Culture Smart! Colombia | An Insightful Guide to Colombian Life

***This is a sponsored post but all thoughts are my own***

Author: Kate Cathey
Genre: Travel guide
Published: 1st May 2019


Colombia has a spectacular and variant landscape, embracing tropical beaches, highland plateaus, the rugged, snow-capped peaks of the Andes, arid deserts, and dense Amazonian jungle. Colombian society is equally diverse. Stylish, cosmopolitan cities coexist with poverty in the beautiful countryside. As a result of the 16th-century Spanish conquest, modern Colombia’s multiethnic society is a synthesis of Spanish, indigenous, and African traditions—evident in the music, in the food, and in Barranquilla’s famous Carnival. The Colombian people are emerging from decades of crushing civil war and lawlessness with their spirits unbroken. Animated, lighthearted, and ever ready to enjoy the moment, they are looking to the future with hope and are eager to share their rich and beautiful country with the outside world. This pocket-sized book reveals Colombia’s key customs and traditions, examines life at home and at work, and introduces some distinct and delicious culinary quirks. There is also advice on safe travel, vital information on how business is done, and how to communicate effectively across the cultural divide.

My Review

I was given a choice of books of the Culture Smart! series to review and I chose this one as I have an interest in Colombia already – I’m currently learning Spanish and have made a Colombian friend who I practise the language with. It’s a place I’d love to visit, but I’m also aware that due to its history you need to know what you’re doing when you’re out there.

Given the usual type of travel guides that I’ve become accustomed to, I had a good idea in my mind of what to expect from this book. I imagined it would tell me the best places to visit, some key things to be aware of, and useful tips for enjoying my stay. It delivered on all of those, but also provided so much more that usually I wouldn’t consider in a travel book.

Cover for Culture Smart! Colombia

Culture Smart! Colombia starts by focusing on the geography and history of the country, which is very rich and complex. It reads like a true exploration rather than a guide, not only giving the most vital points but also the background to understand it all. From the first chapter alone I gained a real insight into why the country has been built up the way it has, and an explanation behind the very family and relationship-focused values of the local community, which I would say is quite different from the less socially-designed British values I’ve grown up with.

Also explored is the collection of attitudes that Colombians share, from the obvious to the much quirkier. It’s the sort of information that you tend to wish you’d known from hindsight – information you might learn the awkward or hard way when travelling in a foreign country. After reading I now feel much more confident that I’ll come across as less of an alien when I visit, given that I can now appreciate how relationships are formed and what is considered crucial as part of this process. One thing I learnt is that slow-paced talk, including small talk, is so important out in Colombia and necessary to create positive relationships – wildly different from the British “say as little as possible then get out of their personal space” attitude that I’ve become so accustomed to! This information has surely prevented a whole host of awkward encounters on my behalf.

As well as this the book covers a lot of what you’d expect – the sorts of food you can eat, the festivals you might take part in, and the best places to visit and explore. It works as a guide for all, giving tips to the tourist whilst also helping out any readers that may be staying much longer, or potentially moving out there. There’s even a section on doing business in Colombia, which is highly useful for anyone that might end up working there, even if only temporarily. It doesn’t dress up the country as purely wonderful; Colombia’s unique beauty is acknowledged, but there’s no room for naivety as safe practice is described for all areas of the visit.


Although some of the information is hard-hitting, particularly when reference the violent activities of the past, I really feel like I’ve come away well-versed in Colombian life despite having never been there before. The information was all relevant, and covered so much that I know I’ll be taking the book out there when I inevitably visit. I don’t think any more detail could really have been given – the only thing I felt could have been improved was the photography, which is all in black and white and so I feel takes away from some of the vibrancy of the culture.

After reading Culture Smart! Colombia, I’m intrigued to purchase the rest of the series – the preparation the book has given me is far higher than any other travel book I’ve read. Information is nuanced, and clearly shows what a traveller needs to know when visiting Colombia. I’m now even more excited to visit the country and I feel safer about it too – something that’s so important when travelling. This one is a definite recommendation from me!

Purchase Links

If you’d like to purchase Culture Smart! Colombia then you can do so here:

Culture Smart! Colombia – Amazon UK
Culture Smart! Colombia – Amazon US

Author & Series Bio

Kate Cathey is a writer and anthropologist. Born in the USA, she attended Sarah Lawrence College in New York, where she studied Art History, and later graduated with a B.A. in World Arts and Cultures, concentration in Anthropology, from the University of California, Los Angeles. Since then, she has travelled extensively in Latin America, researching and writing about regional cultural and culinary traditions. In 2009 Kate moved to Bogotá, Colombia, where she directed cultural travel programs and was a contributor to Bogotá’s English-language newspaper, The City Paper.

Culture Smart! guides are written for people who want more than just the nuts and bolts of where to stay, what to see, and how to travel. Short, sharp and humorous, they deal with the richly rewarding human dimension of foreign travel by telling you about the beliefs and attitudes of the people you will meet and about situations you may encounter. They help you to understand what makes people tick, the values they live by, and the kind of behavior that will be reciprocated with goodwill and hospitality.

Each guide includes concise chapters on the local customs, traditions and values of the country’s inhabitants, and crucially, the key historical and cultural events that have shaped them. There are sections on social and business etiquette, tips on communication, both verbal and non-verbal, and advice on how to be a good guest.

Our aim is to arm readers with a level of cultural fluency, so that whatever your reason for travelling, each situation may be approached with both confidence and sensitivity.

Brief and thorough, our guides are designed so that they can be dipped into for quick reference as and when needed, or comfortably completed in a few sittings, affording you a comprehensive overview of what you’re getting yourself into before you have even taken off!

Written by long-term expats, journalists, professors and diplomats, Culture Smart! guides have been helping travelers be more than just tourists for over 20 years. With over 100 country guides to date, there are new titles and editions published every year.

Marcel Proust once said, The true voyage of discovery lies not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. We hope that Culture Smart! will help you arrive at your destination with your eyes open.

***Which book in the series would you buy first for your future travels? Share below! Make sure to like and pin too if you enjoyed this post.

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