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About Colombia

In recent years, Colombia has undergone a remarkable transformation – turning the tide on a long running terrorist insurgency, making great strides in restoring security and stability, and advancing policies that have led to significant social progress and economic growth. While considerable work remains to be done, the nation is now firmly on the path to peace and prosperity.

  • With more than 46 million citizens, Colombia has the second largest population in South America, after Brazil, and the 28th largest in the world. Colombia is also home to the third largest Spanish-speaking population in the world, after Mexico and Spain.
  • The literacy rate – the percentage of people age 15 or over who can read and write – is 91.4 percent.
  • The Colombian labor force is among the most skilled and competitive worldwide. More than half the population is under 25.
  • Colombia is Latin America’s oldest and most stable democracy. For more than a century, the country has experienced peaceful changes of government every four years as citizens have elected government representatives in free and fair elections in a political environment that proudly supports full freedom of the press.
  • Colombia is a free market economy with major commercial and investment ties to countries around the world, including the United States.
  • Situated on the northwestern coast of South America, Colombia is the size of Texas and California combined. It is the only country on the continent with coastline on both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. In between is a nation of rich biodiversity, including the Amazon rainforest and the Andes Mountains.
  • A country with modern cities, vast farmlands, diverse cultures and colonial charm, Colombia’s economy has grown steadily over the past decade – becoming both a top Latin American center for business and an increasingly popular tourist destination.

 

Key Facts

colombia map

  • Capital: Bogotá
  • Population: 46 million, including 85 ethnic groups
  • President: Juan Manuel Santos
  • Land Area: 439,735 square miles
  • Currency: Colombian Peso (COP)
  • Independence Day: July 20, 1810

 

The Government of Colombia

The Republic of Colombia is a representative democracy with a central government and separation of powers. The country has three branches of government: the Executive, the Legislative and the Judiciary.
 

Executive Branch

The President is elected to a renewable, four-year term. He is both the chief of state and head of government, and is elected on a national ticket with a Vice President.

Legislative Branch

There is a bicameral legislature consisting of a 102-member Senate and a 165-member House of Representatives. Both chambers are directly elected to four-year terms.
 

Judiciary Branch

Colombia’s judicial system is composed of the following institutions: Supreme Court, Prosecutor General Office, Superior Council of the Judiciary, Constitutional Court and Council for Administrative Law Jurisdiction. The Supreme Court of Justice is the highest court of criminal law, and judges are selected for eight-year terms.

 

Colombia’s Geography

 
Photo: Naturaleza, Foto18, Carlos Hoyos, Fuente Proexport.

 

Colombia has a total area of 439,735 square miles, including 401,044 square miles of land and 38,691 miles of marine area. With many different ecosystems within its territory, Colombia is one of the world's most biologically diverse countries. Approximately 58 percent of the country is covered by natural forest. Colombia is home to around 55,000 different types of plant species – which account for 15 percent of the existing species in the world. Colombia has more than 1,821 species of birds, 623 species of amphibians, 467 species of mammals, 518 species of reptiles and 3,200 species of fish, making the country a mega diverse destination. The country is also home to relatively intact swaths of Amazon rainforest and an almost pristine Pacific coastline.

Location

Situated in the northwest corner of South America, Colombia is the only country in the region with both a Pacific and Caribbean coast. It shares borders with Panama, Venezuela, Brazil, Peru and Ecuador, and maritime boundaries with Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Located between 4 00 North, 72 00 West, Colombia is an equatorial country with a climate determined by trade winds, humidity and altitude. In most of the country, there are two rainy seasons – from April to June and from August to November – and two dry seasons. The country enjoys constant luminosity throughout the year, with an equal duration of daylight and nighttime hours.

The Caribbean

Photo: Cartagena, Fuente Proexport.

 

Photo: Jhonny Cay, San Andres, Providencia y Santa Catalina Islas Remi Komnick, Fuente Proexport.

This region extends for nearly 1,000 miles along the Caribbean coast, and is composed of desert on the peninsula of La Guajira; mountains covered by rainforest and perennial snow that form the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the highest coastal mountain in the world (18,930 feet above sea level); marshes and plains in the departments of Magdalena, Cesar and Sucre; bays with white sandy beaches such as the Gulf of Morrosquillo; jungles in the Gulf of Uraba; and a breathtaking view of the Caribbean. Near Cartagena lie the archipelagos of Rosario and San Bernardo, coral paradises with mangrove islets. Some 480 miles from the coast, the archipelago of San Andres and Providencia forms an oasis of life amid the sea, with islands, keys and reefs.

The Andes

The longest mountain range in the world, the Andes begin in Colombia in the Nudo de los Pastos in the south of the country, where it divides into two. In the Colombian Massif, it separates into three mountain chains that cross Colombia from north to south and create a rugged terrain, with peaks higher than 17,388 feet above sea level, expansive highland plains, deep canyons and broad valleys.

These three mountain chains – crowned by perennial snow, boggy páramos, Andean rainforests, deserts and marshes – produce a terrain that varies with altitude and where fertile soil supports an immense variety of crops. This region is also home to the majority of the country’s population.

Photo: Nevados, Fuente Proexport.

The Pacific Coast

Photo: Federico Puyo/El Tiempo, Fuente Proexport.

Stretching for over 800 miles, the Pacific Coast is one of the wettest regions on Earth, with a rainfall of over 10,000 mm3 per year. The northern part of the coast, where the hills of Baudó sink into the ocean forming bays and sounds, is a jungle region with great biodiversity. The flatter south is bordered by cliffs and beaches lined with mangrove and crossed by wide rivers. Located 21 miles from the coast, the islands of Gorgona and Gorgonilla are sanctuaries of flora and fauna and constitute one of the country’s many national parks. Enormous humpback whales from the South Pacific visit the islands each year, and more than 300 miles from the coast, the island rock of Malpelo emerges from the depths of the ocean, surrounded by remarkable underwater life.

The Orinoquia

This vast region, which extends as far as the Orinoco River on the border with Venezuela, is a plain that spreads eastward. Its savannas are spotted with scrub and riverine forests. Crossed by broad rivers, the Orinoquia covers over 110 square miles – 20 percent of the country’s territory. The Serrania de La Macarena rises in the southwest, a formation independent of the Andes and endowed with an immense biodiversity, in which natural elements of the Andes, the Amazon and the Orinoquia merge.

Photo: Meta, Foto Aviatur, Fuente Proexport.
 

The Amazon

Of the 2,625,485 square miles of jungle that make up the Amazon basin, over 154,440 square miles belong to Colombia. The Colombian side of the Amazon is home to 10 percent of the world’s biodiversity and produces 15 percent of the world’s oxygen. It is inhabited by numerous Native indigenous communities that continue to preserve their ancestral way of life.


Photo: Isla de los Micos, Amazonas, Fuente Proexport.

 
Photo: Pink Dolphin, Oscar Orlando Diaz Jaimes, Fuente Proexport.
 

Colombia: Rich in Natural Resources

The rugged terrain, cut by large rivers that flow into the Caribbean, the Pacific, the Amazon and the Orinoco, has led to the development of enormous reservoirs, which have steadily increased the country’s generation of energy and supply of drinking water. The broad range of topographical elevations is conducive to agricultural development, and the variety of commodities cultivated is an important part of the economy. In 2010, the agricultural sector contributed 7 percent of GDP, accounting for almost $20 billion. In the hot lowlands of the Caribbean hinterland, the intermontane valleys and the savannas of Orinoquia, there are immense plantations of bananas, sugar cane, rice, cotton, soybeans and sorghum, and large cattle farms that produce meat and dairy products.

Coffee, an important export in the Colombian economy, is grown on mountain slopes between 3,281 and 5,249 feet above sea level. Flowers, another key export, are grown on the highland plains, while potatoes, beans, grains and vegetables are grown between 6,562 and 10,827 feet. The production of tropical fruits, palm oil, timber, shrimp, palm hearts and asparagus is increasing rapidly, with significant export potential.

Photo: Coffee Triange, Process of coffee growing, Fuente Proexport. Colombia is the largest producer of mild Arabica coffee in the world.
 

The subsoil is also rich in natural resources. An example of this is the world’s largest open cast coal mine, which is located on the peninsula of La Guajira and produces nearly 32 million tons per year, making Colombia the world’s 10th largest coal producer and one of the largest exporters of thermal coal worldwide. Considerable investments have been made to increase production capacity to 86 million tons by 2011.

Several sedimentary basins in the country contain large oil and gas deposits. Proven oil reserves exceed 2.1 billion barrels. In 2011, production averaged 915,000 barrels per day, providing a surplus for export in addition to supplying the country’s needs. Natural gas reserves total 7.1 tera cubic feet, providing the country with a source of low cost, clean energy for domestic and industrial use. In the search for alternative sources of energy, the country has begun to employ palm oil and sugar cane to produce fuel, and has developed infrastructure to produce solar and wind energy.

One of Colombia’s most valuable resources is its immense biodiversity, and the country ranks as the second most biodiverse country in the world, after Brazil and with only a quarter of its territory. In the future, Colombia’s biodiversity will lead to important developments in the fields of medicine and food production.

Population: Best of All, Our People

Colombia has the second largest population in South America – 60 percent Mestizo, 20 percent of European descent, 5 percent Afro-Colombian, 14 percent mixed African and Indian blood and 1 percent Native Indian. The country’s diversity has produced not only cultural riches but also intelligent, hard-working, cheerful and hospitable people, who have one of the highest educational attainment levels in South America and a literacy rate of over 91 percent. Colombia is also home to a thriving middle class.

Urban Development: Colombia, A Country of Cities

The economic activity and centers of commerce in each of Colombia's major cities are determined by the terrain and geography that surround them. For example, Bogotá is on a highland plain of fertile soil where land is dedicated to dairy farming and flower cultivation for export, while Medellín is located in a valley surrounded by mountains and is close to agricultural and mining regions of the Department of Antioquia. Cali is surrounded by the fertile Cauca River valley, which is covered by enormous sugar plantations, and Barranquilla is an important port city on the Magdalena River.

  • Bogotá, the capital city and seat of government, is a modern and dynamic city that has a population of almost eight million.
  • Medellín, in the west of the country, is the main producer of textiles and apparel, with two million inhabitants.
  • Cali, in the southwest, is home to multinational companies with bases of operation for the entire Andean region.
  • Other towns notable for their bustling activity are Barranquilla, Cartagena de Indias and Santa Marta on the Caribbean coast; Manizales, Pereira and Armenia in the coffee region; Bucaramanga and Cucuta in the northeast, and Neiva and Ibague in the Magdalena River valley.

Photo: View of Medellín's Skyline, Fuente Proexport.

Photo: View of Bogotá's Skyline, César Alejandro Uribe Tovar, Fuente Proexport.

 

Infrastructure

Air Transport

Colombia boasts twelve modern international airports that serve airlines from Latin America, North America and Europe. During 2011, international passenger traffic reached 7 million and 547 thousand tons of freight were handled. The rugged mountain terrain has encouraged the development of domestic air travel, with one of the most extensive air transport networks in Latin America, carrying 14.6 million passengers and 137,000 tons of freight per year, and with over 587 airports that connect to areas throughout the region.

Sea Transport

As part of the government’s policy to open the economy to international markets, the country’s four main ports have been privatized and modernized: Buenaventura on the Pacific coast and Barranquilla, Cartagena de Indias and Santa Marta on the Caribbean coast, which permit efficient movement of 144 million tons of freight per year. There are additional ports such as Cerrejón, Tumaco and Morrosquillo that specialize certain exports such as coal, oil and bananas, respectively. In addition, Cartagena is home to a popular port for tourists traveling by cruise liners.

Photo: Bolívar Port, La Guajira, Fuente Proexport.

Road and Rail Transport

The country has a 1.9 million-mile network of roads that connect its main cities, ports and neighboring countries like Venezuela and Ecuador. There are approximately 2,086 miles of three-inch gauge railroads, 93 miles of standard gauge under concession by Cerrejon. A total of 11,884 million tons-kilometers were transported in 2009.

Photo: Historic Center of Medellín, Medellín, Antioquia, Iván Darío Herrera G, Fuente Proexport.

Telecommunications

The nation has a modern digital telephone network, employing satellite and microwave links, coax cable and two fiber optic trunk routes. The network includes 48 million mobile lines, which represents 104 percent of the Colombian population. Access to Internet has been extended to 3 million users, of which 2 million are digital subscribers. The communications technology industry is revamping the lines from analogue connection to high speed Internet, moving Colombia forward in an increasingly interconnected world.

Energy

The use of cost-effective power sources has been encouraged through the development of a dynamic natural gas industry with an average production of 1,159 million cubic feet per day in 2011. Colombia is the third-largest crude oil producer in South America, with an average 915,000 barrels/day in 2011. Exports of oil and derivatives reached $28 billion in 2011, with main destinations being the United States and the Caribbean. Colombia is the 7th largest supplier of crude oil to the U.S. and one of its most reliable and stable energy sources.  In 2011, U.S. imports of crude oil from Colombia averaged 387 thousand barrels/day. Ecopetrol is the leading oil and gas producer in Colombia, with an average production of 740,000 barrels/day in 2011.

Colombia is the 10th largest coal producer and the fourth exporter worldwide.  In 2011, the country produced 86 million tons of coal, which represented an increase of 15 percent compared to 2010 (74 million) and 124 percent compared to 2000 (38 million). In 2011, Colombia exported 79.3 million tons for a total value of nearly $8.4 billon. The two primary destinations for Colombian coal are the Netherlands and the United States.

Private foreign investment has played a key role in the development of Colombia’s energy sector. The Government has promoted this participation through special incentives, including legal stability contracts and special tax deductions.

Photo: Represa, Fuente “Colombia, un país con diversidad energética," Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores.

Our National Symbols

Colombian Flag

Colombia has multiple symbols and icons that identify the country to the world. Created by General Francisco de Miranda, the Colombian flag flew for the first time on March 12, 1806 at La Vela harbor, and was officially adopted on November 26, 1861. The flag is composed of the primary colors – yellow, blue and red. Yellow stands for Colombia’s richness. Blue, for its coasts on the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and red evokes a spirit of remembrance for the lives lost in winning the nation’s independence.

 

 

Coat of Arms

The Republic of Colombia’s coat of arms has three horizontal stripes. The condor, bird of our Andes, symbolizes freedom. It stands frontward, wings extended and looking to the right. A green laurel crown and a waving ribbon hang from its beak. On the ribbon are the words “Libertad y Orden” (Liberty and Order), the national motto. The upper third, holds an open gold grenade set on a blue background. It evokes the Nueva Granada, name of the country during the XIX Century. On both sides, there are cornucopias: the right one is full of gold and silver coins, the left one tropical fruits. They symbolize the richness and prodigality of our soil. In the middle portion of the coat of arms, there is a Phrygian cap over a platinum background, which stands for freedom. In the lower stripe, two ships with unfurled sails appear on both sides of the Panama isthmus, symbolizing the country’s two oceans. Unfurled sails stand for our international trade. Two national flags on both sides surround the coat.

National Bird

The majestic, large Andean condor is considered the national bird. The Andean condor is the world’s largest flying bird, and can fly over 185 miles in a single day. Its plumage is almost completely black with metallic reflections, a white stripe on its wings and a white collar on the bottom of its neck. Males have a red comb on their head.

National Flower

The cattleya trianae orchid, also known as “May flower” or “May lily,” is Colombia’s national flower. Its name honors Colombian naturalist Jose Jeronimo Triana. It thrives at heights of 3,281 - 6,562 feet above sea level and at temperatures of 63-75º F.

Photo: Colombian National Flower, Medellín, Flora, Fuente Proexport.

National Tree

The wax palm (palma de cera) grows in the Cocora Valley, in the Quindio province, a department (state) of the Coffee Triangle. Its main features are its strength, longevity and size, as the trees can reach heights of up to 230 feet.

Photo: Valle de Cócora, Salento Quindío, Luis Miguel Charris, Fuente Proexport.

Photo: Café Triangle, Bosque de Niebla, Fuente Proexport.

Useful links

o Ministry of Foreign Affairs  http://www.cancilleria.gov.co/
o Colombia.Travel   www.colombia.travel