Have you ever met a Colombian? They’re hard to forget once you do! Colombians are some of the warmest, most welcoming people you will ever meet. We are blessed to have many Colombian teachers and directors at Spanish Schoolhouse contributing to the amazing cultural diversity of our school. While the countries of Latin America have much in common, they are also different and unique. Here’s a peek at the truly special country of Colombia.
Colombia is considered the gateway to South America with prime ocean views on either side. It is a country of extremes! Hot and cold, wet and dry, tropical rainforest, mountains, and desert… you can find it all in Colombia! The Andean mountains, the world’s longest continental mountain range, extend from Ecuador and split into three ranges, or cordilleras, in Colombia. This makes for exquisite views and variable climates! Because of its proximity to the equator, the temperature varies only according to altitude and not so much during a season.
If you’re invited to visit Colombia, be sure to ask what part of the country you’ll be visiting! You may want to take your swimsuit and guayabera (a lightweight shirt) if you’re visiting the coast or the coffee region. You’ll probably need a light jacket if you plan to go to Bogotá, the nation’s capital. Many costeños (people on the coast) call Bogotá La Nevera, meaning the fridge! With an altitude of almost 9,000 feet, Bogotá’s temperatures range from low 50’s to high 60’s. If you visit Medellín, be ready for year-round mild temperatures. Medellín didn’t get its nickname of the “City of Eternal Spring” for nothing!
Despite what you may have heard in years past, Colombia is now one of the safest and most visited countries in Latin America. It has a rich cultural heritage with roots in indigenous, afro-Colombian, and European traditions. This makes the country’s food, music, dance, and art a unique experience!
Colombian Gastronomy: Leaving Room for Good Taste
Colombian food is as fresh as you can get. Markets are abundant and the produce packed with flavor. Each meal is carefully prepared, and part of the cultural experience! Colombians love to take time to connect with family and friends, sitting to enjoy a meal that oftentimes turns into a fun party.
Colombia is known for its amazing coffee, but we all knew that! In different regions of the country, you can find various foods that are “típico” of the area, in addition to staple foods which are found everywhere. Arepas, for example, are thick tortilla-like foods that can be corn or wheat-flour based. Some arepas have cheese on top, some are thinner than others, in some areas they make them with different ingredients, and the varieties go on and on. You’ll most likely find ají picante throughout the country, with different areas having their own versions of this salsa. It has its origins in the Antioquia region and it is made from finely chopped tomatoes, onions, coriander, ají pepper, salt, and water. Depending on which region of the country you’re in, don’t miss trying bandeja paisa, ajiaco, tamales, empanadas, sancocho, fritanga, and many delicious bakery items that will leave you satisfied!
The Language of Hello!
The official language of Colombia is Spanish and some say that Colombians speak the most beautiful and correct form of Spanish. If you’re learning Spanish as an adult, you can’t go wrong learning from a Colombian!
One of the quirks of Colombia is its diversity in language. There are multiple ways to say hello or greet a friend, for example. Colombians are formal when they speak, especially if they are talking to elders or people whom they have just met. For example, if you walk into a store, you would greet the shopkeeper with, “Hola, buenos días” or “Buenas” for short. To say hello to family, friends, or even acquaintances, you would use both words and body language. Shaking hands (more common with men) or leaning in for a kiss on the cheek (more common with women) are the norm. This is part of why the Colombian culture is so warm. They like to hug and kiss to say hello and goodbye. For close friends, a very informal greeting is “quiubo,” which is the short version of ¿Qué hubo? meaning “What’s going on?” ¿Qué cuentas?, ¿Qué más? and ¿Qué tal? are all similar greetings. You can read more about Colombian greetings here.
There are many other slang expressions that are unique to each area, as well as very marked accents. If you are not Colombian, you may not be able to tell the accents apart while walking down the street, but a Colombian would. They can hear the Paisa accent from the region of Antioquia, and they can tell a person is a Rolo from Bogotá by their accent and expressions. A person from the coast also speaks differently and usually faster than any other area.
Culture You Can Feel
Perhaps the most defining thing about Colombia is the culture. Colombia’s diverse culture is a product of its unique history, and its African, European, and Native Indian influences.
Many of the handcrafts and local artifacts you can buy, like the beautiful gold creations, have a strong pre-colonial flare. Handcrafts include Arhuaco Native indigenous bags that are woven by locals in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, pottery from Ráquira in the Boyacá region, and the famous Colombian hat “sombrero vueltiao” of the plains. You can also find beautiful jewelry made from local emeralds! The emerald, coal, and salt mining industries in Colombia are some of the biggest in the world.
Whether you’re walking down cobblestone streets in a colonial town or taking in the views of the larger cities, you can feel the culture in the air! You’ll hear music ranging from Cumbia to Vallenato and Llanera music. The culture is also expressed in joyful festivals, carnivals and fairs hosted each year all over the country! Some of them include the Barranquilla Carnival in February, the Medellín Flower Fair in August, and the Manizales Fair in January! Bogotá hosts lots of international festivals as well, such as the Theatre Festival each April.
Colombian Joy in the U.S.
In the U.S., Colombians make up the largest Latino immigrant population from South America. At Spanish Schoolhouse, we appreciate the joyfulness and cultural pride that our Colombian teammates bring to our schools. They love to share their traditions, language, and experiences with the students, families, and other staff. When you’re lucky enough to meet some of them, you’ll know right away what makes them so special.
If you ever plan a trip to this magical country, just keep in mind that however long you spend exploring its beauty, one thing is certain – you will fall in love! Colombia will surprise you and will make it hard for you to leave.