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Colombia’s Top 23 Largest and most Important Cities – Key Data and Insights

Bogotá Colombia city center

Updated on 02/25/2024

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City: Bogotá

Department: Capital District

Location: Central Colombia, within the Andean region.

Climate: Subtropical highland climate, mild temperatures year-round.

Population: Over 8 million inhabitants.

Area: 1,587 km² (613 sq mi).

Elevation: 2,640 m (8,660 ft) above sea level.

Average Temperature: 14°C (57°F).

Year of Foundation: Founded on August 6, 1538.

Local Culture

Bogotá is a cultural powerhouse with a rich tapestry of colonial heritage and modern arts. It’s the epicenter of Colombia’s cultural festivals, including the renowned Bogotá International Film Festival and Rock al Parque, one of the most important rock festivals in Latin America. The city’s numerous theaters, libraries, and museums—like the Gold Museum which houses the largest collection of pre-Hispanic goldwork in the world—underscore its status as a cultural capital.

History

  • 1538: Spanish conquistador Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada founded Bogotá.
  • 1810: The city became the capital of the independent nation following the Colombian Declaration of Independence.
  • 20th Century: Bogotá experienced rapid industrial growth and urban expansion, becoming the country’s primary center for politics and business.

Economy

Bogotá is the economic heart of Colombia, with an economy centered around service industries such as banking, telecommunications, and IT. It’s also a hub for conventions and events in Latin America. The city’s industrial sector is diverse, ranging from pharmaceuticals to food processing.

Tourism

As the capital city, Bogotá is rich in historical landmarks, including the historic center known as La Candelaria, home to splendid Spanish colonial architecture and cultural sites. Monserrate Sanctuary offers breathtaking views of the sprawling city below. The city’s numerous green parks and the botanical garden provide urban oases for both tourists and residents.

Local Food

The city’s gastronomy reflects its multicultural population, with an array of local and international cuisines. Bogotá is famous for its ‘ajiaco’, a traditional Andean soup. Street food like ’empanadas’ and ‘arepas’ are ubiquitous, and the city’s burgeoning coffee culture offers a taste of Colombia’s renowned coffee.

Special Information

Bogotá stands at the forefront of Colombia’s advancements in education, healthcare, and infrastructure. It’s recognized for its efforts in sustainable urban development and public transportation, particularly the TransMilenio bus system. The city’s high altitude and its proximity to equatorial latitude afford it one of the highest levels of UV radiation in the world, necessitating sun protection measures for both residents and visitors.

City: Medellín

Department: Antioquia

Location: Located in the Aburrá Valley in the Andes Mountains.

Climate: Tropical rainforest climate with a reputation as the “City of Eternal Spring” for its pleasant weather year-round.

Population: Approximately 2.5 million inhabitants.

Area: 380 km² (147 sq mi).

Elevation: 1,495 m (4,905 ft) above sea level.

Average Temperature: 22°C (72°F).

Year of Foundation: Founded on March 2, 1616.

Local Culture

Medellín is celebrated for its innovation and cultural dynamism. It’s famous for the annual Flower Festival, which features Silleteros who create and carry elaborate flower arrangements. The city’s transformation over the past few decades has been reflected in its vibrant art scene, with street art tours in the Comuna 13 neighborhood being a highlight for visitors. Music is a cornerstone of Medellín’s cultural identity, with genres ranging from traditional Colombian styles to reggaeton.

History

  • 1616: Medellín was officially founded by Francisco Herrera Campuzano.
  • 19th Century: The city emerged as a center of commerce, especially in gold mining and coffee production.
  • Late 20th Century: Medellín underwent a period of significant urban development, although it faced challenges due to drug-related violence.
  • 21st Century: It has been recognized for its urban renewal and social programs, earning the title of the most innovative city in the world in 2013.

Economy

Medellín’s economy is characterized by its industrial strength, particularly in textile manufacturing, which has earned it the nickname “Fashion Capital of Latin America”. The city has diversified its economy, now excelling in sectors like technology, healthcare, and education, and is home to the only stock exchange in Colombia outside of Bogotá.

Tourism

Tourism in Medellín is fueled by its cultural activities, innovative public spaces, and museums like the Museo de Antioquia. The city’s cable car system offers not only a unique means of transportation but also panoramic views of the valley and has become an emblem of the city’s innovative approach to solving transportation issues.

Local Food

Medellín offers a rich culinary experience, with local dishes such as bandeja paisa, a hearty platter typical of the region, and arepas de choclo, a sweet corn cake. The city’s culinary scene is a blend of traditional Colombian flavors and modern gastronomic innovations.

Special Information

Medellín has become synonymous with transformation and resilience, overcoming its past to become a model of urban innovation and social development. The city’s initiatives in public transportation, social programs, and environmental sustainability have garnered global recognition and continue to attract international interest in its developmental model.

City: Cali

Department: Valle del Cauca

Location: Western Colombia in the Cauca Valley.

Climate: Tropical savanna climate, with a dry season and a wet season.

Population: Roughly 2.2 million inhabitants.

Area: 560.3 km² (216.3 sq mi).

Elevation: 1,000 m (3,281 ft) above sea level.

Average Temperature: 23°C (73°F).

Year of Foundation: Founded on July 25, 1536.

Local Culture

Cali is known as the ‘Salsa Capital of the World’, a title that captures the essence of the city’s vibrant and rhythmic cultural scene. Dance academies, salsa clubs, and the annual World Salsa Festival highlight Cali’s deep-rooted love for salsa music and dance. The city also boasts a strong sports culture, with a particular passion for football and a history of hosting major sporting events.

History

  • 1536: Sebastián de Belalcázar established Cali, making it one of the oldest European settlements in the Americas.
  • 18th & 19th Century: The city was a key agricultural and mining center during colonial times and played a significant role in Colombia’s struggle for independence.
  • 21st Century: Cali has undergone a significant transformation, with a focus on urban development and cultural investments.

Economy

Cali’s economy is diverse, with strengths in agriculture, especially sugar and coffee, industrial manufacturing, and a growing service sector. It is also a major economic and industrial center in the southwestern region of Colombia, with the Cali River providing vital natural resources for the city’s industries.

Tourism

Tourism in Cali is on the rise, thanks to its reputation as a capital of culture and sports. Visitors are drawn to its historical districts, modern architecture, and green spaces like the Pance River. The city’s cultural heritage is displayed in museums such as the La Tertulia Museum of Modern Art.

Local Food

The gastronomy of Cali is a reflection of the region’s biodiversity and cultural mix. Local specialties include cholado, a colorful and refreshing fruit cocktail, and sancocho de gallina, a hearty traditional soup that’s a staple of the local diet. Cali’s street food, with its myriad of flavors, is an essential part of the city’s culinary landscape.

Special Information

Cali is recognized for its important contributions to Colombia’s music and dance culture, and its year-round warm climate makes it a hub for outdoor and leisure activities. The city has made significant strides in urban renewal and is actively enhancing its public spaces and infrastructure to further develop tourism and improve the quality of life for its residents.

City: Barranquilla

Department: Atlántico

Location: Situated in northern Colombia at the delta of the Magdalena River, opening into the Caribbean Sea.

Climate: Tropical savanna climate with high humidity and a hot temperature throughout the year.

Population: About 1.2 million inhabitants.

Area: 154 km² (59 sq mi).

Elevation: 18 m (59 ft) above sea level.

Average Temperature: 28°C (82°F).

Year of Foundation: Officially founded on April 7, 1813.

Local Culture

Barranquilla is renowned for its Carnaval de Barranquilla, a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage event, which is second only to Rio’s in size and rivals it in color and festivity. The city thrives on its cultural diversity, reflected in its music, dance, and numerous cultural events. It is a melting pot of indigenous, European, African, and Middle Eastern influences, creating a unique cultural identity.

History

  • 1813: The official founding date, although the settlement existed well before that.
  • Late 19th Century: Barranquilla became an important port city, contributing to the development of trade and the modernization of Colombia.
  • 20th Century: The city experienced rapid industrialization and became a haven for immigrants, further shaping its cultural and economic landscape.

Economy

Barranquilla has a robust economy centered on major industrial and port activities. It’s known as the Golden Gate of Colombia due to its significant role in national trade. The city is a leading center for import and export in the country, with the maritime port playing a crucial role in the regional economy.

Tourism

The city’s tourism is driven by its cultural heritage, especially the Carnaval de Barranquilla. Additionally, its museums, beaches, and architectural landmarks such as the Cathedral of Barranquilla are major attractions. The city’s modern infrastructure and event venues also make it an appealing destination for international conferences and festivals.

Local Food

Barranquilla’s cuisine is as diverse as its culture, featuring Caribbean influences that include dishes like butifarra, a type of sausage, and arroz de lisa, a regional specialty made with mullet rice. Street food, particularly during the Carnival, is an explosion of flavors, offering treats like arepas e’huevo and bollo de yuca.

Special Information

Barranquilla is a city that prides itself on inclusivity and joy. It’s a leader in the arts, hosting numerous festivals that celebrate the rich tapestry of Colombian and Caribbean cultures. The city is also advancing in sustainability, with projects aimed at improving air quality and expanding green spaces. Barranquilla’s strategic position as a port city continues to shape its destiny as a vital commercial and cultural hub in the Caribbean region.

City: Cartagena

Department: Bolívar

Location: On the northern coast of Colombia in the Caribbean region.

Climate: Tropical monsoon climate with little temperature variation throughout the year.

Population: Around 1 million inhabitants.

Area: 572 km² (221 sq mi).

Elevation: 2 m (6.6 ft) above sea level.

Average Temperature: 27°C (81°F).

Year of Foundation: Officially founded on June 1, 1533.

Local Culture

Cartagena de Indias, as it is officially known, is infused with a rich cultural heritage evident in its music, dance, and festivals. The city’s African, Spanish, and Caribbean legacies come alive during events like the Cartagena International Music Festival and the Hay Festival. Its historic walled city, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a testament to its colonial past and vibrant present.

History

  • 1533: Founded by Pedro de Heredia, Cartagena became a major Spanish port.
  • 16th-17th Century: The city faced and resisted pirate attacks, leading to the construction of its iconic fortifications.
  • 19th Century: Cartagena played a critical role in Colombia’s independence, earning the title “La Heroica” (The Heroic City) for its bravery.

Economy

Cartagena is a key economic hub in Colombia, with one of the country’s most important ports. Its economy is driven by maritime and petrochemical industries, tourism, and commerce. The port facilitates international trade, particularly in the Caribbean region.

Tourism

Tourism is a major industry in Cartagena, with its well-preserved colonial architecture, beautiful beaches, and vibrant nightlife attracting visitors from around the globe. The Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas and the historic center offer a journey through time, while the Islas del Rosario are a tropical paradise for beach and nature lovers.

Local Food

Cartagena’s culinary scene showcases an array of tropical flavors and seafood specialties. Dishes like ceviche, coconut rice, and fried fish reflect the city’s coastal location and culinary traditions. Street food such as arepas and empanadas offer a taste of the local fare.

Special Information

Cartagena’s strategic location has historically made it a cultural and economic crossroads. Today, the city is recognized for its historical preservation efforts and cultural vitality. Its commitment to maintaining its colonial charm while embracing modernity has made Cartagena an exemplary city in Latin America.

City: Cúcuta

Department: Norte de Santander

Location: Bordering Venezuela, in northeastern Colombia.

Climate: Tropical savanna.

Population: Roughly 760,000 inhabitants.

Area: 1,176 km² (454 sq mi).

Elevation: 320 m (1,050 ft) above sea level.

Average Temperature: 28°C (82°F).

Year of Foundation: Established in 1733.

Local Culture

Cúcuta’s cultural life is an exuberant exhibition of Colombian and Venezuelan traditions, mirroring its border location. It is renowned for its colorful festivities, particularly the annual Carnival, where the vibrant sounds of salsa, vallenato, and merengue enliven the streets. Local crafts, such as the meticulously woven ‘mochilas’, are emblematic of the region’s artisanal prowess and are highly sought after by both locals and tourists.

History

Cúcuta’s history is distinguished by several key events:

  • 1733: Founded by Juana Rangel de Cuéllar, the city has been a commercial and cultural hub since its inception.
  • 1813: It played a strategic role in Colombia’s fight for independence during the Battle of Cúcuta.
  • 1821: The Congress of Cúcuta was a landmark event, where the constitution of the Republic of Greater Colombia was framed, signifying unity and a new direction for the nation.
  • 1875: Post a severe earthquake, Cúcuta underwent extensive rebuilding, reshaping its urban landscape and infrastructure.

Economy

Cúcuta’s economy is multifaceted, with its status as a border city fostering a significant trade sector. The Zona Franca (Free Trade Zone) is a nucleus of industrial and commercial activity, leveraging tax incentives to attract international business. The city also supports a robust agricultural sector, with coffee and cocoa being prominent exports.

Tourism

The city is a trove of historical and cultural sites, including the Casa Natal del General Santander, which offers insights into the life of one of Colombia’s founding fathers. Natural reserves and eco-parks such as the Zulia River provide pockets of biodiversity and ecotourism opportunities. The towering Christ King statue is another draw, offering panoramic views and becoming a symbol of the city’s skyline.

Local Food

Cúcuta’s culinary scene reflects its cultural blend, with staples like ‘mute santandereano’, a filling regional soup, and ‘arepa de huevo’, a versatile cornmeal cake. Sweet treats, such as ‘dulce de leche’, are a testament to the city’s sweet tooth, while the indigenous ‘chicha’ beverage remains a traditional favorite.

Special Information

Cúcuta holds a distinctive place in current geopolitical dynamics due to the influx of Venezuelan migrants, shaping its social, economic, and cultural fabric. The city’s response to this influx, including humanitarian aid and integration policies, reflects its strategic importance and compassionate community ethos. Additionally, its educational institutions and cultural events contribute to an energetic atmosphere of learning and creativity.

City: Soledad

Department: Atlántico

Location: Located adjacent to Barranquilla in the northern part of Colombia.

Climate: Tropical savanna climate, with a significant amount of rain even in the driest month.

Population: Approximately 700,000 inhabitants.

Area: 67 km² (26 sq mi).

Elevation: 4 m (13 ft) above sea level.

Average Temperature: 28°C (82°F).

Year of Foundation: Officially recognized in 1813, although its settlement predates this recognition.

Local Culture

Soledad is a city with a cultural identity strongly tied to the Caribbean coast of Colombia. It shares many cultural traits with nearby Barranquilla, including a love for music and dance, especially cumbia and vallenato. The city celebrates Carnaval, though on a smaller scale compared to its famous neighbor, reflecting a communal spirit and joyous traditions.

History

  • Early 17th Century: The area around Soledad was first inhabited by indigenous peoples before Spanish colonization.
  • 1813: The city’s official foundation year, although it served as a settlement and minor trading post before then.
  • 20th Century: Soledad became an important industrial and urban center due to its proximity to Barranquilla.

Economy

Soledad’s economy is closely linked to that of Barranquilla, with many of its residents working in the industries and services of the larger city. It has a growing industrial sector and is part of the key economic area around the mouth of the Magdalena River, which is vital for regional trade.

Tourism

While not a major tourist destination, Soledad benefits from its proximity to Barranquilla, with visitors often exploring the area during major events like Carnaval. It offers a more local and authentic experience of the Caribbean coastal culture of Colombia.

Local Food

The cuisine in Soledad is typical of the Caribbean region of Colombia, with an emphasis on seafood, coconut rice, and plantains. Local eateries and street food vendors offer a taste of traditional Colombian fare, with fresh ingredients and bold flavors.

Special Information

Soledad is a growing city with a focus on improving the quality of life for its citizens. It is part of the metropolitan area of Barranquilla, with which it shares cultural and economic ties. The city is also working on enhancing its urban infrastructure and public services to better integrate with the regional economy and to accommodate its increasing population.

City: Ibagué

Department: Tolima

Location: Central Colombia, nestled in the Andean region.

Climate: Tropical and subtropical climate, with a significant amount of rainfall throughout the year.

Population: Approximately 500,000 inhabitants.

Area: 1,421 km² (549 sq mi).

Elevation: 1,285 m (4,216 ft) above sea level.

Average Temperature: 21°C (70°F).

Year of Foundation: Founded on October 14, 1550.

Local Culture

Ibagué is often referred to as the “Musical Capital of Colombia” due to its rich musical tradition, which includes the Colombian Folklore Festival held annually in June. The city has a vibrant cultural scene with numerous schools dedicated to music and dance, reflecting the importance of these arts in the daily life of its residents.

History

  • 1550: Founded by Spanish conquistador Andrés López de Galarza, Ibagué has been a key city in Colombia’s history.
  • 19th Century: The city was a strategic site during the Colombian War of Independence.
  • 20th Century: Ibagué experienced growth and development, establishing itself as a center for education and culture.

Economy

Ibagué’s economy traditionally revolved around agriculture, with coffee being a significant crop. In recent years, it has diversified with the growth of commercial activities, services, and small to medium-sized industries, reflecting a broader trend in the regional economy.

Tourism

Tourism in Ibagué is often associated with its musical heritage, attracting visitors to its festivals and cultural events. The city is also a gateway to the Nevado del Tolima, a popular destination for hikers and nature enthusiasts.

Local Food

The gastronomy of Ibagué is representative of the Andean region, with dishes such as tamales tolimenses and lechona being local delicacies. These traditional foods offer a glimpse into the region’s culinary history and are a must-try for visitors.

Special Information

Ibagué is committed to promoting its musical heritage, with initiatives to support local artists and events that celebrate its cultural identity. The city is also focused on environmental conservation, with numerous parks and green spaces that contribute to its reputation as a green city within Colombia.

City: Soacha

Department: Cundinamarca

Location: Adjacent to the south of Bogotá in the central region of Colombia.

Climate: Subtropical highland, with mild temperatures and ample rainfall.

Population: Estimated at over 500,000 inhabitants.

Area: 184 km² (71 sq mi).

Elevation: Approximately 2,600 m (8,530 ft) above sea level.

Average Temperature: Around 14°C (57°F).

Year of Foundation: Officially recognized as a municipality in 1600.

Local Culture

Soacha is known for its cultural richness, including traditional music and dance that reflects the diversity of Colombia’s heritage. The city celebrates various festivals and events throughout the year, which often include performances of local folklore and artisanal crafts that are typical of the Andean region.

History

  • 1600: Soacha was established as a municipality, with a history deeply connected to the indigenous peoples of the region.
  • 20th Century: The city witnessed significant urbanization and population growth, much of it due to its proximity to the capital, Bogotá.
  • 21st Century: Soacha has been part of the greater Bogotá metropolitan area, with ongoing development and integration into the capital’s urban plan.

Economy

Soacha’s economy has historically been based on agriculture and mining, but in recent years it has diversified. Today, it includes manufacturing, retail, and services that cater to its growing population. Its economic activities are also increasingly linked to those of Bogotá, with many residents commuting to the capital for work.

Tourism

Tourism in Soacha is not as developed as in other Colombian cities, but it offers natural attractions such as the Tequendama Falls and Chicaque Natural Park. The city’s cultural events and proximity to Bogotá also make it a potential spot for tourism growth.

Local Food

The local cuisine in Soacha includes Colombian staples such as arepas and tamales. The food reflects the agricultural traditions of the region, with a focus on fresh, locally sourced ingredients.

Special Information

Soacha continues to face challenges related to rapid urban expansion, including the need for infrastructure development and environmental sustainability. Efforts are being made to improve public services, housing, and quality of life for residents, as the city becomes an integral part of the Bogotá metropolitan area.

City: Bucaramanga

Department: Santander

Location: Northeastern Colombia, situated on a plateau in the Cordillera Oriental of the Andes Mountains.

Climate: Tropical monsoon climate with moderate to warm temperatures and significant rainfall during the wet season.

Population: Around 580,000 inhabitants.

Area: 162 km² (63 sq mi).

Elevation: 959 m (3,146 ft) above sea level.

Average Temperature: 23°C (73°F).

Year of Foundation: Founded on December 22, 1622.

Local Culture

Bucaramanga, known as “La Ciudad de Los Parques” (The City of Parks), has a rich cultural scene characterized by its numerous parks and green spaces which host a variety of cultural events and social gatherings. The city also has a strong tradition in folk music and dance, particularly the ‘guabina’ and ‘torbellino’ dances.

History

  • 1622: Bucaramanga was founded by the Spanish colonist Andrés Páez de Sotomayor.
  • 19th Century: It played a significant role during Colombia’s War of Independence and is known for the Comuneros revolt against Spanish rule.
  • 20th Century: The city developed into a major hub for the production of coffee and tobacco and later diversified into other industries.

Economy

Bucaramanga’s economy is one of the most vibrant in the region, with a strong presence of manufacturing industries, including shoes, textiles, and food processing. It’s also an important center for commerce, education, and health services in northeastern Colombia.

Tourism

The city attracts visitors with its pleasant climate, urban parks, and modern shopping centers. Bucaramanga is also a gateway to natural attractions such as the Chicamocha Canyon and the Santísimo Ecopark, where a large statue of Christ offers panoramic views of the region.

Local Food

Cuisine in Bucaramanga is known for its traditional Santanderean dishes, such as ‘hormigas culonas’ (roasted ants), ‘mote de queso’ (a soup made with yam and cheese), and ‘arepa santandereana’ (a type of cornbread). These culinary traditions offer a unique taste of the local culture.

Special Information

Bucaramanga is recognized for its high quality of life and strong educational system, including several universities that are well-regarded nationally. The city has also made significant strides in sustainability, with initiatives to preserve its numerous parks and green spaces.

City: Villavicencio

Department: Meta

Location: In the foothills of the Andes Mountains, central Colombia.

Climate: Tropical rainforest climate with high humidity and significant rainfall throughout the year.

Population: Approximately 531,275 inhabitants.

Area: 1,328 km² (513 sq mi).

Elevation: 467 m (1,532 ft) above sea level.

Average Temperature: 27°C (81°F).

Year of Foundation: Founded on April 6, 1840.

Local Culture

Villavicencio, often referred to as “La Puerta al Llano” (The Gateway to the Plains), is rich in the culture of the Colombian plains, or ‘Los Llanos’. Music is a pivotal aspect of local culture, with joropo being the most characteristic genre, and the harp, maracas, and cuatro being traditional instruments. The city’s cultural identity is also expressed through its annual festivals, such as the International Llanera Festival, which celebrates the region’s music, dance, and cattle farming traditions.

History

  • 1840: Villavicencio was officially founded, though the area had been inhabited by indigenous peoples for centuries before.
  • 20th Century: The city became a key site for oil exploration and the agriculture sector, especially cattle farming, which boosted its economic development.
  • Recent Decades: It has undergone significant urban growth and is now an important hub for the region, connecting the Colombian plains with the rest of the country.

Economy

The economy of Villavicencio is primarily based on agriculture, livestock breeding, and oil. The surrounding Llanos Orientales are some of the most fertile lands in Colombia, making the city a center for products like rice, corn, and fruits. The city also benefits from the oil reserves in the region, contributing to a significant part of its economic activity.

Tourism

Villavicencio is a destination for ecotourism and adventure tourism, offering activities like hiking, fishing, and horseback riding. The city is the starting point for trips into the vast plains of the Orinoquía region, with natural parks and reserves showcasing the unique flora and fauna of the Colombian savannas.

Local Food

The local gastronomy is dominated by dishes from the Llanos, with ‘mamona’ or ‘llanero barbecue’ being a distinctive culinary practice. Other typical foods include cassava bread and a variety of meat dishes that reflect the cattle ranching culture of the area.

Special Information

Villavicencio has a strategic geographical position that connects the Andean region with the Eastern Plains of Colombia. The city has invested in infrastructure to enhance connectivity and development, including the construction of the Bogotá-Villavicencio corridor which has improved access to the capital. It also serves as a commercial center for the surrounding rural areas, playing a vital role in the region’s social and economic fabric.

City: Santa Marta

Department: Magdalena

Location: On the shores of the Caribbean Sea in northern Colombia.

Climate: Tropical savanna climate with distinct wet and dry seasons.

Population: Around 500,000 inhabitants.

Area: 2,393 km² (924 sq mi).

Elevation: 2 m (6.6 ft) above sea level.

Average Temperature: 27°C (81°F).

Year of Foundation: Founded on July 29, 1525.

Local Culture

Santa Marta, the oldest existing city in Colombia, has a rich historical and cultural heritage. It is known for its vibrant music scene, which includes traditional Colombian styles as well as Caribbean influences. The city hosts numerous cultural festivals throughout the year, such as the Festival del Mar and the International Film Festival. The indigenous cultures of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, particularly the Kogi and Arhuaco peoples, also contribute to the region’s cultural diversity.

History

  • 1525: Founded by Spanish conquistador Rodrigo de Bastidas, Santa Marta is one of the first Spanish settlements in Colombia.
  • 19th Century: The city played a role in the independence movement and served as a key port during the colonial period.
  • 20th Century: Santa Marta developed into a major tourist destination, with a focus on preserving its colonial legacy and natural beauty.

Economy

Santa Marta’s economy is based on tourism, port activities, and agriculture. As a major port city, it has a free-trade zone and serves as a hub for goods entering and leaving Colombia. The surrounding region is also known for its banana and coffee plantations, which are significant contributors to the local economy.

Tourism

Santa Marta is a popular tourist destination due to its beautiful beaches, colonial architecture, and proximity to the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta National Park. The park is a UNESCO World Heritage site and offers unique trekking experiences, including the famous Lost City trek. The city’s coastal location makes it a favorite spot for water sports and relaxation.

Local Food

The gastronomy of Santa Marta is heavily influenced by its coastal environment, with an abundance of fresh seafood dishes like ceviche and fried fish. The culinary traditions reflect a blend of indigenous, African, and Spanish influences, resulting in a rich and diverse food culture.

Special Information

Santa Marta is recognized for its commitment to environmental sustainability, with efforts to protect the unique ecosystems of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. The city also focuses on promoting responsible tourism to safeguard its cultural and natural resources for future generations.

City: Valledupar

Department: Cesar

Location: Northeastern Colombia, situated in the valley between the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and the Serranía del Perijá mountain ranges.

Climate: Tropical savanna climate with a marked dry season.

Population: Over 490,000 inhabitants.

Area: 4,977 km² (1,922 sq mi).

Elevation: 169 m (554 ft) above sea level.

Average Temperature: 28°C (82°F).

Year of Foundation: Founded on January 6, 1550.

Local Culture

Valledupar is renowned for being the cradle of vallenato, a traditional Colombian music genre. This cultural identity is celebrated every year during the Festival de la Leyenda Vallenata, an event that attracts musicians and visitors from across the country and the globe. The city’s culture is also reflected in its crafts, such as the making of traditional ‘mochilas’ by the indigenous Arhuaco people, and its rich oral traditions.

History

  • 1550: The city was founded by Spanish conquistadores.
  • 20th Century: Valledupar gained prominence as the center of the vallenato music genre, with legendary figures like Alejandro Durán and the Lopez brothers.
  • Recent Years: The city has focused on cultural preservation and the celebration of its indigenous heritage, particularly that of the Arhuaco, Kankuamo, Wiwa, and Kogui peoples.

Economy

Valledupar’s economy is driven by agriculture, with a significant portion dedicated to cattle ranching and the cultivation of crops such as cotton, rice, and sorghum. The city has also seen growth in its commercial and service sectors, tied closely to the vallenato music industry and cultural tourism.

Tourism

Tourism in Valledupar is largely centered around its musical heritage, with the Vallenato Legend Festival being the pinnacle event. The region’s natural beauty, including the Badillo and Guatapurí rivers, and nearby natural parks, also draw visitors seeking eco-tourism and outdoor recreation.

Local Food

The cuisine of Valledupar is typical of Colombia’s Caribbean region, featuring a variety of meat dishes, soups, and fried foods. A local favorite is ‘pilonera’, a reference to pilon, a wooden tool used to process food and a symbol often associated with vallenato music.

Special Information

Valledupar has invested in the promotion of its musical and cultural heritage, not only as a means of tourism but also as a way to preserve and disseminate its traditions. The city is considered one of the greenest in Colombia, with numerous tree-lined avenues and parks, which underscore its commitment to environmental sustainability.

City: Bello

Department: Antioquia

Location: Situated in the northern area of the Aburrá Valley, close to Medellín.

Climate: Tropical rainforest climate with uniform temperatures throughout the year.

Population: Around 500,000 inhabitants.

Area: 148.39 km² (57.29 sq mi).

Elevation: 1,300 m (4,265 ft) above sea level.

Average Temperature: 22°C (72°F).

Year of Foundation: Established as a village on March 7, 1676, and recognized as a city in 1913.

Local Culture

Bello’s cultural life is deeply intertwined with that of the greater Medellín area, sharing in the paisa culture renowned throughout Colombia. The city celebrates its heritage through various festivals, including the Festival of Flowers, and is known for its traditional music, particularly genres such as tango and vallenato, which are popular throughout the region.

History

  • 1676: Founded as “Hatoviejo” before being renamed Bello.
  • 1913: Gained status as a city, becoming an important industrial and residential area in the Aburrá Valley.
  • 20th Century: Experienced significant industrial growth, especially in textiles, which contributed to the region’s economy.

Economy

Bello’s economy has traditionally been linked with the textile industry, but it has diversified in recent years to include services, commerce, and small-scale manufacturing. Its proximity to Medellín allows for economic integration with the larger city’s dynamic economy.

Tourism

While Bello is not a primary tourist destination, it benefits from its proximity to Medellín, offering visitors additional accommodation options and local experiences. Tourist activities are often centered around the city’s cultural events and natural parks.

Local Food

The city’s cuisine is characteristic of the Antioquia region, with dishes such as bandeja paisa, arepas, and sancocho. These hearty meals reflect the traditional diet of the Antioquian people and are a must-try for visitors seeking authentic local flavors.

Special Information

Bello is part of the Metropolitan Area of Medellín and has been involved in significant urban development projects aimed at improving the quality of life for its residents. These include transport infrastructure improvements, such as the expansion of the Medellín Metro to Bello, which has enhanced connectivity and accessibility within the Aburrá Valley.

City: Pereira

Department: Risaralda

Location: Located in the western part of Colombia, within the Coffee Triangle region.

Climate: Pereira has a warm and temperate climate, often referred to as a tropical rainforest climate without a dry season.

Population: Around 470,000 inhabitants.

Area: 702 km² (271 sq mi).

Elevation: 1,411 m (4,629 ft) above sea level.

Average Temperature: 21°C (70°F).

Year of Foundation: Founded on August 30, 1863.

Local Culture

Pereira is part of the Coffee Cultural Landscape of Colombia, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and its culture is deeply influenced by the coffee production tradition. The city is known for its lively salsa dancing scene and is home to many cultural events throughout the year, including the Harvest Festival which celebrates the region’s coffee-growing heritage with parades, music, and dance.

History

  • 1863: Pereira was founded by a group of Antioquian colonists.
  • 20th Century: The city grew rapidly as the coffee industry boomed, becoming an important urban center in the region.
  • 21st Century: Pereira has become known for its educational institutions and cultural contributions to the Coffee Triangle region.

Economy

Pereira’s economy is diversified, with a strong base in coffee production, as well as a growing industrial sector that includes the manufacturing of goods such as textiles and processed food. The service sector, particularly tourism, is also a significant contributor to the local economy.

Tourism

The city is a gateway to the Coffee Triangle, offering visitors the chance to experience coffee farm tours and stunning landscapes. Pereira’s modern urban infrastructure, shopping centers, and gastronomy make it a comfortable base for exploring the region’s natural parks, hot springs, and charming towns.

Local Food

The gastronomy in Pereira is typical of the Coffee Region, featuring dishes like bandeja paisa, arepas, and trout prepared in various styles, reflecting the influence of both traditional coffee farm cuisine and the variety of fresh produce from the surrounding valleys.

Special Information

Pereira is part of the Coffee Triangle, along with Manizales and Armenia, an area recognized for its high-quality coffee and efforts to preserve the traditional methods of coffee production. The city has invested in transportation and infrastructure, enhancing its connectivity and urban development, which is pivotal for its role in the region’s tourism and commerce.

City: Montería

Department: Córdoba

Location: Northern Colombia, in the Caribbean region.

Climate: Tropical savanna climate, with a pronounced dry season.

Population: Over 500,000 inhabitants.

Area: 3,238 km² (1,250 sq mi).

Elevation: 18 m (59 ft) above sea level.

Average Temperature: 28°C (82°F).

Year of Foundation: Founded on May 1, 1777.

Local Culture

Montería is known for its vibrant culture, deeply influenced by the cattle-raising traditions of the Colombian Caribbean. It hosts the annual Fiestas del Río, celebrating the Sinú River’s significance to the city’s heritage. Music is an essential aspect of Montería’s cultural identity, with Vallenato and Porro as dominant genres. The city also boasts crafts markets showcasing local artisans’ work, reflecting the indigenous Zenú heritage.

History

1777: Montería was established by Antonio de la Torre y Miranda.

1952: Recognized officially as the capital of the Department of Córdoba.

Modern Era: Montería has developed as a central hub for cattle trading and commercial fishing in the region.

Economy

The economy of Montería is primarily based on agriculture, cattle ranching, and commerce. It serves as a trading center for the surrounding regions with its strategic location near the Sinú River. The city has seen growth in the service sector and has a developing urban infrastructure that supports its economic activities.

Tourism

Montería is an emerging tourist destination, known for its riverfront “Ronda del Sinú” park that invites both tourists and locals to enjoy the lush landscape and recreational activities by the Sinú River. Its proximity to the Caribbean Sea makes it a gateway to beaches and coastal resorts. Cultural tourism is bolstered by the city’s colonial architecture and vibrant annual festivities.

Local Food

The culinary scene in Montería is characterized by hearty and flavorful dishes like ‘mote de queso,’ a yam and cheese soup, and ‘sancocho,’ a traditional meat and vegetable stew. The city’s proximity to both river and sea offers a variety of fresh seafood. Montería’s street food, including ‘butifarras’ (a type of sausage) and ‘arepas,’ reflects its cultural diversity.

Special Information

Montería is recognized for its eco-friendly initiatives, such as the ‘Green City’ project, which focuses on urban reforestation and sustainable development. The city has also invested in improving healthcare and education, aiming to increase its residents’ quality of life. Due to its tropical climate, sun protection and hydration are important for anyone spending time outdoors.

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City: San Juan de Pasto

Department: Nariño

Location: Southwestern Colombia, in the Andean region.

Climate: Cool, subtropical highland climate.

Population: Over 450,000 inhabitants.

Area: 1,181 km² (456 sq mi).

Elevation: 2,527 m (8,291 ft) above sea level.

Average Temperature: 13°C (55°F).

Year of Foundation: Founded on 24 June 1537 by Lorenzo de Aldana.

Local Culture

San Juan de Pasto, often known simply as Pasto, is famous for its Carnaval de Negros y Blancos, a celebration inscribed as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. The city is also known for its unique handicrafts, especially the ‘barniz de Pasto’, a technique used to create intricate decorative items. Pasto’s music and dance reflect Andean traditions, with instruments like the marimba playing a central role.

History

1537: Founded by the Spanish conquistador Lorenzo de Aldana.

1822: Played a significant role in the Colombian independence movement.

Modern Times: Pasto has preserved a wealth of colonial architecture and maintains a strong sense of cultural and historical identity.

Economy

Pasto’s economy is based on agriculture, livestock, and artisanal goods. The surrounding rural areas are known for their dairy production and the cultivation of crops like potatoes and beans. The city has also developed a reputation for high-quality leatherwork and furniture manufacturing.

Tourism

Tourists in Pasto are drawn to its rich cultural history and beautiful landscapes. The city’s architecture, museums, and churches offer a glimpse into its past. The Galeras volcano is a notable natural landmark nearby. Additionally, Pasto serves as a gateway to the Colombian Highlands and the Amazon rainforest.

Local Food

Pasto’s gastronomy includes dishes like ‘cuy asado’ (roasted guinea pig), a traditional Andean delicacy, and ‘trucha’ (trout), often served with garlic sauce. The region’s highland crops contribute to a variety of soups and stews, including ‘locro’ (a potato and cheese soup).

Special Information

Pasto is known for its commitment to education and culture. It has made significant strides in urban planning, with a focus on preserving its historical center. Due to its high altitude, it’s important for visitors to acclimatize to avoid altitude sickness. The city’s geographical position also provides a cooler climate, which can be a welcome change from the tropical heat found elsewhere in Colombia.

City: Buenaventura

Department: Valle del Cauca

Location: Western Colombia, on the coast of the Pacific Ocean.

Climate: Tropical rainforest climate with high humidity and significant rainfall.

Population: Over 400,000 inhabitants.

Area: 6,078 km² (2,346 sq mi).

Elevation: 7 m (23 ft) above sea level.

Average Temperature: 28°C (82°F).

Year of Foundation: Founded on July 14, 1540 by Juan de Ladrilleros.

Local Culture

Buenaventura is known for its diverse Afro-Colombian culture, which is celebrated through music, dance, and festivals. The city’s cultural expression is epitomized in traditional dances like the Currulao and musical genres such as Salsa and Reggaeton. It is also a place where the traditional Pacifico cuisine can be experienced, and where the annual Petronio Álvarez music festival celebrates Pacific music and culture.

History

1540: Founded during the Spanish colonization period.

20th Century: Developed into Colombia’s most important Pacific port.

Today: Continues to expand its role as a vital hub for international trade and commerce.

Economy

Buenaventura’s economy is heavily reliant on its status as Colombia’s main Pacific port, which facilitates the majority of the country’s sea trade. The port’s activities are supported by industries such as fishing, ship repair, and logistics services. There is also a focus on tourism development to leverage the city’s coastal location.

Tourism

Tourism in Buenaventura is centered around its maritime identity. Visitors can explore the harbor, engage in water sports, and enjoy the beaches nearby, such as La Bocana and Juanchaco. Ecotourism is also emerging, with opportunities to visit mangrove forests and observe the region’s diverse wildlife.

Local Food

The cuisine of Buenaventura is rich in seafood, with dishes like Ceviche and Encocado (fish cooked in coconut sauce) being local specialties. The area’s tropical fruits are used in both cooking and in the preparation of fresh juices.

Special Information

Buenaventura is making strides in modernizing its port facilities and improving its infrastructure to support economic growth. However, travelers should be aware of the high humidity and plan for tropical weather. As a port city, it is also a multicultural gateway, with a blend of indigenous, Afro-Colombian, and mestizo influences.

City: Manizales

Department: Caldas

Location: Central Colombia, in the coffee-growing region of the Colombian Andes.

Climate: Oceanic climate, with cool temperatures and frequent mist due to its high altitude.

Population: Over 400,000 inhabitants.

Area: 508 km² (196 sq mi).

Elevation: 2,160 m (7,090 ft) above sea level.

Average Temperature: 16°C (61°F).

Year of Foundation: Founded on October 12, 1849 by a group of Antioquians.

Local Culture

Manizales is part of the “Coffee Cultural Landscape” UNESCO World Heritage site, reflecting its deep-rooted coffee culture. The city is renowned for its yearly Feria de Manizales, a cultural and folkloric event that includes a bullfighting season, and the International Coffee Pageant. Its university scene contributes to a vibrant cultural life, with numerous events, theaters, and art exhibitions.

History

1849: Established by settlers from Antioquia during the colonization of the region. 20th Century: Developed as a center for coffee production and education. Today: Continues to balance its cultural heritage with modernization and growth.

Economy

Manizales’ economy revolves around coffee production, with a growing emphasis on technology and innovation. It hosts several universities and research institutes, making it a center for academic and scientific development. The city also has industrial activity in sectors like metalworking and healthcare.

Tourism

The city offers a wealth of experiences for tourists, from exploring its coffee plantations and enjoying the scenic mountain landscape to visiting historical architecture, like the Manizales Cathedral. It is also a gateway to the Los Nevados National Natural Park, which attracts hikers and nature lovers.

Local Food

Manizales provides a taste of traditional Colombian cuisine, with dishes such as bandeja paisa, arepas, and trout, reflecting the region’s agricultural heritage. Coffee is, of course, a central element, with local cafés offering a chance to sample some of the world’s finest beans.

Special Information

Manizales is recognized for its educational institutions and is a pioneer in the development of sustainable urban solutions. The city’s mountainous terrain and high elevation mean that visitors should be prepared for cooler temperatures and potential altitude effects. The area is also known for its thermal springs, offering relaxation and wellness tourism.

City: Neiva

Department: Huila

Location: Southern Colombia, in the valley of the Magdalena River.

Climate: Tropical wet and dry climate, with a hot temperature throughout the year.

Population: Over 350,000 inhabitants.

Area: 1,553 km² (599 sq mi).

Elevation: 442 m (1,450 ft) above sea level.

Average Temperature: 27°C (81°F).

Year of Foundation: Founded on May 24, 1612 by Juan de Cabrera.

Local Culture

Neiva is celebrated for its annual San Pedro Festival, a vibrant event filled with traditional music, dances, and beauty pageants that honors Saint Peter and the region’s cultural heritage. The city also has a rich tradition in folklore and crafts, with the Bambuco dance being a significant cultural symbol.

History

1612: Founded by Spanish settlers. 20th Century: Grew as an agricultural and trade center due to its location on the Magdalena River. Present: Neiva is expanding its role in regional development and cultural preservation.

Economy

Agriculture forms the backbone of Neiva’s economy, with rice, cotton, and corn being the primary crops. The city also has burgeoning industries in oil and natural gas extraction, as well as energy production due to its proximity to the Betania Dam, a significant hydroelectric plant.

Tourism

Neiva serves as a hub for tourists exploring the archaeological parks and thermal springs in the surrounding Huila Department. The Tatacoa Desert, known for its striking landscapes and clear night skies, is also a significant attraction near the city.

Local Food

The gastronomy of Neiva is known for its rich flavors, with dishes such as ‘Asado Huilense’ (Huilense-style barbecue) and ‘Achiras’, a traditional biscuit. The city’s proximity to the river and fertile lands provides an abundance of fresh fish and agricultural products.

Special Information

Neiva is working towards enhancing its urban infrastructure and connectivity with other Colombian regions. The city’s location in a seismic zone necessitates robust construction standards. Its hot climate calls for light clothing and hydration, especially for visitors not accustomed to tropical temperatures.

City: Palmira

Department: Valle del Cauca

Location: Western Colombia, in the southwestern region of the Cauca Valley.

Climate: Tropical savanna climate, with a dry season and a wet season.

Population: Over 300,000 inhabitants.

Area: 448 km² (173 sq mi).

Elevation: 1,000 m (3,280 ft) above sea level.

Average Temperature: 23°C (73°F).

Year of Foundation: Founded on August 28, 1688.

Local Culture

Palmira is known as the agricultural capital of Colombia and celebrates its rural and farming traditions through events like the National Agriculture Exhibition. The city has a rich cultural scene with numerous schools of music, dance, and arts that reflect its diverse community. It is also home to one of the biggest cultural festivals in Colombia, the International Festival of Art and Culture for Peace.

History

1688: Palmira was founded by Diego de Ospina y Medinilla. 20th Century: It developed into an agricultural hub due to its fertile soil. Today: Continues to be a leading city in agricultural research and development.

Economy

The economy of Palmira is strongly tied to agriculture, specifically sugarcane cultivation, which supports numerous sugar mills in the area. It is also a center for agricultural research with the presence of institutions like the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT). Additionally, the city has a growing industrial sector, including food processing and biofuel production.

Tourism

Tourists in Palmira are attracted to its botanical gardens and cultural sites, such as the Museum of Natural History. The city’s proximity to Cali offers additional recreational and cultural opportunities. Agrotourism is also developing, with visits to local farms and research centers.

Local Food

Palmira’s local cuisine features a variety of traditional Colombian dishes, including tamales, empanadas, and fresh tropical fruit juices. Being in the sugar cane region, visitors can also enjoy local sweets and desserts made from cane sugar.

Special Information

As an agricultural center, Palmira is at the forefront of Colombia’s efforts to develop sustainable farming practices and food security strategies. Visitors should be prepared for a warm climate and occasional heavy rains, characteristic of the tropical savanna. The city’s commitment to research and development in agriculture makes it a key destination for those interested in the future of farming and sustainability.

City: Armenia

Department: Quindío

Location: Western-central Colombia, part of the Coffee Triangle region.

Climate: Tropical rainforest climate, with significant rainfall throughout the year, despite a short dry season.

Population: Over 300,000 inhabitants.

Area: 121 km² (47 sq mi).

Elevation: 1,483 m (4,865 ft) above sea level.

Average Temperature: 19°C (66°F).

Year of Foundation: Founded on October 14, 1889.

Local Culture

Armenia is deeply rooted in the coffee culture, reflected in its architecture, customs, and daily life. It celebrates the National Coffee Festival, including the Beauty Pageant for the National Coffee Queen. The city is also a center for the ‘paisa’ culture, which is characterized by its music, dances like the “Bambuco”, and crafts that celebrate the region’s coffee-growing heritage.

History

1889: Founded by Jesus Maria Ocampo, also known as “Tigrero” (tiger hunter), due to the abundance of tigers in the area. 1999: Devastated by an earthquake, leading to a significant urban redevelopment. Today: Known as the “miracle city” for its rapid reconstruction and development after the earthquake.

Economy

Armenia’s economy is primarily based on coffee production, with tourism also playing a significant role. The city has expanded into other sectors such as commerce, healthcare, and education, with a growing number of service companies.

Tourism

The city is part of the Coffee Cultural Landscape of Colombia, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and attracts tourists for its coffee plantation tours. Armenia also serves as a starting point for visiting the Cocora Valley, home to the national tree of Colombia, the Quindío wax palm.

Local Food

The cuisine of Armenia features the traditional flavors of the Coffee Triangle, with dishes such as “bandeja paisa” and “arepas”. Coffee is a staple, and visitors can enjoy some of the finest brews in the country.

Special Information

After the 1999 earthquake, Armenia invested heavily in urban planning and seismic-resistant construction. It is also recognized for its efforts in environmental conservation and the preservation of the coffee culture. The city has a mild climate, but its high altitude can affect sensitive visitors, so gradual acclimatization is recommended.

City: Riohacha

Department: La Guajira

Location: Northern Colombia, on the Caribbean coast.

Climate: Arid and semi-arid, with minimal rainfall.

Population: Over 170,000 inhabitants.

Area: 3,059 km² (1,181 sq mi).

Elevation: 5 m (16 ft) above sea level.

Average Temperature: 28°C (82°F).

Year of Foundation: Founded in 1545 by Nikolaus Federmann.

Local Culture

Riohacha is rich in indigenous Wayuu culture, which is evident in its crafts, especially the colorful mochila Wayuu bags, and in its music and dance traditions. The city celebrates the Wayuu culture through festivals like the Festival of the Wayuu Culture, and its coastal location has influenced its cuisine and lifestyle, with a strong connection to the sea.

History

1545: Founded by the German explorer Nikolaus Federmann. 19th Century: Became a key port for exporting pearls. Present: Continues to grow while maintaining its cultural roots and significance as a port city.

Economy

The economy of Riohacha is influenced by its port activities with a focus on trade. It is also supported by tourism, fishing, and salt production. The presence of the Wayuu community has led to a significant artisan sector known for intricate weaving and textiles.

Tourism

Tourists are attracted to Riohacha for its beautiful beaches, such as Mayapo, and for the opportunity to engage with the Wayuu culture. The city serves as a gateway to the La Guajira desert, including attractions like the Flamingo Sanctuary and the Punta Gallinas, the northernmost point of South America.

Local Food

Riohacha’s cuisine is notable for its seafood, including dishes like shrimp ceviche and fish soups, which reflect its coastal location. Traditional Wayuu dishes, such as friche (goat meat cooked in its own fat), are also popular.

Special Information

Riohacha is working towards sustainable development with a focus on integrating the Wayuu community and preserving their traditions. The city’s arid climate and proximity to desert landscapes make it unique in Colombia and offer a distinct experience from the rest of the country. Visitors should prepare for high temperatures and bright sunlight when traveling to this region.

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About Author

Frank

Frank

Hello! I'm Frank Spitzer, the founder and the heart behind Pelecanus, a specialized tour operator for Colombia travel. My journey in travel is vast and rich – I've explored over 60 countries, absorbing cultures, experiences, and stories along the way. Since 2017, I've been channeling this wealth of global experience into creating unforgettable travel experiences in Colombia.I'm recognized as a leading authority in Colombian tourism, with a deep-seated passion for sharing this beautiful country with the world. You can catch glimpses of my travel adventures and insights around Colombia on my YouTube channel. I'm also active on social media platforms like TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest, where I share the vibrant culture and stunning landscapes of Colombia.For professional networking, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn. Join me on this incredible journey, and let's explore the wonders of Colombia together!

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