My name Is Frank and I run a travel agency in Bogotá, Colombia. Have fun while reading!
Each country of the world has a unique way of speaking, in fact, it is common to hear different dialects within the same nation. Colombia is a country with linguistic diversity, which means that although most of the country speaks Spanish, in the different regions there is a distinctive accent and words that are only heard and understood there.
We wanted to make this guide so that you feel prepared and understand everything Colombians tell you in the region you want to visit.
What is a dialect?
A dialect is a variety of a language that is spoken in a specific territory. We will not delve further into linguistic definitions, but it is important to know the concept to talk about why Colombian Spanish is not homogeneous.
Why do regional dialects exist in Colombia?
Colombia is a Spanish-speaking country with almost 49 million inhabitants. However, the different Colombian regions have adapted their way of speaking Spanish. This, on the one hand, is due to the local geography that isolated the various communities around the country for a long time. And, on the other hand, to the blend cultural influences of the Spanish colonizers, the African slaves brought to the region and the native settlers.
In this way, the inhabitants of the Pacific Coast developed a way of speaking very different from that of the Caribbean coast and that of the people living in the Cundiboyacense or Orinoco regions. It doesn’t mean that they are totally different and can’t understand each other, but they do have marked differences especially in pronunciation. In any case, dialects can be divided into two general groups, coastal and inland.
You should know that in addition to the Spanish dialects, there are about 65 Indigenous dialects spoken by almost a million Colombians. But this article will focus on local adaptations of Spanish, only.
What does slang mean?
Slang is a dialect characteristic of a social group, which is mixed with the everyday language and spoken by a certain number of people depending on the place where they live. Slang changes depending on the region that the person inhabits.
This way of speaking is often difficult to understand if you are not part of this community. However, in Colombia, you will be very welcome and you will surely be taught more than one word, phrase, or common saying.
Most of the Colombian slang has been passed down from generation to generation, used by older people, and taught to their little grandchildren. Also, these words or sayings have crossed borders and are no longer only heard in Colombia, but throughout the world.
For example, you could be in New York and hear someone say ‘melo caramelo,’ which in Colombian slang would mean ‘this is really nice.’
Basic expressions that a tourist should learn to say in Colombia
If you plan to visit this beautiful country and you don’t know very well what to say or how to express yourself assertively so that locals understand you, then you are in the right place. We want to teach you some basic phrases so that you can easily communicate with the local community:
- Hola, ¿cómo estás? – This is how you greet somebody and ask them how they are.
- ¿Cuánto cuesta esto? – Use it when you want to buy something and want to know its price. It literally means ‘how much is it?’.
- Por favor – This word means ‘please’ and it is almost impossible for anyone to refuse these words if you are asking for something because Colombians value kindness.
- If you are arriving from the airport and need help to know where your hotel is or some address, the correct phrase to say would be “Hola, me podrías decir dónde queda este hotel, por favor’’. The words “dónde queda” refer to a place.
- Hola, ¿cómo llego al aeropuerto? – You can use the expression “cómo llego a” when you need directions to a specific place.
- Gracias – A word that expresses gratitude and you should always say it when someone has done you a favor or indicated something.
- Chao – A widely used word for saying goodbye to a person. The formal way to say it would be ‘adiós’ or ‘hasta luego’.
Very Colombian phrases to keep in mind
These phrases or sayings are very representative almost throughout the country, so we are going to teach you the most common, so you can use them when you travel to Colombia.
- Hola, ¿qué se cuentan? – This phrase is a greeting and asks the person how he is and what is new in his life.
- Quiubo, ¿Bien o no? – This phrase is also a greeting. ‘Quiubo’ means ‘hello’, and ‘bien o no’ refers to how the person is doing.
- ¿Qué más? – It’s another way to greet and refers to ‘what’s new?’
- Buenas veci, me regala (algo) – This phrase is very common in Bogota and is used when going to neighborhood grocery shops. “Veci” is a slang that is used to kindly refer to the person who runs or visits the store and “me regala” actually means ‘I want to buy this’.
- ¿Durmió conmigo anoche o qué? – People use this when a person arrives in the place where they are and doesn’t greet them, and is a kind way to remind the person that when you arrive at a place you should greet.
Slang in the regions of Colombia
As we have already mentioned, slang is a characteristic expression of certain communities in the various Colombian regions. Colombia has about 12 dialects, but we will mention the most representative with their most famous slang, in case you travel to these areas of the country and want to understand how they speak there.
Caribbean Coast Slang
The Colombian Caribbean is characterized by its warm climate and spectacular beaches and consists mainly of flat areas, but it is also home to the highest coastal mountain in the world: the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta.
The most prominent Caribbean cities are Barranquilla, Cartagena, Santa Marta, and Valledupar. The people are very happy and spontaneous and wear colorful clothes. Their most important customs revolve around the celebration, for example, the Carnival of Barranquilla is recognized worldwide for its colors, joy, parties, and Caribbean traditions. As they say ‘the one who lives it, is who enjoys it’.
The influence of the Caribbean coast and its inhabitants is very important for Colombian culture since this region of the country has seen the growth of world-class artists.
The people of the Colombian Caribbean are recognized for being very good dancers, cheerful and funny. Their dialect is known for the way they accentuate words and add a folkloric touch to them. They are very easygoing people, many times, the words produce joy by the way they are said.
Their most common slang is:
- Ajo!: Expression that is mentioned when a person is lying and those who hear him are aware of that.
- A calzón quitao’ : Without fear, frankly.
- Arrebatao(a): Crazy
- Avispao(a): Malicious person
- Bagre: Ugly person
- Barro: Refers to something bad or boring
- Barras: Pesos, money
- Bollito: Pretty person
- Cipote: Something of great size or value
- Cógela suave: Calm down, take it easy
- Eche!: Expression preceding surprise or indignation
- Encoñao(a): Somebody who is in a committed relationship
- Erda: expression preceding anger or admiration
- Pelaos: Boys, guys, teens
- Tombo: Despective way of calling the police
- Vi’te (Viste): I warned you
Bogotá is one of the most prominent areas of the country since, as the capital city, it is the main center of production and residence in Colombia. The region leads the export of non-traditional goods at the national level, therefore demonstrates its degree of diversification and the progressive advantage of services sector activities in its economy. As such, the city welcomes people from all regions of Colombia, but Bogotanos have characteristic customs.
People from Bogotá are popularly (and sometimes contemptuously) known as ‘rolos’ or ‘cachacos’ on the coast. They have a reputation for being serious, distrustful, and bad dancers. These are only prejudices, of course, but they usually don’t show as much spirit as Colombians from warmer regions.
As for their way of speaking, you’ve probably heard that in Bogotá the best Spanish in Latin America is spoken. And while the Bogota accent is considered somewhat neutral, there is a diversity of accents and jargon depending on the social context of the person.
Its most frequently heard slang is:
- Ala: interjection and pet word used at the beginning or end of a sentence (it is no longer so common). Ex: “No sabes lo que hice ayer, ala.”
- Aguanta: It means ‘it’s worth it’ and also refers to someone that is good looking enough
- Áspero: Something good, great
- Bacán(a): Nice person
- Bizcocho: Nice-looking person
- Boleta: Something or someone ridiculous, tasteless
- Caché: Classy, elegant
- Carachas!: Expression of amazement
- Ceba: Disgust, displeasure. Ex: “Qué ceba esa comida”
- Changua: Traditional broth with cilantro, onion, milk, and eggs
- Chévere: Good, nice
- Gomelo(a): Someone from a wealthy family and upper class
- Guiso: Person who dresses or speaks in bad taste, usually referring to someone of lower class
- Showsero: Someone dramatic
- Quiay/Quiubo: Greeting used with people you trust
- Tenaz: Difficult situation or thing
- Tener huevo: Being abusive or shameless, taking advantage of something
- Tusa: Heartbreak
- Vale huevo: Something that doesn’t matter or has little value
Boyacá is a beautiful place, full of history, incredible landscapes, and colonial architecture that will leave you enchanted. It is a cold climate Department known to be the leading potato producer in Colombia and the world’s leading producer of emeralds.
When visiting Boyacá, be sure to stop by the Tota Lagoon and Playa Blanca, a beautiful natural beach located in the southwest of the department. And if what you seek is complete relaxation, you have to immerse yourself in the waters of the Paipa hot springs.
The Boyacenses are a little shy and usually have red cheeks, most are farmers and you will always see them with a ruana (typical poncho) and a hat. They are very devoted to the Catholic religion and the Virgin of Chiquinquirá. They love to dance Carranga which is the typical music of the region and describes peasant life. Through its singing, you can hear much of its jargon.
The way of speaking of the Boyacenses is characteristic for using diminutives in words or phrases. Also because many of the words were adapted by the peasants to express themselves without offending people or treat them distantly. For them, it is nicer to say ‘sumercé’ than ‘you’, hence the embellishment of the words.
So when you visit this beautiful department, get used to being treated nicely and listening to these words:
- A yo: To me, I
- Antón: So, diminutive of ‘entonces’
- Bolear quimba: Dancing or walking a lot.
- Boyaco: Abbreviated demonym for the one who is from Boyacá
- Chirrinche: Peasant aguardiente (schnapps-like liquor)
- ¿Cómo se topa?: How are you?
- Chirriquitico(a): Very small
- De raca mandaca: The best of the best
- Embejucado(a): Moody, angry
- Emborrachecido: Drunk
- Fermosura: Beauty
- Jueque: Variation of “fue que” meaning “it was when” or “that’s when”
- Jurgo: A lot, quite a lot
- La patrona: The Virgin of Chiquinquirá
- Sumercé: Way to address another person with respect, it comes from the Spanish expression ‘su merced’
- Taitas: Mom and dad, parents
- Taita: Dad
- Yelo: Variation of the word ‘hielo’ meaning ‘ice’
Slang from the Paisa region
‘Paisa’ is a popular way of referring to the natives of Antioquia and the Coffee Triangle (Caldas, Risaralda, and Quindío). It is a term that encompasses the culture of that particular geographical region, both its way of speaking and its customs.
Antioquia is one of the Departments of greatest progress and development in Colombia. Medellin is its capital and is the second-most populous city in Colombia, other cities that also stand out are Bello, Envigado, and Itagüí.
The Coffee Triangle, on the other hand, is the region made up of those 3 departments where the main economic activity is the production of high-quality coffee. The capitals, in the same order, are Manizales, Pereira, and Armenia. All these departments are located in the central Andes mountain range.
When you visit this region of the country you should try all its gastronomic delights, especially the Bandeja Paisa, an exquisite local dish of beans. And for breakfast, you have to order the authentic Antioquian arepas with Campesino cheese.
Besides that, the quality of people will make you feel at home. The paisas are very kind and gentle people, they are hardworking and love Aguardiente. They have a distinctive, almost sung accent, the most popular in Colombian telenovelas or series.
The most heard slang in this region of the country is:
- Achilado: Without money
- A las mil maravillas: Perfect, good
- Ave María: Expression referring to the feeling of shock before a bad situation
- Bejuco: Angry
- Berraco: Hardworking person
- Cucho(a): Old person, also refers to dad and mo
- Cháchara: Plenty of useless words, chatter
- Chichipato: Stingy
- Chimba: Adjective to denote something extraordinary, nice, fun; also, female genital organ
- Chirrete: Poorly dressed
- Estrén: New clothes
- Foquiarse: To fall asleep
- Gadejo: Abbreviation of “ganas de joder” meaning ‘desire to annoy others’
- Guaro: Typical drink, a common way to refer to Aguardiente
- La buena: Everything is good, expression to wish the good to someone
- Lucas: Pesos, money, bills
- Paila: Something bad, ugly, awful
- Parce/ Parcero(a): Friend, pal, mate
- Paisa: Person living in the mountains, working as a farmer. Gentilic of the inhabitants of the Paisa region
- Parche: Meeting place, plan, group of friends, nice person
- Peye: Something or someone bad
- Rebusque: Survive by working on whatever comes up
- Tacaño: Stingy
- Titino: Elegant
- Zangarria: Person who dances disorderly
- Zurron: Silly, fool
Pasto is the southernmost city of the Andes, it is very close to the border with Ecuador. The climate of this region is cold and mountainous, with a wide variety of natural resources, such as underground minerals (copper, emerald, oil, and silver), wild animals, etc. It is the place that best prepares the Cuy and where one of the most important festivals in the country is held, the Blacks and Whites’ Carnival.
The Pastusos are very friendly and hospitable people, they are always willing to help and welcome you with a smile. One of their greatest qualities is that they are very funny and cheerful people, always respecting their traditions. They are mostly mestizo and indigenous, an aspect that influences their linguistic culture. The way of speaking of this region is very polite and calm, often producing tenderness just by listening to it.
The most heard slang is:
- Achalay: Expression of applause or approval meaning ‘how cute!’
- Achichuy: Expression used to manifest warmth, that is ‘it’s so hot!’
- Aragán(a): Someone who wants to take advantage, rude
- Arriado: Very fast
- Asolapado(a): Someone who hides their real intentions
- Atatay: Disgust
- Bambaro: Useless person
- Bololoi: Mess, problem
- Cacha: Friend Cuy: guinea pig, flagship dish of local cuisine
- Chichirimico: Throwing money into the air
- Chuta: Hat
- Guagua: Boy or girl
- Juepuchica: Expression of anger
- Líchigo: Person who tells lies
- Mueco: Toothless person
- Ñero: Partner, pal
- Pico: Kiss
- Zumbar: To throw
Pacific region slang
The Colombian Pacific stands out by its human diversity and multiculturalism. The main cities are Cali and Buenaventura (Valle del Cauca), Tumaco (Nariño) and Quibdó (Chocó). The Pacific Coast is one of the wettest areas in the country, with strong rainfall almost all year round. In this area, thanks to the natural wealth, you can do whale, turtle, and bird watching.
You will find exquisite food and one of his favorite desserts is Chontaduro, an exotic fruit that you must try with bee honey.
People in this area of the country are very kind and cheerful. The vast majority of them are Afro-descendants or indigenous, so their traditions are ancestral. The Pacific accent is very peculiar because it is spoken very quickly and is spontaneous, words are combined with gesticulations, hands or feet movements. They will always greet you with a smile and reciprocating it is synonymous with sympathy.
If you are going to visit this region of the country, you should know this jargon:
- Arrecha: Cheerful and enthusiastic person
- Atravesao'(a): Daring person
- Bemba: Mouth
- Borondo: Walk, stroll
- Bundear: To participate in a bunde, a party
- Calentura: Spirit, sexual excitement
- Caleto: Person who has a lot of money
- Cambambero: Party person
- Cayetano: “Don’t say anything”, “make silence”
- Catorce: Favor
- Chuspa: Bag
- Entucar: To kiss
- Faenas: Activities or work
- Oís: Expression to call people
- Pálida: Dizziness or nervous shock
- Percha: Clothing
- Quichi: Dog
- Tumbalocas: Don Juan or womanizer
- Trucha: ‘Move’
- Tieso: Stiff in the dance
- Tumbar: Cheating on a deal or business
- Vamos pa’ ve’: Let’s see.
- Ve: Way of calling people, it is used at the beginning of a sentence
- Viche: Craft liquor
- Yeyo: Fainting
Santander is a fascinating department where you can find different mountainous landscapes, there are a lot of rivers, many of which have crystal clear waters, ideal for swimming and extreme sports. It is located in the eastern cordillera north of Boyacá. Its villages are full of adventurous discoveries, its buildings and landscapes are striking for their beauty. Santander is definitely a place where you can feel the affection of its people in every corner.
Most Santandereanos have the habit of eating hormigas culonas (big-assed ants), since this is an ancestral indigenous tradition of more than 500 years, it is an exotic delicacy and is eaten as a snack after lunch.
It is said that the Santandereanos have a very strong character, but that is only prejudice, what they are is daring and enterprising people.
They have a very distinctive accent that is sharp and strong, this is something characteristic of the region. So when you talk to a Santandereano don’t feel that you are being told off, that is their way of speaking and expressing themselves, rather know that they treat you with kindness although it sounds a little loud. The slang that is most used in this department is:
- Arrecho: Angry
- Amenito: In the same way
- Argollero: Deceiver person
- Buche: Stomach
- Chingua: Broth
- Coñazo: Punch
- Dárselas de (algo): Pretend to be (something) you’re not
- Hijuelita: Exclamation like ¡hijuemadre! meaning ‘oh my god!’ or ‘goddammit!’
- Jarto, jincho: Drunk
- Jeta: Mouth
- Oora: Interjection of surprise or admiration
- Sute: Emaciated, very skinny
- Tantico: A little bit
Slang of the Eastern Plains
The region of Los Llanos Orientales is known for its extensive grasslands, reserves of natural gas and oil, and its traditional music, the joropo, in which you can hear everyday stories and many of its jargon. It covers much of eastern Colombia and extends to Venezuela.
It is one of the most important areas of the country full of a gallery landscape, a variety of cattle, and foods that cannot be ignored. Among the most popular dishes are the llanera veal, the hallaca, and piqué de polo. Its ranches and natural parks make this area a must-see tourist attraction in the country.
The llaneros are hospitable people and excellent riders, they never forget to drink a freshly brewed cup of coffee at 4:00 am with a good piece of fresh cheese. Commonly, the inhabitants of the Llanos use a hat and a plaid shirt.
Their dialect is a fusion between Indigenous and old Spanish, it is characterized by being a little fast and having many gestural expressions. The letter ‘s’ is very prominent as it is pronounced very strongly. Visiting the Colombian plains is one of the best experiences you could live.
The slang you will hear the most in this region of the country is:
- Amorachao’: Bond emotionally to another person
- Baquiano: Expert in llaneros routes, connoisseur of the region
- Campirana: Peasant person
- Chulo: Vulture
- Jeta: Mouth
- Jincho: Drunk
- Lisonjero: Sweet-talker, something or someone nice
- Penca: Beautiful woman
- Picuriar: Run away from something
- Pija: Male genital organ
The Amazon region occupies 42% of the country’s territory, most of its population is of indigenous descent. Here nature is larger than civilization, so there is not much developed infrastructure besides the main tourist towns.
This area of the country is called the lung of the world for its vast tropical jungle. It is home to a wide variety of freshwater fish and exotic mammals such as the pink river dolphin, the manatee, and the world’s largest turtle.
Most people in this region of the country speak indigenous native languages and very little Spanish, however, the accent is curious as it has a neutral and slow tone. If one day you are going to make an expedition in this part of the world, you will surely hear this slang in Spanish:
- Caboco: Mestizo
- Cachaza: Brazilian aguardiente (schnapps)
- Chela: Beer
- Egua: Word of admiration or disbelief
- Inshirido: Flirty
- Ishi: Expression of contempt
- Pana: Country folk, pal
- Tucupí: Regional pepper
- Tunchi: Evil spirit
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