Facts About Colombia for Spanish Students

Country features diversity, sees massive growth in tourism

The Republic of Colombia is a geographically and ethnically diverse country in northwestern South America. It was named after Christopher Columbus.

Linguistic Highlights

Spanish, known in Colombia as castellano, is spoken by nearly the entire population and is the only national official language. However, numerous indigenous languages are granted official status locally. The most significant of then is Wayuu, an Amerindian language used mostly in northeastern Colombia and neighboring Venezuela. It is spoken by more than 100,000 Colombians. (Source: Ethnologue Database)

Vital Statistics

Cathedral in Bogotá, Colombia
The historic Catedral Basílica Metropolitana de la Inmaculada Concepción on Bogotá's Plaza Bolívar.

 Sebastiaan Kroes / Getty Images

Colombia has a population of more than 48 million as of 2018 with a low growth rate of just over 1 percent and about three-fourths living in urban areas. Most people, about 84 percent, are classified as white or mestizo (mixed European and indigenous ancestry). About 10 percent are Afro-Colombian, and 3.4 percent are indigenous or Amerindian. About 79 percent of Colombians are Roman Catholic, and 14 percent are Protestant. (Source: CIA Factbook)

Spanish Grammar in Colombia

Probably the biggest difference from standard Latin American Spanish is that it is not unusual, especially in Bogotá, the capital and largest city, for close friends and family members to address each other as usted rather than , the former being considered formal nearly everywhere else in the Spanish-speaking world. In parts of Colombia, the personal pronoun vos is sometimes used among close friends. The diminutive suffix -ico also is used often.

Spanish Pronunciation in Colombia

Bogotá usually is viewed as the area of Colombia where the Spanish is easiest for foreigners to understand, as it has close to what is considered standard Latin American pronunciation. The main regional variation is that coastal areas are dominated by yeísmo, where the y and the ll are pronounced the same. In Bogotá and the highlands, where lleísmo dominates, the ll has a more fricative sound than the y, something like the "s" in "measure."

Studying Spanish

Partly because Colombia has not been a major tourist destination until recently, there isn't an abundance of Spanish-language immersion schools, perhaps fewer than a dozen reputable ones, in the country. Most of them are in Bogotá and environs, although there are some in Medellín (the country's second largest city) and coastal Cartagena. Costs generally run from $200 to $300 U.S. per week for tuition.

Geography

Map of Colombia
Map of Colombia. CIA Factbook

Colombia is bordered by Panama, Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, the Pacific Ocean, and the Caribbean Sea. Its 1.1 million square kilometers make it nearly twice the size of Texas. Its topography includes 3,200 kilometers of coastline, Andes mountains as high as 5,775 meters, Amazon jungle, Caribbean islands, and lowland plains known as llanos.

Visiting Colombia

Cartagena, Colombia
The historic center of Cartagena, Colombia, overlooks modern skyscrapers.

Keren Su / Getty Images

With the easing of guerrilla hostilities and drug trafficking, Colombia has seen strong growth in the tourism sector of its economy. The country's main tourism office said in 2018 that the country had 3.4 million visitors during the first five months of that year (a period including the high season) compared with 2.4 million the year before. Growth among those who visited via cruise ship was above 50 percent. The most popular destinations for tourists are metropolitan area of Bogotá, noted for its museums, colonial cathedrals, nightlife, nearby mountains, and historical sites; and Cartagena, a coastal city with a rich and accessible history, also known for its Caribbean beaches and a well-developed tourism infrastructure. The cities of Medellín and Cali also are seeing growth in tourism. The U.S. State Department, however, has warned against travel to some other other parts of the country, such as certain areas bordering Brazil, Ecuador, and Venezuela, because of crime and terrorism.

History

Colombia's modern history began with the arrival of Spanish explorers in 1499, and the Spanish began settling the region in the early 16th century. By the early 1700s, Bogotá became one of the leading centers of Spanish rule. Colombia as a separate country, originally called New Granada, was formed in 1830. Although Colombia usually has been ruled by civilian governments, its history has been marked by violent internal conflict. Among them has been the conflicts tied to insurgent movements such as the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (National Liberation Army) and the larger Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia). The Colombian government and FARC signed a peace agreement in 2016, although some FARC dissidents and various groups continue to engage guerrilla activities.

Economy

Colombia has embraced free trade to bolster its economy, but its unemployment rate remained above 9 percent as of 2018. About a third of its residents live in poverty. Oil and coal are the biggest exports.

Trivia

Flag of Colombia
Flag of Colombia.

The island department (like a province or state) of San Andrés y Providencia is closer to Nicaragua than to the Colombian mainland. English is widely spoken there and is a co-official language.