With dramatically beautiful rainforests, mountains and beaches, lovely cities and enchanting people, Colombia should be among the world's most attractive and intoxicating destinations. Unfortunately, the current guerrilla war, combined with ongoing activities of cocaine cartels, has made much of Colombia - dubbed 'Locombia' (the mad country) by the press - off limits to all but the most foolhardy travelers.
The good news is that it's still possible to enjoy Colombia's colorful swirl of myth and mysticism. As long as you avoid all overland travel and stick to major cities and touristed areas, pay attention to the news, and keep your wits about you at all times, you'll get a safe and healthy dose of what is arguably the most underrated travel destination on the continent
The US State Department warns that 'there is a greater risk of being kidnapped in Colombia than in any other country in the world. More than 3000 people are abducted every year - and those are just the official figures. And far worse things have happen to backpackers who havebraved the interior than this. Violence by narco traffickers and paramilitary groups has created a culture of fear that has catalyzed criminal elements throughout the country. This is a dangerous time to visit any part of Colombia, though street-wise visitors can still enjoy major cities without
putting themselves in too much danger. Pay close attention to your embassy's travel warnings and to local news both before and during your stay.
There is a long list of precautions worth following if you want to risk this trip. Overland travel between urban areas, no matter what the mode of transportation, is incredibly dangerous. Don't wear expensive items of clothing or carry pricey cameras or handbags, because this will increase your chance of being robbed. Avoid rallies, crowds and other public gatherings, as bombings are a favored form of reprisal by various guerrilla groups upset by government actions. Give a wide berth to Colombian police unless you absolutely need them, as they have a less than savory reputation. Drugs, especially cocaine and its derivatives, are prevalent throughout the country and should be avoided at all costs. Don't accept drinks or cigarettes from strangers as they may be laced with borrachero, a soporific drug often used on tourists.
Official name : Republic of Colombia
Capital : Bogota
Area : 1,141,748 sq km
Population : 39,685,000
Population density: 34 persons per square kilometer
Urbanization : 74% urban population and 26% rural population
Life expectancy : 70.1 years
Literacy rate : 90%
People: 58% Mestizo (of European-Indian descent), 20% European descent, 14% mulatto (African-European descent), 4% African descent, 3% African-Indian descent, 1% indigenous
Language: Castilian Spanish, plus over 200 indigenous languages
Religion: Catholic 95%, with the remainder a mixture of traditional, Episcopal and Jewish faiths
GDP: US$254 billion
GDP per capita: US$6,200
Major industries: Textiles, coffee, oil, narcotics, sugar cane, food processingUS, EU
Visas: Visitors from Australia, New Zealand, most European countries and the USA do not need visa if staying less than 90 days as a tourist. Other passport holders should check visa status with Colombian consular representation before departure.
Health risks: Altitude sickness, cholera, hepatitis A, B and D, malaria, rabies, tetanus and typhoid
Time: GMT/UTC minus 5 hours
Electricity: 110V, 60 Hz
Weights & measures: Metric
When to Go
The most pleasant time to visit Colombia is in the dry season, but thereare no major obstacles to general sightseeing in the wet period. MostColombians take their vacations between late December andmid-January, so transport is more crowded and hotels tend to fill up fasterat this time.
LAND & CLIMATE
Region: South America
Neighbors: Colombia shares borders with Panama and the Caribbean on the north, Venezuela and Brazil on the east, Ecuador and Peru on the south, and the Pacific on the west. Area
Size Comparison: About one-tenth the size of Brazil
The Andes Mountains, situated in the central and western parts of the country, dominate Colombia’s topography. Three principal and parallel ranges extend north to south almost the entire length of Colombia: the Cordillera Oriental (Eastern Cordillera), the Cordillera Central (Central Cordillera), and Cordillera Occidental (Western Cordillera). The cordillera peaks are perpetually snow-covered. About 240 kilometers (about 149 miles) south of the Caribbean, the Cordillera Central descends to marshy jungle.
East of the Cordillera Oriental are vast reaches of torrid lowlands, thinly populated and only partly explored. The thickly forested southern portion of this regionthe selvas (rain forests)is drained by the Caquetá River and other tributaries of the Amazon. In the north, vast plains, or llanos, are traversed by the Meta and other tributaries of the Río Orinoco. Between the cordilleras are high plateaus and fertile valleys, also crossed by principal rivers. Colombia is the only country on the continent with coasts on both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. Its Caribbean coast extends for about 1,610 kilometers (about 1,000 miles), and its Pacific coast for about 1,290 kilometers (about 802 miles). Though many river mouths are found along both coasts, there are no good natural harbors.
Major Rivers and Lakes
The major river of Colombia is the Río Magdalena, which flows north between the Cordillera Oriental and the Cordillera Central almost the length of the country. After a course of about 1,540 kilometers (about 957 miles), it empties into the Caribbean near the port city of Barranquilla. The Río Cauca flows north between the Cordillera Central and the Cordillera Occidental, merging with the Río Magdalena about 320 kilometers (about 200 miles) from the Caribbean. In the west, several shorter rivers empty into the Pacific Ocean.
Weather and Climate
Although Colombia lies entirely between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, the climate varies with elevation. The low coastal regions and the deep Patía and Magdalena river valleys are very hot, with mean annual temperatures of 24° to 27°C (75° to 81°F). The climate is subtropical from about 500 to 2,300 meters (about 1,500 to 7,500 feet), but temperate from about 2,300 to 3,000 meters (about 7,500 to 10,000 feet). Bogotá, the capital, has an annual mean temperature of 14°C (57°F). Above about 3,000 meters (about 10,000 feet), in the cold-climate zone, temperatures range from -18° to 13°C (0° to 55°F).
Throughout the year, three-month periods of rain and dry weather alternate, with precipitation especially heavy along the Pacific coast. Dry weather prevails on the slopes of the Cordillera Oriental.
Colombia's vast rain forests, which cover 51 percent of the country, are among the most biologically diverse in the world. Although Colombia is only about one-tenth the size of its neighbor Brazil, it has almost as many known animal species. It ranks among the top ten countries in the world for species diversity. Colombia is thought to be home to about one-tenth of the world's combined flora and fauna, including a number of rare and threatened species. The country leads the world with 1,695 different types of bird species. The El Chocó region of Colombia is one of the world's richest areas of plant diversity. From 1990 to 1995, about 1.3 million hectares (about 3.2 million acres) of land in Colombia were deforested, although most of the country's forestland remains unexploited. Restoration efforts are rare in the forests that are exploited for commercial use.
Colombia protects 9 percent (1997) of its land area as national parks and other reserves. Patrolling some of these areas is difficult, however, due to the presence of illegal drug trafficking. About 2.4 percent (1996) of Colombia's land is permanent cropland, compared with 0.2 percent in the United States. An overuse of pesticides in the country has caused soil damage; fertilizer use rose 3 percent from 1994 to 1997. Other agricultural practices, as well as deforestation, have contributed to soil degradation.
Colombia is party to treaties concerning biodiversity, climate change, endangered species, marine life conservation, and tropical timber.