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11 Little Known Facts about Colombia that will Blow your Mind.

Colombia like many other countries still has its problems, however it is becoming known as a great place to retire to, and offers tourists a smorgasbord of things to do and see.

Photo from the Barranquilla Carnival 2023. Used in the article 11 unusual facts about Colombia.
Barranquilla Carnival: Image from a video by the author. 2023.

Colombia, the land of the holiday, is well known for having the second biggest carnival in the world (after Rio de Janeiro). It is also well known as one of the worlds largest coffee growing region ( 3rd. after Brazil and Vietnam), Shakira, Karol G, Fanny Lu, and of course Soccer… Here are 11 unusual facts about Colombia that are not so well known.

Colombia, also proudly stands as the home of some extraordinarily accomplished individuals who have crafted world-class inventions, making contributions that have tremendously benefited humanity.

Before we get started: Did you know, Colombia prides itself for its high-quality coffee and measures are taken to ensure that this does not change.

For this reason, only Arabica coffee beans are used for growing coffee.

Robusta is considered an inferior quality coffee bean and it is forbidden to grow it in Colombia.

Ok lets get started>

1. Crossing the Street and Being in Another Country.

That happens on the border of Colombia, Brazil and Peru, three countries separated by imagery lines.

Leticia with a population of 33,503 is located on the left bank of the Amazon river, basically at the point where the borders of Colombia, Brazil and Peru meet in an area called Tres Fronteras. 

It’s a place where you can pass on a street and you can hear speakers of Spanish and Portuguese.

Storekeepers have no problem accepting the neighbouring countries currency, Peso (Colombia), Real (Brazil) or Sol (Peru) as payment for purchases.

But the friendship and co-operation only extends so far.

The daily alliances between Brazilians and Colombians cease any time the Colombian and Brazilian football teams play each other.

At those times Police close the crossroads separating Leticia (Colombia), and Tabatinga (Brazil).

To get to this special place, you will need to catch a flight from Bogota or Medellin to Leticia.

2. The Sierra Nevada Mountains in Colombia have moved nearly 1400 miles over the past 170 million years.

A map of the Sierra Nevada Mountains Colombia Used in the article. 11 unusual things about Colombia.
The Sierra Nevada moved from Peru to its current position.

The worlds highest coastal mountain range is in Colombia.

This snow capped mountain range is just 26 miles (42klms), from the coast.

Using the ancient magnetic field recorded in the rocks of these ranges, the Smithsonian research group revealed Santa Marta’s 1,367-mile (2,200 klms), journey from northern Peru to its present position on the Caribbean coast of Colombia during the past 170 million years.

The highest mountain in the range is Cristobal Colon Peak which rises to 19,029ft. ASL

Simon Bolivar Peak, which is 18,947ft ASL is nearby.

Petter Bjorstad climbing Pico Colon glacier in 2015. Image Wikipedia.

Other aspects of the study revealed recent dislocations along the Sierra’s bounding faults—evidence of historic earthquakes and a large submarine canyon carved in the floor of the Caribbean Sea.

3. There are old Volcanos to “Bathe” in (Mud baths).

Sign near the entrance of the Totumo mud baths near Cartagena. Used in the article, 11 Unusual things about Colombia.
Old sign at the El Totumo crater near Cartagena. Colombia.

You may have heard about or even tried El Totumo, the mud bath in a crater not far from Cartagena.

While it is the most popular, there are others throughout Caribbean Colombia you could try as well.

Some are a little off the beaten track, away from the major tourist places.

Photo of a mud bate at Arboletes. Used in the article 11 Unusual things about Colombia.
Volcán De Lodo at Arboletes. Image: Trip Advisor.

One is the Arboletes Mud Volcano which is accessible from Medellín.

Once there it is just a matter of asking someone to point you in the right direction and walk to it.

The mud is said to be therapeutic and you actually float in it, and because of its thickness you feel as if you are levetating.

After your “bath” you can jump in the ocean to clean up.

4. Colombia is Home to 2,000 bird species, Including some of the Worlds Rarest Birds.

Colombia has nearly 2,000 (1,984 at a recent count), bird species which is about 20% of the world’s total bird diversity, and the second-highest number of bird species in the world, after Brazil.

A birdwatcher’s paradise, Colombia is one of the most important countries in the world for bird conservation.

Also birds will watch you… and you can be expected to be dive bombed you if they have eggs nearby… or, they take a liking to the shine on your bald head.

The Santa Marta Sabrewing thought to be extinct is found only in the Sierra Nevada's of Colombia. Used in the article 11 little known facts about Colombia.

Santa Marta Sabrewing (Campylopterus sanctaemartae):

It is one of the rarest birds in the world, and was only rediscovered in 2010 after being thought to be extinct for over 60 years.

This small, iridescent bird is found in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains of Colombia.

One bird that is endemic to the Santa Marta is the Santa Marta Screech Owl.

Audio below.

A sign showing the Sanctuary of fauna and flora in Northern Colombia. Used in the article 11 Little known things about Colombia.
The Birding trail in Northern Colombia. Image: Author.

Not all birds hide out in the jungles, Large flocks of Flamingos can be found at a large lagoon at the Playa de Camarones in the the La Guajira department.

It is easy accessed from Santa Marta.

Outboards are not allowed on the lagoon, so to see the Flamingos up close you to take one of the sail boats.

See the sail boats here.

Flamingos aren’t the only birds found in this area.

You are also able to see Vermilion Cardinals, Tocuya Sparrows, Ferruginous Pygmy Owls, Orinocan Saltators, and Buffy Hummingbirds which also inhabit this area.

You may have to stay the night and be up before first light to catch a glimpse of them.

While it may seem a dry desolate place, the La Guajira department covers most all of the different ecosystems.

A 30 or 45 minute drive from the sanctuary and you can be in tropical rainforest looking at snow capped mountains.

5. Colombia has the Wettest Towns in the World.

*Although this is often disputed between Colombia and places in India.*

Screenshot of wettest places in the world. Used in the article 11 little known facts about Colombia.
One review of the top ten wettest places in the world.

Puerto Lopez de Micay in the Cauca Department of Colombia has 31 years of recorded rain fall data which averaged out to 530.17 inches or 13,466.3 mm per year. ☔☔☔

For years the site of Lloro, Colombia in the Choco Department of northwestern Colombia has often been referenced by numerous publications, including WMO official reports, as perhaps being the wettest location on earth.

The actual town of Lloro has an average of only 7,559 mm (297.60”) for the 1971-2000 POR. So the Colombian towns Quibdo and Tutunendo are actually considerably wetter than Lloro (with annual average precipitations of 10,749 mm/423.19” and 11,394 mm/448.58” respectively).

Christopher C. Burt

However, the towns of Mawsynram and Cherrapunji, on the other side of the world in India are also staking a claim.

These towns which are only about 20 kilometres apart both receive bucket loads of rain.

Mawsynram, which sits at 4,600 ft (1400m), receives an average annual rainfall of 11,871 mm (467.4 in).

Cherrapunji receives an average annual rainfall of 11,777 mm (462.9 in).

These are below the amounts Puerto Lopez de Micay receives, but then there are records and official records.

6. Colombia is Home to the Tallest Palm Trees in the World.

Normally we associate palm trees with tropical beaches. However, these wax palms grow at elevations of between 6,600 and 10,200 ft. ( 2000-3100 m).

The temperatures of the places where these palms grow is not exactly tropical either, with a mean average of just 15C or 59F.

To see them you need to go to the Parque Nacional Natural de Los Nevados which can be accessed through the town of Salento a popular destination for tourists visiting the coffee region, known for its traditional colonial architecture.

To see wax palm stands from Salento there are 3 options: Bicycle, Car or Hike.

Ask to go to Tochecito, as that is where the densest stands of wax palms are.

7. Colombia has a Coastline and Beaches on both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.

Known for its beach towns, cities, and white sandy islands along the Caribbean coast, and their party atmosphere.

Less well known about Colombia is the attractions of the Pacific coast.

  • Whale watching
  • Scuba diving
  • Coral reefs
  • Surfing
  • Fishing
  • Rainforest walks
  • Waterfalls
  • Birdwatching
  • Kayaking.

To get to the Pacific Coast you can fly to Cali from any city in Colombia and drive to Buenaventura, or fly to Buenaventura from all major cities in Colombia.

If you choose to stay a few days at one of the two national parks there is some planning required.

Parque Nacional Natural Uramba Bahía Málaga is the easiest to get to, and once you arrive in Buenaventura you will be taken for a short boat ride to your accommodation.

Parque Nacional Natural Utría is a little more difficult.

If you are in Bogota or take a flight to Rionegro José María Córdoba (JMC) airport in Medellín.

Then take a taxi to Medellin´s Olaya Herrera airport (OH)
From Olaya Herrera, you can take a flight to Bahia Solano. Then, from Bahía Solano take a boat to Utria National Natural Park.

There is another alternative.

You can go to Buenaventura, and take a 6 hour boat trip to Bahia Solano. 

From Bahía Solano take another boat to Utria National Natural Park.

Utria National Natural Park is also one of the wettest places in the world.

Some years it has been known to rain for more than 300 days of the year.

8. Colombia has an Ancient city that was lost for Centuries and only Rediscovered in the 1970s.

Where is The Lost City in Colombia?

There are several “lost cities” in Colombia that have been “re-discovered” and attract visitors.

The most well known one, is Ciudad Perdida, which is popular with amateur jungle adventurers.

It is an archaeological site located in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains, in the Magdalena Department of northern Colombia.

Sketch of the northern Colombia from Santa Marta to the lost city. Used in the article 11 little known facts about Colombia.
Map of the location of Ciudad Perdida. Image. Echohabs

Ciudad Perdida (also known as Lost City of Teyuna ), was built by the indigenous Tayrona civilization around the 9th century AD, making it 650 years older than Machu Picchu.

The city was abandoned around 1650, during the Spanish colonization of the Americas, and its existence was forgotten by the outside world, until looters found it in the early 1970s.

It is part of one of the more than 250 ancient settlements of the four indigenous groups found in the north and southwest faces of the Sierra Nevada Mountain ranges.

Since 1976 the Colombian government has had control of the site and it is administered by the Colombian Institute of Anthropology and History (ICANH).

To get to Ciudad Perdida, adventurous explorers embark on a guided multi-day trek through jungle tracks, river crossings, steep hills, and across lush landscapes.

Other “lost cities” in Colombia include.

  1. Ciudad Perdida de Pueblito – A smaller site located near Ciudad Perdida in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains.
  2. San Agustín Archaeological Park – Contains ancient stone sculptures and tombs, located in the Huila Department.
  3. Tierradentro Archaeological Park – Features elaborate underground tombs, located in the Cauca Department.
  4. El Infiernito (Little Hell) – An ancient astronomical site, located in Villa de Leyva, Boyacá Department.
  5. Tayronaka Archaeological Park – An archaeological site with ancient structures and artifacts, located near the Caribbean coast.

9. There are Hippopotamuses in Colombia.

Hippos in the lagoon at Hacienda Nápoles park, Colombia. Used in the article 11 little known facts anbout Colombia.
Hippos in the lagoon at Hacienda Nápoles park. Photograph: Fernando Vergara/AP

The presence of hippos in Colombia is tied to the infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar.

Of the original four hippos that escaped from Escobar’s country estate about 130 exist today – the largest population outside Africa.

With no natural predators to keep them in check their population will keep growing exponentially.

One study estimated that by 2034 the hippos will number 1,400.

Hippos obviously are not native to South America, and their presence in Colombia is disruptive to the local fauna and flora.

Efforts to manage the hippo population and find a solution to the issue have been ongoing over a long period of time, but there could be a light on the horizon.

In March 2023, it was announced that the Colombian government is proposing transferring at least 70 hippopotamuses to India and Mexico as part of a plan to control their population.

10. Colombia’s Most Famous Church is 600ft Underground and is often Proclaimed as the First Wonder of Colombia.

The main altar and blue cross in the Cathedeal of Zipaquira. Used in the article 11 little known facts about Colombia.
The main altar and cross.

The Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá is the third underground church built within the tunnels of a salt mine 200 metres (660 ft) underground in a Halite mountain near the city of Zipaquirá, in Cundinamarca, Colombia.

The cathedral is a functioning church although it has no official status in Catholicism, although it represents important cultural, environmental and religious patrimony for Colombians, with as many as 3,000 visitors making their way underground on Sunday’s.

Initially the miners had carved out a section to pray before starting work.

In the 1950s work commenced on a bigger project, which included using galleries that had been carved out by the Muscia Indians who had been mining there since the 5th century BC.

In 1954 the new church was opened to the public with space for up to 8,000 worshippers.

In the early 1990s authorities decided that it was unsafe, as it was within the confines of a working mine.

Not to be deterred Architects and Engineering societies ran a competition for the construction of a new Cathedral.

In 1995 the new Cathedral was opened 200ft below the old one.

Holy Family sculpture in the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá, Colombia.
Used in the article 11 little known facts about Colombia.
The Holy Family in the new church. Source Wikipedia.

11. The Greatest Colombian Invention.

Image of Dr. Salomon Hakim Dow, in the background a diagram and description of the valve he invented to treat Hydrocephalus. Used in the article 11 little known facts about Colombia.
Dr. Salomón Hakim Dow (4 June 1922 – 5 May 2011) Image source: ISHCSF

Colombian’s have numerous inventions to their credit.

  • Robots to detect land mines.
  • the heart Pacemaker
  • Lasik (eye surgery).
  • a portable rescue unit for tsunamis, and more.

Of course the greatest Colombian invention is just my opinion.

However the one that has stood the test of time is the Unidirectional valve (used for medical procedures), invented by Salomón Hakim Dow.

Diagrams of two childrens brains. One with no hydrocephalus and one with hydrocephalus. Used in the article 11 little known facts about Colombia.
Image source: google.

The first valve to treat hydrocephalus was introduced in 1949 by Spitz, but this valve had several disadvantages which sometimes risked the patient’s life. Knowing this and working in his home shop in Bogotá, Hakim improved and developed a unidirectional valve with the capacity to regulate the *CSF pressure by adding a spring pressure control in a stainless steel cone and synthetic ruby ball. This valve was much safer, and it was introduced to the medical community in 1966.

*cerebrospinal fluid

 Despite of all medical advances since 1966, all modern valves are built, based on his invention.

Hope you have enjoyed reading some of the lesser known things about Colombia.

Coffee anyone?

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