In Colombia’s episode of our famous things across the globe series, we have invited our fellow blogger Geena Truman of “beyond the bucket list” What is Colombia famous for? This is her fantastic response!
Colombia is famous (or infamous) for many things, but there are also many attractions in Colombia that, for those who have never been, remain overlooked. Attractions that Colombia should be famous for. This blog post aims to cover both. The ill-reputed and the remarkable attributes that Colombia is most known for and some of those that should better known.
Things Colombia is famous for
Cartels & Cocaine
We had to go there first.
The notorious Pablo Escobar. The cold-blooded killer who ran the Medellin Cartel from the 1970’s-1993. Thanks to programs like Narcos, you’d be excused for thinking that Pablo is renowned in his country. A robin hood kind of fellow. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Colombians are fiercely proud of their country and suffered immensely under Pablo’s rule. He killed indiscriminately and left Colombia with violent streets and a stained reputation.
Today, those streets have changed. Communa 13, once the most dangerous neighborhood in the world, is now a major tourist attraction. The hillside walls painted with colorful murals depicting Colombia’s complicated past, homages to indigenous communities, and inspiring messages about the future.
Cocaine will always have a place in Colombia. It is one of only three countries in the world the plant can be cultivated. And as long as the West creates a demand, the downtrodden farmers will supply. Locals instead use the plant medicinally, by traditionally brewing the leaves, as a bitter herbal tea.
The Most Iconic Bites of Colombia
When considering what a country is famous for, you have to consider the regional food specialties. These three dishes define Colombia. Each is borne from a different region of the sprawling country and pay homage to the ingredients and lifestyles common in the area.
The ubiquitous vessel for all things edible in South America. Arepas are thin disks made of corn flour toasted on a flat top, almost like a thick hard tortilla. They can be filled with various toppings and eaten like a sandwich or served alongside other meals. If you visit Colombia, you’ll eat hundreds.
A gut-busting, comfortably greasy, pile of meat and carbohydrates that are sure to send you into a food coma of epic proportions. This is working man food. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart. Ground beef, chorizo, chicharrones, ripe plantain, fried egg, rice, beans, avocado, and a toasty arepa crowd the thick black skilled it’s served in. The plate is enough to feed a small family, but I’ve witnessed Colombian men smash the whole feast themselves.
A more delicate dish. Cozy in a different kind of way, this dish is the chicken soup of the mountain region. It’s Bogota’s masterpiece. A few select locations have been serving the same recipe of Ajiaco for over 200 years. Corn and chicken melt together in a mild, thick broth that warms you from the inside out.
The Explosive Game of Tejo
The most fun game you’ve never heard of. In the dingy basements of Colombia’s most traditional pubs, you’ll find crowds of men drinking beer and playing Tejo. It’s best described as horseshoes, but instead of horseshoes, you are throwing heavy metal hockey pucks at exploding targets. It’s an exciting way to spend an evening.
Coffee, Colombia’s Real Money-Making Export
We’ve all drank a pot or two of rich Colombian coffee. Caffeine is the driving force that makes the world go round after all & unsurprisingly to most, coffee is Colombia’s biggest export. Finca’s (farms) are scattered about the country, growing some of the world’s best beans for a stellar cup of joe & there’s nothing quite like enjoying a sip fresh on the farm.
Some of the World’s Best Graffiti
Graffiti probably isn’t something you expected to find on this list. But the street art in Bogota is world-renowned. Artists come from all over the globe to ‘tag’ Bogota city streets. The technicolored murals can’t be described as anything other than art. They are political, historical, powerful, and yes, illegal. But their prominence in Bogota has led several groups of artists to lead street art tours showing off the best work by talented local artists.
It’s the Salsa Capital of the World
It seems everyone in Colombia is a professional salsa dancer. You’ll hear the long soulful bleet of a trumpet, and as the drums start hammering out a beat everyone hits the dance floor. There are clubs specifically for salsa scattered all over Cartagena, a town with a heavy Caribbean influence, and salsa is heavily on display here during Carnival (second in size only to Rio). But no other city in the world does Salsa quite like Cali, Colombia. The self-proclaimed Salsa capital of the world. If you’ve ever had an inkling you might want to take a lesson, this is the place to do it.
From the Salsa clubs to the underground EDM bars, Medellin specifically holds great interest for those who love to dance. Colombia is no stranger to big-name performers, and they have quite a few uniquely themed bars, including clubs equipped with ball pits. Yes, like the McDonalds playpens of our youth. Colombians know how to have a good time.
The Country’s Colorful Pueblos
When you envision Colombia, what do you see? Cobblestone streets and rainbow-colored facades? Colombia’s many pueblos are exactly that. The most famous among travelers, Guatape, draws hordes of tourists to marvel at the candy-colored streets and cowboys of old Colombia. These little towns feel a bit as though you’ve stepped back into the Colombia of 1900.
The Walled City of Cartagena
As a tourist, the most famous attraction in Colombia is the Walled City of Cartagena. Its UNESCO Heritage Status is well deserved. Beautifully preserved buildings colored in warm shades of gold and yellow, cobblestone streets, and women balancing towers of assorted fruit atop their heads seek shelter from the Caribbean sun.
The Wax Palms of Cocora Valley
Colombia is home to the tallest palm trees in the world, and they can only be found in the temperate high-altitude regions of central Colombia. The Cocora Valley. The trees tower 80ft above your head, resembling the fictitious plants only found in the Dr. Suess books of your childhood. If you get the opportunity, the sleepy town of Salento, at the base of the valley, is well worth a visit.
Colombia is the single most biodiverse ecosystem on the planet by area. Brazil takes the cake if you consider biodiversity overall…but Colombia clocks in at a close second. In part, this is due to its various climates. Colombia has rainforests, alpine meadows, Caribbean coastlines, deserts, and everything in between. This means as far as plant and animal life go…Colombia is second to none.
The Most Protected Portion of the Amazon Rainforest
The Amazon Rainforest sits divided between three countries. Brazil, Peru, and Colombia. Having first-hand traversed through the Colombian portion of the Amazon, I can attest to how well-protected their portion of the rainforest is. The Colombian government has taken great strides in protecting the Amazon, its indigenous peoples, and animal life in the last decade.
The Purest Emeralds in the World
Colombia produces 70-90% of the world’s emeralds, and the ones that come out of the country are known for being the purest in the world. You can even visit some of the emerald mines and take tours where you can learn to distinguish real emeralds from counterfeits.
The Most Densely Populated Place on Earth
When you think about densely populated places, India or Hong Kong maybe spring to mind. But actually, the most densely populated landmass on earth is a little island off the coast of Colombia, Santa Cruz del Islote. This island about the size of 1.5 football fields and houses more than 2,000 people. They are self-sufficient, mostly, only requiring deliveries of non-perishables from the mainland every few weeks. You can visit the island just 2.5 hours off the Caribbean Coast of mainland Colombia.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Talking about Colombia and not mentioning Gabriel Garcia Marquez is a crime, or it should be… He is one of the world’s most iconic writers; he is internationally known for his books, especially the book One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera that was turned into a movie.
He won the literature noble prize in 1982. His books are marked by his characteristic style known as magic realism, transporting us to Colombia and South America. Gabriel Garcia Marquez opened the world to Colombia.
Colombia’s most famous artist, she memorizes the world with her voice and dancing style. Born in Barranquilla, she has received numerous Grammy Awards, Guinness World Records, and a star on the Hollywood walk of fame, plus Billboard listed her as the Top Female Latin Artist of the Decade. You can say that she is one of the world’s most famous artists.
Besides being a renowned artist, she endures in several Philanthropic projects; she founded the Pies Descalzos Colombian charity that focuses on providing and promoting education for poor children all around Colombia.
Among Colombia’s obsessions, cycling is possibly the least well-known internationally, but that’s mostly because cycling is a niche sport, not because it’s less important. In many ways, Colombia looks like it was built to ride. The country is full of imposing mountains, beautiful valleys, and high altitude roads. In fact, it’s a dream cycling destination, and Colombians know it.
Besides the ideal grouds for cycling and the amateur cyclings, Colombia also has some of the world’s best cyclists, particularly climbers but also sprinters. Egan Bernal was the first Colombian to win the Tour de France, but Nairo Quintana had already been the winner of the Giro (Italy) and the Vuelta (Spain).
Colombians follow the Tour de France closely (and the other main competitions) every day, while during weekends hundreds (maybe thousands) of amateur cyclists in Colombian roads. Nevertheless, cycling plays a much important role by allowing poor people to move along the mountains and between villages.
Colombia is one of my favorite countries I’ve ever visited. Most travelers associate the country with cartels and a booming drug trade but traveling through the country really smashed all those expectations. Colombia has the fastest growing tourism economy in South America & is one of the most diverse places I’ve ever visited. There are booming modern metropolis’, thick jungles and rainforests filled with thriving animal life, and stellar beaches. Not to mention the food, the pueblos, and the hiking found within the country. Colombia is often ‘famous’ for the wrong reasons. Yet, its reputation is a relic of the past, and the Colombia of today should be at the top of every traveler’s bucket list.
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