Colombian culture: A guide to traditions, history, customs & more

Did you ever imagine learning Spanish could take you through the rich legacy of Colombian culture?

Colombia is the third Spanish-speaking country with the most speakers, right after Mexico and the United States, with over 51 million people. As a Spanish learner, you’ll have the experience of expertly navigating this beautiful country and interacting with its millions of people — all in their native language.

This is an incredible opportunity, as Colombia is a beautiful country with countless unmissable sights, succulent dishes, exotic fruits, coffee types, and so much more. Whether you’re a fan of Colombian music or simply appreciate their festive style, this country really can captivate any visitor.

With thousands of years of history and incredible cultural and geographic diversity, we’ve got a ton of ground to cover. Let’s take a look at everything Colombia has to offer!

Table of Contents

Historical background of Colombian culture

Colombian history is fascinating — and how could it not be, with local indigenous groups inhabiting the region since at least 12,000 BCE! These ancient civilizations helped shape the Colombian identity today, which was then drastically changed during the Spanish conquest of the 16th century. Let’s take a closer look:

The historical background of Columbian culture.

Pre-Columbian era

Colombia’s pre-conquest era was marked by the presence of many indigenous groups, each with its own culture, social structure, and technological developments. These societies were well-established and still contribute significantly to the cultural heritage today. Here are some

1. The Muisca (Chibcha) — 600 CE to 16th century

Location: Altiplano Cundiboyacense, the high plateau in the Eastern Range of the Colombian Andes

Language: Chibchan family, also known as Muysccubun

One of the most advanced civilizations in ancient Colombia, the Muisca were known for their intricate goldwork, which played a significant role in their social and religious rituals. You might be familiar with the legend of El Dorado, which originally referred to a Muisca tribal chief who adorned himself with gold dust. Eventually, the legend developed into a legendary golden city, prompting numerous European explorers to hunt for this legendary city on a quest for immense riches.

The Muisca economy was based on agriculture, salt mining, and trade, and they had a complex societal structure with a rigid class system. Their political organization was a confederation of various chiefs (caciques), which included the territories of modern-day Bogota, Tunja, and other areas.

2. The Tairona — 200 BCE to 16th century

Location: The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in Northern Colombia

Language: Chibchan language family

The Tairona were recognized for their elaborate stone constructions, terraced fields, and finely crafted gold and pottery items. Their villages were well organized, with small stone platforms and round houses. The Tairona society was highly stratified and ruled by a priest chief with considerable religious and political power. They were also skilled engineers who constructed extensive irrigation systems and pathways in the

3. The Quimbaya — 300 to 16th century

Location: The territory of present-day Quindío, Caldas, and parts of Risaralda in western Colombia

Language: Chicbchan family

The Quimbaya are particularly renowned for their goldsmithing skills, as evidenced by artifacts like the famous Quinbaya airplane figurines, which some suspect represent an ancient knowledge of aerodynamics. The Quimbaya civilization was noted for its elaborate burial rituals, which included offerings of gold objects, ceramics, and textiles.

4. The Zenú — 200 CE to 16th century

Location: Along the Sinú and San Jorge rivers in present-day Córdoba and Sucre departments

Language: Specifics are not well documented, but it is likely a member of the Cariban language family

The Zenú were excellent hydraulic engineers who constructed an extensive network of canals for transportation, irrigation, and flood control, supporting an economy based on agriculture and gold weaving. Their social organization was highly developed, with a central government that managed economic activities and social welfare.

5. The Calima — 200 BCE to 16th century

Location: Western parts of Colombia in the Cauca River Valley region in present-day Valle del Cauca department.
Language: Details of the language are unclear, but it is likely part of the Barbacoan language

The Calima culture is known for its gold ornaments, sophisticated pottery, and weaving skills. It’s divided into three periods: llama, Yotoco, and Sonso, each marked by distinctive artistic and technological advancements. The Calima were primarily agriculturalists known for their elaborate burial sites, which contained lots of gold, pottery, and other symbolic goods.

Colonial era

The Spanish conquest began in the early 16th century, led by explorers Alonso de Ojeda and Rodrigo de Bastidas. The establishment of Santa Marta in 1525 and Bogotá in 1538 marked the beginning of almost three centuries of colonial life.

Spanish colonization brought about significant cultural and social changes, introducing Catholicism as the leading religion. The colonial period also introduced African slaves, whose influence is particularly noted in Colombia’s music and cuisine to this day. This gave rise to a unique Afro-Colombian culture that is particularly vibrant along the Pacific coast and in cities like Cartagena.


Colombia, along with many other Latin American nations, achieved independence from Spain in the 19th century under the leadership of Simón Bolívar. After a series of battles beginning in 1810, Colombia achieved its independence in 1819.

The post-independence era was marked by political instability and regional conflicts, but it also paved the way for the establishment of a republic. This period created a sense of national identity and inspired cultural expressions like literature and art, setting the scene for the establishment of the new nation.

Colombian sovereignty

After the establishment of Colombia as a sovereign country in the 19th century, the 20th century was a period of challenges and progress. Notably, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) became a significant issue to the country’s well-being in the middle of the 20th century. FARC was established in 1964 as a Marxist-Leninist guerrilla group that tried to overthrow the Colombian government and was involved in a number of armed conflicts against the Colombian state. This contributed to a prolonged and complex internal conflict that deeply affected Colombia’s social and political landscape.

There has since been a stark improvement in the stability of domestic affairs and overall public safety. Cities like Medellín, once known for notorious violence, have transformed into hubs of culture and innovation. The Colombian government's efforts to promote peace and restore stability have encouraged a resurgence of cultural activities, including festivals like the Flower Festival and Barranquilla’s Carnival, which are recognized worldwide. This history of colonization, followed by the independence struggle and period of domestic strife, showcases the Colombian people’s resilience and commitment to creating a prosperous country.

Regional diversity

Colombia is a country of incredible diversity, not only culturally but also geographically. From dense rainforests and towering mountains to sun-soaked beaches and vast plains, each region of Colombia offers unique landscapes and distinct traditions. Here’s a look at some key regions:

The Columbian Amazon region.

Región Amazónica

Population: 1.1 million

Largest city: Leticia

The Colombian Amazon region covers almost one-third of the country yet is sparsely populated. This vast area is known for its rich biodiversity and dense rainforests, housing thousands of species of flora and fauna, many of which are endemic. It’s part of the Amazon Basin, which is crucial for global ecology and plays a vital role in Earth’s oxygen and carbon cycles.

Región Andina

Population: 37 million

Largest city: Bogotá

The Andean region is Colombia's heartland, home to the majority of the population and the most developed cities, including Bogotá, Medellín, and Cali. The region is characterized by the Andes mountain range, which influences its climate and agriculture, making it the country's economic and cultural hub. The area is known for its rich history, cultural festivals, and contributions to Colombian coffee production.

Región Caribe

Population: 10 million

Largest city: Barranquilla

The Caribbean region of Colombia is famous for its crystal-clear waters, white sandy beaches, and the vibrant city of Cartagena, a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its well-preserved colonial architecture and walls. The region has a strong African influence, which is reflected in its music, dance, and festivals, such as the Carnival of Barranquilla, one of the biggest carnivals in the world.

Región Insular

Population: 60,000

Largest city: San Andrés

Colombia’s Insular region includes the islands of San Andrés, Providencia, and Santa Catalina in the Caribbean Sea. These islands are famous for their beautiful beaches, rich coral reefs, and unique Raizal culture, which blends Caribbean, African, and British influences. The region is a popular tourist destination known for diving, snorkeling, and its relaxed, tropical atmosphere.

Región Orinoquía

Population: 1.8 million

Largest city: Villavicencio

Also known as the Eastern Plains, the Orinoquía region is characterized by vast savannas and the powerful Orinoco River. This less traveled area boasts a unique beauty with its llanos (plains), which host an astonishing variety of wildlife and are used for extensive cattle ranching. It’s also home to the annual Joropo Festival, which celebrates the region's traditional music and dance.

Región Pacífico

Population: 1.5 million

Largest city: Buenaventura

The Pacific region of Colombia is known for its dense rainforest, biodiversity, and Afro-Colombian culture. It’s one of the wettest places on Earth, which supports its lush vegetation. The region is culturally rich, with music like the currulao, which embodies a mix of African rhythms and indigenous influences. Despite its natural beauty, it remains one of the less developed and more remote areas of the country, offering virgin landscapes and a strong sense of community among its inhabitants.

Colombian music and dance

Colombia’s diversity is expressed through its many music and dance traditions. From the enchanting rhythms of cumbia and vallenato to the global beats of modern artists like Shakira and J Balvin, Colombian music and dance embodies an exciting blend of indigenous, African, and Spanish influences. These cultural expressions not only entertain but also celebrate and preserve Colombia’s unique heritage. Let’s take a look at a few key Colombian dances and music styles:

Columbian dancer.


Cumbia is one of Colombia's most emblematic musical genres from its Caribbean coast. Its roots can be traced back to the colonial period, and this music style blends indigenous, African, and Spanish influences. Traditional cumbia instruments like the garita (indigenous flute), drums, and maracas are often accompanied by dancers in colorful, flowing costumes. The dance itself, which is a subtle courtship dance performed with a candle in hand, reflects the blend of cultures that have shaped not only the region but also the entire country.


Vallenato, originating from the Valledupar region in the Caribbean, is another key component of Colombia’s rich music scene. This UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage involves the accordion, caja vallenata (a small drum), and guacharaca (a percussive scraper). Vallenato’s lyrics often narrate stories of love, folklore, and history, making it a musical genre that is both deeply personal and expansively cultural. Legends like Carlos Vives have popularized vallenato globally by infusing it with pop influences.


While salsa music is often associated with countries like Cuba and Puerto Rico, Colombia has its unique style. The city of Cali is especially famous for its salsa dances, as it’s known as the “Salsa Capital of the World.” Colombian salsa is faster and incorporates intricate footwork, making Cali one of the main hubs for salsa dance worldwide. The annual Feria de Cali (Cali Fair) features salsa music heavily, drawing visitors from all over the world.


Mapalé is another traditional dance with African roots characterized by its fast pace and energetic movements. It was named after a fish found in local waters known for its quick movements. The dance is often performed during Carnival and is a powerful expression of resistance and survival, showcasing the strength and resilience of Afro-Colombian cultures.

Most famous Colombian singers

The contemporary music scene in Colombia is vibrant and diverse, thanks to world-famous artists like Shakira, Maluma, and J Balvin, who have brought Colombian music to the international stage. These artists blend traditional Colombian sounds with modern genres like pop, rock, and reggaeton to showcase Colombian sounds to a wider audience.

Some of the most famous Colombian singers are:

Columbian musicians such as Shakira, Maluma, J Balvin and Karol G.


From Barranquilla, Shakira is known for her blend of Latin, rock, and Arabic musical influences. Her dynamic hip movements and distinctive voice have made her a global pop sensation, with classic hits like “Hips Don’t Lie” and “Whenever, wherever.”

Side note: Did you know that Shakira releases most of her music in both Spanish and English? It’s true! So, if you’re a fan of any of her English music, you can learn Spanish by listening to her songs.


From Medellín, Maluma has gained international fame with his reggaeton and Latin trap music. Known for hits like “Felices lo 4” and collaborations with artists like Shakira, he embodies Colombia's lively and emotive music scene.

J Balvin

Another Medellín star, J Balvin, has been instrumental in popularizing reggaeton globally. His style is colorful and energetic, and he is known for hits like “Mi Gente” and “Ay Vamos.” Balvin has pushed Latin music to new territories, often incorporating genres like reggae and hip-hop.

Karol G

Also from Medellín, Karol G is a leading figure in the Latin music industry, known for her powerful voice and bold persona. Hits like “Tusa” and “Ahora Me Llama” have solidified her status as a reggaeton and Latin trap powerhouse, promoting female empowerment through her music.


Yet another superstar from Medellín, Juanes mixes rock with traditional Colombian folk elements. His socially conscious lyrics and catchy melodies are showcased in songs like “La Camisa Negra” and “A Dios le Pido.” Juanes is a Grammy-winning artist and is considered to be a global ambassador for Latin Music.

The importance of food in Colombian culture

Colombian cuisine reflects the country’s diverse cultural heritage, featuring a blend of indigenous, Spanish, African, and Arab influences. The rich flavors and varied ingredients found across Colombia’s diverse regions — from the Amazon rainforest to the coastal areas and highland regions — contribute to a beloved culinary scene. Staple ingredients include corn, potatoes, various meats, and tropical fruits, combining to create some of the most interesting and delicious dishes in the world.

Bandeja Paisa is Columbia's national dish.

Here are 10 of the most popular and emblematic Colombian dishes:

Dish nameIPAPronunciationDescription
Bandeja Paisabanˈdexa ˈpajsabahn-deh-hah pah-e-sahConsidered the national dish, this hearty platter includes beans, rice, chorizo, pork rind, fried egg, plantain, avocado, and an arepa.
Ajiacoaˈxjakoah-he-ah-coA flavorful soup made with chicken, three types of potatoes, and the guasca herb, served with capers, cream, and avocado.
Arepaaˈɾepaah-reh-pahA versatile corn cake that can be grilled, baked, or fried and is often topped or stuffed with cheese, meat or eggs.
Sancochosanˈkoʧosahn-co-choA traditional stew made with chicken, plantain, corn, potatoes, and yuca.
Empanadaempaˈnaðaehm-pah-nah-daFried or baked pastries filled with meat, vegetables, cheese, or spices.
Tamalestaˈmalestah-ma-lessCorn dough stuffed with various ingredients like meats, vegetables, and spices, wrapped in banana leaves and steamed.
Lechonaleˈʧonaleh-cho-naSlow-roasted suckling pig stuffed with rice, peas, and spices, typically cooked for a long time.
Arroz con polloaˈroθ kom ˈpoʝoah-roz kohn poh-yoA classic dish of rice and chicken mixed with vegetables and seasoned with a light tomato sauce.
Sobrebarrigasoβɾeβaˈriɣaso-breh-bah-ree-gahSlow-cooked flank steak, often braised in a tomato and onion sauce, making it tender and flavorful. Typically served with potatoes and yuca.
Fritangafɾiˈtanɡafree-tahn-gaA mixed grilled platter of meats, including sausages, ribs, and chicharrón, often served with potatoes and arepas.

The role of coffee in Colombian culture

No matter where you live, you’ve definitely heard and maybe even tasted delicious Colombian coffee. But beyond being one of the country’s biggest exports, coffee holds an integral part to the Colombian national identity, serving as a daily ritual and a strong symbol of hospitality. Known for its smooth, rich flavor, Colombian coffee is a source of national pride and a key element of daily life. Every morning across the country, millions of people wake up to the comforting scent of freshly brewed coffee.

This ritual not only kick-starts the day but also strengthens social bonds, as sharing a cup of coffee — un tintico, as it’s often called — is considered a gesture of welcome and friendship. It’s common for hosts to offer a cup of coffee to guests, regardless of the time of day. This is seen as a profound way of expressing kindness and respect, both in business and social settings alike. If you’re learning business Spanish, then you can expect your business meetings in Colombia to always include some freshly brewed Colombian coffee to foster a warm and conducive environment for conversation and negotiation.

El Eje Cafetero

The Coffee Triangle, or Eje Cafetero, region is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that encapsulates the heart of the country’s coffee culture. It encompasses the departments of Caldas, Quindío, and Risaralda, and this region is renowned for its ideal coffee-growing conditions: rich soil, high altitude, and a favorable climate.

Worker sorting coffee beans in Columbia.

Coffee is the centerpiece of local cuisine and festivities in this region. Beyond the brew, coffee finds its way into several aspects of Colombian cuisine, including marinades for meats, desserts like coffee-flavored cakes and cream, and even artisanal liquors. Coffee-themed festivals and fairs in the Eje Cafetero celebrate the harvest and its economic and cultural contributions to the country.

Additionally, the coffee farms in the region function as community hubs, where local issues are discussed, and community ties are strengthened over cups of coffee. These farms not only support the local economy but also serve as social spaces that uphold the cultural heritage associated with Colombian coffee. If you’re thinking about visiting, many coffee plantations also offer guided tours to help you learn more about how coffee beans are harvested and how these farms play into the local culture.

Festivals and celebrations in Colombia

Colombian festivals are exciting celebrations of the country’s cultural heritage, combining indigenous, African, and Spanish influences. These celebrations, characterized by explosive parades, lively music, and elaborate dances, play a crucial role in preserving cultural traditions and fostering a sense of national identity and pride.

Here are some of the most important festivals in Colombia:

Carnaval de Barranquilla in Columbia.

Carnaval de Barranquilla

When: Just before Lent, typically in February or March

Where: Barranquilla

One of the most famous celebrations in Colombia, the Carnival of Barranquilla is known for its spectacular parades, elaborate costumes, and the rhythmic music of cumbia, salsa, and reggaeton. This festival welcomes Lent in a decadent and extravagant outdoor celebration where guests wear costumes and masks, embodying many traditional and mythical characters. In fact, this festival is a UNESCO Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, on par with Mexico’s Día de los Muertos and other outstanding celebrations around the world. The carnival fosters a sense of unity and cultural pride among the diverse communities of Barranquilla and Colombia as a whole.

Feria de las Flores

When: Early August

Where: Medellín

Medellín’s Flower Festival is an homage to the region’s horticulture industry, one of the most iconic in Colombia. Celebrated in August, the festival features the famous Desfile de Silleteros, where locals display intricate flower arrangements. This event highlights the skill and creativity of local florists and celebrates the spirit of renewal and community, symbolized by the life cycle of flowers. It’s a vibrant display of color and local tradition that attracts visitors from all around the world — definitely worth seeing!

Feria de Cali

When: December 25–30

Where: Cali

Started in 1957, the Cali Fair capitalizes on the city’s reputation as the salsa capital of the world. This end-of-year festival features salsa music, dance competitions, live concerts, and a horseback parade. The fair is an expression of joy and appreciation for salsa, where professionals and amateurs share the dance floor to celebrate Cali’s vibrant culture and festive spirit.

Festival Iberoamericano de Teatro (FITB)

When: Every two years, usually in March or April

Where: Bogotá

Held biennially in Bogotá, the Ibero-American Theater Festival is the largest theater festival in the world. It was established to bring world-class theater to Colombia and to promote Bogotá as a cultural capital. Over two weeks, the city turns into a stage with performances from hundreds of theater companies from around the world, encompassing traditional art and avant-garde performances. It’s a celebration of theatrical art, promoting dialogue and understanding through cultural exchange.

Festival de la Leyenda Vallenata

When: The last week of April

Where: Valledupar, Cesar Department

The Vallenato Legend Festival in Valledupar celebrates Vallenato music, a key element of the Colombian cultural identity. This festival seeks to honor the legendary Vallenato musicians of the past and crown the best of current performers in categories like accordion playing, songwriting, and singing. It’s a cultural preservation effort that reinforces the importance of Vallenato music in the Colombian heritage.

Art and literature in Colombia

Colombian art and literature have made tremendous contributions to the global cultural landscape, reflecting the themes of the country’s diverse cultural identity. Renowned figures like Fernando Boero and Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez have highlighted Colombian life through their works, often focusing on social inequality, violence, and beauty. Colombian literature, with its magical realism, intimately explores the complexities of love and power, while the visual arts capture the vibrant and often tumultuous history of the country. Together, they create a vivid image that narrates Colombia’s past and present, engaging with universal themes through a distinctly Colombian lens.

Columbian writers such as Gabriel García Márquez, Juan Gabriel and Andrés Caicedo.

Gabriel García Márquez (1927 – 2014)

Profession: Writer

Place of birth: Aracataca, Colomnbia

Gabriel García Márquez was a Colombian novelist, short-story writer, and journalist, widely celebrated as one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. His work is best known for its magical realism, which blends the magical and the mundane in a fluid, realistic setting. His most famous novel, “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” has been translated into dozens of languages and sold millions of copies globally. García Márquez won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982 for his novels and short stories, which have touched many readers with their unique blend of the political, the mythical, and the everyday.

Juan Gabriel Vásquez (1973 – Present)

Profession: Writer

Place of birth: Bogotá

Juan Gabriel Vásquez is a prominent Colombian author known for his novels and essays that explore Colombian identity, history, and politics. He has gained international acclaim for his contributions to contemporary literature, particularly with his novel “The Sound of Things Falling,” which won the prestigious international IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. His works often delve into the impact of historical events on personal lives and the hidden forces shaping society. Vásquez’s writing is celebrated for its deep psychological insights and a clear, concise style, making him a significant voice in modern literature. His influence continues to grow

Andrés Caicedo (1951 – 1977)

Profession: Writer

Place of birth: Cali

Andrés Caicedo was a Colombian writer whose short but influential career left a lasting impact on Colombian literature. Known for his intense and rebellious style, Caicedo’s writings explore the youth culture of Cali in the 1970s, depicting their disillusionment, passions, and search for identity against a backdrop of social unrest. His novel “¡Que viva la música!” is a cult classic, celebrating the music and angst of the era. Caicedo’s tragic early death at 25 cemented his status as a legend and a voice of a disenfranchised generation, echoing his profound influence on Colombian narrative and film.

Columbian artists such as Fernando Botero, Alejandro Obregón, Débora Arango and Ómar Rayo.

Fernando Botero (1932 – 2023)

Profession: Painter and sculptor

Place of birth: Medellín

Fernando Botero was one of Colombia’s most famous artists, recognized globally for his signature style known as “Boterismo,” which depicts people and figures in large, exaggerated volume. This unique style creates a critical yet humorous commentary on Colombian and global political, military, and societal themes. His works span paintings, drawings, and sculptures, many of which grace public spaces and galleries worldwide. He donated numerous works to museums in Colombia and beyond, making his art accessible to a wide audience and solidifying his status as a key figure in contemporary art.

Alejandro Obregón (1920 – 1992)

Profession: Painter

Place of birth: Barcelona, Spain

Alejandro Obregón is considered one of the leading figures in modern Colombian art, known for his role in bringing Colombian painting to the forefront of the Latin American art scene. His work, often characterized by bold colors and dynamic, abstract forms, powerfully conveyed themes of violence, nature, and political turmoil. Obregón’s style evolved over the years, incorporating elements of surrealism and expressionism. His most iconic works, such as a series depicting condors and violent skies, are celebrated for their intense emotional depth and striking imagery, reflecting the artist’s deep connection to the landscapes and cultural climate of Colombia.

Débora Arango (1907 – 2005)

Profession: Painter

Place of birth: Medellín

Débora Arango was a pioneering Colombian painter whose controversial works often featured critiques of the socio-political issues of her time, including the church and the treatment of women in society. Her expressive style and bold use of color challenged the conservative norms of the Colombian art world, which were initially met with criticism, but ultimately earned her recognition as one of Colombia’s most important modern artists. Arango’s paintings, which often portrayed nudes, ecclesiastical figures, and scenes of everyday life, broke cultural taboos and paved the way for greater artistic freedom among subsequent generations.

Ómar Rayo (1928 – 2010)

Profession: Painter, sculptor, and caricaturist

Place of birth: Roldanillo, Colombia

Ómar Rayo was a Colombian artist known for his abstract geometric works and his use of black-and-white contrasts, often infused with a rich sense of humor and irony. His art, which includes paintings, sculptures, and drawings, explores the interplay of forms and shadows, creating optical illusions that captivate and engage viewers. Rayo’s international success includes exhibitions in Latin America, the U.S., and Europe. He also founded the Museo Rayo de Dibujo y Grabado Latinoamericano in his hometown, showcasing his commitment to promoting Latin American art.

Rodrigo Arenas Betancourt (1919 – 1995)

Profession: Sculptor

Place of birth: Fredonia, Colombia

Rodrigo Arenas Betancourt was a Colombian sculptor best known for his monumental works commemorating historical events and figures in Colombia. His dramatic and expressive bronze sculptures are scattered across public spaces in Colombia and several other Latin American countries. Arenas Betancourt’s work often depicts moments of struggle and passion, doing an excellent job of capturing historical struggles frozen in time. His sculptures often serve as focal points of public memory and national identity, especially in important public spaces like libraries, universities, airports, and government buildings.

Colombian customs and traditions

Colombian culture is rich with customs and traditions that emphasize family values, social interactions, and hospitality. Here are several key traditions and concepts that continue to shape daily life, even as modern influences begin to transform them:

La sobremesa is a Columbian tradition of staying at the table after meals to enjoy each others company.

  • La sobremesa: This tradition, common throughout Latin America, involves staying at the table after meals to chat and enjoy each other’s company without rushing. It reflects the importance of family time and leisurely social interactions in Colombian culture. While modern, faster-paced lifestyles may shorten these interactions, they remain a cherished practice during family gatherings and holidays.
  • Compadrazgo: In Colombia, choosing godparents for children is not only a religious practice but also a strategy for strengthening community ties. Godparents are expected to provide support and guidance throughout a child’s life. This tradition has adapted to contemporary society by sometimes including friends and distant relatives who might be living abroad, thus helping maintain emotional connections across distances.
  • Sunday mass and family gatherings: Attending church on Sundays, followed by a family meal, is a common practice across Colombia, serving as a spiritual and familial anchor for the week.
  • Aguardiente and socializing: Sharing a bottle of aguardiente, the national liquor, during gatherings is a longstanding Colombian custom. It symbolizes hospitality and celebration. Even in urban settings where cocktails and foreign spirits are becoming increasingly popular, aguardiente remains a staple in social events and is a symbol of Colombian warmth.
  • Respect for elders: Colombians are taught from a young age to respect their elders, with terms of endearment used when addressing older individuals (such as using the formal usted instead of informal tú). Modernity challenges this tradition as younger generations adopt more casual communication styles. However, fundamental respect in family settings persists.
  • El Paseo de Olla: This tradition involves going to a local river with family and friends to cook Sancocho, a traditional Colombian stew, outdoors. It’s a way of connecting with nature and community. While increasingly challenging due to urbanization, many still find time for such outings, adapting locations to accessible parks or recreational areas.
  • Novena de Aguinaldos: This is a religious and family practice held during the last nine days before Christmas. Families gather to pray, sing carols, and share food, highlighting the fusion of religious devotion and family ties. While the practice remains strong, there’s a growing trend of incorporating modern elements like virtual gatherings to include family members who are far away.

Colombian traditional and modern outfits

Traditional Attire

The Ruana is a thick, woolen wrap resembling a poncho.


Region of origin: Predominantly from the Andean highlands, particularly in the departments of Boyacá and Nariño.

The Ruana is a thick, woolen wrap resembling a poncho. It’s typically worn in the cooler Andean regions of Colombia. This versatile garment provides warmth and protection against the elements, functioning similarly to a blanket that can easily be wrapped around the body.

Sombrero Vueltiao

Region of origin: This hat is strongly associated with the Caribbean region, particularly the Zenú indigenous community in the departments of Córdoba and Sucre.

The sombrero Vueltiao is a traditional Colombian hat made from caña flecha, a type of palm native to the Caribbean coast. It features a black-and-white pattern that can indicate the complexity and quality of the hat. The hat is not only a cultural symbol but also practical, providing shade from the sun for farmers and other outdoor workers.


Region of origin: While similar skirts can be found in various Latin American cultures, in Colombia, it’s particularly popular in the Caribbean region and a staple during the Carnaval de Barranquilla.

The pollera is a bright, colorful skirt worn by women during traditional dances and festivals. This full-length skirt typically features vibrant colors and elaborate patterns, reflecting the festive spirit of Colombian folklore. It’s usually paired with a matching blouse and accessories like necklaces and headpieces.

Chapolera dress

Region of origin: This attire is specific to the Coffee Triangle, particularly in the departments of Caldas, Quindío, Risalda, and part of Valle del Cauca.

The Chapolera dress is traditionally worn by the women who harvest coffee beans in the Colombian coffee region. This outfit typically includes a wide-brimmed hat to protect from the sun, a brightly colored scarf, a lightweight blouse, and a full skirt to ease movement while working in the fields. The attire is often adorned with floral patterns and embroidery that symbolize the lush landscapes of the coffee-growing areas.

Manta Guajira

Region of origin: The Guajira Peninsula, which is the northernmost part of Colombia, bordering Venezuela.

The Manta Guajira is the traditional garment worn by the Wayúu indigenous people of the Guajira Peninsula. This rectangular cloth can be wrapped around the body in various ways, serving as a skirt, dress, or head wrap. It’s made from cotton and is characterized by vibrant, bold patterns that reflect the Wayúu’s cultural traditions and the arid landscape of their homeland.

Modern influences

Urban fashion in Colombia mirrors global fashion trends while infusing the with a local twist. IN cities like Bogotá, Medellín, and Cali, fashion is both a form of expression and a celebration of Colombia’s rich cultural heritage and biodiversity. The urban fashion scene often features bold colors and intricate patterns that echo the country’s lush landscapes and diverse ecosystems.

Colombian designers are increasingly gaining international recognition by blending Colombian elements with contemporary aesthetics. This fusion creates unique fashion pieces that stand out on the global stage while proudly celebrating Colombian roots.

  • Silvia Tcherassi: One of the first Colombian designers to make it onto the international scene, Tcherassi is known for her innovative use of native textiles and vibrant colors. Her designs often feature luxurious fabrics and elegant silhouettes combined with traditional Colombian craftsmanship.
  • Johanna Ortiz: Her playful and feminine designs often incorporate ruffles, off-the-shoulder silhouettes, and bold prints. Her fashion line emphasizes the flamboyant spirit of the Colombian people and the natural beauty of the country’s landscapes. Ortiz’s designs have been featured in major fashion magazines and worn by celebrities on red carpets, significantly raising the profile of Colombian design internationally.
  • Esteban Cortazar: Known for his avant-garde approach, Cortazar blends modern influences with Colombian-inspired elements. His use of vibrant colors, mixed prints, and fluid shapes highlights Colombia’s diverse culture. Cortazar’s designs are a hit in fashion capitals like Milan, Barcelona, and Miami, where his innovative silhouettes shine.

Indigenous and Afro-Colombian attire

Indigenous communities across Colombia preserve their cultural identity and heritage through distinct styles of dress, each uniquely reflecting the community’s environment, history, and beliefs. These clothes are often characterized by handmade fabrics crafted using traditional techniques passed down through generations. Intricate patterns and vibrant symbols on these garments often tell stories of the community’s ancestors, natural surroundings, and sacred beliefs, serving not only as clothing but as a form of cultural expression.

  • Wayúu: From the Guajira Peninsula, the Wayúu are known for their brightly colored mochilas (bags), which are hand-woven and feature organic patterns that symbolize elements of their daily life and environment.
  • Inga: Deep in the Amazon, this community wears tunics and wraps decorated with natural dyes and patterns that reflect their deep connection with the rainforest.
  • Kogi: In the Sierra Nevada, the Kogi people wear white robes that symbolize purity and a profound spiritual connection to the earth.

Afro-Colombian attire

Along the coastal regions, particularly in the Pacific and Caribbean areas, Afro-Colombian attire is a critical part of local customs. The clothing is often made from brightly colored fabrics and features bold patterns that reflect the natural beauty and vibrant spirit of the coastal landscapes. Traditional Afro-Colombian attire might include:

  • Peoples of the Palenquera community often dress in colorful skirts and headscarves, using fabrics that stand out in vivid colors .
  • Jewelry plays a significant role, with large, bold pieces made from natural materials like seeds, wood, and beads that not only adorn but also connect the wearers to their ancestral roots.
  • Hairstyles among Afro-Colombian women, such as intricate braids and wraps, are not just a beauty statement but also serve as symbols of cultural identity and familiar lineage.

The Colombian spirit

Colombia’s history is marked by challenges and triumphs, which have forged a nation known for its resilience and warmth. Despite enduring decades of civil unrest and challenges that would fracture less cohesive societies, Colombians have cultivated a culture where community and joy are inseparable from the national identity, as demonstrated in the countless cultural traditions of the country.

Joy is at the heart of the Colombian approach to life. Festivals like the Carnaval de Barranquilla or Festival de las Flores in Medellín are testaments to Colombia’s appreciation of color, culture, and togetherness, as locals and tourists fill the streets with music, dance, and laughter. These festivals do an excellent job of summarizing the country’s core values: embracing joy in every situation and finding strength in community.

Want to learn even more about Spanish-speaking cultures?

Colombia’s enormous historical and cultural background is just the beginning. Not only is there so much more about Colombia that you can learn, but there are also 20 other fascinating Spanish-speaking countries for you to consider! Although this comprehensive guide on Colombian culture has equipped you with the essentials — it’s really just the beginning.

For even more cultural content, head over to our Spanish blog, where we regularly publish helpful guides and cultural tidbits that will help you navigate Spanish culture like a pro. How about reading about Mexican traditions, or perhaps Spanish cuisine? Or maybe difference between Mexican vs. Puerto Rican Spanish? Whatever you’re curious about.

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