Welcome to Colombia! If you’re about to jump on your plane to Medellín, or on a week-long boat trip along the Amazon river, you’re still in time to learn a thing or two about the country. What’s the capital city? Good. What does the flag look like? Mm… almost. Well, all that’s down here to help you prep your arrival. You’ll discover also a couple of things about the landscapes in Colombia, the weather, altitude and the country flag. And the coolest part: at the bottom, you’ll find all Green Mochila posts to prepare your travel to Colombia.
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Why visit Colombia
The main reason you should visit Colombia now is because the country was a no-go for so long. Therefore it’s still not attracting as many tourists as it will in a lustrum (or maybe in two lustra). That implies cheap destinations, untouched places, and a people eager to welcome you with arms wide open.
Colombia is a land of diverse landscapes and multifarious cultures. There’s a world between the Andean south and the Caribbean coast; between chaotic Bogotá and progressive Medellín; between the colourful hamlets of Antioquia and the tropical fishermen villages of the North. There’s something for everyone in Colombia.
If you feel like hiking to lakes or through the jungle, you’ll get your kick. If you like culture or nightlife, you’ll get your kick. If you want to chill at the beach or explore deserts, you’ll get your kick. But if you’re looking forward to the cocaine, you’d better off in Antwerp, Belgium. Some things are better left alone in Colombia.
Already set on visiting Colombia? Find more travel tips in our backpacking guide.
Weather & Climate in Colombia
The weather varies little all year round throughout Colombia and there are only 2 seasons: dry and rainy. Lying so close to the equator, it has also an equal 12 hours of daylight and darkness almost all year. Having said that, its different landscapes make for different climates.
The climate all along the Northern coast is tropical, hot and humid; in fact, terribly hot and humid. Cartagena in particular can be quite unbearable. There is less rain here than in the rest of the country, with only a few downpours in September and October.
On the contrary, the south-western part of the country, up in the Andes, is rather chilly, especially at night. That’s Pasto, Popayán, Cali and even Bogotá, which is definitely not a warm city. Medellín is nicknamed “the city of eternal spring” for its year-round mild weather. The same could be said about the Coffee Region, around Pereira and Armenia.
Discover the landscapes in Colombia
With such a vast country, you can expect that Colombia counts with a very varied landscape.
The Andes mountains are divided here into three parallel ranges. They tear lengthwise through the centre of the country like a tiger claw.
The rainforest takes about 1/3 of the country in the south-west, and all along the Pacific coast up to Panamá. It’s thick primeval vegetation that’s made even more dangerous by the presence of a few guerrilla armies.
-> Highlights: the so-called Darién Gap & Leticia, the town on the Amazon River
Los Llanos is a vast tropical grassland plain situated east of Bogotá. Large portions of it are regularly flooded between May and October. It’s a precious ecosystem for both fauna and flora.
-> Highlights: Caño Cristales, the “River of Five Colours” Add to these the two arid deserts of La Guajira and Tatacoa, and you have here we one of the most biodiverse countries in the world.
Altitude in Colombia
The Andes can get pretty high and some places could make you feel dizzy with soroche, the altitude sickness. Bogotá, for example, is at 2,640 m (8,660 ft) above sea level. Pasto is the other high-lying town, at 2,527 m (8,291 ft).
The rest of the country is at low altitude.
Name & capital of Colombia
The Republic of Colombia takes its name from an Italian dude who was looking for India and stumbled upon the Caribbean Islands. Christopher Columbus by birth was Cristoforo Colombo, hence the O in ‘Colombia’.
The name was first conceived for the whole Spanish-speaking Americas during the wars of Independence; it stuck here.
The capital of Colombia is Bogotá, formerly known as Santa Fe de Bogotá, with the emphasis on the -a. It takes the place of a former Indigenous Muisca village called Bacatá. Remember: everywhere in South America, when you read that a city was funded in the XVIth century by a Spanish general, there are often Indigenous stones underneath.
Flag of Colombia
The flag of Colombia is a horizontal tricolor of yellow, dark blue and red, with the yellow stripe taking up about 2/3 of the flag. The colours represent:
- yellow: stands for the country’s natural resources, but also the sun, which is omnipresent here
- blue: represents the seas all around Colombia (Caribbean sea & Pacific ocean), the rivers and the sky
- red: is for the blood spilled for freedom and independence
You’ll notice that it’s similar to the flags of Ecuador and Venezuela; the 3 countries used to be together (along with Panamá) as one country called Gran Colombia.
Languages in Colombia
Although Spanish is by far the main language in Colombia, English is also official in the Caribbean archipelago of San Andrés.
Moreover, there are 65 Indigenous languages and 2 Creole languages that are official in their respective region. One of the 2 Creole languages is the interesting Palenquero. Some of the slaves who were brought from Africa were able to escape, and many created walled cities known as palenques. Some of these palenques grew very large, holding hundreds of people. Over time, their residents developed their own creole language, which is still spoken today in the village of San Basilio de Palenque, near Cartagena.
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