¡Rumba! – Colombians love to drink, and they drink to party. Spirits are the drink of choice on a night out – usually rum on the coast and aguardiente (sugar-cane liquor, sometimes flavoured with aniseed) in the interior, with whisky also making an appearance.
The drinking style is very sociable – people usually buy a bottle between them, and shots are shared out equitably in tiny plastic cups. In clubs, it’s common for friends to take a break from dancing for a quick top up of their alcoholic state, before getting back to the dance floor. Laws prohibit drinking beyond a certain time, which differs from city to city.
During the day, and in bars and cafés, beer is popular, as is creating an impressive edifice of empty bottles. Chicha – a fermented maize drink – can often be found out in the sticks.
Not drinking in Colombia
Pretty much any social activity in Colombia is accompanied by alcohol, though it’s usually an adjunct rather than the main event.
Fortunately, Colombians are friendly and very well-mannered, and they love foreigners, meaning you can generally get away with not drinking. Thought you’ll likely have to weather some well-intentioned pressure. You’ll also miss out on the social aspect of the rounds of liquor, but as long as you’re giving off good vibes you’ll still be a part of things.
Drinking might be optional, but dancing is obligatory – it’s a core part of their culture. If you go to a club and refuse to dance you’ll be interrogated into submission (Is something wrong? Are you upset? Has someone offended you?). Give it a go, though, and they’ll love you for it.
Nightclubs play international Latin favourites such as Salsa, Merengue and Reggaeton, plus local specialities like Vallenato. You can’t really wing it – you have to learn the steps if you’re going to express yourself. But this is great fun in itself, and there are dance schools everywhere.
The young and feisty nature of the Andes means termales (thermal baths) fed by volcanic springs are another good option for an evening out – families, couples and friends all head out to these complexes.
If you’re not of a nervous disposition, there’s tejo: a typical Colombian game where you pitch lead weights at packets of gunpowder. There is a scoring system, but most newbies are happy just ‘making a bang happen’. The downside is that it’s seen as a bit of a drinking game.
In clubs, you’ll often be limited to just water or fizzy drinks, plus maybe ginger ale or imported no/low-alcohol beer if you’re lucky (usually the Dutch brew Buckler). During the day, the exotic natural fruit juices in Colombia are a thing to behold, whilst ‘Pony’ brand malt drink might also make a reasonable beer substitute.
You can spend time in Colombia and not drink, but you’d better be prepared to shake your thing.