Outside of Colombia, Barranquilla is perhaps best known as the hometown of superstars Shakira and Sofía Vergara. With names like that coming from what is Colombia’s 4th biggest city, one would expect there to be some sort of draw for tourists. In my one day in Barranquilla, I found almost nothing worthy of a detour to this industrial city.
Barranquilla has been called “the Cleveland of Colombia”. That’s an insult to Cleveland.
I arrived in Barranquilla with my girlfriend Marisol via transfer from Cartagena. We used MarSol, which cost COP$21,000. It’s also possible to transfer to and from Santa Marta for the same price. They picked us up at our hotel in Cartagena. We were expecting them to drop us off at the hotel in Barranquilla, but we were dropped off on some street pretty far away and had to take a taxi.
We stayed at the Hotel Genova Prado. It is a very nice and modern hotel with a great staff. The room was extremely comfortable and clean, and it’s in a safe, upscale area (El Prado). It cost COP$135,000 for the night.
Barranquilla has a reputation of being a dangerous city in certain parts. Some of the sites we wanted to visit were in seedy areas so we decided to find a guide to show us around for a couple hours. The hotel suggested Jorge at a cost of COP$130,000 for the day. He picked us up in his immaculate red Chevy Impala and told us he would take us to four parts of the city.
Our first stop was Plaza de la Paz, a wide-open concrete square with a lower part decorated with trees and benches. Jorge told us the plaza used to be a very dangerous place but it has cleaned up quite a bit the past few years, however it’s still not a great place to be at night.
At one end of the plaza was Catedral Metropolitana, built between 1955 and 1982. It looks like a concrete and steel monstrosity and not a typical cathedral, but Jorge said it’s actually very beautiful on the inside (it was closed so we couldn’t enter).
We were then taken to the Museo del Caribe. This was our favorite stop of the day. It’s an excellent museum dedicated to showcasing the life of the Caribbean region of Colombia. It’s full of artifacts, videos, and interactive displays. My Colombian friend Natalia told us if there’s one thing you do in Barranquilla, make sure we visit this museum. She was right.
The next stop was in a very seedy part of town, Plaza de San Nicolás. We parked the car and walked through a very long street market until arriving at the plaza. Jorge told me to keep my camera hidden until he said it was ok.
The plaza was very interesting, with a small garden in the middle and surrounded by colonial buildings.
The centerpiece of the plaza was Iglesia de San Nicolás, the oldest and most beautiful church in Barranquilla, built in 1637. We spent a few minutes inside before walking back to the car.
Jorge then drove us to see the Magdalena River and for some odd reason a huge shopping mall, Centro Comercial Buenavista. It’s a very nice mall with a great selection of shops, a cinema, and food court, but not exactly what we had in mind as a tourist attraction. It also took us an hour in terrible traffic to get there. Traffic and malls – I felt like I was in Istanbul again!
After the tour, we had dinner at Maília, a gourmet restaurant near the hotel. It’s a very nice place and we were quite underdressed in shorts and flip flops but I didn’t care. It was probably the best meal of our trip. We had the octopus as a starter. I had the salmon and Marisol had a salad. We both had cherry lemonade to drink and finished off the meal with a strawberry dessert. Service was friendly and attentive. The meal cost about COP$130,000 for the two of us.
As you can see Barranquilla isn’t much of a tourist destination, but it is THE place to be in Colombia during Carnaval. The Carnaval de Barranquilla is the most well-known and culturally important festivals in Colombia. It takes place the four days before Ash Wednesday every year. It showcases a variety of music and dancing along with colorful and creative costumes.