Colombia ~ Dec '12 / Jan '13 ~ Part 1: The Reasons


Colombia is the destination of our holiday this year.

First some information about this country, so we know what we are talking about. 

Facts & figures:

  • 4th largest country in South America in seize (1,138km2), second largest in population (45,9 million)
  • Capital Bogotá (4th largest city in South America)
  • official language: Spanish
  • 33 departments (we will be visiting three of them)
  • Currency: Peso (yes, another peso yet again. and one with lots of zeros...)
  • Time Zone: UTC -5
  • 5 UNESCO Cultural World Heritage sites and 2 Natural Heritages
  • Famous Colombians: Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Nobel Prize in Literature 1982), Juanes, Shakira, Carlos Vives


Originally, Colombia was inhabited by various indigenous people, like Muisca, Quimbaya and Tairona. The land sits practically at the corridor between the southern and northern continent, most other tribes, like Inca, passed through but did not settle. 

Christopher Columbus never set foot onto the shore here, yet the country was named for him, by Alonso de Ojeda, first recorded European to arrive in 1499, and he had once sailed with Columbus. The earliest town, that survived until today, is Santa Marta, founded in 1525 by Rodrigo de Bastidas.  

Once conquered by the Spaniards, Colombia formed part of the Nuevo Reino de Granada, along with what today is Panama and Venezuela. Cartagena, a port founded in 1533 quickly gained importance as key trading harbor, sadly enough it became also South America's main slave market.

The first rebellion agains the colonists took place in 1781 (Revolución Comunera in Socorro), but was stopped by the Spaniards before the rebels took over Bogotá. However, since Napoleon put his brother on the Spanish throne in 1808, one colombian city after the other declared its independency as they refused to recognize the new monarch. 

Simón Bolívar, later known as El Libertador, started his quest for independency in 1812, the decisive battle finally took place in 1819 in Boyacá and Bolívar arrived only a couple of days later in Bogotá, where the independency was declared and the Republic of Colombia (then Venezuela & Colombia) was pronounced. 

Colombia's situation today was mainly influenced by the bloody civil war (La Violencia) in 1946, where more than 200.000 people died. This however did not have a lasting effect, in the 50ies Colombia was ruled by only two parties, who alternated presidency every four years, called Frente Nacional, while the gap between rich landowners and poor rural mestice population only became larger. After the government had bombed an area of a communist enclave in 1964 the infamous Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia ( Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), the FARC, who vowed to overthrow the government and redistribute the land of the wealthy among the poor (sounds a bit like a Robin Hood story, right?). Colombia has not been the same ever since. 

FARC was known for kidnappings (a famous victim being Ingrid Betancourt), a revenue source that brought them approximately 200mio USD annually as it is rumored. The most recent developments are talks about a cease fire that will take place in October 2012 in Norway.

Another long time problem of Colombia are the drug cartels. For centuries coca leaves have been chewed by the indians. With the arrival of Europeans and the later use of the coca leaf in a medical and recreational manner it gained attention, and the start of the cocaine boom in the 80ies was the main reason for the colombian cartels to  increase power and wealth. Probably the most famous drug boss was Pablo Escobar, whose private wealth was said to be 20 billion USD... he was shot in 1993. Violence between drug cartels and government continued, as well as the war between FARC and the AUC (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, formed by wealthy landowners)

The FARC and the drug related violence put the country off the travel map for a long time. While there is still violence around the cartels, there is only very little terrain left in hands of FARC, and when staying away from cartel area (same as you would in any big US city where those same drugs are dealed) it is a safe country to travel to. 

Still, why - out of all places in the world - have we decided to go to Colombia?? Well, why wouldn't we??

So here's to our reasons...

  • We were looking for a destination where we could do a trekking AND go diving. (I mean, not hiking up Puig Teix in Mallorca and diving there, but something a bit more ambitious)
  • We did not want to connect through the US (for passport reasons)
  • We did not want to fly Iberia (after the desastrous flight from Mexico to Zurich I will never fly this airline again).
  • We want to avoid the big crowds, and the treks or summit attempts with another 300 people (as it would be the case for Kilimanjaro and some Nepal trek). 
  • So, as Colombia is just now starting to get some reputation as a holiday destination again, this seems to be a good choice. We are definitely not the first or only ones to go, but still, there is no big masses, and less with our itinerary.
  • It has beautiful landscape and amazing marine life

Speaking of itinerary - it's nearly finalized, and we'll share soon with you! 


Sources: Lonely Planet Colombia, edition 2012. Wikipedia. 

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