For too many years, Colombia got a bad wrap. Riddled with crime and run by drug lords, it was a dangerous place to live and a total no-go zone for tourists.
As Simon Reeve finds in his new series, Simon Reeve’s Colombia, the Colombia of old has largely disappeared, replaced by a revitalised capital, Bogota, and a thriving culture of creativity and innovation. In fact, just a few years ago, Colombia was named the happiest country on Earth, proving it has more than shed the ugly legacy of Pablo Escabar.
Reeve quickly realises it’s time to cast aside the stereotypes and learn more about what a fantastic country Colombia really is. With that in mind, here are seven things Colombia should be better known for.
1. The world’s flower market
Colombia is one of the world’s largest producers of flowers, exporting over $1 billion per year. Over 65 percent of all cut flowers imported into the US were from Colombia, including exotic species of orchid, bird of paradise and 500 million roses each year for Valentine’s Day alone. The country also has a greater variety of orchids than anywhere else in the world and is second only to the Netherlands in total flower exports.
2. It’s a haven for bird nerds
Colombia has more birds than anywhere else in the world. Almost two billion different species and more than 20 percent of the entire global bird population calls Colombia home.
3. Roller speed skating
Colombia is a world hub for speed skating. The national team has won the overall world title nine out of the past 12 years, with the country considered a global innovator when it comes to developing state-of-the-art speed skating technology.
4. Public holidays
Maybe the reason Colombians are so happy is the number of days off they get a year - 18 in total, which is more than anywhere in the world bar Argentina. At the last World Cup, the president actually gave everyone the day off in order to watch Colombia play Brazil in the quarter final.
5. Salsa dancing
Salsa dancing is a huge part of Colombian life and Colombia are regular winners of the World Latin Dance Cup. Salsa dancing isn’t just a hobby, it’s become a way of life and a way to make a better life, with dance scholarships regularly being a ticket out of the barrios (slums) of the major cities for many kids. The “Salsa Choke” or Chichoke became particularly famous after the Colombian soccer team broke into it as part of their victory celebrations during the 2014 World Cup.
Colombia is the largest producer and exporter of emeralds in the world with up to 90 percent of emeralds coming from Colombia’s mines.
7. Natural beauty
No, it’s not just the supermodels, TV stars and Miss Universe winners - Colombia is seriously beautiful to look at. It’s a land of azure blue beaches; deep, Jurassic Park-like rain forests; funky, colourful cities and ancient Incan road systems.
Watch Colombia with Simon Reeve at SBS On Demand right here: