Colombia: Biodiversity, emeralds, and the greatest storyteller!

With an estimated population of over 48 million people, this South American country is considered one of the world’s 17 mega-diverse countries. It is also the second-most bio-diverse country in the world, and it was dubbed the happiest country in the world in 2013 and 2014.  Colombia occupies a very privileged geographic position, as it is the only country in South America with coastlines touching both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. You can experience virtually every type of climate in Colombia — hot or cold and wet or dry — and ecosystems range from tundra, coastal, and desert to tropical rainforest and savanna.

Colombia produces between 70 and 90 percent of the world’s emeralds. Most are extracted from the eastern ridge of the Andes mountain range, which runs north/south through the country, and has some of the purest deposits found in the world. The gems range in color from a very light, yellowish-green, to a deep, dark, bluish-green. The darker green color is generally considered more desirable, and natural mineral inclusions — or “flaws” — only add to a stone’s character.

One of the most significant authors of the 20th century was Columbian Gabriel García Márquez, who captivated millions with his ability to use ordinary and realistic situations and humor in his work, opening the door to what became known as the “magical realism” literary movement. “Gabito” — as he was known among his friends — earned a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982. His most-renowned works include “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” “The Autumn of the Patriarch,” “Love in the Time of Cholera,” and “Chronicle of a Death Foretold.”

Colombians enjoy a wide range of foods, with variations based on regional differences. But whether you are in the mountains, on the coast, or in the countryside, you will find plantains, rice, beans, potatoes, cassava, and some sort of meat/chicken/fish on your plate. The Bandeja Paisa — a traditional combination of white rice, red beans, plantain, chorizo, morcilla, chicharron, arepa, and avocado, topped off with a fried egg — is considered one of the national dishes.  

Did you know…? Bogota has South America’s largest network of bicycle routes: over 300 km stretching from slum areas and suburbs to the city center. A third of Colombia is covered by Amazon jungle. Colombia has 58 national parks, which is the same number as the U.S. These parks cover more than 11 percent of the country. That is over 55,000 square miles for you to explore!

This is the seventh in a series of articles spotlighting different countries in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month. To see a complete list of previous entries, click here.