Just south of Cartagena, let our experts leads you to San Basilio de Palenque – a unique and charming village founded by escaped African slaves. While power remained exclusively in the hands of the Spanish, the existing racial groups began to mingle among each other, creating a unique mix of African, European and native Indian races. In the late 18th century, frustrated with the taxes levied by the Crown, native Colombians openly rose in revolt against the Spanish colonial powers for first time.
Famed Venezuelan general Simon Bolivar defeated the Spanish in the early 1800s and won independence for Colombia. Built in tribute to the great liberator, discover Bolivar Square in Bogota.
Independent Colombia was initially a part of a larger nation called New Granada, only to separate in 1835. A time of political turmoil followed, with the rise of regional factions and widespread civil wars in the 19th century. Following the War of a Thousand Days, the USA swept in to build and control the famous Panama Canal leading to a dispute resulting in the liberation of Panama as an autonomous nation.
An era of violence tore Colombia apart in the mid-20th century, as Conservatives and Liberals battled each other. Encouraged by wealthy landowners looking for power, guerilla factions became active across the country. Several guerrilla groups, including a paramilitary group called the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), battled the government for nearly 20 years. Fuelled by the burgeoning drug trade that included the infamous empire of Pablo Escobar, guerrilla sympathizers took over the countryside.
In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, Colombia has successfully set up a democratically elected Presidential regime.
The controversial politician Alvaro Uribe has done much to stabilize the nation, pushing back military groups, approving Hollywood-esque rescues of high-profile kidnap victims and leading the country toward much needed peace and progress.
Today, with a steady rise in trade and commerce, safety measures, better infrastructure, and tourism, Colombia is steadily rising from the ashes of turmoil much like the proverbial phoenix.
Culture of Colombia
The culture of Colombia is as varied as its landscape. While little trace remains of native, indigenous tribes, most Colombians are descended from one of three ethnic groups – European, Asian or native Indian. At least 75% of the population claim mixed racial origins, three quarters of whom live in the cities. This incredible mix of cultures is evident in the country’s heritage, music, arts and cuisine.
Ancient indigenous tribes of Colombia were known for their intricate gold craftsmanship, which inspired the legend of El Dorado. In the hope of reaching this mythical land of gold and emeralds, many Spanish Conquistadors traversed the length and breadth of Colombia, leading to the colonization of the country.
The Spanish colonialists originally envisioned Cartagena as a gateway to the continent, zealously guarding it against invaders. Thousands of African slaves were transported into the country, making Cartagena the largest slave port in all of Latin America! On your Colombia vacation, visit the unique settlement of San Basilio de Palenque, the first of its kind, iconic settlement of escaped slaves that has preserved its African heritage and way of life until this day.
The Spanish were also responsible for the advent of Catholicism into the country, although several other religious communities coexist peacefully within the country. Visit Popayan to witness the famous Palm Sunday Procession when statues of Christ the Savior are paraded through the streets with great pomp and splendor.
True to its heritage, Colombia continues to preserve its colonial architecture, Baroque buildings and traditional Catholic churches that exist side by side with towering modern skyscrapers.
Across the country, Spanish is recognized as the official language, with English spoken amid the upper classes in larger cities. Education in the country is primarily managed by the private sector.
The Colombian Peso is the officially accepted currency within the country.
To Colombians, family is everything, acting as a source of support and inspiring loyalty across generations. Although extended families only live under the same roof in rural regions, even in cities, family members tend to live near each other, often getting together. While a significant percentage of the population are relatively young, the elderly are greatly respected, and often served before everyone else at mealtimes.
Colombia has produced several prolific writers, among whom, Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez claims pride of place. Colombians are also sincerely dedicated to the national sport of soccer, which is especially popular in the Caribbean coast and wildly popular among the younger generation.
Colombia is also famous for its textile industry, inspiring trends for apparel and fashion in all of Latin America. While numerous factories are located across major cities, Medellin is undoubtedly at its center, representing more than half of the entire textile production in the country.
The infamous illegal narcotics trade, made famous by cartels led by wealthy lords such as Pablo Escobar, has done much to damage the reputation of the country. Driven by the desire for profit, international interests in narcotics have caused pain and devastation. Since the establishment of the War on Drugs movement, Colombia has received international aid and also implemented plans to combat this malaise with a notable degree of success. Let your Enchanting Travels tour take you deep into the lesser known neighborhoods in cities such as Medellin, which once struggled under the influence of cartels and kingpins and now house peaceful people who have worked to put Colombia on the global economic map.
Despite a deep divide between the rich and the poor, Colombia’s generous natural reserves and increase in infrastructure have brought peace and development to the country. With dozens of airports in play, an intricate network of buses and the metro in Medellin providing easier access to all neighborhoods, the country is definitely progressing.
Cuisine of Colombia
Colombian cuisine is a delightful smorgasbord of European influence and Andean ingredients. Nestled by the towering Andes and set on the equator, when it comes to fresh produce, your choices are endless! Given the varied topography within the country, the cuisine and traditional cooking methods also vary considerably between regions.
Cereals such as maize and rice are a staple part of Colombian cuisine and included in most meals alongside potatoes and cassavas. Meat, including pork, mutton, beef and seafood near the riverine and coastal areas, are a very important part of the diet. Corn, milk and dairy products such as butter or cheese are consumed daily. Most meals typically include three separate course and lunch, often served later in the afternoon, is the most important meal of the day. While Colombians don’t prefer spicy dishes, the food is uniformly delicious and flavorful, especially the various types of soups that are regularly served at mealtimes.
Colombia is a haven of fresh tropical fruits such as dragon fruit, papaya, guava, blackberry and passionfruit. Readily available around almost all street corners, take a break between your trips to sample Colombian juice to refresh yourself! The country is also the
Owing to its geographical location and favorable climate, especially in the hilly reaches, Colombia grows some of the best coffee in the world. Unlike its darker French cousin, Colombian grows mild and rich Arabica coffee, which is often considered an all-purpose coffee unlike the Robusta beans of the East. The Juan Valdez marketing campaign of the nonprofit National Federation of Coffee Growers have done much to increase the production and export of Colombian Coffee.
Tuck into some of Colombia’s mouthwatering delicacies on your tour:
Colombian empanada – Popular with locals and travelers alike, sample a Colombian empanada or two from any local cart. Made with corn and stuffed with meat and spices, the Colombian empanada is deep-fried unlike its baked Argentinean equivalent.
Bandeja Paisa – The national dish of Colombia is a giant platter of food consisting of fried pork, grilled beef and sausage served on a bed of rice and beans. A fried egg and a slice of avocado complete the hearty meal!
Arepa – This flatbread is the perfect accompaniment for any meal! Doused in butter and then sprinkled with cheese, this is a food lover’s delight
Sancocho – Colombian soups rarely get heartier than this. This fabulous stew is a wholesome meal made with many a root vegetable such as potato, cassava and plantain. Ingredients may vary depending on which part of the country you are in – while beef and pork are more popularly used in the mainland, fish is naturally more popular in the coastal areas.
Colombian chocolate – Believed to be popular with the Mayans as early as 400 BC, the Andean cacao is just as favored by modern-day Colombians. A warm glass of hot chocolate is the perfect start or end to your typical day in the country.
Colombian Art & Architecture
From ancient gold craftsmanship to Baroque religious painting, monolithic depictions by an unknown civilization and modern neoclassicist sculptures, Colombian art spans over 3500 years! There may not be a distinctive national school of art, but artistic expression is the heart and soul of Colombian life, fostered by conservatories, galleries and museums that are scattered throughout each city.
Chiribiquete in the inaccessible Colombian amazon, is home to rock art that is believed to be more than 20,000 years old, left behind by an ancient tribe. Apart from pre-Columbian goldwork, evidence suggests that the Caribbean coast may have seen the first instances of ceramics in all of the Americas!
In the colonial era, Colombian art and sculpture were heavily influenced by devotional and religious art from Spain, followed by a period that saw neoclassical sculptures of politicians and other public figures.
It was only in the 20th century, that art developed a true complexity to truly define national character and fervor. Undoubtedly, the most famous among Colombian artists is Fernando Botero, famous for his inflated depictions of humans and animals that have earned him international acclaim.
The architecture of Colombia is deeply reflective of its colonial heritage. Many cities continue to preserve their Moorish or Castilian architecture and Baroque buildings, despite the ravages of nature and climate.
Travel through old Bogota where the past meets the present, with cobbled streets laid out akin to a typical colonial Spanish town. Let your tour take you to Bolivar Square – the pride and joy of Bogota that is surrounded by historical buildings. Here, Colombian artist Rafael Gómezbarros has immortalized the suffering of Colombians displaced during the war through his representation of ants crawling all over the National Congress Building.
Discover the town of San Agustin on your Colombia tour, which is home to mysterious archaeological sculptures carved out of monoliths and left behind by an unknown ancient civilization before 10th century AD. Each statue is representative of a community figure, such as a shaman.
Names by native Guambiano Indians and home to beautifully preserved colonial buildings, the town of Popayan is a must-see for heritage and culture enthusiasts. Or delve into the port town of Cartagena, where towering fortifications built by the Spanish protect the city from invasions, and the La Popa Monastery built by the disciples of St. Augustin, stands guard from atop a hill. Here, modern buildings continue to be inspired by the existing colonial architecture.
Colombian Carnival, Music & Dance
Music and dancing take centerstage in Colombian culture. As each day draws to a close, follow the crowds to charming outdoor cafes and dancing bars, where many shake a leg to the popular beats of salsa and tango. Bambuco and Mapale are the most popular native dances, while Cumbia, a mix of native, European and African influence, is widely known as the national musical genre.
Vallenato, a form of folk music, is popular in the Caribbean region, while the frenetic tempo of the Dominican music and dance style called Merengue, will have a Colombian tapping their feet instantly.
Recently, Colombian pop music with strains of traditional influence, has also gained in popularity, especially through the efforts of renowned artists such as Shakira.
Introduced by the Spanish, the Carnival has become emblematic of Colombian culture today. Although most towns and cities celebrates individuals festivals and fairs, Barranquilla undoubtedly hosts the largest and best known carnival. Come Lent, the town of Barranquilla erupts in festive regalia, a beauty queen in elected, streets are strewn with revelers in colorful costumes and an overwhelming joie de vivre permeates all aspects of life in this small town.
Equally famous is the Feria de Cali, undoubtedly the largest salsa festival in the world!
A series of parades, a plethora of food streets selling local favorites, bullfights, athletic competitions and cultural exhibitions and salsa, the festival comprehensively showcases the city’s infatuation with Afro-Caribbean culture. On your tour, watch some of the world’s salsa bands perform live, and watch concerts and competitions where connoisseurs try to outdo one another.
Safety & Security
Colombia is undergoing an economic and cultural renaissance of sorts with special emphasis on tourism, from which the country benefits greatly.
In recent time, traveling is Colombia is as safe or in some cases, safer than in neighboring countries such as Brazil, Peru and Ecuador. Thanks to the concerted efforts of the government and the citizens, traveling in most Colombian regions entails little or no danger. Your security is of utmost importance to us and our local team of experts are continuously evaluating the security situation to ensure your safety at all times, so that you can enjoy your vacation without a care in the world!
The Enchanting Travels team is happy to plan your private, safe and tailor-made Colombia tour. Contact us for your obligation-free itinerary today!
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