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Facts


Population: 48.23 million (2015)
Area: 440,800 mi²
Capital City: Bogotá


About Colombia


Colombia, officially the Republic of Colombia, is a sovereign state largely situated in the northwest of South America, with territories in Central America. Colombia shares a border to the northwest with Panama, to the east with Venezuela and Brazil and to the south with Ecuador and Peru. It shares its maritime limits with Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Jamaica, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. It is a unitary, constitutional republic comprising thirty-two departments. The territory of what is now Colombia was originally inhabited by indigenous peoples, with as most advanced the Muisca, Quimbaya and the Tairona.
The Spanish set foot on Colombian soil for the first time in 1499 and in the first half of the 16th century initiated a period of conquest and colonization, ultimately creating the New Kingdom of Granada, with as capital Santafé de Bogotá. Independence from Spain was acquired in 1819, but by 1830 the “Gran Colombia” Federation was dissolved. What is now Colombia and Panama emerged as the Republic of New Granada. The new nation experimented with federalism as the Granadine Confederation (1858), and then the United States of Colombia (1863), before the Republic of Colombia was finally declared in 1886. Panama seceded in 1903. Since the 1960s, the country has suffered from an asymmetric low-intensity armed conflict, which escalated in the 1990s but then decreased from 2005 onward. Colombia is one of the most ethnically and linguistically diverse countries in the world, and thereby possesses a rich cultural heritage. The urban centres are mostly located in the highlands of the Andes mountains.
Colombian territory also encompasses Amazon rainforest, tropical grassland and both Caribbean and Pacific coastlines. Ecologically, it is one of the world’s 17 megadiverse countries, and the most densely biodiverse of these per square kilometer. Colombia is a middle power and a regional actor with the fourth-largest economy in Latin America, is part of the CIVETS group of six leading emerging markets and is a member of the UN, the WTO, the OAS, the Pacific Alliance, and other international organizations. Colombia has a diversified economy with macroeconomic stability and favorable growth prospects in the long run.


Currency

Currency Converter

The peso is the currency of Colombia. Its ISO 4217 code is COP and it is also informally abbreviated as COL$. However, the official peso symbol is $. As of April 26, 2017, the exchange rate of the Colombian peso is 2,930 Colombian pesos to 1 U.S. dollar with a 52 weekrange of 2,817.39 – 3,208.29.

Climate


The climate of Colombia is characterized for being tropical presenting variations within six natural regions and depending on the altitude, temperature, humidity, winds and rainfall. The diversity of climate zones in Colombia is characterized for having tropical rainforests, savannas, steppes, deserts and mountain climate.
Mountain climate is one of the unique features of the Andes and other high altitude reliefs where climate is determined by elevation. Below 1,000 meters (3,281 ft) in elevation is the warm altitudinal zone, where temperatures are above 24 °C (75.2 °F). About 82.5% of the country’s total area lies in the warm altitudinal zone. The temperate climate altitudinal zone located between 1,001 and 2,000 meters (3,284 and 6,562 ft)) is characterized for presenting an average temperature ranging between 17 and 24 °C (62.6 and 75.2 °F). The cold climate is present between 2,001 and 3,000 meters (6,565 and 9,843 ft) and the temperatures vary between 12 and 17 °C (53.6 and 62.6 °F). Beyond the cold land lie the alpine conditions of the forested zone and then the treeless grasslands of the páramos. Above 4,000 meters (13,123 ft), where temperatures are below freezing, the climate is glacial, a zone of permanent snow and ice.


Languages


More than 99.2% of Colombians speak Spanish, also called Castilian; 65 Amerindian languages, two Creole languages, the Romani language and Colombian Sign Language are also spoken in the country. English has official status in the archipelago of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina.
Including Spanish, a total of 101 languages are listed for Colombia in the Ethnologue database. The specific number of spoken languages varies slightly since some authors consider as different languages what others consider to be varieties or dialects of the same language. Best estimates recorded 71 languages that are spoken in-country today—most of which belong to the Chibchan, Tucanoan, Bora–Witoto, Guajiboan, Arawakan, Cariban, Barbacoan, and Saliban language families. There are currently about 850,000 speakers of native languages.


Economy


Historically an agrarian economy, Colombia urbanised rapidly in the 20th century, by the end of which just 15.8% of the workforce were employed in agriculture, generating just 6.8% of GDP; 19.6% of the workforce were employed in industry and 64.6% in services, responsible for 34.0% and 59.2% of GDP respectively. The country’s economic production is dominated by its strong domestic demand. Consumption expenditure by households is the largest component of GDP.
Colombia’s market economy grew steadily in the latter part of the 20th century, with gross domestic product (GDP) increasing at an average rate of over 4% per year between 1970 and 1998. The country suffered a recession in 1999 (the first full year of negative growth since the Great Depression), and the recovery from that recession was long and painful. However, in recent years growth has been impressive, reaching 6.9% in 2007, one of the highest rates of growth in Latin America. According to International Monetary Fund estimates, in 2012 Colombia’s GDP (PPP) was US$500 billion (28th in the world and third in South America).
Total government expenditures account for 28.7 percent of the domestic economy. Public debt equals 41 percent of gross domestic product. A strong fiscal climate was reaffirmed by a boost in bond ratings. Annual inflation closed 2016 at 5.75% YoY (vs. 6.77% YoY in 2015). The average national unemployment rate in 2016 was 9.2%, although the informality is the biggest problem facing the labour market (the income of formal workers climbed 24.8% in 5 years while labor incomes of informal workers rose only 9%). Colombia has Free trade Zone (FTZ), such as Zona Franca del Pacifico, located in the Valle del Cauca, one of the most striking areas for foreign investment.
The financial sector has grown favorably due to good liquidity in the economy, the growth of credit and the positive performance of the Colombian economy. The Colombian Stock Exchange through the Latin American Integrated Market (MILA) offers a regional market to trade equities. Colombia is now one of only three economies with a perfect score on the strength of legal rights index, according to the World Bank.
The electricity production in Colombia comes mainly from renewable energy sources. 69.97% is obtained from the hydroelectric generation. Colombia’s commitment to renewable energy was recognized in the 2014 Global Green Economy Index (GGEI), ranking among the top 10 nations in the world in terms of greening efficiency sectors.
Colombia is rich in natural resources, and its main exports include mineral fuels, oils, distillation products, fruit and other agricultural products, sugars and sugar confectionery, food products, plastics, precious stones, metals, forest products, chemical goods, pharmaceuticals, vehicles, electronic products, electrical equipments, perfumery and cosmetics, machinery, manufactured articles, textile and fabrics, clothing and footwear, glass and glassware, furniture, prefabricated buildings, military products, home and office material, construction equipment, software, among others. Principal trading partners are the United States, China, the European Union and some Latin American countries.
Non-traditional exports have boosted the growth of Colombian foreign sales as well as the diversification of destinations of export thanks to new free trade agreements.
In 2016, the National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE) reported that 28.0% of the population were living below the poverty line, of which 8.5% in “extreme poverty”. The Government has also been developing a process of financial inclusion within the country’s most vulnerable population.
Recent economic growth has led to a considerable increase of new millionaires, including the new entrepreneurs, Colombians with a net worth exceeding US $1 billion.
The contribution of Travel & Tourism to GDP was USD5,880.3bn (2.0% of total GDP) in 2016. Tourism generated 556,135 jobs (2.5% of total employment) in 2016. Foreign tourist visits were predicted to have risen from 0.6 million in 2007 to 2.98 million in 2015.


Religion


The National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE) does not collect religious statistics, and accurate reports are difficult to obtain. However, based on various studies and a survey, about 90% of the population adheres to Christianity, the majority of which (70.9%) are Roman Catholic, while a significant minority (16.7%) adhere to Protestantism (primarily Evangelicalism). Some 4.7% of the population is atheist or agnostic, while 3.5% claim to believe in God but do not follow a specific religion. 1.8% of Colombians adhere to Jehovah’s Witnesses and Adventism and less than 1% adhere to other religions, such as Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Mormonism, Hinduism, Indigenous religions, Hare Krishna movement, Rastafari movement, Orthodox Catholic Church, and spiritual studies. The remaining people either did not respond or replied that they did not know. In addition to the above statistics, 35.9% of Colombians reported that they did not practice their faith actively.
While Colombia remains a mostly Roman Catholic country by baptism numbers, the 1991 Colombian constitution guarantees freedom of religion and all religious faiths and churches are equally free before the law.


Health


Life expectancy at birth in 2000 was 70.99 years; the life expectancy increased to 74.8 years by 2015. Health standards in Colombia have improved very much since the 1980s, healthcare reforms have led to the massive improvements in the healthcare systems of the country. Although this new system has widened population coverage by the social and health security system from 21% (pre-1993) to 96% in 2012, health disparities persist.
Through health tourism, many people from over the world travel from their places of residence to other countries in search of medical treatment and the attractions in the countries visited. Colombia is projected as one of Latin America’s main destinations in terms of health tourism due to the quality of its health care professionals, a good number of institutions devoted to health, and an immense inventory of natural and architectural sites. Cities such as Bogotá, Cali, Medellín and Bucaramanga are the most visited in cardiology procedures, neurology, dental treatments, stem cell therapy, ENT, ophthalmology and joint replacements among others for the medical services of high quality.
A study conducted by América Economía magazine ranked 22 Colombian health care institutions among the top 43 in Latin America, amounting to 51 percent of the total.


Safety


Colombia has suffered from a terrible reputation as a dangerous and violent country but the situation has improved dramatically since the ’80s and ’90s. Colombia is on the path to recovery, and Colombians are very proud of the progress they have made.
The security situation differs greatly throughout the country currently. Most jungle regions are not safe to visit, but the area around Leticia is very safe, and the areas around Santa Marta are OK. No one should visit the Darien Gap at the border with Panama (in the north of Chocó), as well as Putumayo and Caquetá, which are very dangerous, active conflict zones. Other departments with significant rural violence include the departments of Chocó, Cauca, and Valle del Cauca; eastern Meta, Vichada, and Arauca in the east; and all Amazonian departments except for Amazonas. That’s not to say that these departments are totally off-limits—just be sure you are either traveling with locals who know the area, or sticking to cities and tourist destinations.
Colombia is currently one of the most mine-affected countries in the world. So don’t walk around blithely through the countryside without consulting locals. Land mines are found in 31 out of Colombia’s 32 departments, and new ones are planted every day by guerrillas, paramilitaries, and drug traffickers.
At the end of the 90s and in the early 2000s, kidnapping became one of the most cost-effective ways of financing for the guerrillas of the FARC and the ELN and other armed groups but, thanks to improvements in security and the progressive weakening of the guerrillas, criminal organizations, and other armed groups, the number of kidnappings in Colombia has been constantly declining. 3,000 Kidnappings took place in 2000 while 229 cases occurred in 2011. The number of kidnappings continues to decline. Kidnappings are still a problem in some southern departments like Cauca and Caquetá. Colombia happily no longer has the highest rate of kidnappings in the world.
The crime rate in Colombia has been significantly reduced since its peak in the late ’80s and ’90s. However, major urban centers and the countryside Colombia still have very high violent crime rates, comparable to blighted cities in the United States, and crime has has been on the increase in recent (prior to 2013) years. In the downtown areas of most cities (which rarely coincides with the wealthy parts of town) violent crime is not rare; poor sections of cities can be quite dangerous for someone unfamiliar with their surroundings. Taxi crime is a very serious danger in major cities, so always request taxis by phone, rather than hailing them off the street—it costs the same and your call will be answered rapidly. Official taxi ranks are safe as well (airports, bus terminals, shopping malls).
Local consumption is low, and penalties are draconian, owing to the nation’s well-known largely successful fight against some of history’s most powerful and dangerous traffickers. Cocaine manufactured in Colombia was historically mostly consumed in the US and the EU, and the United States of America is still the world’s largest consumer of illegal drugs. Remember that the drug trade in Colombia has ruined many innocent citizens’ lives and dragged the country’s reputation through the mud.


Education

The educational experience of many Colombian children begins with attendance at a preschool academy until age five (Educación preescolar). Basic education (Educación básica) is compulsory by law. It has two stages: Primary basic education (Educación básica primaria) which goes from first to fifth grade – children from six to ten years old, and Secondary basic education (Educación básica secundaria), which goes from sixth to ninth grade. Basic education is followed by Middle vocational education (Educación media vocacional) that comprises the tenth and eleventh grades. It may have different vocational training modalities or specialties (academic, technical, business, and so on.) according to the curriculum adopted by each school.
After the successful completion of all the basic and middle education years, a high-school diploma is awarded. The high-school graduate is known as a bachiller, because secondary basic school and middle education are traditionally considered together as a unit called bachillerato (sixth to eleventh grade). Students in their final year of middle education take the ICFES test (now renamed Saber 11) in order to gain access to higher education (Educación superior). This higher education includes undergraduate professional studies, technical, technological and intermediate professional education, and post-graduate studies. Technical professional institutions of Higher Education are also opened to students holder of a qualification in Arts and Business. This qualification is usually awarded by the SENA after a two years curriculum.
Bachilleres (high-school graduates) may enter into a professional undergraduate career program offered by a university; these programs last up to five years (or less for technical, technological and intermediate professional education, and post-graduate studies), even as much to six to seven years for some careers, such as medicine. In Colombia, there is not an institution such as college; students go directly into a career program at a university or any other educational institution to obtain a professional, technical or technological title. Once graduated from the university, people are granted a (professional, technical or technological) diploma and licensed (if required) to practice the career they have chosen. For some professional career programs, students are required to take the Saber-Pro test, in their final year of undergraduate academic education.
Public spending on education as a proportion of gross domestic product in 2015 was 4.49%. This represented 15.05% of total government expenditure. The primary and secondary gross enrolment ratios stood at 113.56% and 98.09% respectively. School-life expectancy was 14.41 years. A total of 94.58% of the population aged 15 and older were recorded as literate, including 98.53% of those aged 15–24.

Cuisine


Colombia’s varied cuisine is influenced by its diverse fauna and flora as well as the cultural traditions of the ethnic groups. Colombian dishes and ingredients vary widely by region. Some of the most common ingredients are: cereals such as rice and maize; tubers such as potato and cassava; assorted legumes; meats, including beef, chicken, pork and goat; fish; and seafood. Colombia cuisine also features a variety of tropical fruits such as cape gooseberry, feijoa, arazá, dragon fruit, mangostino, granadilla, papaya, guava, mora (blackberry), lulo, soursop and passionfruit. Colombia is one of the world’s largest consumers of fruit juices.
Among the most representative appetizers and soups are patacones (fried green plantains), sancocho de gallina (chicken soup with root vegetables) and ajiaco (potato and corn soup). Representative snacks and breads are pandebono, arepas (corn cakes), aborrajados (fried sweet plantains with cheese), torta de choclo, empanadas and almojábanas. Representative main courses are bandeja paisa, lechona tolimense, mamona, tamales and fish dishes (such as arroz de lisa), especially in coastal regions where kibbeh, suero, costeño cheese and carimañolas are also eaten. Representative side dishes are papas chorreadas (potatoes with cheese), remolachas rellenas con huevo duro (beets stuffed with hard-boiled egg) and arroz con coco (coconut rice). Organic food is a current trend in big cities, although in general across the country the fruits and veggies are very natural and fresh.
Representative desserts are buñuelos, natillas, Maria Luisa cake, bocadillo made of guayaba (guava jelly), cocadas (coconut balls), casquitos de guayaba (candied guava peels), torta de natas, obleas, flan de arequipe, roscón, milhoja, and the tres leches cake (a sponge cake soaked in milk, covered in whipped cream, then served with condensed milk). Typical sauces (salsas) are hogao (tomato and onion sauce) and Colombian-style ají.
Some representative beverages are coffee (Tinto), champús, cholado, lulada, avena colombiana, sugarcane juice, aguapanela, aguardiente, hot chocolate and fresh fruit juices (often made with water or milk).

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