This post was originally written for and published on Colombia Eco Travel.
We all know St. Augustine’s timeless declaration that the world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page, but I would add to that that if you travel to a destination without exploring its history, literature, and culture, you’re also only going to read a page. Whether you pick up a novel, memoir, travel guide, or other work of nonfiction – spending some time before, during, or after your journey will provide a more thoughtful lens. In spirit of that, here’s a round up of recommended reading before traveling to Colombia.
Colombia – Culture Shock! is a short and digestible introduction to the complexities and contradictions of Colombian culture. The book’s main focus is through the lens of Bogotá, as the author lives there and regularly writes for its English-language newspaper, The City Paper. But despite its somewhat limited scope, Cathey provides a well-researched overview of the cultural nuisances of Colombia. I encourage any traveler to Colombia to read this as an accompaniment to the basic travel guidebook.
Oblivion: A Memoir (El olvido que seremos), by Héctor Abad
The author’s father, Héctor Abad Gomez, was assassinated in 1987 for speaking out against the senseless violence in Colombia at the time, and this memoir is in many ways an ode to him. It’s an intimate portrait of how the chaos of politics affected families from a Colombian point-of-view.
Secrets of Colombian Cooking, by Patricia McCausland-Gallo
McCausland-Gallo is a nutritionist, chef, and food writer born in Barranquilla. In her own words, “I want you to feel a bit of what the life of a Colombian family is like, and to bring you closer to our hearts.” Her stories and recipes do just that, and it’s no secret that eating as the locals eat is a profound way to experience another culture. A few weeks before moving to Colombia, I researched the cuisine and prepared a Colombian-inspired feast for my family. Patacones, arroz de coco, and empanadas all made the menu; not only were the recipes in this book invaluable but also her descriptions of how to find the ingredients outside of South America and what substitutions can be made if necessary.
Short Walks from Bogota: Journeys in the New Colombia, by Tom Feiling
If you’re interested in how the history and politics of Colombia shaped its modern landscape, this book will provide perspective and insight. It’s filled with personal interviews with Colombians from all walks of life – the politicians, the indigenous, the guerillas, the wealthy, and even the expats. It’s journalistic in style and heavy on research but worth the investment of time.
The Sound of Things Falling (El ruido de las cosas al caer), by Juan Gabriel Vásquez
In this award-winning novel, Vásquez delves into how narcotrafficking affected generations of Colombians. By no means a light read, the narrator digs through decades of research while investigating the mysterious murder of an acquaintance who died in front of him and ends up exploring the impact of trauma on not only him but also the country. If you’re looking to add a more empathic and complex perspective to the Netflix series Narcos, this novel wouldn’t disappoint.
100 Years of Solitude, by Gabriel García Márquez, or as Colombians affectionately call him – Gabo
No recommended reading list about Colombia would be complete without one of Márquez’s masterpieces. His unique style of magical realism was awarded with a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982, a first for a Colombian author and even inspired Colombia’s most recent tourism campaign: “Colombia is Magical Realism.” You can visit Márquez’s childhood home (now, Casa Museo) in the small, tropical town of Aracataca.
Did I forget any of your Colombian or Colombia-inspired favorites? Let me know your suggestions in the comments.