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Colombia

Colombia, officially Republic of Colombia, Spanish República de Colombia, country of northwestern South America. Its 1,000 miles (1,600 km) of coast to the north are bathed by the waters of the Caribbean Sea, and its 800 miles (1,300 km) of coast to the west are washed by the Pacific Ocean.

The country is bordered by Panama, which divides the two bodies of water, on the northwest, Venezuela and Brazil on the east, and Peru and Ecuador on the south. It is more than twice the size of France and includes the San Andrés y Providencia archipelago, located off the Nicaraguan coast in the Caribbean, some 400 miles (650 km) northwest of the Colombian mainland. The population is largely concentrated in the mountainous interior, where Bogotá, the national capital, is situated on a high plateau in the northern Andes Mountains.

Its the e only American nation that is named for Christopher Columbus, the “discoverer” of the New World, Colombia presents a remarkable study in contrasts, in both its geography and its society.

HISTORY & CULTURE

Colombia strongly reflects its history as a colony of Spain. It is often referred to as the most Roman Catholic of the South American countries, and most of its people are proud of the relative purity of their Spanish language. Its population is heavily mestizo (of mixed European and Indian descent) with substantial minorities of European and African ancestry. The economy is traditionally based on agriculture, particularly coffee and fruit production, but industries and services are increasing in importance. Colombia is the most populous nation of Spanish-speaking South America. More than one-third of its inhabitants live in the six largest metropolitan areas, of which Bogotá is the largest. The nation’s political instability has been historically tied to the unequal distribution of wealth, and the illicit trade in drugs (mainly cocaine) remains a major disruptive factor in Colombian life.

Even before the Spanish conquest, the western mountainous part of Colombia attracted the bulk of the population. The more advanced Indian cultures were found in this region, and the most favourable location for the growth of civilization was the high plateau in the Cordillera Oriental of the Colombian Andes. The present capital city of Bogotá is located near the southern terminus of the plateau, which extends northward to the mountains dividing it from the drainage of the Cesar River. There the Spanish found the major concentration of the Chibchan-speaking peoples. At the time of the Spanish conquest, the Chibcha were in the process of consolidation by warfare and had not achieved firm union and political institutions.

Except for the invading Carib peoples in the deep mountain valleys, there was considerable similarity among the Chibcha, sub-Andean, and other cultures of Colombia. All were characterized by intensive agriculture, fairly dense populations living in villages, organized religion, class divisions, and matrilineal inheritance of political and religious offices. The sub-Andean culture in the Cordillera Central and the narrower portions of the Cauca valley generally lacked large villages because the terrain was unsuitable for them. The more advanced Chibcha made war for political ends, using large forces armed with darts and dart throwers.

Geographic and climatic conditions placed limits on the development of the Chibcha and other cultures in Colombia. Of the total Indian population at the time of the conquest, probably about one-third were Chibcha. None of the larger domesticated animals and their wild related species found in the Central Andes existed in Colombia. The Chibcha were adequate craftsmen, but their work shows more interest in utility or in the expression of ideas in contrast to the skilled workmanship among some sub-Andean peoples.

Conquest

European exploration of the Colombian coastline was accomplished by Rodrigo de Bastidas, who in 1500–01 sailed the Caribbean coast from Cape of La Vela to Point Manzanilla in Panama, and by Francisco Pizarro, who sailed the Pacific coast in 1525. The actual conquest of Colombia began in 1525 when Bastidas founded Santa Marta on the north coast. In 1533 Pedro de Heredia founded Cartagena, which became one of the major naval and merchant marine bases of the Spanish empire. Bogotáwas founded by Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada in 1538. By the end of 1539 all but one of the major inland colonial cities had been founded, as well as the most important communications centres along the routes connecting them. By mid-century the conquest was complete.

Colonial period

Establishment of the audiencia (an administrative and judicial tribunal) of Santafé de Bogotá in 1549 opened the colonial era. The conquerors had organized local governments in accordance with the terms of their contracts with the crown. The crown then rapidly repossessed the broad powers granted the conquerors and formed its own institutions to rule the empire. The governments of Popayán, Antioquia, Cartagena, Santa Marta, Ríohacha, the New Kingdom of Granada (Bogotá), and the llanos of Casanare and San Martín were made subject to the new audiencia. The president of the audiencia was the executive head of government, subject to the viceroy of Peru in administrative matters. The difficulties of travel, however, impeded communications and checked centralized control. The indigenous population of the area declined through the introduction of European diseases and the economic demands made upon the Indians.

As elsewhere in the Spanish empire, the downward trend in population seems to have reversed itself at the end of the 17th and beginning of the 18th century. Acculturation and intermarriage rapidly destroyed most of the special cultural traits of the remaining Indians. Subordinate political jurisdictions developed strong regional characteristics as a result of isolation, which fostered intense local loyalties and rivalries. The economy was based on mining and agriculture, but a small yet important textile industry grew up in Socorro, north of Bogotá, by the mid-18th century. Slavery was introduced during the conquest and became common in the placer mining areas of the Chocó and western Antioquia and in the agricultural regions of the Cauca valley, the lower Magdalena valley, and the coastal lowlands. Indians were treated much like slaves; from the early 16th century they were subject to the encomienda system (requiring tribute in the form of gold or labour). By 1700 most of the privately held encomiendas had reverted to the crown, and they were rarely granted thereafter; however, the Indian populationcontinued to be abused.

During the era of the audiencia, from 1549 to 1740, the population was politically quiet. The Roman Catholic Church played an important role, providing most welfare services and operating most schools. The church was an effective instrument of the crown, since the latter controlled much of its activity.

Viceroyalty of New Granada

The Viceroyalty of New Granada, which included present-day Colombia, Panama (after 1751), Venezuela, and Ecuador, was created in 1717–23 and reconstituted in 1740, opening a new era. In the next decades the crown introduced political and economic measures to reorganize and strengthen the empire by greater centralization of authority, improved administration and communication, and freer development and movement of trade within the empire. Population grew, trade increased, and prosperity touched the colonial subjects. There was a spurt of intellectual activity and the formation of a corps of intellectuals and professional men among Creoles (whites born in Spanish America), many in government positions. The small Creole officer corps came into being when Charles III, then king of Spain, authorized militia defense units in the colonies. A relatively large group of wealthy landowners and merchants constituted the economic community that supported these new groups. In 1781 peasants and artisans at Socorro originated the Comunero Rebellion in response to tax increases; although some Creoles helped lead the rebels to Bogotá, most hesitated to support the uprising or even helped to undermine it. Between 1785 and 1810 in New Granada the outlook of the Creole upper and middle groups changed from resistance against political and economic change to a quest for specific changes in imperial policies. In 1809 they moved toward the free enterprise system, the abolition of slavery, restrictions on government, and worldwide freedom of trade.

Educational reforms played an important role in the changing outlook of the Granadine Creoles. Archbishop Caballero y Góngora as viceroy (1782–88) made education one of his main interests. He modernized the program of studies in the schools, opened a school of mines, and initiated the botanical expedition under the able guidance of naturalist José Celestino Mutis. The new institute trained many of the major figures of the independence movement. The first newspaper and theatre were introduced during the 1790s. A new interest in writing developed, and intellectual gatherings for discussion were introduced. In 1808 the allegiance of the Granadines to the crown remained unquestioned except for a few individuals. The once warm loyalty of the Creole middle and upper classes, however, was cooling under the pressure of economic interests, scandals in the royal family, and persistent social tension between Creole and European Spaniards.

Revolution and independence

The French invasion of Spain in 1808 caused an outburst of loyalty to the king and country and excited grave concern for the church. Profound Granadine anxiety over the fate of the empire and conflicting courses of action attempted by colonial and peninsular subjects over control of government during the captivity of the Spanish king Ferdinand VII led to strife in New Granada and to declarations of independence. In 1810 the subordinated jurisdictions in New Granada threw out their Spanish officials, except in Santa Marta, Ríohacha, and what are now Panama and Ecuador. The uprising in Bogotá on July 20, 1810, is commemorated as Independence Day in Colombia, although these new governments swore allegiance to Ferdinand VII and did not begin to declare independence until 1811. Idealists and ambitious provincial leaders desired federation. Creole leaders sought to centralize authority over the new governments. A series of civil wars ensued, facilitating Spanish reconquest of the United Provinces of New Granada between 1814 and 1816. A remnant of republican forces fled to the llanos of Casanare, where they reorganized under Francisco de Paula Santander, a Colombian general who remained a prominent figure in Granadine politics until his death in 1840.

Any remaining loyalty to the crown was alienated by the punitive arbitrary conduct of the European and partisan troops, whose actions gave validity to the attack on Spanish civilization that began late in 1810 and continued through the 19th century. The rebel forces in Casanare joined those of Simón Bolívar in the Orinoco basin of Venezuela. By 1819 arrangements for a regular government were completed, and a constitutional convention met at Angostura (now Ciudad Bolívar, Venezuela) with delegates from Casanare and some Venezuelan provinces. In that same year Bolívar invaded Colombia and decisively defeated the Spanish forces on August 7 at Boyacá. There followed the decisive Battle of Carabobo, Venezuela, in 1821 and that of Pichincha, Ecuador, in 1822. Mopping-up operations were completed in 1823, while Bolívar led his forces on to Peru.

The Congress of Angostura laid the foundation for the formation of the Republic of Colombia (1819–30), which was generally known as Gran Colombia because it included what are now the separate countries of Colombia, Panama, Venezuela, and Ecuador. The republic was definitively organized by the Congress of Cúcuta in 1821. Prior to that time the government was highly military and hierarchically organized, with regional vice presidents exercising direct power while its president, Bolívar, was campaigning. Organized as a centralized representative government, the republic retained Bolívar as president and acting president Santander as vice president.

Gran Colombia had a brief, virile existence during the war. Subsequent civilian and military rivalry for public office and regional jealousies led in 1826 to a rebellion in Venezuela led by General José Antonio Páez. Bolívar returned from Peru to restore unity but secured only the acknowledgment of his personal authority. As discontent spread, it became clear that no group loved the republic enough to fight for its existence. By 1829 Bolívar had divided the land into four jurisdictions under Venezuelan generals possessing civil and military authority. Meanwhile the convention of Ocaña had failed to reorganize the republic, and the brief dictatorship of Bolívar (1828–30) had no better success. Bolívar then convoked the Convention of 1830, which produced a constitution honoured only in New Granada (the name then referring only to Colombia, with the Isthmus of Panama). During this convention Bolívar resigned and left for the northern coast, where he died near Santa Marta on December 17, 1830. By that time Venezuela and Ecuador had seceded from Gran Colombia. New Granada, a country of 1.5 million inhabitants in 1835, was left on its own.

The republic to 1930

Santander, the vice president under Bolívar and then leader of the opposition to Bolívar’s imperial ambitions in 1828, held the presidency from 1832 until 1837 and was the dominant political figure of that era. The 1830s brought some prosperity to the new nation, but a civil war that broke out in 1840 ended a nascent industrial development, disrupted trade, and discouraged local enterprise. The seeds of political rivalry between liberals and conservatives had already been sown, and they bore fruit in the bloody revolution and costly violence that ravaged the country in the years between 1840 and 1903.

Colombia, 1930–2000

The new dependence on exports was not without its pitfalls. In the late 1920s coffee, petroleum, and bananas accounted for, respectively, 69, 17, and 6 percent of total Colombian exports, and all three dropped precipitously in value during the worldwide Great Depression of the 1930s. This economic collapse had an immediate political result: the Conservatives lost the presidential election of 1930 to Enrique Olaya Herrera, a Liberal who served until 1934.

Liberal hegemony continued through the 1930s and the World War II era, and Alfonso López Pumarejo was reelected in 1942; however, wartime conditions were not favourable to social change. In the elections of 1946, two Liberal candidates, Gabriel Turbay and Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, stood for election and thus split the Liberal vote. A Conservative, Mariano Ospina Pérez, took office. Conservatives had been embittered by political sidelining and, since 1930, had suffered violent attacks at the hands of Liberal supporters. With the electoral victory of 1946 they instituted a series of crude reprisals against Liberals. It was the initiation of the period that was dubbed La Violencia. On April 9, 1948, Gaitán, leader of the left wing of the Liberal Party, was assassinated in broad daylight in downtown Bogotá. The resulting riot and property damage (estimated at $570 million throughout the country) came to be called the bogotazo.

La Violencia originated in an intense political feud between Liberals and Conservatives and had little to do with class conflict, foreign ideologies, or other matters outside Colombia. Authoritative sources estimate that more than 200,000 persons lost their lives in the period between 1946 and 1964. The most spectacular aspect of the violence, however, was the extreme cruelty perpetrated on the victims, which has been a topic of continuing study for Colombians. La Violencia intensified under the regime of Laureano Gómez (1950–53), who attempted to introduce a fascist state. His excesses brought his downfall by a military coup—Colombia’s first in the 20th century. Gen. Gustavo Rojas Pinilla assumed the presidency in 1953 and, aided by his daughter, María Eugenia Rojas, began an effort to end La Violencia and to stimulate the economy. Rojas was a populist leader who supported citizens’ demands for the redress of grievances against the elite. Support for Rojas began to collapse when it appeared that he would not be able to fulfill his promises, when he showed reluctance to give up power, and when the economy faltered as a result of a disastrous fall in coffee prices in 1957. He was driven from office that year by a military junta.

The arrangement for the National Front government—a coalition of Conservatives and Liberals—was made by Alberto Lleras Camargo, representing the Liberals, and Laureano Gómez, leader of the Conservative Party, in the Declaration of Sitges (1957). The unique agreement provided for alternation of Conservatives and Liberals in the presidency, an equal sharing of ministerial and other government posts, and equal representation on all executive and legislative bodies. The agreement was to remain in force for 16 years—equivalent to four presidential terms, two each for Conservatives and Liberals. The question of what governmental structure would follow the National Front was left unsettled.

It had been contemplated that a Conservative would be the first to occupy the presidency in 1958. When the Conservative Party could not agree on a candidate, however, the National Front selected Lleras, who had previously served in that office for 12 months in 1945–46. During Lleras’s tenure an agrarian reform law was brought into effect, national economic planning for development began, and Colombia became the showcase of the Alliance for Progress (a U.S. attempt to further economic development in Latin America). But severe economic difficulties caused by low coffee prices, domestic unemployment, and the apparent end of the effectiveness of import substitution were only partially offset by Alliance aid. The Alliance increased Colombia’s economic dependence on the United States, which, to some Colombians, had serious disadvantages. By 1962 economic growth had come almost to a standstill.

The precarious state of the economy and the degree of social tension were revealed when only about half of those eligible to vote did so in the 1962 presidential elections, which brought Guillermo León Valencia, a Conservative, to the presidency. During Valencia’s first year in office internal political pressures led to devaluation of the peso (Colombia’s currency), wage increases among unionized workers of some 40 percent, and the most rampant inflation since 1905. Extreme deflationary policies were applied in the next three years, raising the unemployment rates above 10 percent in the major cities and turning even more Colombians against the National Front. Less than 40 percent of the electorate went to the polls in the 1964 congressional elections.

Marxist guerrilla groups began appearing in Colombia during Valencia’s presidency. The first was the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional; ELN), which was created by a group of Colombian students who had studied in Cuba. Founded in 1964, the ELN followed strategies espoused by Che Guevara. Another guerrilla group, which followed two years later, was the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces(Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia; FARC), which was more connected to Soviet-influenced communist movements. Much of FARC originated in the “resistance committees” that had appeared in Colombia during La Violencia.

Carlos Lleras Restrepo was the third National Front president (1966–70). He returned the economy to a sound footing, improved government planning for economic development, and pushed through political reforms essential to an orderly end to the Front (which seemed increasingly to constitute a monopoly of power by the Conservative-Liberal oligarchy). Although the constitutional reform of 1968 stipulated that elections would become competitive again after 1974, the president was still required to give “adequate and equitable” representation to the second largest political party in his cabinet and in the filling of other bureaucratic posts.

Also during the Lleras years, some semiautonomous government corporations expanded their services to the private sector: the capital and reserves of the Institute of Industrial Development, for example, were increased from 6.6 million pesos in 1967 to some 77 million pesos in 1969. Colombia achieved its best rate of economic growth near the end of the Lleras administration when the real gross domestic product increased by some 7 percent. These successes were in part due to high coffee prices, but effective government policy was of undeniable importance.

In the 1970 presidential election Misael Pastrana Borrero, the Conservative candidate backed by the National Front, nearly lost to former dictator Gustavo Rojas Pinilla as the urban vote went strongly against the Front. (For the first time Colombia’s population was more than 50 percent urban.) A rapid migration from country to city had created new urban interest groups—particularly in the lower middle and working classes—that felt unrepresented by the traditional parties; nonetheless, the traditional parties prevailed and were not again successfully challenged.

Unhappiness with the 1970 election gave rise in 1973–74 to another guerrilla group, the 19th of April Movement (Movimiento 19 de Abril, or M-19), named for the date that the group asserted the election was “stolen” from Pinilla. The M-19 launched itself to national attention when its members stole a sword that had belonged to Simón Bolívar. The group tended to rely on audacious militant actions, such as the kidnapping and murder of a labour leader in 1976, tunneling into a Bogotá arsenal and stealing arms in 1979, and kidnapping the guests attending a cocktail party at the embassy of the Dominican Republic in Bogotá in 1980.

Colombia in the 21st century

In 2000 the U.S. Congress approved a controversial aid program that supplied Colombia with military assistance to help control the cocaine trade. The FARC continued to expand coca production, however, and economic uncertainties and the spectre of political violence remained major issues at the end of Pastrana’s term. Álvaro Uribe Vélez, an independent, was elected president in 2002 on promises to end the long-standing and violent conflict with guerrilla groups and restore security to the country. In December 2003 a peace agreement was negotiated between the government and the AUC, and by 2004 AUC members had disarmed. Some members of the FARC and the ELN gave up their weapons as well in exchange for a “lighter punishment.” Uribe was reelected in 2006.

Overall, Uribe’s intensive security operations against the FARC were productive, as the number of crimes, kidnappings, and terrorist attacks in Colombia significantly decreased during his tenure. Political tensions in the region escalated in 2008 when the Colombian military crossed the border into Ecuador to raid a FARC encampment. Uribe was constitutionally barred from running for a third consecutive term, but the June 2010 presidential election to replace him was won by Juan Manuel Santos—the minister of defense from 2006 to 2009, who was one of the principal founders of the Social Party of National Unity(Partido Social de Unidad Nacional), which was created by supporters of Uribe, most of whom, like Uribe, had left the Liberal Party. In July 2010 relations with Colombia were severed by Venezuelan Pres. Hugo Chávezin response to Colombian allegations that Venezuela was harbouring FARC rebels. However, bilateral relations were restarted after a conciliatory meeting between Santos and Chávez in August. In September the FARC suffered a major blow when one of its top leaders, best known by his nom de guerre, Mono Jojoy (but also known as Jorge Briceño or Luis Suárez), was killed in a military air strike.

In February 2011 the FARC announced that it would cease kidnapping civilians for ransom to finance its activities. In April it released the last 10 policemen or soldiers it had been holding (some of them for as long as 14 years). Peace talks between the government and the FARC began in Norway in August and were continued in Havana in October. At the start of those talks, the FARC had initiated a unilateral cease-fire; however, there were accusations that the cease-fire was violated by the FARC several times. A formal announcement of the end of the cease-fire came in January 2013, followed in a matter of days by the kidnapping of a pair of policemen. Nevertheless, the peace talks continued, though without a bilateral cease-fire they came under heavy criticism from conservativesectors of Colombian society—including former president Uribe. The talks were a pivotal issue in the 2014 presidential campaign, which resulted in Santos’s victory in a June runoff election. He captured about 51 percent of the vote to defeat rightist Oscar Ivan Zuluaga (the winner of the first round of voting), who advocated forcing the FARC’s hand for a time and had proposed suspending the talks if the FARC did not cease fighting and end its criminal activity. Talks were suspended in mid-November 2014 when a high-ranking army officer was kidnapped (along with two other people) by the guerrilla group, but they resumed immediately when the FARC released him some two weeks later. On December 20 the FARC initiated another unilateral cease-fire, which was still holding in mid-January 2015 when Santos directed negotiators in Havana to open discussions regarding a bilateral cease-fire.

Although Santos refrained from declaring a bilateral cease-fire in response to the FARC’s cease-fire, he did order a cessation of bombing of rebel camps. However, he resumed bombing after FARC guerrillas attacked an army patrol in the department of Cauca in mid-April, killing 11 troops. A combined air and ground operation by government forces on May 21 resulted in the deaths of 26 guerrillas, prompting FARC to rescind its cease-fire, though the organization said that it remained committed to negotiations.

By July both sides were once again extending olive branches, with the FARC declaring a month long cease-fire that was matched by the government scaling back military operations, including initiating another moratorium on bombing. The FARC countered in August with an open-ended extension of its cease-fire. September 23 brought the earthshaking announcement by Santos and FARC negotiators, meeting in Havana, that they had pledged to reach a final peace agreement within six months. Important details remained to worked out, but several long-standing points of contention had been resolved, most notably a mutually satisfactory formula for administering justice for war-related crimes.

In the same week, the government resolved what had been an escalating dispute with Venezuela. In August 2015 the Venezuelan government had closed the country’s border with Colombia and deported some 1,500 Colombians whom it had accused of involvement in smuggling subsidized Venezuelan goods into Colombia for sale. Tensions between the neighbouring countries had risen quickly, and both had withdrawn their ambassadors before a meeting between Santos and Venezuelan Pres. Nicolás Maduro resulted in steps toward normalizing relations.

In June 2016 in Havana, Santos and Rodrigo Londoño (“Timoleón Jiménez” or “Timochenko”), the FARC’s leader since November 2011, signed a permanent cease-fire agreement, laying the groundwork for the final peace treaty. The agreement called for FARC forces to demobilize under United Nations (UN) monitoring within 180 days of the final treaty’s signing. Although details remained to be ironed out in the final treaty, the country’s constitutional court ruled in July that the treaty could be put to the people for approval in a referendum. Meanwhile, a smaller rebel group, the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional; ELN), continued its armed struggle against the government.

Less than a week after Santos had signed a historic final peace agreement with the FARC on September 26, 2016, the Colombian electorate shockingly rejected the agreement by the narrowest of margins (50.21 percent to 49.78 percent) in a plebiscite on October 2, 2016. “No” voters, led by former president Álvaro Uribe Vélez, generally cited what they considered to be the too-lenient terms for the FARC rebels as the reason for their opposition. The defeat of the referendum was a major blow to Santos, who had largely staked his presidency on brokering the peace agreement. Both the government and the FARC announced that they would continue to honour the cease-fire that was already in place as they prepared to turn to further negotiations.

In late November a renegotiated accord, which included many changes that had been demanded by opposition leaders, was ratified by the House of Representatives and the Senate (both of which were dominated by Santos’s ruling coalition). However, the opposition denounced the accord, which they had not been allowed to review and which failed to include some of their key proposals. Nonetheless, the process by which FARC guerrillas were to concentrate in some 20 transition zones and turn over their weapons to UN monitors was largely peacefully under way at the beginning of 2017.

On August 15, 2017, the Colombian government declared an official end to its conflict with the FARC as the last of the group’s accessible weapons (some 900 weapons remained in caches in remote areas) were turned over to UN representatives. In all, more than 8,100 guns and 1.3 million cartridges had been decommissioned. The weapons were to be melted down to be recast as three peace memorials to be located in Colombia and Havana and at the UN headquarters in New York City. The FARC moved forward with its transformation into a political party that was guaranteed 10 unelected seats in the Colombian legislature until 2026. In November FARC leader Londoño announced that he would run for president in 2018. In March 2018, however, he ended his candidacy, citing ill health.

For its part, the ELN had begun peace negotiations with the Colombian government in Ecuador in February 2017. In October the two sides undertook a temporary cease-fire.

In early November 2017 Colombia agreed to a deal with the UN that provided for payments to farmers to grow crops such as coffee or cacao rather than coca, the raw material of cocaine. Only days after the signing of the agreement, Colombian police seized some 12 tons of cocaine that had been buried at four banana plantations. The interdiction was the largest drug seizure in Colombian history.

In elections for the federal legislature in March 2018, no party was able to gain a clear majority in either chamber. The Democratic Center Party (DC), founded by Uribe, took the most seats in the 108-seat Senate with 19, followed by Radical Change with 16 seats, the Colombian Conservative Party with 15, and the Colombian Liberal Party and the Social Party of National Unity with 14 each. The Colombian Liberal Party finished first with 35 seats in the 172-seat House, ahead of DC, which won 32 seats, Radical Change with 30 seats, the Social Party of National Unity with 25 seats, and the Conservative Party with 21 seats. Although its share of the vote in both chambers was negligible, the FARC was guaranteed 5 seats in both bodies.

More than 19 million Colombians voted in the presidential election in May, the largest turnout in some two decades. Santos was constitutionally prohibited from running for another term. Former senator Iván Duque, who had been handpicked by Uribe to represent the CD, finished first in the crowded field with about 39 percent of the vote, short of the 50 percent needed to prevent a runoff. His commitment to restructuring the peace agreement with the FARC stood in marked contrast to the wholehearted support for the agreement of former Bogotá mayor Gustavo Petro, who finished second in the polling with some 25 percent of the vote, just ahead of former Medellín mayor Sergio Fajardo, who tallied about 24 percent. With the leftist Petro, a onetime member of M-19, set to meet conservative Duque in the June runoff, Colombians were offered a choice of political polar opposites.

When voters returned to the polls on June 17, they handed a sweeping victory to Duque, who captured some 54 percent of the vote, compared with about 42 percent for Petro. The runoff predictably proved to be divisive, but the president-elect promised to heal divisions, saying, “I will not govern with hatred.” His pledge to revamp the peace agreement, however, left my Colombians anxious. Nonetheless, Petro accepted the election result, as did the FARC’s Londoño.

Today Colombia is an overall peaceful destination, the Colombians are a happy and friendly people willing to help the traveller.

Acknowledgment: The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica


TYPES OF DIVING

This country is regarded as one of the many marvels in the diving-world, due to the several features of its two oceans. The richness of its vegetation houses a wide spectrum of native marine species that have adapted to its unique condition. Diving in these waters means visiting exuberant national parks, sanctums full of fauna and flora, being able to view some of the most amazing underwater species known to man, and more!

With diverse locations, there is diving from the beginner or learn to dive person all the way through to those that are experienced. With easily accessible shore dives and very competitive prices due to the sheer numbers of dive providers  - Taganga, to liveaboards which go to very remote areas, can be pricey, and are for those experienced divers - Malpelo.

DIVE SITES

Colombia’s Top 5 diving spot

Providencia - and Santa Catalina, a smaller island to the north, is home to the third largest coral reef barrier on earth, and includes over 40 dive sites. The seas around Providencia are a UNESCO protected area, and are known as the Seaflower Biosphere Reserve. You can dive here among some of the most beautiful corals in South America, and it’s possible to observe 4 species of shark. The largest reef has an area of 255km2, and the diverse dive sites include caves, blue holes and even sunken pirate ships, making Providencia arguably the best dive site in Colombia.

Malpelo - If Providencia is the accessible best of Colombian diving, Malpelo is the inaccessible version: a craggy rock in the Colombian Pacific, it can only be reached by boat, and divers can only visit here as part of an organized trip on a dive boat. It’s worth the time and money though; Malpelo is one of the best places in the world to dive with sharks, including hammerheads, whale, and the rare sunray shark. People have reported schools of up to 500 sharks around Malpelo.

Gorgona Island - Another Pacific diving spot, Gorgona is an inhospitable island, formerly used as a prison, which now serves as a nature reserve and breeding area for humpback whales. Turtles can also be seen here, although the real treat is visiting between July and October, when you can combine diving the wrecks and cliffs of Gorgona with whale-watching. 

Capurgana & Sapzurro - This area on the Panama border near the Darien Gap has preserved a gorgeous coral reef, partly due to its inaccessibility and lack of tourism. There are more than 30 dive sites, and from Capurgana you can organise a dive in the stunning San Blas Islands. The best time to dive is between May and November, and there are several good-quality dive centres located in the town.

Taganga - isn’t really on the list for its world-class diving experiences: it’s in the Caribbean and a variety of gorgeous marine life can be seen, as well as an array of corals, however there are better places to go in Colombia. It’s on here for the sheer number of dive operators in the little town, and the cheapness of doing a course here. Taganga (like Honduras’ Bay Island or Thailand’s Ko Tao) is one of those brilliant places to learn to dive in a nice location for a staggeringly good price.

WHAT TO SEE DIVING

Diving in Colombia is fantastic all year round as it has two coastlines.

The third largest coral reef, a UNESCO protected area and known as the Seaflower Biosphere Reserve around Providencia offer colourful diving, with sharks in abundance and schools of fish. Resort stays with day boats to dive sites are the norm. Visibility varies and in summer can be up to 30 meters.

Malpelo is a remote island which takes 30 hours by liveaboard boat to get to. Its situated as a tip of an underwater ridge which drops down to over 3 kilometres in depth. Malpelo Island also forms what's known as the Golden Triangle, with the Galapagos Islands and Cocos Islands forming the boundaries. The area is subject to four current streams converging which brings marine species from all over. This means there is an abundance of food so you find massive schools of Hammerhead, Silky, and Galapagos Sharks, hanging in the thermoclines waiting for the next meal. Some divers have reported over 500 sharks cruising around on one dive site... Also Manta Rays are frequent visitors as are Whalesharks. It's an area known for schools of Pelagic Fish and should be on every divers bucket list!

Visibility varies and is subject to weather and currents. Malpelo is very susceptible to current and can drop quickly to 5 meters ( strobes, surface marker buoys (SMB's)  & flashlights are mandatory).

DIVE CONDITIONS

Caribbean waters are always recommended to inexperienced divers, since its water is crystal clear, with gorgeous coral formations, colored fish, and as previously stated, because of its shallow waters (which range starts at about 3 meters deep). The clear waters of the San Andres and Providencia islands with its pristine coral reefs are perfect for divers of all levels. And not to forget Capurnaga, a jewel hidden in the border of Colombia with Panama, not easily accessible, but in exchange offering superb diving.

On the other hand, the Pacific Ocean is usually targeted by more experienced divers since there is less visibility in its waters, as well as changes in tides, currents and temperature. The islands of Malpelo and Gorgona, famous for the encounters with schools of hammerhead sharks and manta rays, undoubtedly offer the best Pacific diving in Colombia, however they are not easily accessible. Bahia Solano, on the other hand, is a mere 35-minute flight from Colombia's second city Medellin, and serves qualified divers who make the journey to the Pacific coast to see the whales.

Many of these areas are Marine protected islands, and because of this, it’s necessary to be accompanied by a guide (or instructor), which are always easy to find given the large amount of diving centers in any major town.

The only way to access Malpelo island is via Liveaboard trips and its only for the experienced Diver. You will need a minimum of Advanced Open Water diver with 50 logged dives ( this will be requested on booking and must be seen by the vessel). The diving is conducted from tenders into deep water. Most sites are pinnacles in blue water which means strong currents are very common. 

Visibility varies  ( 5m - 30 meters) and is subject to weather and currents. Malpelo is very susceptible to current and can drop quickly to 5 meters ( strobes, surface marker buoys (SMB's) on reels & flashlights are mandatory).

WEATHER

Because of the country’s close proximity to the Equator, its climate is generally tropical and isothermal (without any real change of seasons). Temperatures vary little throughout the year. The only genuinely variable climatic element is the amount of annual precipitation. Climatic differences are related to elevation and the displacement of the intertropical convergence zone.

The climate of the tropical rainforest in the Amazon region, the northern Pacific coast, and the central Magdalena valley is marked by an annual rainfall of more than 100 inches (2,500 mm) and annual average temperatures above 74 °F (23 °C). A tropical monsoon climate, marked by one or more dry months but still supporting rainforest vegetation, occurs along the southern Pacific coast, on the Caribbean coast, and at places in the interior—the Quindío department and near Villavicencio.

The tropical savanna conditions of alternately wet and dry seasons constitute the predominant climate of the Atlantic lowlands; the dry season occurs from November to April and the wet season (broken by dry periods) from May to October. This climate is found also in the Llanos region and in part of the upper Magdalena valley. It is characterized by an annual rainfall of 40 to 70 inches (1,000 to 1,800 mm) and annual average temperatures usually above 74 °F (23 °C). The dry season, accompanied by dust and wind, coincides with the true winter of the Northern Hemisphere.

A drier savanna climate prevails on the Caribbean littoral from the Gulf of Morrosquillo to the La Guajira Peninsula in the northeast. The rains normally occur in two brief periods (in April and in October–November, respectively) but rarely exceed 30 inches (760 mm) annually. The average temperature is hot—more than 81 °F (27 °C)—with the daily range greatest where the humidity is low. This type of climate also occurs in the rain shadows of the deep gorges of such rivers as the Patía, Cauca, Chicamocha, and Zulia and in parts of the upper Magdalena valley. The climate reaches near-desert conditions in the far northern department of La Guajira.

In the mountain regions temperature is directly related to elevation. Average temperatures decrease uniformly about 3 °F per 1,000 feet of ascent (0.6 °C per 100 metres). Popular terminology recognizes distinct temperature zones (pisos térmicos), which are sometimes referred to as tierra caliente (up to about 3,000 feet [900 metres]), tierra templada or tierra del café (3,000 to 6,500 feet [900 to 2,000 metres]), and tierra fría(6,500 to 10,000 feet [2,000 to 3,000 metres]). The majority of Colombians live in the interior cordilleras in the tierra templada and the tierra fríazones. The tierra templada has moderate rainfall and temperatures between 65 and 75 °F (18 and 24 °C). In the tierra fría is Bogotá, which lies 8,660 feet (2,640 metres) above sea level and has an average of 223 days of precipitation, although the average rainfall is scarcely 40 inches (1,000 mm). The city’s average temperature is 57 °F (14 °C). The climate of the high mountain regions—the páramos, ranging from about 10,000 to 15,000 feet (3,000 to 4,600 metres)—is characterized by average temperatures below 50 °F (10 °C), fog, overcast skies, frequent winds, and light rain or drizzle. At elevations above 15,000 feet (4,600 metres) there is perpetual snow and ice.

WATER TEMPERATURE

Cartagena - Marbella sea temperatures peak in the range 28 to 30°C (82 to 86°F) on around the 1st of September and are at their lowest on about the 1st of March, in the range 26 to 28°C (79 to 82°F).

Malpelo Island - Water temperature is usually warm at 79-82°F (26-28°C) but at the beginning of the year, it can get chilly with a range of 61-77°F (16-25°C). Thermoclines are very common with big temperature ranges. A 5mm with hood and vest would be the minimum required.

AIR TEMPERATURE

Temperatures vary little throughout the year, varying in each area. - see above in the weather section.

RAIN FALL

Rainfall varies for each area - see above in the weather section.

HOW TO GET THERE

Colombia has 5 international airports located around the cities of Bogota, Barranquilla, Cali, Cartagena and Medellin.

Some airlines such as TACA and LAN have direct flights to Cali, Medellin or Cartagena from USA, Central America or South America. Travelling to Colombia is often cheaper via USA through Avianca, American Airlines, or Continental Airlines; and directly from Europe with Avianca, Iberia or Air France amongst others. Check their websites for further details.

There is an exit tax of US$33 for all international travelers (including Colombian citizens) if you stay one month or less; and US$66 if you stay longer when leaving from Bogota, and US$111 when leaving from Cartagena. Some airlines include the departure tax in their prices; check with the concerning airline. Otherwise, you can pay it in US Dollars or Colombian Pesos at the airport. Only the exact amount is accepted at the tax payment points.

Direct flights to Colombia are available from Germany, France and Spain, as well as throughout South America, Central America and North America.

Within Colombia itself, there is a budget airline called Viva Colombia, which has dramatically reduced the cost of internal flights.

VISA CONDITIONS

Colombias' Visa Department

Passengers from countries that have restrictions must apply for a tourist visa at the Colombian consulate in their home country. Visa restrictions for entering Colombia:

Citizens of the following countries do not require a TP-11, TP-12 or TP-13 Visa, to enter and temporarily stay in the country: Germany, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Barbados, Belgium, Belize, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Bulgaria, Bhutan, Canada, Czech Republic, Chile, Cyprus, Korea (Republic of), Costa Rica, Croatia, Denmark, Dominica, Ecuador, El Salvador, United Arab Emirates, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, United States of America, Estonia, Fiji, Philippines, Finland, France, Georgia, Grenada, Greece , Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Hungary, Indonesia, Ireland, Iceland, Marshall Islands, Solomon Islands, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Micronesia, Monaco, Montenegro , Norway, New Zealand, The Netherlands, Palau, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Dominican Republic, Romania, Russia (Federation of), San Cristobal and Snow, Samoa, San Marin or, Saint Lucia, Holy See, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Serbia, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Uruguay, Venezuela.

Holders of passports from Hong Kong - SARG China, holders of passports of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, holders of passports of Taiwan-China, Nicaraguan nationals who prove to be natives of the Autonomous Region of the North Caribbean Coast and of the Autonomous Region of the South Caribbean Coast.

The nationals of Cambodia, India, Nicaragua, Myanmar, the People's Republic of China, Thailand and Vietnam can enter Colombia and remain temporarily in the national territory without a visa if they prove:

- To be holders of a residence permit for a State of the Schengen Area or the United States of America.

- To be holders of the Schengen visa or visa of the United States of America with the minimum validity of 180 days at the time of entry into the national territory.

- For Nicaraguan nationals, this permit also applies if they prove to be holders of a Canadian visa or have a Canadian residence permit.

Visa required:

Albania, Algeria, Armenia, Bahrain, Benin, Belarus, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cape Verde, Cameroon, Chad, Comoros, Congo, Cote d'Ivoire, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau , Equatorial Guinea, Haiti, India, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Kiribati, Kosovo, Kuwait, Lesotho, Macedonia, Madagascar, Malawi, Maldives, Mali, Morocco, Mauritius, Mauritania, Moldova, Mongolia, Namibia, Nauru, Nepal, Nicaragua, Niger, Oman, Central African Republic, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, Swaziland, Thailand, Tanzania, Tajikistan, East Timor, Togo, Tonga, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu, Vietnam, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Colombian departure tax cost

In the case of foreigners who are not resident in Colombia and have not exceeded 60 days in the country, these may complete the application procedure for issuing exemption at the Aerocivil modules set up for this purpose in international airports, where they will verify compliance with the requirement with the citizen’s passport, it will be stamped as a measure of control. If this certificate is presented to the airline at check- in time there no need to pay the tax. If foreign citizens stay in Colombia for more than 60 days, they must pay a departure tax averaging US$38 or $68,000 in total at the airline check-in desk.

If for some reason a departure tax on the ticket is paid and is subsequently granted the exemption, you must apply to the airline for reimbursement of the money, which must be returned before the trip.

LOCAL KNOWLEDGE

Colombia is generally safe to visit

There was a time when travellers avoided the country due to its ugly association with cartels and violence. That has largely disappeared and what remains is a vibrant country with spectacular scenery, friendly people and a rich culture. In fact, some areas in Bogota, like the sophisticated and electric Zona-T, feels like any other cosmopolitan city from the developed world. The public transportation of Medellin, a city that has emerged from the shadows of drug cartels, the Medellin Metro is a thing of beauty and is one of the most successful in the world.

Violence should not be a reason you are avoiding that trip to Colombia. But, having said that, it is wise to be aware of your surroundings. Practical safety considerations, the same as any other unfamiliar city, are essential. Stick to largely crowded place - on your first trip, consider popular tourist destinations or the cities of Colombia. 

It's also recommended to get travel insurance before you go.

Understand the Colombian Peso

The local currency is the Colombian Peso (COP$) and the denominations are in mil, Spanish for thousand. Menus at restaurants and cafes might list a cappuccino for $5.000 - this means the cost is 5mil. In common parlance, the mil is often dropped. Frequently used notes come in denominations of 1000, 2000, 5000, 10000, 20000 and 50000 pesos.

You get the best exchange rate by using cards or at ATMs

Even better if you have an international card with no transaction fee. A Citibank card works best - they give great exchange rate at ATMs, which are commonly available in major cities and if you have a card, you don't have to bear the additional fee. But even with the fee, in case you don't have a Citibank card, you still get a better deal using a card for payment or withdrawing from an ATM.

Check the weather before planning your visit

Every city has a completely different climate, mainly because of the different altitudes they are located at. While Bogota enjoys a chilly, autumn-like weather all year round, Medellin is slightly warmer and Cartagena is a sunny, tropical coastal town.

Getting around in Colombia

Flights might be the best option for inter-city travel, especially when you have to cover so much in little time - and it is not expensive. Go to the local sites of LAN, Avianca or Copa for better deals.

Public transport, like anywhere else in the world, is the cheapest means to get around within a city. Medellin has a fantastic metro system. Bogota's version of public transport, after many failed attempts at a metro, is the Transmilenio - a bus rapid transit. Quite efficient, this can be a little hard to figure out, but not impossible.

If you have to take a cab, don’t signal one down, its best to use an app.Download Easy Taxi or Tappsi - these apps are popular and a safer way to hail a cab.

Consider investing in a travel guide

Yes, even if you have done all your research. And this is mainly to keep track of all the trivia and history tidbits these guides offer. You will be amazed at the history of Colombia.

Haggling is accepted

This is true for certain means of transportation like taxis off-the-road and (especially) street vendors.

GENERAL INFORMATION

You don’t need to be fluent in Spanish but some basic phrases help. Not a lot of people speak English (especially in Medellin). People in Colombia are very helpful and most of them are patient enough to see you awkwardly act out words.  

Sample the local cuisine

There’s the Ajiaco (a Bogota staple soup made with chicken, three varieties of potatoes, and Colombian herbs), Cazuela de Fríjoles (red bean stew), Arepa (a flatbread made of ground maize dough or cooked flour), Empanada ( a popular street food made by folding dough or bread with meat or cheese stuffing) and for the more adventurous, Mondongo (soup made from diced tripe slow-cooked with vegetables).

GALLERY