• Colombia!

    Colombia: Caribbean Sea coast. Go Now!

    Although most of the people live inland, Colombia also has its share of coastline along the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea (pictured). Go Now!

  • Ecuador!

    Ecuador: Sally Lightfoot Crab. Go Now!

    The Galapagos Islands and Ecuador are home to incredible wildlife, such as the famous Galapagos Turtle and the lesser known, but more common Red Rock or Sally Lightfoot crab (pictured). Begin Your Journey!

  • Chile!

    Chile: Torres del Paine National Park. Go Now!

    The Andes dominate much of Chile, including the breath-taking Torres del Paine National Park (pictured). However, the country also hosts the world's driest desert and a thriving metropolis. Begin Your Journey!

  • Venezuela!

    Venezuela: Los Roques. Go Now!

    Rooted in Europe, Venezuela boasts an impressive history, culture, and beauty, including the Caribbean Coast (pictured). Explore Venezuela!

  • Bolivia!

    Bolivia: Salt flats. Go Now!

    This hidden gem is full of surprises, from the impressive salt flats (pictured) to the migrating flamingos. It also clings to the most historic indigenous culture on the continent. Explore Bolivia!

History of Colombia

WARNING: Drug trafficking violence is a risk in Colombia, please read this travel warning before going!

Sometime between 13,000-11,000 BC the first people arrived to what is today Colombia, with archeological evidence dating proving human settlement by 11,000 BC at the latest by the el Abra people. These early settlers arrived via Panama and their later ancestors moved south and east to settle the rest of the South America. These people lived simple lives as they hunted, gathered, fished, and later also began farming.

Over time these people became more and more organized in numerous fields. As they grew politically and consolidated power, the closely related Taironas and Muiscas rose to dominate the region. Both of these groups of people had fairly advanced civilizations and social order.

The Taironas had a religious belief system that involved the worship of a higher god and numerous religious rituals, often divided by sex. The people commonly meditated and met together for religion, especially the men. The people also allowed divorce, a fairly uncommon practice at the time and homosexuality was widely accepted. The Taironas were also excellent craftsmen and were known for their gold work.

The Muiscas were also had a fairly advanced culture as they were highly organized as a large confederation, who worked together for protection and trade. The people also had a common belief system in higher beings, including the sun god, and at some point human sacrifice was a common practice and every family was requested to give one child for sacrifice at this practice's peak. Another religious practice was that the leader of the people would cover himself in gold and offer himself to one of their goddesses. In Spanish this was translated to "el dorado" and soon the Spanish heard about the practice and began seeking the city of gold. The Muisca society was heavily reliant on trade and mining as numerous materials were found in the region, including goad, coal, and precious stones. Today many of Colombia's cities and regions maintain the Muisca names, such as Bogota.

In 1499 the Europeans arrived to the region and later named the region after Christopher Columbus. Despite these early explorers, few people settled the lands; in fact few even landed or made their way inland. However these people did stop on the coasts enough to leave behind numerous European diseases, which spread among the indigenous people, killing a huge percentage of the population.

In 1525 Santa Marta was established on the Caribbean coast and soon additional settlers were arriving to this coast as well as further inland, but their expansion was limited in area. By 1550 the city of Santa Fe de Bogota (more commonly referred to today as Bogota) was made the capital of the region, which was later known as New Granada. As New Granada grew to oversee the regions that are now known as Venezuela, Ecuador, and Panama, Bogota grew in power and wealth.

Despite becoming the political center of New Granada, Bogota didn't flourish like many other capital cities in the Americas. New Granada was essentially a secondary capital as Lima and Mexico City both proved to be more valuable from an economic perspective.

By 1796 chaos had broken out in Colombia as the political scene was a mess and every region was declaring independence from the others. At the time Spain had little control over the region and couldn't hold the region together as they had more pressing issues to deal with in Spain itself. By 1810 France had taken over Spain and Spain's colonies in the Americas began claiming independence. This included Gran Colombia in the same year, a region that included Venezuela, Ecuador, Panama, and Colombia, centered in Bogota.

Despite calls for independence from numerous groups, the people argued over who actually ruled over the region and the people began fighting over power, leadership, and more localized independence. This allowed the Spanish to re-group and attempt to re-gain control over the region. The people finally unified and defeated the Spanish in 1819 with the help of Simon Bolivar from Venezuela.

The new country of Gran Colombia was centered in Bogota and Bolivar served as the country's first president. He ruled the country as he led on the battlefields, with a strong hand and much confidence in his actions. This led to conflicts as both Venezuela and Ecuador sought freedom from this country. In 1830 Venezuela gained that independence and shortly after so too did Ecuador, leading to a change in the country's name to the Republic of Colombia in 1886.

From the 1830s, the country has been politically divided, at times working together for progress, while at other times fighting amongst themselves and creating instability. The arguments included everything from the role of the Catholic Church to political structure, but for the most part the parties worked together or power shifted from one party to the next in relative peace. A noticeable exception to this came with the Thousand Days War, which took place from 1899 to 1902. This was a time in Colombia when the parties and people fought over power, direction, and control. One of the results of this violence was that Panama gained independence from Colombia the following year.

Another battle between the people occurred in the 1940s and early 1950s called "La Violencia." These battles resulted in hundreds of thousands of death and ended in 1953 with a military coup. Throughout the next decade the military had an active role in the country's politics in order to ensure stability and their political agenda. These battles left the country in shambles and it was the new government's job to pick up the pieces, while trying to re-establish the economy and get it back on track. It was also during this time that people began looking for a more stable income as the drug trade grew significantly. This lack of government oversight also led to the growth of military groups.

Among the insurgency groups in Colombia were the April 19th Movement (M-19), the National Liberation Army (ELN), and FARC. In the late 1970s and early 1980s the government made a very substantial effort to destroy these groups and did so quite successfully with the help of the military and questionable actions that many people claim are human rights violations. Battles with the FARC and M-19 ended briefly in 1984 with a cease fire, but ELN continued the fighting. The M-19 also continued the fight the following year as they took the Supreme Court magistrates hostage. Fortunately, most of this violence has since ended as a new government and constitution were formed in 1991.

By the 1980s the drug cartels had gained much power, wealth, and prominence. These groups fought each other, the insurgency groups, and the government to maintain control over the highly profitably drug trade. As these groups became wealthier and wealthier, they gained more control and began bribing government officials and essentially created their own armies to protect their drugs and the drug trade. The power of these drug organizations has greatly decreased since 1993 when the head of the "Medellin Cartel," Pablo Escobar was killed by the Colombian government.

With a new government and constitution in 1991 and the much maligned drug cartels in the early 1990s, the government and people are slowly gaining control over their country. Despite a slow (not an end) to violence, the country is still struggling in multiple ways, most notably in the economic realm. Unemployment has risen and the economic situation seems dire as violence is still common and the drug trade has slowed, but is still a substantial burden on the country.

This page was last updated: March, 2013