Travelers are visiting in increasing numbers, and return from Colombia unharmed and raving about the country's beauty and its hospitable, friendly people. And no wonder: Colombia's mist-shrouded, snow-capped Andean mountains; charming colonial cities; golden-sand beaches; and vast green stretches of Amazonian rain forest speak for themselves, not to mention its wealth of wildlife and indigenous people.

The country has experienced two bloody civil wars between Liberals and Conservatives, the two predominant political factions. In 1948, the assassination of Liberal political leader Jorge Eliecer Gaitain sparked the "Bogotazo"—a riotous mayhem that destroyed much of Bogota and cost the lives of more than 2,000 people. It triggered La Violencia, a civil war that lasted from 1948 to 1957 and took 300,000 lives (in the Americas, only the U.S. Civil War and the Mexican Revolution were more destructive).

Despite the decades of violence, Colombia managed to have the most stable Latin American economy during the 20th century, has never defaulted on its debts, and is today a sophisticated and cosmopolitan country.

Eighty different languages, most of them known only to small indigenous communities, are still spoken in Colombia. However, Spanish is the national language, which nearly everyone speaks.

Colombia has six active volcanoes, and the explosion of Volcan Nevado del Ruiz in 1985 led to the deaths of 23,000 people—the largest natural disaster of its kind in the Americas in recorded history.



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