Kids Edition
Republic of
República de Colombia
Colombia is named after Christopher Columbus.
Colombia is the second-largest coffee producer in the world, after Brazil.
People in Santander eat hormiga culona, a dish made with fried ants.
Many Colombians take great pride in Gabriel García Márquez, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982.
People often greet each other by kissing on the cheek.
Colombia is the only South American country that has a coast on both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.
Colombians have two family names: the last name is the mom’s family name, and the second-to-last name is the
dad’s family name.
Jaguars, monkeys, anteaters, bears, wildcats, crocodiles, tapir, and rare birds and butterflies make the jungles of
Colombia their home.
The mythical city of El Dorado, known as the Lost City of Gold, is said to be located at Lake Guatavita near the
capital city of Bogotá.
Ninety percent of the world’s emeralds are mined in Colombia.
The Gold Museum in Bogotá has more than 33,000 gold objects on display, and many are thousands of years old.
One of the wettest spots in the world is the town of Tutunendo. It gets about 460 inches (1,168 cm) of rain every
Flowers are a major industry in Colombia, and the nation exports many cut flowers. The national flower is the
The red stripe stands for the blood lost in the fight for independence from Spain, the
yellow for Colombia’s gold and riches, and the blue for the Pacific Ocean, Caribbean
Sea, and the many rivers that wind through Colombia.
National Image
Colombia’s national bird, the Andean condor, is one of the world’s largest birds. It lives
in the mountains and feeds on dead animals.
Land and Climate
Area (sq. mi.): 439,736
Area (sq. km.): 1,138,910
With 439,736 square miles (1,138,910 sq km), Colombia is about the size of South
Africa or California and Texas combined. It is located right where Central and South
America meet and is often called the “gateway to South America.” The Cordilleras, part
of the Andes Mountains, are like three skinny fingers running through Colombia. The
land along the coast is flat and low. In the northeast are llanos (plains), which are wide,
treeless grasslands. The central region is filled with mountains, valleys, and active
volcanoes, while tropical jungles fill the southeast. The country also includes several
islands, including San Andrés and Old Providence. Small earthquakes are common
throughout the year.
The weather is the same year-round, with no distinct seasons, and only changes from
lower to higher lands. The coast is hot and humid. In the low areas, like Barranquilla,
temperatures are usually in the 80s (27–32°C). But in Bogotá, which is about 8,000
feet (2,438 m) higher, temperatures are in the 50s (10–15°C).
Population: 45,745,783
Most of Colombia’s more than 45 million citizens live in the western part of the country.
Around 76 percent live in cities. Bogotá, Medellín, and Cali are the biggest cities. Most
Colombians have both Spanish and indigenous (Native American) ancestors. Twenty
percent have only European ancestry. Colombia has around four hundred native tribes,
but they only make up about 1 percent of the people. Another 20 percent are black,
mulato (black and European), or zambo (black and Native American). Colombia also
has a fairly young population; about one-third of Colombians are younger than age 15.
Almost every Colombian speaks Spanish. The alphabet is similar to English, but Spanish has a few extra letters, like ñ
and ch. And unlike English, all of the vowels (a,e,i,o,u) are always pronounced the same. So even if you are reading a
new word, you always know exactly how to say it. Many native groups have their own languages, but usually they also
speak Spanish. In some areas, native languages and dialects (ways of pronouncing or speaking) share official status
with Spanish, and schools must teach in both languages.
Can You Say It in Spanish?
Por favor
(pohr fa-VOHR)
Thank you
Catholicism has been the dominant religion in Colombia since the arrival of the Spanish. Protestant and other Christian
churches have small but growing numbers of believers. Many native and black peoples still engage in non-Christian,
traditional belief systems. Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the constitution. Colombians commonly express their
faith in God with phrases like Si Dios quiere (God willing) and Que sea lo que Dios quiera (Whatever God wills).
Time Line
Thousands of years ago, natives settle in the area and make jewelry,
pottery, and stone carvings
AD 1500
AD 1500–1501
The Spanish explore Colombia’s coast for the first time
Colombia becomes part of Spain’s viceroyalty (like a kingdom) of Peru;
Bogotá is settled
Bogotá becomes the capital of the Spanish viceroyalty of Nueva
Granada, which also rules Ecuador and Venezuela
Creoles (Colombian-born Spaniards) in Bogotá form a council and
claim independence
The Spanish are defeated in the Battle of Boyacá; Colombia becomes
Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, and Ecuador form a republic called
Gran Colombia
Gran Colombia dissolves when Venezuela and Ecuador split off,
leaving present-day Colombia and Panama a separate state known as
Nueva Granada
The Liberal and Conservative Parties are created
After several name changes, the Republic of the New Granada is
renamed the Republic of Colombia
The Conservatives come to power and rule for the next 45 years
The Liberals and Conservatives fight in the War of a Thousand Days;
more than 100,000 people die in the civil war
Panama, formerly a part of Colombia, becomes an independent
La Violencia, a civil war between Conservatives and Liberals, leaves
around 300,000 dead
The National Front (an agreement between Liberals and Conservatives
to share power) is created
The Leftist National Liberation Army (ELN) and Maoist People’s
Liberation Army (EPL) are founded
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) forms
The National Front ends
President Julio Turbay begins an intense fight against drug traffickers
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, born in Colombia, is awarded the Nobel Prize
in Literature
The eruption of Nevado del Ruiz destroys Armero and leaves around
25,000 dead
A new constitution is adopted
Andrés Pastrana is elected president and begins peace talks with rebel
An earthquake in the coffee growing area leaves thousands wounded
or dead
The United States gives Colombia almost one billion dollars in military
aid to fight drug trafficking and rebels who profit and protect the trade
Independent candidate Alvaro Uribe becomes president, promising
harsher measures for rebel groups
President Uribe wins a second term
Mass protests take place in Bogotá against the kidnappings and
violence that plague the country
The Colombian army rescues 15 hostages in the southern-central
region of Guaviare, including former senator and activist Ingrid
Betancourt, who was held in captivity for six years by FARC
Colombia signs a deal with the United States allowing the U.S. military
access to seven Colombian bases
The government calls on the FARC to release its hostages, disarm,
and stop all attacks before the government will negotiate with the
group; the FARC releases its remaining hostages and says it will stop
kidnapping people for ransom
Before Columbus
The first inhabitants of the region carved huge stone statues of people or gods. In San
Agustín, near the Magdalena River, there are some 500 of these carved stones in the
shapes of frogs, humans, eagles, and snakes. The statues are around 20 feet (7 m) tall,
and no one is exactly sure what they were used for. We don’t know very much about
these early Colombians except that they lived near the rivers and grew corn and
gathered berries. Their descendants were the Chibcha, who lived in mud villages in the
highlands and grew crops such as corn, rice, and potatoes. They also worshiped the
sun and made beautiful gold jewelry. Every year the Chibcha chief would cover his
body in gold dust and float on a raft to the middle of Lake Guatavita, where he would
dive into the waters and wash the gold dust off as an offering. At the same time, the
village nobles would cast valuable jewels into the lake. This ceremony gave rise to the
popular legend of El Dorado. The Chibcha were the first natives the Spaniards met
when they arrived.
Spanish Arrival
In the 1500s, Spaniards were searching for gold. They found Colombia’s rich
agricultural lands instead. In 1525, Rodrigo de Bastidas founded a permanent base at
Santa Marta, on the north coast. Today, it is the oldest town in Colombia. A few years
later, the seaport town of Cartagena was founded not far away. The Spanish looted the
native towns, stealing their gold and emeralds and forcing the native peoples to work on
farms. Because of war and the diseases the Spaniards brought, only 10 percent of the
natives survived. To keep the farms going, the Spaniards started bringing in Africans as
slaves to work in the mines or on sugarcane plantations. In 1550, the Spanish grouped
all of northern South America into a large colony called New Granada, named for a
region in Spain. Stretching from present-day Ecuador to Venezuela, New Granada
formed Spain’s base in South America for the next 250 years.
The Liberator
Simón Bolívar is known as the Liberator. He is a hero throughout most of South
America. He led the fight to make Venezuela, Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, and Panama
independent from Spain. The people of South America did not feel as though they were
a part of a Spain. Their loyalty was to their own home, which they wanted to rule
themselves. Spanish forces fought to keep control of New Granada, but they were
weakened from wars in Europe. Colombia gained independence after winning the
Battle of Boyacá in 1819 against the Spanish. At first, Venezuela, Ecuador, and
Panama were joined with Colombia in the Gran Colombia republic. Bolívar was the first
president. Eventually, Venezuela and Ecuador withdrew from the Gran Colombia in
1830. With U.S. support, Panama declared itself independent in 1903 to make way for
construction of the Panama Canal. The Gran Colombia was renamed the Republic of
Civil War
Colombians have been divided for a long time about politics. Some Colombians, called Liberals, wanted free trade and
a strong central government. Others, called Conservatives, wanted to protect their goods and give power to the
departamentos (states), not the central government. In 1948, Liberals and Conservatives began a civil war called La
Violencia. Beginning with the assassination of a Liberal politician in Bogotá, riots broke out all over the city, and the
rebel warfare and attacks that followed resulted in the deaths of nearly 200,000 Colombians. It was during this period
that two of the most famous rebel armed forces formed—the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the Revolutionary
Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Finally, in 1958, the Liberals and Conservatives agreed to share power. One group
would run the government for four years, and then the next group would.
The illegal drug trade is a huge problem in Colombia. Police try to fight and arrest the
drug lords, who fight to protect their illegal businesses. But violence in Colombia isn’t
just because of drugs. Two rebel groups, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia
(FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN), fight each other and the government.
Thousands of people—many of them civilians—continue to suffer at the hands of these
groups. In 1990, a national assembly was formed to rewrite the 1886 constitution. The
country’s new constitution, which encourages multiple political parties and rights for the
long-ignored native and black populations, took effect on 4 July 1991. Although
violence is a fact of life, Colombians haven’t given up. They are proud of their beautiful
country and their independence.
Games and Sports
Colombians are crazy about soccer, or fútbol as it is known in Spanish. They play
whenever possible. When they’re not playing, they’re watching, especially the World
Cup (the world’s most popular sporting event). The Colombian team has done
extremely well in the last decade. Many Colombians also enjoy bullfighting. Most big
cities have bullfighting rings, and thousands attend the games. But the tickets are
expensive, so not everyone can afford to go. Bicycling, swimming, volleyball,
basketball, and baseball are other favorites. Tejo is a traditional game in which discs or
metal plates are thrown at a target to strike the gunpowder at the center, so it explodes
when a plate hits it.
Religious holidays are important in Colombia. La Semana Santa (the Easter holy week)
is a favorite among kids. They spend the week off school with their grandparents,
aunts, uncles, and cousins. They relax and have special foods. The nine days before
Christmas are called la novena. On each of the nine days, Catholics read a special
prayer. Everyone goes to parties filled with singing, dancing, fun, and fireworks. Instead
of Santa Claus, the baby Jesus leaves gifts on Christmas Day.
Breakfast is simple: usually juice or coffee with fruit or bread. In some regions, though,
breakfast is changua (potato-and-egg soup). Arepa is a popular breakfast bread made
of corn, with butter, cheese, and, in some areas of the coast, egg. Aguapanela is a hot
beverage made from panela, which is a hardened, concentrated cane syrup. It is drunk
with lemon, milk, or chunks of white cheese melted in it. Hot chocolate is also popular
for breakfast. It is prepared using a molinillo, or wooden whisk, to make it foamy and
Lunch is usually the big meal of the day. Colombians eat a lot of rice, meat, potatoes,
and beans. Sancocho (a thick stew with fish or meat and vegetables), arroz con pollo
(chicken with rice), and frijoles con chicharrón (pork and beans) are favorites. Arequipe
is a special dessert like homemade caramel. It’s eaten with cheese.
Adult Literacy: 90.4%
Colombian children learn math, science, language, and history, just like you. They also
study English. Kids wear uniforms at school, usually a white shirt and dark shorts (for
boys) or a skirt (for girls). Some wealthier kids go to private schools. Many schools run
on two separate schedules. Schedule A begins sometime in January or February and
ends in November. Schedule B runs from around September to June. Students usually
go home to eat their lunch. Most Colombian children don’t have access to computers at
school or home, because computers are too expensive. Across the nation, there are a
rising number of internet cafés, which offer computer and internet access for a small
fee. Sometimes, rural (countryside) kids are needed at home or on the farm and have
to drop out of school.
Life as a Kid
Colombian kids usually have at least one brother or sister. Often, kids in cities live in
apartments. Some kids are homeless and live on the streets. After school, boys run
home to play soccer or basketball with their friends. Girls help around the house and
then get together with their friends to chat and play. Children from wealthier families
play video or computer games after school. Of course, kids have homework to do, too.
But many kids don’t have free time because they’re hard at work on the farm or in the
store. When their parents are working, young children are taken care of by relatives or
sent to day care.
Capital: Bogotá
Head of State: Pres. Juan Manuel Santos
Head of Government: Pres. Juan Manuel Santos
A president and his cabinet (a group of people who advise the president in specific
areas, like education) run Colombia. The president is elected to serve four-year terms.
The Colombian Congress is similar to the U.S. Congress. There are two houses: the
102-member Senate and the 166-member Chamber of Representatives. The senators
and the representatives help make laws. Colombians can begin voting at age 18. The
country is made up of 32 different departamentos (similar to states) and one capital
district. Colombia has yet to find a solution to the conflict between the government and
rebel forces. Money and Economy
Currency: Colombian peso
Many people farm for a living, growing coffee, bananas, sugarcane, and fresh flowers.
Others mine oil, emeralds, natural gas, coal, iron, or gold. Oil is beginning to overtake
coffee as the country’s main legal export. Because Colombia has so many trees,
people also make wood products for a living. Unfortunately, some Colombians earn
pesos (Colombian money) by selling illegal drugs. Even with the country’s natural
wealth, many Colombians don’t earn enough money to provide for their families.
Getting Around
Most people don’t own a car. Instead, they take buses, colectivos (minibuses), or taxis.
Some use bikes or motorcycles. Most people take buses from city to city, but some fly
instead. And because only one out of ten roads is paved, getting around can
sometimes be difficult. Even some of the paved roads aren’t in the best condition. It’s
hard to get the supplies up the mountains to pave and maintain the roads. The city of
Medellín has a subway system.
The first Africans to arrive in Colombia didn’t have very much, but they did have music.
Eventually, their music was combined with native Colombian music and instruments.
The result was cumbia, a unique style of music. Members of a cumbia band play gaitas
(flutes) and drums. Cumbia dancers don’t move their feet very far from each other, and
some say these dance moves started because slaves had to dance with their feet
chained together. Cumbia has become popular in other South American countries as
well. It is just one of Colombia’s musical styles. Each region of the country has its own
types of music and dance.
Learn More
Contact the Embassy of Colombia, Consular Section, 2118 Leroy Place NW, Washington, DC 20008; phone (202)
387-8338; web site
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