There are several singers, actors, artists, and people in sports who represent the best of pop culture from their home country. This is certainly true of Colombia, who has so many talented sons and daughters who inspire puro orgullo in Colombians everywhere.
We wanted to share 26 such Colombians who have become household names for their major achievements and accomplishments. From Shakira to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, to Fernando Botero, here are some of Colombia’s pop culture greats.
Born Carolina Giraldo Navarro, 28-year-old singer-songwriter Karol G has quickly made a name for herself as a major player in reggaeton music. The Medellin native has released two studio albums, 2017’s Unstoppable and 2019’s Ocean, and has had three Billboard Hot 100 #1 hits: “Secreto” (with Anuel AA), “Culpables” (with Anuel AA), and “Dame Tu Cosita” (with Pitbull, El Chombo, and Cutty Ranks).
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
In 1967, a literary masterpiece was written in Colombia. It was this year that Nobel Prize-winning author, journalist, and screenwriter Gabriel Garcia Marquez created Cien años de soledad (One Hundred Years of Solitude). The novel follows seven generations of the Buendia family in the fictional town of Macondo.
Shakira is arguably the most famous celeb to come out of Colombia. The 42-year-old Barranquilla native has been making music professionally since the age of 13, releasing 11 studio albums. Her next big pop culture moment is performing at this year’s Super Bowl halftime show, alongside fellow Latinx Jennifer Lopez.
Fernando Botero is a world-renowned artist, self-described as “Colombia’s most Colombian artist.” Before his paintings were fetching over a million dollars, Botero was discovering the exaggerated style that would make him famous. In 1956, he created Still Life with Mandolin. By making the instrument’s hole smaller than scale, he blew up the other proportions; in doing so, his iconic style was born.
The 55-year-old Bogota native John Leguizamo has made his mark in Hollywood. In addition to roles in films including Super Mario Bros., To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar, and Carlito’s Way, he has made it a point to create the projects that he wished existed in Hollywood for Latinxs, taking matters into his own hands and making the changes Leguizamo wanted to see. We all need to be schooled in Latino history since we didn’t actually get to learn it in school. Luckily, John Leguizamo heeded the call, creating the Broadway show, Latin History for Morons (currently streaming on Netflix).
Juan Pablo Montoya
In the world of sports, Juan Pablo Montoya has made himself a household name. The Colombian race car driver has won several major races in his lifetime: The Monaco Grand Prix, the Indianapolis 500 (twice), the Italian Grand Prix (twice), 24 Hours of Daytona (three times), the British Grand Prix, the Race of Champions, and more.
Colombian designer Silvia Tcherassi was the “originator of Latin flair,” according to Women’s Wear Daily. She launched her womenswear line in 1987 and has been creating ever since. In addition to fashion design (ready-to-wear and atelier collections), Tcherassi also created the Tcherassi Home Collection and has dipped her toes into the hospitality industry, opening the Tcherassi Hotel + Spa in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia.
Juan Esteban Aristizábal Vasquez, better known as Juanes, is a Colombian rock star. The 47-year-old from Carolina de Principe has had eight #1 hits (on the Hot Latin Songs chart), and 16 top 10 hits on the Billboard charts. These include “La Camisa Negra,” “Me Enamora,” and “La Senal.”
Ilia Calderon made history when she became the first Afro-Latina to anchor a major news desk in the U.S. The Colombian journalist replaced Maria Elena Salinas on Noticiero Univision and has won an Emmy for her work.
When you think of Colombian music today, J Balvin is probably one of the first names that come to mind. The reggaeton star from Medellin has sold 35 million singles and 4 million albums worldwide (as of 2019), has been nominated for two Grammys and has won four Latin Grammys, among several other awards and nominations.
The role of Gloria, hot Colombian wife to Jay Pritchett, on the comedy Modern Family, made Sofia Vergara a household name in the United States (and beyond). It also made the 47-year-old from Barranquilla the second-highest-paid actress in 2019 (the Forbes list includes both TV and movie actresses) and the top-paid actress on television for the last eight years ($44.1 million this year).
Another Barranquilla native who is known by people all over the world is Nina Garcia. The 54-year-old is the editor-in-chief of Elle, a judge on Project Runway, and author of four books, including The Little Black Book of Style, and Nina Garcia’s Look Book.
“The Barranquilla Baby,” Edgar Renteria is a now-retired baseball player who played with the Florida Marlins, St. Louis Cardinals, Boston Red Sox, Atlanta Braves, Detroit Tigers, San Francisco Giants, and Cinncinatti Reds during his MLB career. The 44-year-old is a two-time World Series champion, a World Series MVP, and a five-time All-Star, among other accolades.
Another Colombiano dominating the Latin music industry is Maluma. The 25-year-old Barranquilla native, born Juan Luis Londoño Arias, has had several hits, among them “Chantaje” (with fellow Colombian Shakira), “Sin Contrato” (with Fifth Harmony or Don Omar and Wisin),” and “Corazon” (with Nego do Borel).
Carlos Vives is one of the identifying faces of Colombia, and someone who has dedicated his life to preserving its musical heritage. His homage to vallenato, 1993’s Clasicos de la Provincia (which includes “La gota fria”) was a monster hit, becoming the best-selling album of all time in Colombia.
Colombian designer Nancy Gonzalez has been making luxe handbags from exotic skins since 1998. You can shop her accessories at stores such as Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Bergdorf Goodman. Gonzalez’s handbags are created in her native city of Cali by local artisans, ensuring that she gives back to her own community. Nancy’s son, Santiago, is the brand’s president and creative director.
Colombians are very into soccer and the best players easily become superstars and national heroes. James Rodriguez is currently the international face of Colombian soccer. The 28-year-old from Cúcuta played in the 2014 World Cup (where he earned the Golden Boot), and 2018 World Cup. James currently plays for Real Madrid.
Sebastian Yatra, the 25-year-old singer-songwriter from Medellin, has made a big splash in the music world. Singing in both the pop and reggaeton genres, he has hit songs like “Robarte un Beso” (with Carlos Vives), Un Año (with Reik), Tracionera, and “Runaway” (with Daddy Yankee, Natti Natasha, and the Jonas Brothers).
Another Colombian World Series champ is Orlando Cabrera. The 45-year-old Cartagena native won the championship in 2004 with the Boston Red Sox and also played for the Montreal Expos, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the Chicago White Sox, the Oakland A’s, the Minnesota Twins, the Cincinnati Reds, the Cleveland Indians, and the San Francisco Giants. “O Cab”/”The OC” also won the Gold Glove Award twice in his career.
Diane Guerrero is an actress and author, known for playing Maritza Ramos in the hit show, Orange is the New Black, and Lina Santillan in Jane the Virgin, among other roles. But the Passaic, New Jersey Colombian is also a source of orgullo Colombiano (and Latinx) for standing up for immigrant rights. She had to face what many children of undocumented immigrants are experiencing today — family separation. When she was 14, Guerrero’s parents and older brother were deported. She wrote about this experience in her book, In The Country We Love: My Family Divided.
Fanny Lu has been holding it down for Colombians in Latin pop and Tropipop for 15 years. The singer, and actress, who is from Cali, is known for hits like “Tu No Eres Para Mi,” “Yi Si Te Digo,” and “No Te Pido Flores.”
Catalina Sandino Moreno
Maria Full of Grace (María, llena eres de gracia) is an award-winning film about an unwed and pregnant teenager who accepts a job as a drug mule. In 2005, Catalina Sandino Moreno was nominated as Best Actress for her role in the film (among other nominations).
Egan Bernal is a 23-year-old cyclist born in Bogota and raised in Zipaquirá. In 2019, he won the Tour de France, becoming the first Latinx to do so. Other wins include the 2019 Tour de Suisse, the 2019 Paris-Nice, and the 2018 Colombian National Time Trial Championships.
Juan Ocielian Fernando Fonseca, who we all know as Fonseca, is a Colombian singer-songwriter and composer. The 40-year-old has won several Latin Grammys in his career thus far, including those for Best Tropical Song (“Te Mando Flores,” and “Vine A Buscarte”), Best Tropical Fusion Album (Ilusion), and Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album (Agustín, and Sinfonico).
Another Colombian cyclist holding it down for the South American country is Mariana Pajon. In fact, the 28-year-old Medellin native, known as the “Queen of BMX” is the first person to win two Olympic gold medals for Colombia. This is in addition to 14 world championships, and other accolades.
Haider Ackermann is a Colombian-born designer who presented his first collection at Paris Fashion Week in March of 2001. After studying fashion design in Belgium at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, he landed an internship with John Galliano. According to the fashion site, Business of Fashion, Ackermann is “known for his signature draped forms and a colorful textured design aesthetic.” His work in fashion won the designer a Swiss Textiles Award in 2004, and a Fashion Group International Award in 2014, presented to him by designer Karl Lagerfeld. Lagerfeld personally wanted Haider Ackermann to take over for him at Chanel. The designer was also approached to take over at Dior and Maison Margiela.
Colombian-Argentinian Miguel Varoni is one of the best-known, best-loved actors in Colombia. In 2001 the 55-year-old starred in the popular novel, Pedro el escamoso, and has gone on to appear in big novelas including Las Juanas, El señor de los cielos, and La casa de al lado.