Geography and Climate
Population, Ethnic Groups, Culture and Religion
Fauna and Flora
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|Origin of the name Colombia||The name Colombia has its origin in the name of the explorer Christopher Columbus.|
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Colombia has 32 Departments
Colombia is divided into 32 departments (departamentos) and one capital district (distrito capital). The departments (with capital city in parentheses) include:
Colombia is subdivided into municipalities (municipios), which are further subdivided into corregimientos.
Source: Wikipedia the free Encyclopedia,
|Languages||Colombia has one official language: Spanish|
are three main archeological sites in Colombia: San Augustin, Tierradentro
and Ciudad Perdida.
Artifacts left behind include pottery and gold.
In contrast to the Aztecs or Incas who dominated vast regions, a
dozen independent Colombian groups occupied relatively small areas
scattered throughout the Andean region and along the Pacific and Caribbean
among them are the Calima, Muisca, Narino, Quimbaya, San Agustin, Sinu,
Tayrona, Tierradentro, Tolima and Cumaco peoples.
first European to set foot on Colombian soil was Alonso de Ojeda in 1499.
His exploration and dealings with the local Indians gave birth to
the myth of El Dorado, a kingdom abundant in gold.
From the moment the Spanish arrived, their obsession with El Dorado
became the principal force driving them into the interior.
They did not find El Dorado, but their search did result in rapid
In 1550 King Carlos V of Spain established a court of justice in
Bogota and brought the colony under the control of the viceroyalty of
population of the colony initially consisted of indigenous communities and
Spanish invaders, but was diversified with the arrival of Blacks, brought
from Africa to serve as the workforce.
During the 16th and 17th centuries the
Spaniards shipped in so many Africans that they eventually surpassed the
indigenous population in number.
the growth of the Spanish empire in the New World, a new territory was
created in 1717 and Bogota became the capital of its own viceroyalty, the
Virreinato de la Nueva Granada.
It comprised the territories of what are today Colombia, Panama,
Ecuador and Venezuela.
Spanish domination increased, so did the discontent of the inhabitants.
The first open rebellion began in 1781, as one by one, Colombian
towns declared their independence.
In 1812, Simon Bolivar won six battles against Spanish troops but
was defeated the next year and full Colonial rule was reestablished by
retreated, but returned, strengthened with help from a British legion and
claimed victory after victory.
Colombia’s independence was finally won in 1819.
revolutionary congress was held that same year and a new state, Gran
Colombia, was proclaimed uniting Venezuela, Colombia, Panama and Ecuador.
But the vast state began to disintegrate almost from the beginning.
Bolivar was far away fighting for the independence of Peru and it
soon became apparent that a central regime was incapable of governing such
a vast and diverse territory.
in 1849, two political parties were formed, the Conservatives and the
But fierce rivalry between the two resulted in years of
insurrections and civil wars.
1899 saw the War of a Thousand Days, which resulted in 10,000 dead
and a Conservative Party victory.
This brought relative peace which lasted only until 1948 when civil
war broke out again.
La Violencia was one of the bloodiest conflicts in the western
hemisphere, comparable to the American and Mexican Revolutions.
1957, the leaders of the two political parties signed a pact to share
power where they alternated the presidency every four years.
The agreement, however, also disallowed political parties beyond
the Liberals and the Conservatives, thus allowing for the rise of a
The 1950’s also saw the rise of the Cold War, and Colombia with
its underclasses was ripe for insurrection.
Liberals set off for the countryside to start their own communities
and wealthy landowners set up their own security forces to protect their
the mid-1960s the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) had
taken up arms against the government and the security forces (now
paramilitaries) and the government fought back.
In all, Colombia gave birth to perhaps a dozen different guerrilla
groups, the strongest of which were the FARC, the Ejercito de Liberacion
Nacional (ELN) and the Movimiento 19 de Abril (M-19).
communism fell around the globe, the FARC and the ELN lost support and
moved on to drugs, extortion, robbery and kidnapping to finance their
The paramilitaries flourished into full-fledged armies fighting
against the leftists and the drug cartels, often with support from the US
The largest of these groups is the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia
in 1997, it opposes the leftists but has committed atrocities and
terrorized the countryside as much as its opposition.
became the currency of choice for these groups and the drug cartels grew
into huge conglomerates with their own plantations, laboratories,
transport services and protection rackets.
By the early 1980’s the cartels were immensely powerful and the
head of the Medellin cartel was elected to the Colombian Congress.
The drug cartels offered to pay off Colombia’s foreign debt but
when the offer was turned down the violence escalated.
In 1989 the cartels even blew up an airplane killing all 107 people
efforts by the government to negotiate with the drug bosses, including
banning the extradition of Colombians to, for example, the United States
for prosecution, the drug trade has continued unabated.
A controversial new plan called Plan Colombia (supported
financially by the US) calls for eradicating coca plants by spraying them
with herbicide, but this plan has many problems and so far has done little
to stop the cocaine producers.
However increased military patrols have helped to break down the
civil conflict and have helped the security situation.
Other parts of the proposal include providing job training and
education programs with former members of FARC, AUC and ELN eligible for
aid and assistance.
current president, Alvaro Uribe has just won reelection to a second term
and has promised an even more intensive military campaign against the FARC
and the ELN. So far he has made good on his word and the security
situation has drastically improved in Colombia and has given way to a
feeling of national optimism for the future.
Lonely Planet Publications Colombia 2006
has traditionally been the chief economic activity in Colombia. The
country’s diverse climate and topography permit the cultivation of a
wide variety of crops including coffee, fresh flowers, vegetables,
tropical fruits, forest products and livestock.
has four major industrial centers - Bogotá, Medellín, Cali, and
Barranquilla - each located in a distinct geographical region. Colombia's
industries include textiles and clothing, leather products, processed
foods and beverages, paper and paper products, chemicals and
petrochemicals, cement, construction, iron and steel products and
is rich in minerals, including petroleum, natural gas, iron, nickel, coal,
copper, gold, silver, platinum and emeralds. The
country's oil reserves total about 1.4 billion barrels, however these are
estimated to represent less than 20% of the country's actual oil
potential. Colombia also has the largest coal reserves in Latin America
and is second only to Brazil in hydroelectric potential.
comprise the largest share of Colombia's economy, accounting for over 50%
of the total GDP. The services sector is also the fastest growing sector
of the economy with the most dynamic areas being government services, real
estate leasing, retail, financial services and transportation services.
Tourism is also a sizable source of income.
is the major illicit export, accounting for about 25% of foreign exchange
earnings. Most of the raw materials used to be grown in Peru and Bolivia,
but cultivation has increased in Colombia as a result of those nations
coca-eradication programs. The drug trade (Colombia also produces heroin
and grows cannabis) has brought riches to some, but has seriously
disrupted the fabric of Colombian society with its violence.
joined the Andean Group, an economic organization of South American
nations, in 1969, and has signed free-trade pacts with other Andean
countries and Mexico. During the early 1990s the economy was growing
quickly in comparison with that of other Latin American countries, and
inflation and unemployment were under control. However, government
spending and foreign debt soared in the late 1990s, the country suffered
its worst recession in a century and labor unrest and internal problems
related to the drug trade continued to threaten the country's economic
|Geography and Climate||
in the northwest corner of the South American continent, Colombia
encompasses an area of more than 1.1 million square kilometers and is
about the size of California and Texas combined or France, Spain and
Portugal. It is the only country in South America with both
Caribbean (1,760kms, 1,091mi) and Pacific coastlines (1,448kms, 898mi).
Colombia also has international borders with five Latin American nations:
Panama, Venezuela, Brazil, Peru, and Ecuador.
the Caribbean, off of Colombia’s northwest coast, territory also
includes an archipelago of thirteen small cays. There are other small
islands, cays, and banks in the same area that belong to Colombia but are
also claimed by Nicaragua. Several small islands also lie off Colombia's
Caribbean coast south of Cartegena. In the Pacific, Colombian
territory includes Isla de Malpelo. Nearer the coast, a prison colony is
located on Isla Gorgona.
can be divided into four geographic regions: the Andean highlands,
consisting of the three Andean ranges and intervening valley lowlands
(Pico Cristobal Colon is the highest mountain at 5,775mts (19,058ft)); the
Caribbean lowlands coastal region; the Pacific lowlands coastal region,
separated from the Caribbean lowlands by swamps at the base of the Isthmus
of Panama; and eastern Colombia, the great plain that lies to the east of
the Andes Mountains.
in temperature and precipitation result primarily from differences in
elevation. Temperatures range from very hot at sea level to relatively
cold at higher elevations but vary little with the season.
Colombians typically describe the country in terms of the climatic zones:
the area under 900mts (2,970ft) in elevation is called the hot zone,
elevations between 900 and 1,980mts (6,534ft) are the temperate zone and
elevations from 1,980mts (6,534ft) to about 3,500mts (11,550ft) constitute
the cold zone.
86 percent of the country's total area lies in the hot zone. Temperatures,
depending on elevation, vary between 24°C (78°F) and 38°C (100°F).
Rainfall in the hot zone is heaviest in the Pacific lowlands and in parts
of eastern Colombia, where rain is almost a daily occurrence and rain
forests predominate. Precipitation exceeds 760cm (296in) annually in most
of the Pacific lowlands, making this one of the wettest regions in the
temperate zone covers about 8 percent of the country. This zone includes
the lower slopes of the Cordillera Oriental and the Cordillera Central.
The cities of Medellín and Cali are located in this zone where rainfall
is moderate and the mean annual temperature varies between 19°C (68°F)
and 24°C (78°F), depending on the elevation.
cold or cool zone constitutes about 6 percent of the total area and
supports about one fourth of the country's total population. The mean
temperature ranges between 10°C (50°F) and 19°C (68°F), and the wet
seasons occur in April and May and from September to December, as in the
high elevations of the temperate zone.
|Population, Ethnic Groups, Culture and Religion||
and Ethnic Groups
population as of July, 2006 is 43,593,035. The predominant racial
strain in Colombia is the mestizo (mixed white and Amerindian),
constituting about 58% of the total population in the 1998. An estimated
20% of the inhabitants are of unmixed white ancestry; 14% are mulatto
(black–white); 4% are black; 3% are zambo (black–Indian); and 1% are
pure Amerindian. Blacks and mulattoes are concentrated in the coastal
regions and tropical valleys. Pure Amerindians are rapidly disappearing;
the remaining few live mainly in inaccessible and barren regions. The
principal Amerindian culture of Colombia during the pre-Columbian period
was that of the Chibcha, whose descendants are today chiefly concentrated
in the departments of Cundinamarca, Boyacá, Santander, and Norte de
Santander. The Motilones, one of the few surviving Amerindian groups
untouched by civilization in South America, inhabit the region west of
Lake Maracaibo and the Venezuelan border; they are famous for their lethal
weapon, the black palm bow and arrow. Small, diverse Amerindian groups
also inhabit the eastern extremities of the Colombian plains region, the
south, and the western coastal jungles.
brought the Catholic religion from Spain and it spread rapidly through
independence, Colombia remained a deeply Catholic country, a fact that was
enshrined in the constitution.
In 1991 the constitution was rewritten to refer to a universal God,
rather than “the sacred heart of Jesus”.
The current religious breakdown of religion in Colombia is: Roman
Catholic 90%, Protestant 3% and other religions 7%.
CIA World Fact Book, www.nationsencyclopedia.com,
Lonely Planet Publications Colombia 2006
|Fauna and Flora||
claims to have more plant and animal species per square kilometer than any
other country in the world. Its variety of flora and fauna is second
only to Brazil’s even though Colombia is seven times smaller. This
abundance can be attributed to Colombia’s varied climatic zones and
microclimates, which have created many different habitats. Colombia
has more than 350 mammal species, 1900 recorded species of birds, (140 of
which are endemic) and abundant marine life. Some of the largest and
most productive coral reefs in the Americas can be found off the Caribbean
coast and they play an important role in the health of the sea by
providing feeding and nesting grounds.
flora is equally as impressive as its fauna and includes more than 130,000
plants, a third of which are endemic species. Orchid species alone
number over 3,000. The unexplored parts of the Amazon undoubtedly
contain countless more undiscovered species.
Lonely Planet Publications Colombia, 2006
Colombia's Pacific Coast rainforests are rapidly disappearing due to gold mining and palm-oil plantations. By one estimate, in the mid-1990s, industrial gold mining alone cleared 80,000 hectares of forest per year, while contaminating local rivers with mercury and siltration.
In the highlands, the ongoing battle over coca cultivation has had a significant impact on forest cover. Drug eradication efforts have focused on aerial fumigation programs where herbicides are dropped by crop-duster planes on suspect vegetation. Since the concoction is a non-selective herbicide, surrounding vegetation—including subsistence crops and native plants—are killed as well.
The ecological impacts of coca production are significant as well. Each acre requires clearing of roughly four acres of forest while the dumping of chemicals used to process coca leaves (including kerosene, sulfuric acid, acetone, and carbide) pollutes local waterways.
wildlife, especially rare birds and reptiles, are smuggled to markets in
the United States and Europe. The government estimates that in 1997 more
than seven million animals were illegally exported from Colombia.
Kim and Don Greene, Contributors; publication date September 1, 2006