Colombia has a high rate of economic growth compared to other South American countries. It was one of the few countries in South America to avoid the debt crisis of the 1980s.

Most Colombians (about 70%) live in urban areas such as Bogotá, Medellín, Cali or Barranquilla. In the urban areas Colombians work in manufacturing, tourism, commerce, transportation, communications or the civil service. Colombia has also become a leader in the publishing industry in Latin America. People in rural areas work in agriculture, forestry, and cattle ranching.

Colombia's traditional export is coffee. Until the late 1970s this crop accounted for about half the country's earnings. Many small farmers grow coffee on small farms called fincas. These families, in which two or three generations work together, frequently have a higher standard of living than other rural Colombians. Because of the rugged terrain, farmers use the traditional hoe and machete for farming. They pick the coffee by hand. In addition to coffee, Colombians also grow sugar cane, rice, cotton, tobacco, soya, fruit, wheat, barley, maize and potatoes. Flowers are also an important export crop for some Colombians.

Cattle ranching is the main industry in Los Llanos. Most of the land is unfenced and ranches tend to be defined by the number of cattle rather than the amount of land.

Many Colombians who live in the Amazon work in forestry. Colombians mainly use the wood from forestry for fuel, construction and furniture. Indigenous peoples who live in the Amazon region hunt, gather food, fish, trap, trade, raise animals and farm small plots of land.

Tourism is a growing industry. Most people who visit Colombia are from Ecuador and Venezuela. The Caribbean coast is the primary tourist area, particularly the island of San Andrés.

Did you know?

A true llanero (cowboy) is a legendary figure on the ranches of Colombia. A llanero may wear the traditional dress of poncho, straw hat, and cotizas or rope-soled sandals.

Despite the country's economic success, there is a wide gap between the rich and the poor. There is high unemployment in some areas. More than a quarter of Colombians live in poverty. Some poor people in the cities try to earn money by selling souvenirs, cigarettes, candy and other items at roadside stands. Children may earn extra money for their families by doing odd jobs, such as cleaning shoes or washing cars.

The poverty in rural areas is the result of the unequal distribution of land. About 4% of the population owns three-quarters of Colombia's cultivatable land. Only half of the rural population has land to live and work on.