Ethnic Composition and Cultural Diversity of Colombia


Colombia, a country straddling the Andes and the Caribbean, is recognized as the land of emeralds and the cumbia, where cheese is an odd but welcomed addition to hot chocolate. With a population of 50 million, it is the second-most populous country in South America and is remarkable for its incredible diversity. It is the second most biodiverse country in the world, and its human diversity is just as striking. In this article, we delve into the ethnic makeup of Colombia and its rich cultural history.

The Predominant Mestizo Ethnicity

In Colombia, the mestizo, a mix of indigenous and European ancestry, is predominant. According to official figures, mestizos and whites make up 85% of the total population. The first Spanish expeditions on the Colombian Atlantic coast date back to 1499, with permanent settlements starting in 1509.

Before the Arrival of the Spanish

Before the arrival of the Spanish, Colombian territory had been inhabited by indigenous peoples for thousands of years. At the time of the conquerors’ arrival, a significant portion of the country was home to the Chibcha people. Though not as internationally renowned as the Incas, Mayans, or Aztecs, the Chibcha had developed a substantial degree of civilization. The Muisca Confederation, part of the Chibcha community, constituted the most densely populated area in Colombia upon the arrival of the conquerors.

The Impact of the Conquest

The Spanish conquest resulted in a mix between the Spanish and indigenous peoples. It is estimated that 10 million Colombians have Chibcha ancestry, and to this day, thousands of their descendants keep their traditions alive in the Andean part of the country.

European Influence in Colombia

Unlike the Southern Cone, Colombia did not receive significant waves of settlers and immigrants from diverse European countries. However, Spanish influence, particularly from the south of Spain and one particular group—the Basques—is notable. It is estimated that 40% of Antioquia’s population has Basque ancestors.

The Middle Eastern Contribution

Colombia also welcomed immigrants from the Middle East. From 1880 onward, several groups of Syrians, Lebanese, and Christian Palestinians immigrated to the country. Today, Colombia has the highest number of Arab descendants in Latin America, with an estimated 3.2 million people.

The Afro-Colombian Population

Colombia’s black population arrived nearly concurrently with the Europeans, albeit as slaves. It is estimated that between 10.2% and 25% of the Colombian population has total or significant ancestry of African origin.

How Geography Shaped Colombia’s Ethnic Distribution

Geography played a significant role in shaping Colombia’s ethnic distribution. Afro-descendants constitute high percentages of the population in the country’s coastal region, both on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Conversely, protected areas inhabited by indigenous peoples are more extensive and plentiful in the east than in the west, aligning with the country’s most forested areas.


While there is a shared past in Latin America, each region has developed distinct characteristics that differentiate each country. Colombia is a prime example of this. While it is highly representative of Latin America, it also possesses unique aspects that set it apart.

A Quick 15-Minute History of Colombia: An Easy Summary

Today we will talk about the history of Colombia, a vibrant South American country that’s a melting pot of diverse cultures and rich in history.

Spanish Colonization: Setting the Scene

Colombia’s history is notably marked by the arrival of Spanish colonizers, the establishment of cities like Santa Marta and Cartagena, and the diversification of its population with the arrival of African slaves.

Santa Fe, today’s Bogotá, was designated the capital of its own viceroyalty, covering the current territories of Colombia, Panama, Ecuador, and Venezuela. Notably, during this period, José Celestino Mutis led the Botanical Expedition of the New Kingdom of Granada, which resulted in the classification of over 27,000 species and the founding of the city’s first astronomical observatory.

Early Uprisings and the Struggle for Independence

The first anti-colonial rebellion was the Comunera Revolution in 1781, instigated by Manuela Beltrán. By 1810, several revolts were organized, culminating in the government assembly in Santa Fe. Despite the French Revolutionary influence, tensions escalated, leading to independence with the Revolutionary Congress in Angostura in 1819 and the formation of Gran Colombia.

Bolívar’s Reign and the Fragmentation of Gran Colombia

Bolívar became the first president and later initiated the separation of Gran Colombia. In 1830, Bolívar resigned from the presidency.

The Birth of Political Parties and Civil Unrest

In 1849, two political parties were founded in Colombia, one conservative and the other liberal. This division led to a series of conflicts and civil wars throughout the 19th century.

Power Struggles, Guerrilla Groups, and The Influence of the Drug Cartels

After a period of authoritarian rule, conservatives and liberals agreed on a rotational system of power in Sitges, excluding other political parties. Meanwhile, the influence of the Cuban revolution and social conflicts led to the creation of guerrilla groups, marking an era of wars and conflicts in the country, with drug trafficking and kidnappings becoming commonplace. Furthermore, the Medellín Cartel, led by Pablo Escobar, had a significant political presence, exemplified by his senatorial electoral victory in 1982.

A New Constitution amidst Persistent Violence

Despite recurrent violence, César Gaviria of the Liberal Party assumed power, promulgating a new constitution in 1991. However, his government was plagued by corruption scandals, which weakened the economy and allowed the strengthening of the FARC. Over the years, various peace talks were attempted, with varying degrees of success.

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