During the pre-Colombian period, the area now known as Colombia was inhabited by indigenous peoples who were primitive hunters or nomadic farmers. The Chibchas, who lived in the Bogotá region, were the largest indigenous group.
The Spanish sailed along the north coast of Colombia as early as 1500; however, their first permanent settlement, at Santa Marta, was not established until 1525. In 1549, the area was a Spanish colony with the capital at Santa Fe de Bogotá. In 1717, Bogotá became the capital of the Viceroyalty of New Granada, which included what are now Venezuela, Ecuador and Panama. The city became one of the principal administrative centers of the Spanish possessions in the New World, along with Lima and Mexico City.
On July 20, 1810, the citizens of Bogotá created the first representative council to defy Spanish authority. Full independence was proclaimed in 1813, and in 1819 the Republic of Greater Colombia was formed.
The new Republic of Greater Colombia included all the territory of the former Viceroyalty. Simon Bolívar was elected its first president and Francisco de Paula Santander, vice president. Two political parties grew out of conflicts between the followers of Bolívar and Santander and their political visions - the Conservatives and the Liberals - and have since dominated Colombian politics.
Colombia's history also has been characterized by widespread, violent conflict. Two civil wars resulted from bitter rivalry between the Conservative and Liberal parties: The War of a Thousand Days (1899-1902) claimed an estimated 100,000 lives and La Violencia (1946-1957) cost another 300,000 Colombians.
Colombia still struggles with violent conflict as drug trafficking and corruption run rampant in the country. According to SIPRI (el Instituto Internacional de Investigaciòn Sobre Paz), the internal conflict in Colombia is among the 10 most bloody in the world.
Drug trafficking continues to grow, and presidents resolve to fight. Former President Álvaro Uribe survived 15 assassination attempts before coming to office.
Despite decades of internal conflict and drug-related security challenges, Colombia maintains relatively strong democratic institutions characterized by peaceful, transparent elections and the protection of civil liberties.
Source: The World Factbook, 2014.
The typical school year runs from February to November. Registration and yearly fees must be paid for public schools. However, costs are lower than they would be in private schools. Public school fees cost around 4 percent of the fees for private schools. In urban areas, schools tend to be overcrowded. In rural areas, facilities are inadequate and teachers may not show up for classes.
By law, Colombia must spend at least 10 percent of its annual budget on education. Financing and supervision of public education is the joint responsibility of the Ministry of Education, the departments, and the municipalities. The central government also pays teachers' salaries.
In 2001, about 36 percent of children between the ages of 3 and 5 were enrolled in some type of preschool program. Primary school enrollment in 2003 was estimated at about 87 percent of age-eligible students. The same year, secondary school enrollment was about 55 percent of age-eligible students. Dropout rates are high at the primary level, particularly in rural areas, where the students frequently live at considerable distances from their schools. Almost all secondary schools are in the larger cities; thus, little educational opportunity is open to rural children, except those reached by educational radio and television broadcasting.
The constitution states there is no official church or religion but it adds that the State "is not atheist or agnostic, nor indifferent to Colombians' religious sentiment." Some interpret this to mean that the State unofficially sanctions a privileged position for Roman Catholicism, which was the country's official religion until the adoption of the 1991 constitution.
The constitution recognizes parents' right to choose the type of education their children receive, including religious instruction. It also states that no student shall be forced to receive religious education in public schools. However, the Roman Catholic Church and other religious groups may provide religious instruction in public schools to students who wish to receive it or may establish parochial schools. The Roman Catholic Church has a unique agreement with the government to provide education in rural areas that have no state-run schools. These schools are tax-exempt.
Source: International Religious Freedom Report, released in 2012 by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.
Holidays and Festivals
Colombia has produced many fine novelists, such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1982. Colombia has a saying: "There are 200 poets for every 100 inhabitants in Colombia!"
Colombia is also known for its internationally acclaimed artists (such as Botero and Obregon), its many art museums and studios, and outstanding architecture. Folk and ancient Indian cultures also contribute to a variety of arts and crafts.
Folk music and dances, opera, classical, modern and jazz are popular. Singers such as Carols Vives, Shakira and Juanes have been influential.
Sports and Games
Independence Day, July 20: Celebrated with parades.
Boyaca Battle Day, Aug. 7: Colombia's independence day.
Christmas, Dec. 25: In evangelical families, parents generally give gifts to their children during a special Christmas supper, which includes a special custard called natilla and donuts, called buñuelos, along with other sweet foods.
Visit the Compassion blog to read posts about Christmas in Colombia and traditional Christmas traditions and celebrations in Colombia.
Football (soccer) is Colombia's main sport, with major league games played throughout the year. Tennis is popular; most hotels have facilities. Mountain climbing begins 30 miles east of Santa Marta, with peaks of up to nearly 19,000 feet. A major cycle race, the Tour of Colombia, takes place every March and April. Boxing and bullfighting (the latter at Bogotá, Cali, Medellín, Manizales and Cartagena) are also popular sports. Golf clubs allow visitors to use their facilities, and good skiing can be found on the slopes of Nevado del Ruiz (17,700 feet), 30 miles from Manizales.
Colombians eat rice, chicken, beans and fruit.
Colombians make juice from every fruit, including watermelon, cantaloupe, pineapple and papaya. They serve the juice with a plato typical (typical plate), which includes pork or beef, rice and potatoes, guacamole and fruit.
Compassion in Colombia
- ¿Como le va? (How's it going?)
- ¿Como está? (How are you?)
- Buenos dias. (Good day.)
Colombia Facts and Figures
Compassion began its ministry in Colombia in 1974, when the Child Sponsorship Program was started. In 2005, the Leadership Development Program began, followed by the Child Survival Program in 2013.
Child Sponsorship Program
Children age 11 and younger meet at the child development center 9 hours a week (Monday through Friday). Children age 12 and older participate in center activities for 6 hours on Saturdays and receive vocational training, such as computer maintenance, beauty skills, tailoring, baking, shoemaking, etc.
Each child receives two lunches and two snacks per week. Lunch consists of rice, beans and juice; snack consists of biscuits and juice. The implementing church partners generally provide only two lunches a week because there is food available at the schools. However, if the children do not receive food at school, then the church partners provide lunch every day.
Visit the Compassion blog to to learn more about our work Colombia and to read a post about living in Colombia, by experiencing a day in the life of a sponsored child named Ingrid.
46,245,297 (2014 estimate)
||Christian 90% (Roman Catholic), other 10%
Definition: Age 15 and over can read and write.
|Percentage of population using improved drinking water sources
|Percentage of population using adequate sanitation facilities
||Tropical along coast and eastern plains; cooler in highlands
|Percentage of population urbanized
||75% (2010 estimate)
||Male: 72.08 years
Female: 78.61 years
|Under-5 mortality rate
||18/1,000 (2012 estimate)
|GDP per capita
||$11,100 (2013 estimate)
||Colombian peso (COP)
|Number of people living with HIV/AIDS
||146,500 (2012 estimate)
|Percentage of population living below $1.25 a day
||8% (2007-11 study)
Sources for facts: The World Factbook, 2014; The State of the World's Children, 2014