Colombia at a Glance
Living in Colombia
At the time of writing in 2014, Colombia was home to an estimated 46.2 million people, making it the third most populous country in Latin America, trailing Brazil and Mexico. Colombia is a highly urbanized country: Some 75% of Colombians live in cities, six of which have metropolitan areas with more than 1 million inhabitants. Their distribution is remarkably uneven, and most areas in the southern and eastern parts of the country are only very sparsely populated.
Ethnically, Colombia is a fairly diverse country, a fact that stems both from the nation’s history and recent developments, such as the rising popularity of Colombia with expats, retirees, and immigrants from Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and North America. Three ethnic groups make up the overwhelming majority of the Colombian society:
- Mestizo (58%)
- Afro-Colombian (21%)
- White (20%)
Today, the indigenous peoples, who constitute less than 1% of the total population but represent more than 80 distinct cultures, mostly live in the south and east of the country.
Geography and Climate
Colombia is exceedingly diverse not only in its flora and fauna, but also in its geographical features. Some 10% of all species in the world populate Colombia’s rainforests, steppes, savannas, and mountains. Most frequently, the country is divided into five distinct regions: the Andes highlands, the Pacific coast, the Caribbean coast, the llanos (plains) in the east, and the Amazon rainforest in the south. Attentive readers might have caught a peculiarity: Colombia has the distinction of being the only country in South America with access to both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
With its proximity to the equator, Colombia sees fairly little seasonal variety in terms of weather. However, depending on what city you might want to settle in (we have listed some expat favorites in our article on moving to Colombia) you might be surprised by what awaits you. Located right in the Andes highlands, Bogotá is fairly cool (and foggy) the year through, with highs usually not exceeding 23°C and temperatures below freezing not being too uncommon. In stark contrast, Cali, on the west coast of the country, sees average high temperatures of 31°C and more. Reading up on your destination before you relocate is a great idea for a myriad of reasons, the weather being one of them.
While officially, there are several dozen languages being spoken in Colombia today, Spanish is more or less the only language that expats will hear in the streets. Therefore, it is highly recommended to brush up your Spanish skills before you relocate. While English will get you fairly far in many workplaces, you should make an effort to speak the local language if you plan on staying in Colombia for a longer stretch of time and do not intend to limit your interactions with locals to chats in the office. The variety of Spanish spoken in Colombia is, generally speaking and regional dialects notwithstanding, considered rather formal and is easily distinguishable from other varieties to the trained ear. However, you obviously do not need to speak the local version to be intelligible to Colombians – any effort to communicate in Spanish will be appreciated in most situations.
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