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History of the Caribbean Coast and Islands

The indigenous Arawak-Caribe were the original inhabitants of Colombia’s Caribbean Coast and San Andrés Islands. Included in this group were the Tayrona, goldsmith masters and ancestors of the modern-day Kogui who still inhabit the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. These nations had extensive trade networks throughout the hemisphere. (Their work has been found as far north as the Ohio River Valley.)


In 1525, Santa Marta was the first Spanish settlement in South America. Soon other ports were settled along the coast. The most important was Cartagena in 1533, which became the main storehouse and puerto for the riches mined in the colonies. The cities were targets for pirates for more than a century. Some famous seadogs that attacked were Sir Francis Drake, the Cote brothers and John Hopkins.


These foundling cities played important roles in the struggle for independence from Spain. Cartagena was one of the first cities of Nueva Granada to declare freedom and under whose patronage Simón Bolívar fought. In 1830, that Great Liberator died in Santa Marta. After the breakup of Gran Colombia, the region along the Río Magdalena suffered from the civil wars that raged, including the War of 1,000 Days in the late 19th century.


At the end of the 19th century the U.S. banana companies arrived. United Fruit Company had plantations stretching across the lower Magdalena River Valley, operating under various names, including Sevilla Fruit Company and Magdalena Fruit Company. In 1928 the workers went on strike, leading to a massacre of the bananeros and their families in Ciénaga. UFC is still here (now known as Chiquita); its fincas stretch all the way to Urubá Gulf. Dole and Ffyfes also have a presence in the region.



The Magdalena River Valley, Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and the Chocó have been hot points in the civil war, which still wages to this day. The ELN is the major guerrilla group in the area, but there are some FARC and paramilitary forces, too.


Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to The Caribbean Coast and Islands: History of Taganga, History of Barranquilla, History of Valledupar, Tayrona Culture, History Of San Andrés, History of Providencia and Santa Catalina, Cartagena History, History of Santa Marta, Cartagena Neighborhoods and History of San Andres and Providencia.

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