People of Colombia

The regions vary greatly in their racial make-up. Antioquia and Caldas are largely of European descent; Nariño has more indigenous roots; while people from the Cauca Valley are more African, descending form those brought to the area when sugar was introduced. Afro-Caribbeans are also prominent in the rural area near the Caribbean and the northwest Pacific coastline. No colour bar is legally recognized but is not entirely absent in certain centres. Population figures of cities and towns in the text are the best we can find but should not be relied upon. They will, however, give the traveller an idea of the size of the place and therefore the level of facilities that may be expected.

The birth and death rates vary greatly from one area of the country to another, but in general are similar to those of neighbouring countries. Likewise infant mortality rates, although these are only half those of Brazil. Hospitals and clinics are few in relation to the population. About 66% of the doctors are in the departmental capitals, which contain about half of the population, though all doctors have to spend a year in the country before they can get their final diploma. The best hospitals, notably in Bogotá and Medellín, are well equipped and have fine reputations attracting patients from other countries of Latin America.

An estimated 400,000 tribal peoples, from 60 ethnic groups, live in Colombia. Groups include the Wayúu (in the Guajira), the Kogi and Arhauco (Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta), indigenous Amazonians such as the Huitoto, the nomadic Nukak and the Ticuna, indigenous Andean and groups of the Llanos and in the Pacific coast rainforest.

Although the national and official language of Colombia is overwhelmingly Spanish, many indigenous groups still use only their own languages. The largest ethno-linguistic group are the 150,000 Chibchas. On the Caribbean coast, especially the islands, English or Creole are widely spoken. The diversity and importance of indigenous peoples was recognized in the 1991 constitutional reforms when Indians were granted the right to two senate seats; the National Colombian Indian Organization (ONIC) won a third seat in the October 1991 ballot. State recognition and the right to bilingual education has not, however, solved major problems of land rights, training and education, and justice.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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