Ethnic Map of Colombia



Photos of the Old Country

I have always been interested in old photographs and even though they aren’t interactive and surely don’t fit in with the Web 2.0 and beyond, they have a way of speaking to the viewer. I study any old photos I come across as if I could somehow study the places and the lives of the people in them. Despite the fact that these mini portraits come in black and white, I wonder if their lives were full of color and if their mostly stern looks were more telling of posing etiquette rather than of their day to day experiences.

Colombia has an interesting history due to its geography and as I wrote here, that geography led to a diversification of customs, habits and tastes among the Colombian people. This fact makes looking through photos of the old country an interesting experience because you can imagine the myriad of microcausms of Colombian society that existed back then. These pockets of towns that peppered the divided landscape of Colombia most likely led to the regional pride which can be found in many of Colombia’s 33 departments today.

Here are a few ways to look at photos of Colombia’s past.

Biblioteca Virtual (press ‘siguiente’)
Skyscraper City

Domestic Air Travel in Colombia

When traveling within Colombia, you have two basic options…catch the bus or a plane. Thanks to a handful of airline operators hailing from Colombia, the competition between them means a constant flow of travel deals for you. Below, I will list their destinations maps, promotions pages, domestic airport codes and which major Colombian airlines operate in each location.

The Top 4

Avianca is the biggest of the bunch and flies to 49 destinations while its subsidaries fly to an additional 234 destinations. Try this link for visualizing your Colombia trip and this link for their travel promotions page.

AeroRepública is Colombia’s second biggest airline and manages 19 destinations with 12 of those consisting of Colombian cities. When combined with their partnership with Copa Airlines, their overall reach adds up to 51 destinations. Here is their trip visualization link as well as the link to their travel promotions page.

Aires comes in third with 31 destinations, 25 of which are in Colombia. See their routes here and their promotions page here.

Satena finds itself in fourth place. Try here for their route map and here are their promotions. By taking a quick look at their destinations, you can see they reach a lot of smaller cities (a dropdown list is here).

If you are still looking for more options, there’s Easyfly, which has been called Colombia’s low-fare airline.

Who Flies Where

Apartadó (APO) – Aires, Satena
Araracuara (ACR) – Satena
Arauca (AUC) – Satena
Armenia (AXM) – Avianca, Aires
Bahia Solano (BSC) – Satena
Barrancabermeja (EJA) – Avianca
Barranquilla (BAQ) – Avianca, Aero Republica, Aires
Bogotá (BOG) – Avianca, Aero Republica, Aires, Satena
Bucaramanga (BGA) – Avianca, Aero Republica, Aires, Satena
Buenaventura (BUN) – Satena
Cali (CLO) – Avianca, Aero Republica, Aires, Satena
Cartagena (CTG) – Avianca, Aero Republica, Aires
Corozal (CZU) – Satena
Cúcuta (CUC) – Avianca, Aero Republica, Aires, Satena
El Yopal (EYP) – Satena
Florencia (FLA) – Aires, Satena
Guapi (GPI) – Satena
Ibagué (IBE) – Avianca, Aires
Inirida (PDA) – Satena
Ipiales (IPI) – Satena
La Chorrera (LCR) – Satena
La Macarena (LMC) – Satena
La Pedrera (LPD) – Satena
Leticia (LET) – Aero Republica, Aires, Satena
Manizales (MZL) – Avianca, Aires
Medellín (MDE) – Avianca, Aero Republica, Aires
Medellín (EOH) – Aires, Satena
Mitu (MVP) – Satena
Montería (MTR) – Avianca, Aero Republica, Aires, Satena
Neiva (NVA) – Avianca, Aires, Satena
Nuqui (NQU) – Satena
Ocana (OCV) – Satena
Pasto (PSO) – Satena
Pereira (PEI) – Avianca, Aero Republica, Aires
Popayán (PPN) – Avianca, Aires, Satena
Providencia (PVA) – Satena
Puerto Asís (PUU) – Aires, Satena
Puerto Carreno (PCR) – Satena
Puerto Leguizam (LQM) – Satena
Quibdó (UIB) – Aires, Satena
Riohacha (RCH) – Avianca
San Andrés (ADZ) – Avianca, Aero Republica, Aires, Satena
San Jose de Guaviaro (SJE) – Satena
Santa Marta (SMR) – Avianca, Aero Republica, Aires
San Vicente del Caguan (SVI) – Satena
Saravena (RVE) – Satena
Tame (TME) – Satena
Tumaco (TCO) – Avianca, Satena
Valledupar (VUP) – Avianca, Aires
Villagarzon (VGZ) – Satena
Villavicencio (VVC) – Aires, Satena
Yopal (EYP) – Aires

My 10 days in Colombia – Observations

Last week, I got back from a 10 day trip to Medellín and I’d like to share a few observations about my experience. A few weeks ago, I was reminded of a ticket I had purchased last year to Medellín but didn’t end up taking so instead I paid to keep it as credit for a future flight. Well, the time came and I went, without putting much thought into it at all.

Due to such immediacy, upon arrival I didn’t quite have a clear view of why I was there or of what I was doing, but I went with the flow. During the 10 days, I stayed with a friend in the Centro and proceeded to show myself around town in the days to come. Details such as ‘it’s not vacation for anyone else’ were quickly brought to my attention and in the end, colored my experience of Medellín as a whole. Luckily, I did meet a friend of my friend who had a more liberal schedule and so we hung out quite a bit as the days went on and at this point, I’m pretty sure I could even give walking tours of the City of Eternal Spring…minus Santa Elena, which I didn’t have time for unfortunately.

On to the observations, shall we?


You’re going to hear “pues” all the time, before sentences, after them, and in the middle of them. Sentences you didn’t think could have pues in them, do. There’s a distinct rhythym also of people from Medellín and it’s catchy, after a while you want to speak like they do. It’s kind of low-key and stressed if I had to describe it in some fashion. Another phrase you may very well hear is “que charro” which means that something is funny. Also, parce (for parcero) is used quite a bit. Yet another one is the famous Colombian phrase “que hubo?” for what’s up or what happened, although it seems like one word when pronounced.


The women in Medellín (called paisas) are said to be the most beautiful in Colombia. Perhaps I need to travel a bit more within the country to confirm or deny that but I will tell you this, they are very beautiful. Part of it comes naturally while the other part is cultural. Colombian women, for the most part, will not leave the house without looking put-together (dressed nicely, stylish, perfumed, etc). Some might say that this would mean they are into the phsyical to an extreme degree but after some thinking, I found another way to see it. Perhaps this is just normal to them and not something like “I need to place phsyical appearance above everything else”. Looking good in Colombia is just part of life, like brushing your teeth.


I’m not sure what to say about the men but I can say that there is definitely a style that almost everyone has. This includes a fitted t-shirt with stripes or a funky design on it or both, a mullet hairstyle (often with the sides buzzed) and jeans. The hairstyle is the most noticable though and I would guess that about 85% of Colombia’s male youth have it.


Cars don’t follow any rules except to follow no rules. Confusing? Let’s put it this way, if you go to Colombia and try to follow all the rules of the road, you will end up getting others and yourself in an accident. Go with the flow. Buses pretty much follow suit and if you’re lucky enough to take the Circular (I think it’s number 192) into Laureles, you’ll almost be thrown from the bus…so hold on! Also, the bus drivers leave the doors open while they drive, generally before and after stops. What I meant by buses follow suit is I witnessed about three different accidents with the buses I was riding on, where one bus would clip the other, often times taking their side view mirrors clear off. After a very quick chat between drivers, off we went.  No matter if it’s a bus or a car or a motorcycle, getting the green light to cross the street doesn’t mean you should nonchalantly cross to the other side. Always be aware of where the cars are around you as a pedestrian. In practice, pedestrians don’t exactly have rights…something I actually prefer in most cases solely because it keeps the city moving as no one is waiting for anyone else.

Food & Drink

Do not miss out on the easy stuff! This includes pandebono, arepas (especially arepas de chocolo con mozzarella), and the buñuelos. They are all fantastic! In the morning, don’t forget that there is always a place on the street for mango slices (although you need to know they usually put salt and lime juice on it). As for drinks, don’t miss the jugo de lulo or the jugo de mora.


Different from the homeless in the US, who generally sit on the corner of intersections with a sign asking for change, the homeless in Medellín (and I’m guessing most of Colombia) just lie there on the sidewalk doing absolutely nothing (I noticed the same thing in Brazil). There’s a difference between homeless and poor, is what I’m getting at. The poor people on the other hand are hard-workers and will find any one of a million ways to make a little here and there.


Something I noticed in many areas of Colombian life is when it comes to purchases, single-serving is very popular. Want to make a phone call? No need to have a cell phone plan, just ask an omnipresent minutes vendor on the street to make a call. Ok, that’s just one example, but I’m blanking on the other ones at the moment. Also, things like riding the metro are simplified economically. One can take the metro from one end of the city to the next and even hop onto the metrocable line up the hillside for the US price of about 65 cents. This is very different from the metros here in the States where you pay the lower price for the lower number of stops but with each extra stop, you pay more. What else? Medellín has quite a lot of plazas and parks and things to do in general for families during leisure time. Speaking of such, museums are pretty much all free, which is great.

If I think of other observations, I’ll be sure to add them to the list. All in all though, I enjoyed my trip and I left with a new appreciation for Medellín and Colombian hospitality.

Colombian stereotypes…by Colombians

I’m reading a few history books on Colombia at the moment, although I’ve read one before, I like to see the same thing from different viewpoints. The one I’ll reference now is called Colombia: Portrait of Unity and Diversity by Harvey Kline, which paints an interesting portrait of 1983 Colombia.

In one section early on, he quickly makes mention of how Colombians see themselves and that is what I would like to write about.

“A Colombian can usually identify the regional background of another by his way of speaking, and quite often has a stereotype of the way the individual will act. The stereotype might be that pastusos (people from Pasto) are dumb and are the brunt of jokes, as are certain ethnic groups in the United States; that cachacos (people from the Bogotá area) are cold, legalistic and very status conscious; or that paisas (people from Antioquia) are religious, hard-working, and have many children.

Costeños (people from the Caribbean coast) are stereotyped as happy, carefree, capable of drinking large amounts of rum and dancing all night, but not capable of speaking a decent Spanish with final s’s pronounced. They do not take the Roman Catholic religion seriously, nor do they take Colombian politics as seriously as their compatriots from the Andean region. Whether or not these stereotypes are empirically valid, they are part of the mythology that makes up the Colombian world view. “

Most of these stereotypes, minus the one about those from Pasto, I have heard of through the many Colombians I have come across. Never has there been any type of hatred between these groups as witnessed by me but I’m sure the author is correct in his assumption that someone from one area might stereotype how someone from another might act. I couldn’t help but notice there was no mention of the caleños (or those from Cali) but if anyone knows of the apparent stereotype for them, let me know and I’ll add it.

Juan Valdez – the man, the myth, the legend

“You know Juan Valdez: He’s been the rugged, mustachioed icon of Colombian coffee since 1960. That’s when a Madison Avenue ad agency, realizing the potential of campesino cachet, invented a name even gringos could pronounce, and hired an actor to play the role of a humble coffee grower. The TV commercials asked, “Where do the beans come from?” and Juan Valdez would answer, strolling through lushly planted hills, “I hand-picked them myself.” – Salon

Well, that last line is not entirely true. The fictional character represents a $1.7 billion dollar industry made of over 550,000 Colombian cafeteros (or coffee growers) which makes Colombia the third largest coffee exporter in the world. I’m not talking about robusta beans either, I’m talking 100% arabica (pronounced air-rab-ika).

Let’s go over the difference real quickly. Robusta is all caffine and no flavor, it is grown at lower altitudes, in coarser soil and can be harvested year-round. Arabica is quite the opposite as it is mostly strong in flavor and not in caffine, it can only be grown at high altitudes in fine soil in addition to only being harvested once a year.

Now, back to Mr. Valdez. The Juan Valdez character is used as an ingredient brand, to specifically denote coffee beans that are only grown and harvested in Colombia. Part of the advertising campaign includes educating consumers about the merits of Colombian-grown and harvested coffee beans, “including how soil components, altitude, varieties and harvesting methods create good flavor.” The National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia is entirely owned and controlled by Colombia’s coffee farmers.

Not just coffee

The brand proved so successful that coffee shops were opened throughout Colombia in 2002 sporting the logo everyone recognizes. During the 60’s and 70’s, a few outlets were opened in Argentina and Spain but closed in the mid-eighties and Juan Valdez as a coffeehouse didn’t make a comeback until Starbucks had proven successful as a worldwide model.

In early 2004, the Colombian government put up $2.2 billion dollars to fund a US operation as well as coffeehouses in Japan and Europe. This initial offering was helped along by Colombia’s state-run bank which put up $100 million of their own. Nowadays, the signature cafés can be found in Washington DC, New York, Seattle, Philadelphia and Madrid, Spain. More shops are scheduled for Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Toronto, Boston, Barcelona, Valencia, London, Paris, Frankfurt, Amsterdam in Europe, and in Latin America.

Talking specifics, with a pound of coffee from Starbucks at $1.20 several years back, a Colombian farmer would only expect to see about one penny per cup sold. By offering their own brand backed by their own coffee growers, each farmer receives 4 to 5 cents per cup sold. That’s a significant jump.

Other fun facts, etc

In 2005, the US magazine Advertising Week saw the Juan Valdez icon voted the most important advertising icon in the US, beating out the likes of Ronald McDonald, the Energizer bunny and Nike.

For the Jim Carrey film ‘Bruce Almighty’, the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation paid $1.5 million for a spot in the film featuring the famous Colombian character in an effort to revitalize the image. A poor-quality clip can be found here.

Here’s a short news clip on Juan Valdez vs. Starbucks.

How the Andes influenced a nation

The 3 Cordilleras

In Colombia lies the start of the Andes, which are formed within Colombia by three mountain ranges or cordilleras (pictured below), as they are called in Colombia (after the word for ‘rope’ in Spanish). Going from left to right on a map, one will find the Western Cordillera followed by the Central Cordillera, both of which border each other, and ending with the Eastern Cordillera (in the middle of the picture below). Straight-forward, right? Well, they currently play and have historically played an important role in the country and I’ll tell you a few reasons why in a minute.

The Cordillera Occidental runs adjacent to the Pacific coast and includes the city of Cali; the Cordillera Central, runs between the Cauca and Magdalena river valleys (to the west and east respectively) and includes the cities of Medellín, Manizales and Pereira; and the Cordillera Oriental, extending north east to the Guajira Peninsula, it includes Bogotá, Bucaramanga and Cúcuta. Peaks in the Cordillera Occidental exceed 13,000 ft, and in the Cordillera Central and Cordillera Oriental they reach 18,000 ft. At 8,500 ft, Bogotá is the highest city of its size in the world.



Their Influence

The mountainous relief of Colombia’s topography has made each region have its own identity with each their own customs, speech patterns, musical styles and even differing temperments and interests. While some say this stunted the growth of a country and created an abnormal notion of nationality, others look at the present and even towards the future in believing such differences have created a much richer culture.

Advantage-wise, Colombia in general doesn’t have seasons and without the cordilleras, the intertropical zone the country lies within, would create a very hot and humid place. The diversity of each mountain range and the valleys that exist between them also create varying foods and fauna, as well as the previously mentioned climate differences. There is also a reason Colombia finds itself number one in the exportation of precious stones and that is thanks to the richness of the minerals found within the cordilleras, especially the Eastern range.

In terms of trade, such an exchange of goods and traditions was made much more difficult a task due to the unique geography of the country. In reading the history of conquest made by the Spaniards, one finds that disease was only part of the reason for their initial failure in subduing the native population and settling the land. The “too many hands in the cookie jar” metaphor works to best describe the countless attempts made by different men, all who held the same dream, which lead to further failures to successfully colonize Nueva Grenada, as Colombia was once called. Furthermore, in addition to disease, both biological and the kind born of greed, the conquerers had to contend with finding themselves being conquered at times by Colombia’s unforgiving physical features.

Be careful in Barranquilla

During my trip to Barranquilla, we drove in under heavy rain and found the city overtaken by ‘arroyos’ or rivers formed when it rains and the water flows down the inclined streets. Most Colombian cities are laid-out in a grid fashion with Calles (East-West) and Carreras (North-South) so while this makes getting places fairly easy, it also makes arroyos possible…well, that and the fact that the country has cities ( Barranquilla takes 1st prize) with some hills just like any other place in the world. The solution? Go left to right or right to left and not up nor down…that means it’s not uncommon to see cars on the wrong side of the road during arroyos. The following video shows what can happen when it rains there…

“Barranquilla in Colombia is the most important coastal city with a distinct characteristic: no rainwater drainage systems, so whenever it rains, the whole city floods with dangerous fast running rivers (called arroyos) replacing roads. On the following videos, taxis, cars and even buses float by on the streets as other citizens try to lend a helping hand to keep them from getting away.

The dangerous situations arising from the “arroyos”, are a result of bad city planning, no drainage systems, not enough clearance on the sides of creeks before building and the risky behaviour of those who try to brave the current.  Following, some videos of these impressive forces of nature that take control over the most important city of the Caribbean coast.” – Source (more of the article and videos here)