With tourism increasing to Colombia each year there’s an increasing number of Colombia books by expats that are becoming more popular. These Colombia books by expats can offer valuable information and insight into the misunderstood country of Colombia. Also, the books can help readers understand the beauty of Colombia and everything it has to offer.
The 19 Colombia books by expats we look at in this article cover a number of topics. One looks at Colombian Spanish, one looks at Colombian coffee, one looks at the birds of Colombia, some are travel guides, some are historical, some have a lighter side and one is a children’s book.
We previously looked at the top Colombia travel blogs by expats. And we also looked at alternatives to Narcos: 13 best Colombian movies and series. In addition, we looked at 13 books by Colombian Authors. In this article we look at Colombia books by expats.
Top Non-Travel Colombia Books by Expats
In this article, we look first at several non-travel Colombia books by expats followed by Colombia travel guide books. We include only books written by expats about Colombia in this article.
Also, we didn’t include general South America books that have a Colombia section. These books are Colombia specific. In addition, we didn’t include all Colombia books by expats, as this is a curated list.
Furthermore, the following Colombia books by expats are in order based on Amazon sales on June 6, 2018.
1. Biblioburro: A True Story from Colombia – Jeanette Winter – June 2010
Amazon sales rank: #48,872 in books
Biblioburro: A True Story from Colombia is a children’s book about an inspiring story about an untraditional traveling library in Colombia.
A Colombian schoolteacher had so many books in his house that he decided to take them to children in villages in Colombia where no libraries existed. He buys two burros – Alfa and Beta – and travels to bring books to children in faraway villages.
The true story is well told. And the colorful illustrations in this children’s book reflect the flora and fauna of Colombia. This 32-page book is intended for children from preschool to Grade 2.
The author is from the U.S. and has written and/or illustrated over a dozen popular children’s books.
2. At the Devil’s Table: The Untold Story of the Insider Who Brought Down the Cali Cartel – William C. Rempel – June 2011
Amazon sales rank: #67,427 in Kindle store
At the Devil’s Table is powerful nonfiction thriller that tells the story of former Cali cartel insider Jorge Salcedo, an ordinary man facing forced to risk everything to escape the powerful Cali crime syndicate.
A Medellin Guru reader recommended this book and I found it more gripping than the best fiction thrillers.
Jorge Salcedo was a main character in the Netflix Narcos series about the fall of the Cali cartel. This well written and well researched book amplifies the story with much more detail. In addition, this book explains in detail the conflict between the Medellin and the Cali Cartels.
The author, William C. Rempel, is an award-winning investigative reporter and editor for the Los Angeles Times. Rempel is the only reporter with access to this story and to Jorge, who remains in hiding somewhere in the United States.
3. One River: Exploration and Discoveries in the Amazon Rainforest – Wade Davis – August 1997
Amazon sales rank: #78,048 in books
One River: Exploration and Discoveries in the Amazon Rainforest is a popular book that covers the story of biologist Richard Evans Schultes, who in the 1940s uncovered many of the secrets of the Amazon rain forest in Colombia. And thirty years later his student, Wade Davis (the author), followed in his footsteps.
This book is a fascinating history of mentor and student, lured to the Amazonian wilderness to explore its plants and people. In addition, the book weaves together tales of exploration, commerce, indigenous culture, greed, love and respect between friends and colleagues.
Wade Davis, the author, is a Canadian anthropologist, ethnobotanist, author, and photographer whose work has focused on indigenous cultures in the world, especially in North and South America.
4. There Are No Dead Here: A Story of Murder and Denial in Colombia – Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno – February 2018
Amazon sales rank: #203,044 in books
There Are No Dead Here is a well-researched and well-written book about some of the worst years in Colombia’s recent history.
The book paints a very grim portrait of paramilitaries, drug cartels, governments and the few brave souls who dared stand up against them. This is a grim narrative about the effects of government corruption in Colombia, with rays of hope in impressive achievements by three civilians against formidable odds. And the book does a good job of unraveling the intrigue, politics, and history between Colombia’s government and its paramilitaries.
Highly recommended for anyone wanting to know more about the recent and sometimes devastating history of Colombia.
The author, Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno lives in Brooklyn and is the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. Previously, she held several positions at Human Rights Watch, covering Colombia and Peru.
5. Colombia: A Concise Contemporary History – by Michael J. LaRosa and Germán R. Mejía – June 2017
Amazon sales rank: #207,088 in Kindle store
Colombia: A Concise Contemporary History is a history book about Colombia that was published nearly a year ago. It covers the history of Colombia over the past two centuries.
This book was recommended by readers of Medellín Guru and I borrowed a copy from a friend. I found it to be a very insightful book that is an accurate account of Colombian history, society, and culture. It’s a a thought-provoking book that provides the reader with valuable information and insight about Colombia.
The book covers conflict, violence, and fragmentation of Colombia by geography. But it also highlights the features that have united Colombia as a nation, including Catholicism and as well as sports, soap operas and music.
This book was written by Michael J. La Rosa who is a university history professor from the U.S. who specializes in Latin American history and has lived in Colombia. And Germán R. Mejía is a Colombian history professor in Bogotá.
6. No Apparent Danger: The True Story of Volcanic Disaster at Galeras and Nevado del Ruiz – by Victoria Bruce – March 2001
Amazon sales rank: #216,025 in books
No Apparent Danger is an expose of the true story about two volcano eruptions in Colombia. It’s an interesting story of scientific hubris and unimaginable tragedy.
The book provides a harrowing description of the 1985 eruption in Colombia of the Nevado del Ruiz volcano, which killed more than 20,000 people. Also, it provides a chronicle of a 1993 conference that brought dozens of volcano experts to the Galeras volcano in Colombia. But the volcano erupted, killing six scientists and three tourists inside its rim. Expedition members contended that, despite Galeras’s signs of activity, the expedition leader ignored advice to shorten the visit to the volcano.
7. Field Guide to the Birds of Colombia – Miles McMullan – April 2018
Amazon sales rank: #233,073 in books
Colombia is considered by many to be bird heaven with more bird species than anywhere else in the world. And a brand-new edition of the Field Guide to the Birds of Colombia was recently published covering all the birds of Colombia.
This book is perfect for any bird watchers visiting or living in Colombia.
This 410-page bird field guide includes original illustrations of all of Colombia’s known 1,879 bird species including those of the Colombian mainland, coast, oceans and offshore islands. Also, there are up-to-date distribution maps and even some un-described species.
8. Short Walks from Bogotá – by Tom Feiling – October 2013
Amazon sales rank: #292,330 in books
Short Walks from Bogotá is an accomplished journalist’s look at Colombia today, a country that few really understand. The well-written book is inspiring and full of social insights, revealing encounters and assessments of the country’s labyrinthine political history.
Starting in Bogotá, the author sets off on a series of excursions to areas of Colombian starting to open up after years of conflict. Along the way, he looks at the incredible variety of Colombia’s geography, from it mountain ranges to lush tropical valleys, coastal areas and deep jungles.
Colombia is a complex and complicated country and Feiling’s book strikes a good balance between analysis and description. Also, it provides very good information about the recent history of Colombia and the issues facing Colombia.
Tom Feiling, the author, is a documentary maker who has worked for a human rights organization in Colombia and wrote a well-received book about the cocaine market – The Candy Machine.
9. Permission to Slurp: The Insider’s Guide to Tasting Specialty Coffee in Colombia – Karen Attman – June 2017
Amazon sales rank: #360,565 in Kindle store
Coffee from Colombia is often considered some of the best in the world. Furthermore, coffee is the second largest export in Colombia. Also, one could say that coffee is synonymous with Colombia. And Colombia’s climate makes it a perfect place to grow these magical little beans.
Colombia exports a lot of its best coffee. But specialty coffee shops are growing rapidly in Colombia and you can now find some of this specialty coffee in coffee shops in Colombia. However, appreciating and evaluating specialty coffee can be a challenge.
With the book Permission to Slurp: The Insider’s Guide to Tasting Specialty Coffee in Colombia, you can become an insider and crack the secret code of the specialty coffee scene in Colombia.
Permission to Slurp was written by Karen Attman, an expat from the U.S. living in Bogotá. Also, Karen along with Peter Corredo run the Flavors of Bogotá blog dedicated to discovering the best of Colombian cuisine and coffee.
10. Colombia: A Comedy of Errors – Victoria Kellaway and Sergio J Lievano – 2014
Amazon sales rank: #390,251 in books
Colombia: A Comedy of Errors examines Colombia’s history, people, culture and justice. It’s a humorous look at Colombia from a European expat perspective.
This is a popular book that makes for a good read on a flight to Colombia. And it’s also a nice gift for someone visiting Colombia. It’s full of interesting information about Colombia and its people and historical trivia.
In addition, it’s light-hearted and not heavy reading like some of the other books on this list. And the humor in the writing is nicely supplemented by the colorful illustrations by Lievano.
This book was written by British journalist Victoria Kellaway and British-Colombian artist and writer Sergio J. Lievano. Victoria also runs her Banana Skin Flip Flops blog about Colombia.
11. Colombian Spanish: Phrases, expressions and tips to help you speak like a local – Peter Low – May 2016
Amazon sales rank: #498,282 in Kindle store
Colombian Spanish is intended help foreigners to speak Spanish in Colombia like a local. The book is full of tips to help you move from speaking “Gringo Spanish”, to learning the Spanish language as it is actually spoken in Colombia. Colombian Spanish isn’t the same as is spoken elsewhere. And with this book you can learn the key differences.
So, if you are looking to learn local Colombian expressions and Colombian slang needed to make friends, date and joke around with locals in Colombia, this is the perfect book.
The book was written by Peter Low, a long-term expat in Colombia and the editor of the ColombianSpanish blog.
12. Dancing Feat: One Man’s Mission to Dance Like a Colombian – by Neil Bennion – October 2013
Amazon sales rank: #534,439 in Kindle store
Dancing Feet is essentially the story of an Englishman trying to overcome his appalling ability to dance by dancing his way around Colombia. With this book you gain an insight into Colombian dance, from the urban forms found in nightclubs, to folkloric dances.
This book is filled with geeky, dry humor and the author does a good job of describing Colombia and the amazing Colombian people through his adventures and mission, learning how to dance in Colombia. It’s a great story of a guy stepping out of his comfort zone and struggling to reach a goal.
The author, Neil Bennion, is a writer and traveler. He was born in 1974 in Lancashire, England. He left his previous career in IT and went to Colombia to face up to his failings on the dance floor.
13. The Colombia Reader: History, Culture, Politics – Ann Farnsworth-Alvear – January 2017
Amazon sales rank: #691,663 in books
The Colombia Reader: History, Culture, Politics is book that looks at the history of Colombia through a collection of over 100 journalistic reports, songs, poetry, reproductions of art, government documents and much more.
This book helps expand the reader’s knowledge of Colombia beyond its reputation for violence. It contrasts experiences of conflict with the stability and significance of cultural, intellectual, and economic life in the complex country of Colombia.
The editors of this book have done a great job of including the voices of people who are historically marginalized and omitted in traditional histories of Colombia. This is a long book (over 648 pages) that was recommended by a Medellin Guru reader. I found it to be a very interesting book that covers the history of Colombia from the perspective of many different voices.
The primary editor, Ann Farnsworth-Alvear, is Associate Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania in the U.S.
14. Was Gabo an Irishman? – Edited by Caroline Doherty de Novoa, Victoria Kellaway and Richard McColl – April 2015
Amazon sales rank: #706,573 in Kindle store
Was Gabo an Irishman? is a collection of 26 personal essays written by foreigners from around the world who have visited or lived in Gabriel García Márquez’s (Gabo’s) homeland of Colombia.
This book has some great essays written by foreigners and their relationship with the writing of the famous Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez, known as Gabo. The essays provide a wealth of different perspectives on Colombia and its celebrated author.
I recommend this book to anyone thinking about visiting Colombia and wanting a deeper insight into the country.
This book was edited by Caroline Doherty de Novoa, Victoria Kellaway and Richard McColl. Victoria also runs her Banana Skin Flip Flops blog about Colombia. And Richard hosts a popular Colombia Calling podcast weekly.
Top Colombia Travel Guides by Expats
Colombia travel guides are very popular with tourism growing in Colombia. And tourists like having a travel guide to give them an idea of what to do and where to go prior to their trip. However, in many cases the Colombia blogs by expats can have more accurate and up-to-date information.
One challenge with the Colombia travel guide books is that they are dated and full of inaccuracies. Also, they are incomplete in many cases and missing some of the best places in cities. And some of the guides are even missing some cities in Colombia.
A pet peeve of mine after traveling to Colombia for well over 10 years and living in Medellín for over seven years is all the inaccurate information published about Colombia, particularly in the English-language travel guides.
The travel guides are challenged with long lead times and things change fast in Colombia, which results in some things being out-of-date by the time a travel guide is published. And the publishers reportedly don’t pay authors enough. So, corners are sometimes cut and not everything necessarily gets updated from edition to edition.
Note that three of the following travel guides I don’t recommend. Also, there are several older Colombia travel guides that I felt were too old to even include in this list. And these are listed in order based on Amazon sales on May 5, 2018 (if available).
Travel Guide #1: Lonely Planet Colombia (Travel Guide) – July 2015
Amazon sales rank: #32,566 in books
Lonely Planet Colombia (Travel Guide) is the granddaddy of Colombia travel guides. This is the 7th Edition of the Lonely Planet Colombia travel guide. Also, it’s a fairly comprehensive 352-page travel guide. And it’s currently the top Colombia Travel guide selling on Amazon. This is due to the popularity of Lonely Planet’s guides.
I have this popular travel guide. But it’s quite dated since it was published in 2015. So, it’s full of out-of-date information. So, I honestly can’t recommend it.
But Lonely Planet is working on a new 2018 Lonely Planet Colombia (Travel Guide) that is scheduled to publish on August 21, 2018. And you can pre-order this book on Amazon. I hope this is a major update that dramatically improves on the previous edition.
Travel Guide #2: Moon Colombia (Travel Guide) – July 2017
Amazon sales rank: #74,910 in books
The Moon Colombia (Travel Guide) is the most recently published complete travel guide about Colombia I am aware of. I have this guide and it’s fairly good and comprehensive with 500-pages in paperback.
I recommend this Colombia travel guide, as it’s the most comprehensive I am aware of. And I have talked to several expats about Colombia travel guides and they all believe this is the best currently published Colombia travel guide. But like all Colombia travel guides, it’s missing some of the top places and it has a few inaccuracies.
The author of this travel guide, Andrew Dier, lives in Bogotá. And he is a contributor to the Bogotá English-language newspaper The City Paper.
Travel Guide #3: Frommer’s EasyGuide to Colombia (Easy Guides) – March 2017
Amazon sales rank: #93,116 in books
Frommer’s EasyGuide to Colombia (Easy Guides) was published over a year ago. It’s meant to be a comprehensive guide to Colombia but at only 320-pages it’s much shorter than the Moon Colombia guide.
Also, the two authors of this Frommer’s travel guide don’t live in Colombia. Author Nicholas Gill is based in Lima and Brooklyn. And author Caroline Lascom is based in Chicago. Reportedly the authors Gill and Lascom have been covering Colombia for over a decade and this book is supposed to hit all the highlights.
Travel Guide #4: National Geographic Traveler: Colombia, 2nd Edition – January 2017
Amazon sales rank: #708,680 in books
National Geographic Traveler: Colombia was published over a year ago. It’s also meant to be a comprehensive guide to Colombia but at 320-pages it’s also much shorter than the Moon Colombia guide.
The author Christopher Bakers is from California and has authored and photographed the National Geographic Traveler guidebooks of Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, and Panama.
This travel guide is an update to a guide published in 2011. I have both editions and the updates are fairly minimal with not that many new things in the new 2017 edition. So, I can’t recommend this travel guide.
Travel Guide #5: Bogotá Through the 5 Senses
Bogotá Through the 5 Senses is a relatively new travel guide that isn’t yet on Amazon. It has the goal of providing the reader with a different lens through which to see Bogotá. This bilingual book is intended to help tourists explore new places in Bogotá by enjoying the sights, sounds and attractions which appeal to a local.
I met an expat recently in Medellín that told me he bought this book in Bogotá and showed it to me. He said it was a very helpful Bogotá guidebook.
The authors include expat Richard McColl who splits his time between Bogotá and Mompus and hosts a popular Colombia Calling podcast weekly, 5Bogotá – a Bogotá travel agency – and Chaló Chaló – an online store.
Medellín Dating Guide
And finally a dating guide, which many Medellin Guru readers have asked about. We previously provided an article with Medellín dating tips and advice for foreign men.
But if you are looking for a more complete dating guide we recommend the Dating Medellín guide. This isn’t really a book, its more of an online dating guide for men. But it’s the best Medellín dating guide for men we are aware of.
Buying on Amazon
Some of these books are available in only book format. And several are available in both book format and Kindle format.
If you want to buy books or other products on Amazon, note this is possible in Colombia. I live in Medellín and buy from Amazon all the time and I use the Mail Boxes Etc. ebox service.
This service provides a mailbox in Medellín that is linked to a mailing service in Miami. And any mail received at this mailing service in Miami is forwarded to Medellín.
So, I buy products on Amazon and ship using Amazon Prime for free to Miami and the items reliably show up in Medellín. In addition, Mail Boxes Etc. has offices in Barranquilla, Bogotá and Bucaramanga.
Amazon does ship some products to Colombia from the U.S. but not everything sold on Amazon ships to Colombia. But if you use the Mail Boxes Etc. service with Amazon Prime you get unlimited free 2-day shipping to Florida for products Amazon sells and the items show up reliably in Medellín with relatively low shipping costs.
Amazon Prime costs $119 per year but you can try Amazon Prime with a free 30-day trial.
Also, Amazon is reportedly entering the Colombian market in July 2018 with a market place in Colombia starting with selling only electronic products, such as smartphones, tablets and televisions, as well as decorations and kitchen items.
The Bottom Line: Colombia Books by Expats
When I first started traveling to Colombia back in 2006, there were very view books about Colombia written by expats. Mainly there was just a few early editions of some of the Colombia travel guides. For example, from my early travels to Colombia I still have the old 3rd Edition Lonely Planet Colombia travel guide that was published in June 2006.
But now there are several very good Colombia books by expats that can help travelers visiting Colombia or considering moving to Colombia better understand the country.
If you happen to know of any good Colombia books by expats we missed please let us know in the comments below. And with new books getting published each year, we plan to keep this article up-to-date.
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Editors note: on May 15, 2018 added the books Colombia: A Concise History and At the Devil’s Table that were recommended by readers of Medellin Guru.
Editors note: on May 23, 2018 added the books Biblioburro: A True Story from Colombia and The Colombia Reader: History, Culture, Politics, which were both recommended by Medellin Guru readers. Also added information about Amazon and ability for a free 30-day trial of Amazon Prime.
Editors note: on June 6, 2018 add the book No Apparent Danger: The True Story of Volcanic Disaster at Galeras and Nevado del Ruiz recommended by a reader. Also updated the Amazon sales statistics for these books.