Colombia – known for its gold and emeralds, coffee, art – and drug industry. Its capital city of Bogotá, 4th highest elevation in the world, is the 3rd largest city in South American with a population of 7.2 million. Today’s Bogotá, despite a history of criminal activity, has seen an increase in visitors – and has become a magnet for international foodies.
Street crime is high in Bogotá, though local perception of insecurity ranges from 50% in the city’s gang-influenced south to 23% in its northern region. Over the past 20 years, Colombia has increased its security – though its current peace plan, backed by US, is in question; the nation also has an estimated 1.3 million refugees from Venezuela, with security issues near their shared border.
At Colombia’s deepest cultural roots are the ‘pueblos indigenas’. The pre-Columbian (pre-European) peoples, comprise 102 ethnic groups, 70 of which reside in the Amazonian region. Together, they number 1.4 million or 3.4% of the country’s population, with the Wayuu as the largest group. Their cultures are widely varied; they have suffered discrimination by the dominant culture throughout the centuries and are today represented by the Organización Nacional Indigena de Colombia [ONIC].
As with other South American countries, Colombia has a rich history with gold – both as a resource, strongly desired by the Spanish conquerors, and as a source for art as well as worship by early indigenous peoples. Gold artefacts provide much early cultural information, from the shamanistic religion to the warrior tradition and more.
The Muisca culture, which inspired the El Dorado myth of a land of gold, continues to this day as a cultural thread of Colombia. An especially advanced civilisation with an elaborate spiritual tradition, once with a territory of 25,000 km sq and a population upwards of 3 million, their descendants are present even today – though only an estimated 14k remain.
With the Spanish conquest of Colombia came Catholicism, and the country remains deeply Catholic to this day. Constitutional reform in 1991 granted religious freedom; while 70% are nominally Catholic, only 25% are practicing.
The Spanish occupation of Colombia remains the strongest cultural influence today: multi-active, family- and group-oriented, with a relaxed sense of time – and a legacy of a caste system. In addition, as with much of South America, following a tumultuous 20th century, liberation theology and liberation as well as leftist politics remain relevant. Indigenous cultural underpinnings are still seen in art, cuisine, and more.
Art and creative expression are highly valued in Colombian culture, stemming from indigenous peoples through the Spanish conquest and to modern times. Vast amounts of pre-Columbian visual art remain, along with an astonishing array of gold work as well as indigenous handcrafts. Today’s artists are also very well represented.