Your lodgings are booked, your boarding pass is fidgeting on the display of yet another new mobile, and that “Learn Spanish Pronto” app is now successfully doing the rounds at the office. Without a doubt, you are as prepared for your forthcoming fantastic tour in Colombia as the first astronauts were before being jettisoned into space for the very first time, regardless of the fact that they were either just a dog or a chimp in a spacesuit.
However, as any seasoned world traveler will tell you, you can never be too prepared. So, before your Colombian travels, and certainly before you cancel the milk, turn the gas off, and tell your only really trusted neighbor to be on the lookout for parcels (bloody Amazon…), take a few moments to consider what follows: 20, yes 20, truly weird facts about Colombia to amaze you, intrigue you, and basically, gen you up to the max.
Be amazed, be intrigued, be beguiled, be a little grossed out.
Yes, you can never be too prepared. So, what follows will sit on your shoulder like an all-knowing and all-seeing angel as you head off into the stunning beauty, natural wonder and sheer salsa-infused magic that will be your tour in Colombia. Let’s begin…
#1 Pitiful Columbus
Colombia is named after the intrepid explorer, navigator and somewhat unfortunate man that was Christopher Columbus, who sadly died not knowing he had actually discovered the great New World (and not just some tip of distant Asia). He wasn’t alone, however – nobody else back then knew it either.
In fact (see what I did there?), he’s actually quoted as once saying, “For the execution of the voyage to the Indies, I did not make use of intelligence, mathematics or maps.” Well, he deserved everything he got then, which wasn’t much. So, at least, you can head off on your travels to Colombia knowing you’re far better prepared than he ever was.
Never seeing the true wealth normally bestowed on those who make such discoveries, Columbus died pretty broke and in serious pain from a condition called “reactive arthritis,” which is actually curable now. If ever a guy needed a time machine….
#2 “Duty Before Life”
It’s the law in Colombia that all radio and public television broadcast companies play the national anthem twice a day – this is done at 6am (when it gets light) and 6pm (when it gets dark). Handy for telling the time if you’re between mobiles.
The Colombian national anthem – O, Unfading Glory! – is a tale of daring-do to say the least, focusing on the country’s fight for independence. So, prior to your Colombian tour, why not learn the words? You can find the spirited lyrics to it here.
#3 Bring On The Festivities
Colombia does feel-good festivals like some countries, sadly, do military parades – seriously impressive and verging on nuclear. Did you know that Colombia has…
- the biggest salsa festival
- the biggest flower parade
- the second biggest carnival, and
- one of the biggest theater festivals…
In. The. Whole. Wide. World? Namely….
- The World Salsa Festival – Festival Mundial de Salsa – held annually in Cali, Colombia
- The Flower Festival – Feria de Las Flores – held annually in Medellin, Colombia
- Barranquilla’s Carnival – Carnaval de Barranquilla – held annually in, unsurprisingly, Barranquilla, Colombia, and
- The Ibero-American Theater Festival, held biannually in Bogota, Colombia
If you’re wondering about the nuclear analogy, you simply haven’t been on the streets of Barranquilla come carnival time. Coinciding the dates of your tour in Colombia with either Medellin’s Flower Festival or the Barranquilla Carnival will add a spectacular dimension to your trip.
#4 Sexy Big-Assed Ants (Yes, You Read That Right)
Google the Latin phrase “Atta Laevigata” and you’ll find one of Colombia’s traditional street delicacies – big-assed ants (basically, ants with junk-in-the-trunk) or hormigas culonas, as the locals would say.
Fried and sold on street corners as salty, nutritious snacks, it’s traditionally believed that these big-bottomed girls (yes, they are all female – sorry) of the ant world are actually aphrodisiacs if eaten. The truth? Hmm, we’ll let you decide…
#5 Man’s Best Friend
While we’re on the subject of intimacy and such things, don’t be surprised to hear that men from the Caribbean coast, known as costeños, like their donkeys. No, you don’t understand. You really don’t… They really like their donkeys. It is more than mere folklore and rumor that costeños may, just may, actually experience their first intimate moments with a slightly bigger-eared partner than you would normally expect.
#6 For Many, Gabo Is God
One of Colombia’s most successful and best exports has to be the literary genius and works of the great Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1927-2014), Nobel Prize Winner and best buddy of one Fidel Castro. His wonderful books are the biggest sellers globally in the Spanish language bar only the Bible, thus making him one of the very few to have only ever been outsold by God.
Writer’s Note: Why not take another companion (in the form of an easy-to-carry book) on your tour in Colombia? This particular writer recommends either Love in a Time of Cholera or One Hundred Years of Solitude, both by Colombia’s beloved Gabo.
#7 Our Waters, Our Treasure, Our Rules….
In 2015, Colombia’s President Santos announced the discovery of the infamous San Jose Spanish galleon, sunk centuries ago by the British off the coast of Cartagena, and, arguably, the “Holy Grail” of treasure lost at sea.
Unsurprisingly, as it’s worth billions and billions, the Spanish want it back. Equally unsurprisingly, considering the hundreds of years of being looted by that particular colonial power, Colombia replied, “You’re having a laugh, aren’t you?” Clearly, they didn’t say that. Put in a much more diplomatic way, certainly, but amounting to the same thing. Cue even more lawyers…
#8 Moving Mountains
Obviously, a large part of the reason for your tour in Colombia can be summed up in just one word…Nature. You’ve read about the magnificent biodiversity, the stunning landscapes, and the unparalleled wildlife, so here’s something you may not know.
The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is the world’s highest coastal mountain range, standing at a majestic 13,000 metres high, touching both the sky and the ocean in the same breath. And it’s moving. Due to it’s geology, it has moved over a thousand miles…. Ok, in the last 170 million years or so, but it’s still moving.
Oh, and the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta has been declared the most irreplaceable concentration of biodiversity on the planet! Regardless of that fact, it’s still moving….
#9 Pass The Bucket
You may hail from wet and windy Washington D.C., or the Highlands of Scotland, or the Canadian Rockies, and think you know rain. No, you don’t. The isolated Pacific coastal region of Choco endures the most rainfall you’ll ever encounter if you spend your whole life wandering the entire Earth with a measuring jar. To narrow it down for you, the town of Loro in Choco swims around in an average of 520 inches of rainfall every year. That’s over 43 feet. 43 feet?!!!
#10 We Don’t Worry….
You’ll have seen those lists online, for sure – the happiest countries in the world. Yes, they are entirely subjective (and yes, they never include the country you’re actually living in at the time), but Colombia is always on them. Guaranteed. Ever wondered why?
Colombians, young or old, man or woman, are incredibly friendly, always happy to sit and drink and converse, laugh, dance, and, regardless of the poverty level of many, see life for what it is – to be enjoyed.
If you do reluctantly get on the plane home after your tour in Colombia (and some don’t, you know, preferring to extend their stay for an unlimited time), do one thing. Take some of that with you, that way of embracing life for what it is, and share it around when you get back. You never know. Maybe one day, your country will be on one of those subjective happiest lists.
#11 “Bound By Wild Desire”
Colombia can be hot. Very hot. Not surprising when you consider it’s proximity to the equator. Certainly, not surprising when you consider the earth at your feet is being heated from below too. Colombia lies on the Pacific Ring of Fire (no, nothing to do with good ol’ Johnny Cash), making it susceptible to frequent earthquakes and volcanic activity.
#12 More Spanish Than Spain
Thanks to your “Learn Spanish Pronto” app, you have prepared linguistically for your tour in Colombia and its forthcoming adventures. Apart from certain tribes inhabiting the Amazon Basin, everyone in Colombia speaks Spanish. Officially – 99%. And that’s actually a higher percentage than mainland Spain!
#13 Simply Unique
Endemic species are a bit of an artform in Colombia, proudly boasting the most in the world. Therefore, much of what you see here, flora and fauna-wise, you can’t witness anywhere else in the world. It’s simply unique.
#14 “Father, Believe Me, It Was A Dolphin….”
One Colombian species that is not endemic, however, but one you will definitely wish to see on your Colombian tour is the pink dolphin. The Amazon river dolphin, also known as the pink river dolphin, may well be children’s dreams come true, but it is an intrinsic part of the ancient folklore that still exists today in the tribal communities of the Amazon.
Many believe the pink dolphin to be a mystical beast of the waters. For example, nightmares for life await anyone who dares to look into its eyes. Personally, you can take that with a pinch of salty, fried hormigas culona. This one, though…
Ancient folklore has it that the pink dolphin rises from the river at night, in the form of a handsome and virile young man. He quickly (for obvious reasons) seduces a young village girl, successfully impregnating her, only to slip below the Amazon’s waters before daybreak, once again in dolphin form.
It could explain away the high number of unexplained young pregnancies in such communities, could it not?
#15 Just Like Watching Brazil
Yes, your writer is well aware that we’ve already mentioned Colombia’s amazing biodiversity, but did you know it’s the second most biodiverse country on the planet, only after Brazil – a whopping 10 times its size? You can thank the jungles for that, which cover over 50% of Colombia itself, but houses a mere 3% of the population. Yes, mostly Native Indians.
#16 Look Into The Eyes
Be warned – Colombian men always look into the eyes of the person whose hand they are shaking. It’s cultural, not testosteronal. Is that a word? Oh, apparently not. Anyway, unlike Colombian women, who can regularly be seen smiling and looking into the eyes of the Miss World audience as they walk off with the coveted prize. Again.
#17 One Small Step
At the far north-eastern corner of Colombia, and if your Colombian tour itinerary can fit it in, you’ll find lunar landscapes. Or something very similar, if you believe the NASA pictures. Say hello to La Guajira, mile upon mile of eerily barren desert that suddenly transforms into romantic, windswept dunes, which, in turn, transform seamlessly into the crashing waves of the Caribbean. Breath gone. Taken away.
#18 Colombia’s Bounty
Colombians don’t just eat ants with Beyonce-style butts – let’s make that very clear. Totally unsurprisingly, Colombia is home to its own backyard Garden of Eden. To fully appreciate what nature’s bounty has to offer here, during your Colombian tour, take a stroll around the many local markets and see the plethora of exotic fruits that await you. Yes, you’ll see the usual suspects, but try the more unusual – granadilla, pitaya amarilla, feijoa, zapote and mango azucar. You’ll not be disappointed.
#19 The Colombian Pyramid
Given the right GPS coordinates, you may well think you’re not in Colombia at all, but have somehow been magically transported to the ancient Land of the Pharaohs – Egypt. Yes, that Egypt, with the pyramids and camels and that stuff.
The Cerro Tusa is a large hill located in the Venecia municipality of Antioquia, Colombia. It’s a beautifully and naturally constructed pyramid, considered to be the highest such geological formation in the world. One of its mysteries is The Goddess of the Mirror, a woman’s face that can be seen intermittently portrayed on one of its sides due to the refraction of the sun’s rays. A great addition to your tour in Colombia, if you can fit it in with everything else.
#20 The Staring Pig
Here already? Ok, last up – lechona. Delicious slow-roasted pork, stuffed with yellow rice, green onion, yellow peas and vibrant spices. Agreed – delicious. What you might not find so tempting is there’s a good chance it’ll be staring at you as you eat it.
The presentation of the pork is in situ, as crime scene forensic scientists would remark. In other words, you get the whole pig – the big head, the rounded snout, the pointy ears, the whole glorious specimen. Looking at you. It doesn’t stop from the first scoop of its insides to your final mouthful…
If you’d like to make the dish yourself minus the head, either before or after staring at the real thing on your Colombian travels, you can find a great recipe for Lechona Tolimense right here.
Your Colombian Adventure Starts Here
This article hasn’t exactly lifted the lid on Colombia’s treasure chest of national secrets, but it has gone some way to introducing you to its peoples, its cultures, its magnificent natural delights, its ancient folklores, and its junk-in-the-trunk ants, It certainly won’t have made you an expert, but it most definitely will have put you one step ahead of the rest before you embark on your Colombian tour. For example, you can now freely make conversation with male coastal inhabitants by pointing at their donkey and saying, “Now, that’s a keeper.”
Whether you get to experience (within reason) any of the wonders listed above on your Colombian travels, or you actually enjoy some new, never-before-witnessed adventures, you are guaranteed to leave with a whole host of great memories of great people, great places and great times. Enjoy your tour in Colombia and remember to pack a little of this country’s joy of life into your belongings for the journey home.
If you’ve visited Colombia before, what little, rare and shiny gems of information did you find that you’d like to pass on to your traveling brethren? What was the weirdest thing that you discovered? Feel free to drop a comment below – all are much appreciated.
Truly happy travels – with a little weirdness thrown in!