republic; executive branch dominates government structure
Colombian peso (COP)
total: 1,138,910 sq km land: 1,038,700 sq km note: includes Isla de Malpelo, Roncador Cay, Serrana Bank, and Serranilla Bank water: 100,210 sq km
41,008,227 (July 2002 est.)
Roman Catholic 90%
Colombia is the only country in South America with coastlines on both the North Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea. Lying to the south of Panama, Colombia controls the land access between Central and South America. With Panama to the north, Colombia is surrounded by Venezuela to the east, Brazil to the southeast, Ecuador and Peru to the south west.
32 departments (departamentos, singular - departamento) and 1 capital district* (distrito capital); Amazonas, Antioquia, Arauca, Atlantico, Distrito Capital de Bogota*, Bolivar, Boyaca, Caldas, Caqueta, Casanare, Cauca, Cesar, Choco, Cordoba, Cundinamarca, Guainia, Guaviare, Huila, La Guajira, Magdalena, Meta, Narino, Norte de Santander, Putumayo, Quindio, Risaralda, San Andres y Providencia, Santander, Sucre, Tolima, Valle del Cauca, Vaupes, Vichada
El Parque Tayrona - Tayrona Park is an incredible place to visit if you have the chance while in the Santa Marta area on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. This little delightful spot is located about 30 minutes from the city of Rodadero. You have to hike for about 20 minutes from the parking area, but it is well worth it. Once there, you have beautiful beaches, hammocks to rent for the night, food, water and surf (be careful though, there is a strong riptide - experienced surfers only! Additionally, you can get a guide to take you to a native village in the nearby mountains for a truly cultural experience and insight into the life of the native South Americans of Santa Marta. A must see if you can!
Boyacá - Wonderful cold climate high-altitude mountains close to Bogotá by road, and one of the few departments completely safe for tourists. Highlights include Villa de Leyva, the Natural Sanctuary of Iguaque and the small 1658 hotel at Hacienda Baza, in Tibaná.
Although there is still a certain amount of violence in remoter areas, the government now has a greater presence in the country and guerrilla attacks, which used to occur on a regular basis, are now far less common. It is now possible to travel by road and explore areas that would have been closed to tourists in the past. This is particularly true during the longer vacations, when the government organises convoys, escorted by troops, along popular routes.
And travelling in Colombia is definitely worthwhile. From Bogota and its temperate climate 2,600 metres above sea level, a drive of one or two hours North, South, East or West can take you to landscapes which are as diverse as they are beautiful. To the East are the oriental plains which stretch out far beyond the horizon with little modulation. To the North are the more rugged contours of the higher Andean region. To the South the weather is sub-tropical and has flora and fauna concommitant with this, and to the West one also finds hot weather with corresponding vegetation.
Tropical along coast and eastern plains; cooler in highlands; periodic droughts
Flat coastal lowlands, central highlands, high Andes Mountains, eastern lowland plains
highlands subject to volcanic eruptions; occasional earthquakes
Pico Cristobal Colon 5,775 m note: nearby Pico Simon Bolivar also has the same elevation
Colombia was one of the three countries that emerged from the collapse of Gran Colombia in 1830 (the others being Ecuador and Venezuela). Panama declared its independence from Colombia in 1903 with the support of the United States of America. A 40-year insurgent campaign to overthrow the Colombian Government escalated during the 1990s, undergirded in part by funds from the drug trade. Although the violence is deadly and large swaths of the rural countryside are under guerrilla influence, the movement lacks the military strength or popular support necessary to overthrow the government. Illegal anti-insurgent paramilitary groups have grown to be several thousand strong in recent years, challenging the insurgents for control of territory and illicit industries such as the drug trade and also the government's ability to exert its dominion over rural areas. While Bogota continues to try to negotiate a settlement, neighboring countries worry about the violence spilling over their borders.
The usual way to get to Colombia from Miami is by Avianca airlines which resently has been bought by a Brazilian company.
Connections can be made from Caracas´main terminal to most cities in Colombia. From the main terminal, Maracaibo( Venezuela) has busses that run to the cities( Cartagena, Baranquilla, Santa Marta) on the coast. The border at Maicao is a relatively easy, straight forward entry into Colombia from Venezuela.
Spanish; If you've recently learned Spanish, its a relief to know that the Colombian variety is clear and easy to understand.
English is taught in grade school,and Colombians are often exposed to subtitle Hollywood films, so some Colombians may know a few basic phrases.
Expect to meet teenage Colombians who will want to practice their English skills with you.
The majority of high ranking professionals,executives and government workers in Colombia speak a decent amount of English.
French is also spoken to a much lesser extent.
For breakfast, its very common to have buñuelos (deep fried balls with cheese in the dough) and arepas (rather thick corn tortillas, often made with cheese and served with butter).
For lunch, especially on Sundays, you should try a sancocho de gallina (rich chicken soup, served with part of the chicken itself, rice and vegetables/salad).
Colombia offers an enormous variety of fruit and hence fruit juices. Do not miss them!
For breakfast, take a home-made hot chocolate. It is generally prepared with panela (dried cane juice), cinnamon and cloves, which gives it a special taste.
Concerning alcoholic beverages, the most common are probably beer, rhum (The best one seems to be the one from Caldas.) and aguardiente.
Hacienda Baza in Boyacá offers very good food, and a colonial hotel experience as authentic as possible. The Hotel has 12 rooms built in what was a Dominican Monastery. Every room has its own chimney, ensuite and all modern facilities. It is surrounded by wonderful gardens and mountains. Walking and horseriding are the activities, apart from resting and sampling very good food. Rates are low, ranging from 40 to 80 US dollars a day. See www.haciendabaza.com for details.
In Villa de Leyva, hostería Duruelo offers very good facilities and food, with the attractive of the city.
Colombia's ongoing civil war is over 40 years old, and doesn't show any signs of stopping soon. Many parts of Colombia are dangerous, especially the northern border with Panama and large cities such as Bogota and Cali. Colombia has one of the highest kidnapping rates in the world.
In the past, several para-military groups involved in the civil war have declared their hostility towards anyone affiliated with the United States government. It is highly advisable that travelers keep this in mind and maintain a low-key appearance -- wearing a shaved haircut and fatigues is begging for trouble, even if you don't have any ties to the U.S.
Don't wander off alone anywhere. Always stay in groups. Shorts on men, baseball caps, earrings on men, and backpacks will immediately label you as a foreigner and unfortunately, "ring the dinner bell" for muggers, pick-pockets and con-artists. In recent years, there have been reports of scopolamine (a date-rape drug that is absorbed through the skin) being used in powdered form against unwary tourists; it can be blown into the victim's face or placed on a piece of paper which is handed to the victim and absorbed through the skin. Scopolamine makes the victim highly open to suggestion, allowing the attacker to confiscate your wallet, keys, or anything else they may want. Always be cautious, especially when approached by strangers.
If you want or need to drive, keep in mind that local drivers tend to be very reckless, smaller streets may not always be labeled, and pot-holes can be huge.
Drink only bottled water outside the major cities. The water in major cities is safer, but tap water ca nstill cause travellers diarrhea in travellers. Never get drinks with ice cubes in them, and always make sure that the water you are served in restaurants comes from a bottle (they should open it in front of you). Doing anything else may result in you hugging the crapper for the duration of your trip.
If you have to beckon someone, wave your fingers palm facing down; NEVER crook your index finger palm facing up. Try to avoid beckoning older persons.
Generally avoid discussing politics or the present war in public, except with well-known acquaintances or relatives that have your trust and confidence.
Always say Please (Por favor, or hagame el favor) and Thank you (muchas gracias) for anything, to anyone.
deforestation; soil and water quality damage from overuse of pesticides; air pollution, especially in Bogota, from vehicle emissions
Environment - international agreements
party to: Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Marine Life Conservation, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands signed, but not ratified: Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping
at birth: 1.03 male(s)/female under 15 years: 1.02 male(s)/female 15-64 years: 0.95 male(s)/female 65 years and over: 0.81 male(s)/female total population: 0.97 male(s)/female (2002 est.)
Infant mortality rate
23.21 deaths/1,000 live births (2002 est.)
Life expectancy at birth
total population: 70.85 years female: 74.83 years (2002 est.) male: 67 years
Total fertility rate
2.64 children born/woman (2002 est.)
HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate
0.31% (1999 est.)
HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDS
71,000 (1999 est.)
HIV/AIDS - deaths
1,700 (1999 est.)
noun: Colombian(s) adjective: Colombian
mestizo 58%, white 20%, mulatto 14%, black 4%, mixed black-Amerindian 3%, Amerindian 1%
Roman Catholic 90%
definition: age 15 and over can read and write total population: 91.3% male: 91.2% female: 91.4% (1995 est.)
conventional long form: Republic of Colombia conventional short form: Colombia local short form: Colombia local long form: Republica de Colombia
republic; executive branch dominates government structure
20 July 1810 (from Spain)
Independence Day, 20 July (1810)
5 July 1991
based on Spanish law; a new criminal code modeled after US procedures was enacted in 1992-93; judicial review of executive and legislative acts; accepts compulsory ICJ jurisdiction, with reservations
18 years of age; universal
chief of state: President Alvaro URIBE Velez (since 7 August 2002); Vice President Francisco SANTOS (since 7 August 2002); note - the president is both the chief of state and head of government head of government: President Alvaro URIBE Velez (since 7 August 2002); Vice President Francisco SANTOS (since 7 August 2002); note - the president is both the chief of state and head of government cabinet: Cabinet consists of a coalition of the two dominant parties - the PL and PSC - and independents elections: president and vice president elected by popular vote for a four-year term; election last held 26 May 2002 (next to be held NA May 2006) election results: President Alvaro URIBE Velez received 53% of the vote; Vice President Francisco SANTOS was elected on the same ticket
bicameral Congress or Congreso consists of the Senate or Senado (102 seats; members are elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms) and the House of Representatives or Camara de Representantes (166 seats; members are elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms) elections: Senate - last held 10 March 2002 (next to be held NA March 2006); House of Representatives - last held 10 March 2002 (next to be held NA March 2006) election results: Senate - percent of vote by party - NA%; seats by party - PL 28, PSC 13, independents and smaller parties (many aligned with conservatives) 61; House of Representatives - percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - PL 54, PSC 21, independents and other parties 91
four, coequal, supreme judicial organs; Supreme Court of Justice or Corte Suprema de Justical (highest court of criminal law; judges are selected from the nominees of the Higher Council of Justice for eight-year terms); Council of State (highest court of administrative law, judges are selected from the nominees of the Higher Council of Justice for eight-year terms); Constitutional Court (guards integrity and supremacy of the constitution, rules on constitutionality of laws, amendments to the constitution, and international treaties); Higher Council of Justice (administers and disciplines the civilian judiciary; members of the disciplinary chamber resolve jurisdictional conflicts arising between other courts; members are elected by three sister courts and Congress for eight-year terms)
Political parties and leaders
Conservative Party or PSC [Carlos HOLGUIN Sardi]; Liberal Party or PL [Horatio SERPA Uribe]; Patriotic Union or UP is a legal political party formed by Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or FARC and Colombian Communist Party or PCC [Jaime CAICEDO]; 19 of April Movement or M-19 [Antonio NAVARRO Wolff] note: Colombia has about 60 formally recognized political parties, most of which do not have a presence in either house of Congress
Political pressure groups and leaders
two largest insurgent groups active in Colombia - Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or FARC and National Liberation Army or ELN; largest anti-insurgent paramilitary group is United Self-Defense Groups of Colombia or AUC
chief of mission: Ambassador Luis Alberto MORENO Mejia chancery: 2118 Leroy Place NW, Washington, DC 20008 consulate(s) general: Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, San Francisco, San Juan (Puerto Rico), and Washington, DC consulate(s): Atlanta FAX:  (202) 232-8643 telephone:  (202) 387-8338
Diplomatic representation from the US
chief of mission: Ambassador Anne W. PATTERSON embassy: Calle 22D-BIS, numbers 47-51, Apartado Aereo 3831 mailing address: Carrera 45 #22D-45, Bogota, D.C., APO AA 34038 telephone:  (1) 315-0811 FAX:  (1) 315-2197
three horizontal bands of yellow (top, double-width), blue, and red; similar to the flag of Ecuador, which is longer and bears the Ecuadorian coat of arms superimposed in the center
Economy - overview
Colombia's economy suffered from weak domestic demand, austere government budgets, and a difficult security situation. A new president took office in 2002 and faced economic challenges ranging from pension reform to reduction of unemployment. Two of Colombia's leading exports, oil and coffee, face an uncertain future; new exploration is needed to offset declining oil production, while coffee harvests and prices are depressed. Problems in public security are a concern.
purchasing power parity - $255 billion (2001 est.)
US 35%, EU 16%, Andean Community of Nations 15%, Japan 5% (2001 est.)
Debt - external
$39 billion (2001 est.)
Colombian peso (COP)
Colombian pesos per US dollar - 2,275.89 (January 2002), 2,299.63 (2001), 2,087.90 (2000), 1,756.23 (1999), 1,426.04 (1998), 1,140.96 (1997)
Telephones - main lines in use
5,433,565 (December 1997)
Telephones - mobile cellular
1,800,229 (December 1998)
general assessment: modern system in many respects domestic: nationwide microwave radio relay system; domestic satellite system with 41 earth stations; fiber-optic network linking 50 cities international: satellite earth stations - 6 Intelsat, 1 Inmarsat; 3 fully digitalized international switching centers; 8 submarine cables
Radio broadcast stations
AM 454, FM 34, shortwave 27 (1999)
21 million (1997)
Television broadcast stations
60 (includes seven low-power stations) (1997)
4.59 million (1997)
Internet country code
Internet Service Providers (ISPs)
1.15 million (2002)
total: 3,304 km standard gauge: 150 km 1.435-m gauge (connects Cerrejon coal mines to maritime port at Bahia de Portete) narrow gauge: 3,154 km 0.914-m gauge (major sections not in use) (2000 est.)
total: 110,000 km paved: 26,000 km unpaved: 84,000 km (2000)
18,140 km (navigable by river boats) (April 1996)
crude oil 3,585 km; petroleum products 1,350 km; natural gas 830 km; natural gas liquids 125 km
total: 11 ships (1,000 GRT or over) totaling 32,438 GRT/43,126 DWT ships by type: bulk 5, cargo 3, container 1, petroleum tanker 2 note: includes a foreign-owned ship registered here as a flag of convenience: Germany 1 (2002 est.)
Airports - with paved runways
total: 96 over 3,047 m: 2 2,438 to 3,047 m: 9 914 to 1,523 m: 36 under 914 m: 11 (2002) 1,524 to 2,437 m: 38
Airports - with unpaved runways
total: 954 2,438 to 3,047 m: 1 1,524 to 2,437 m: 51 under 914 m: 587 (2002) 914 to 1,523 m: 315
Army (Ejercito Nacional), Navy (Armada Nacional, including Marines and Coast Guard), Air Force (Fuerza Aerea Colombiana), National Police (Policia Nacional)
Military manpower - military age
18 years of age (2002 est.)
Military manpower - availability
males age 15-49: 10,946,932 (2002 est.)
Military manpower - fit for military service
males age 15-49: 7,308,703 (2002 est.)
Military manpower - reaching military age annually
males: 379,295 (2002 est.)
Military expenditures - dollar figure
$3.3 billion (FY01)
Military expenditures - percent of GDP
Disputes - international
Nicaragua filed a claim against Honduras in 1999 and against Colombia in 2001 at the ICJ over disputed maritime boundary involving 50,000 sq km in the Caribbean Sea, including the Archipelago de San Andres y Providencia and Quita Sueno Bank; maritime boundary dispute with Venezuela in the Gulf of Venezuela; Colombian drug activities penetrate Peruvian border area
illicit producer of coca, opium poppy, and cannabis; world's leading coca cultivator (cultivation of coca in 2001 was 169,800 hectares, a 25% increase over 2000); Spraying has reputedly reduced crops by 50%; potential production of opium between 2000 and 2001 increased by 33% to 40 metric tons; potential production of heroin increased to 4.3 metric tons; the world's largest processor of coca derivatives into cocaine; supplier of about 90% of the cocaine to the US market and the great majority of cocaine to other international drug markets; important supplier of heroin to the US market; active aerial eradication program.