Antioquia & the Coffee Growing Region

The area of Antioquia and the Coffee Growing region -- known as the Eje Cafetero (Risaralda, Caldas, Quindío) is a mountainous temperate part of Colombia. The weather is beautiful all year round and Medellín (the capital of Antioquia) is known as the “City of Eternal Spring.” People from this area are known in Colombia as the PAISAS.

Of all Colombians, the Paisas have the most distinctive culture. This culture has its roots in the unique way that the area developed. Settlers from Spain (Extremadura, Andalucía, and the Basque regions) came to this region. Notably, they came as family units and settled in the remote mountains of the area. The topography made large settlements difficult and most families remained separated. This meant that families became the central social unit and it helps to explain the size of Paisa families – having 10-15 children was not uncommon.

Many of the original settlers were Jews, who had been forced to covert to Catholicism during the Spanish Inquisition. Perhaps it is because of this that Catholicism is so predominate in this area and plays such an important role in the culture.

Most Colombians can spot a Paisa right away, they tend to be taller and fairer than the people in the rest of Colombia. But the real give away is their distinctive accent. They pronounce their “s” almost like a “sh” sound and there is a peculiar music to the way they speak. They use “vos” instead of “tu” for informal situations. They also have a plethora of unique vocabulary for all sorts of common items – (stay tuned for Friday’s installment on language).

Paisas are also famous for their business sense. They are true salesmen – my husband says they can sell you the moon and make you believe you are getting a great deal. In the real sense, Paisas are the industrial and commercial heart of the country. They are also very progressive and community oriented. This can be seen even in the orderly fashion they get on and off the bus. In Bogotá, people crowd onto a bus. In Medellín, people form and orderly line and carefully get on the bus. There is definitely a great sense of civic duty.

Medellín is the design and fashion capital of Colombia, not to mention home to some of the most beautiful women on the planet. Yet, the daily dress standard is not as formal as it is in Bogotá. You want to dress nice, but a bit more casually.

Interactions with Paisas are also less formal. Turn on your charm and SMILE. They love people who are happy and people who are genuine – don’t fake it or they’ll know it. Also, don’t be snobby. Accept their invitations to see things or eat things because they are extremely PROUD of their cities and they want to share it with you AND they want you to agree that it is the BEST thing you have seen or eaten – ever!!


Susan said…
Thanks so much for this very informative post!! We are traveling SOON to adopt two siblings in Medellin. We are thrilled to spend time in this amazing part of Colombia. I have really been enjoying your blog.

Audrey said…
Mmmmm... mango biche. Me encanta el mango biche con bastante limon!

Seriously, I dream about that stuff. I try to find the perfect unripe mango and recreate it at home, but it never works.

A few more treats I like when I'm in Medellin: papas rellenas (fried potato balls stuffed with ground beef), arepa con quesito, bunuelos. Also, I guess empanadas aren't necessarily a Paisa thing, but I could not find one in Bogota that compared to the ones my Tio Alfonso makes, so I associate them with Antioquia. Maybe I just wasn't looking in the right places.
Audrey said…
Sorry, that last comment was supposed to be to the food post. This post was also great!
Paula e Ivo said…
Melinda: Hemos disfrutado muchisimo este post.
Tan real como describe el "orgullo paisa" por su ciudad, por su cultura, por su comida.
"Muy bacano pues".
Anonymous said…
Although the Paisa culture spread through the internal colonization into Quindio, Caldas and Risaralda, they are sometimes not considered Paisa by the folks in Medellin. The culture is different and does not celebrate it's mythical 'superiority' in the same way that Paisas tend to in Antioquia. The Paisa 'basque' or Jewish heritage is also a touch mythical because it has been rejected as a denial of blackness by a number of scholars on the matter. Mainly, this 'Basque accent' is the celebration of European heritage and a way to deny the black heritage and contributes to the cultural practice of "whitening" forceful in the area.

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