Before I had a clue what there was to do in Barranquilla, I did what any reasonable traveler would do and picked up my trusty Colombia travel guide. Much to my disappointment, the brief summary essentially described Barranquilla as a great place to stretch your legs on the bus ride between Cartagena and Santa Marta. Thankfully, there’s much more to see in La Arenosa than the bathroom in the Berlinas station, even when it’s not carnaval season – so without further ado, I humbly present my (rather ambitious) guide for an action-packed weekend in Barranquilla.
Arrive in Barranquilla at the airport Ernesto Cortissoz, actually located in Soledad, just south of the city limit and part of the metropolitan area of Barranquilla. A taxi will cost you about 25k to get to the north of the city. Many visitors stay at the Meeting Point hostel, one of the few hostels in the city.
If you arrive before sunset, take a stroll around El Prado, the historic neighborhood just west of the Centro Histórico, full of old Republican-style mansions, many of which are now owned by businesses and foundations. Don’t miss the María Reina Cathedral (Avenida 11 de Noviembre with Calle 53) for some impressive stained glass.
Once you’ve worked up an appetite, head just south to the neighborhood of Boston for a nice dinner at La Cueva (Carrera 43 with Calle 59), the restaurant-museum previously frequented by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the Barranquilla Group back in the day. Enjoy some tasty seafood and cocktails, and while you wait for your food, take a peek at the historical décor and documentary in the side room, where you can learn about the La Cueva when it was Gabo and friends’ favorite meet-up place.
If you’re somehow still hungry for dessert, grab a Frozo-Malt at the Heladería Americana on Carrera 43 with Calle 73. This Barranquilla establishment gets a little shout-out in Love in the Time of Cholera (see the quote on the wall in the Heladería) and its classic dessert, the Frozo-Malt (somewhat reminiscent of a Wendy’s Frosty, but better!), will satisfy your sweet tooth.
From the Heladería Americana, you can probably already hear the booming speakers of the legendary salsa club, La Troja, located just around the block (Calle 74 with Carrera 44). Prepare your eardrums and dance the night away to salsa and merengue classics accompanied by a few Aguilas. It doesn’t get much more Barranquillero than this!
Drag yourself out of bed early and try to ignore that guayabo (hangover) and the ringing in your ears, because you’ve got a big day ahead of you! Start your day off with a visit to the Museo del Caribe (in the Parque Cultural del Caribe near Carrera 46 with Calle 36) to learn more about the history of the city and Caribbean region and take in the wonderfully curated exhibits. When you’ve seen it all, hop over to the renovated Plaza de la Intendencia Fluvial, where you can relax and get some cool pictures of the graffiti wall nearby, or the old Aduana building, a cultural landmark.
Next, head south for a stroll down the Paseo Bolivar, enjoying some street foods like the arepas filled with cheese or fresh natural juices, until you get to the Plaza San Nicolás. Here you’ll find one of the most emblematic sites of the city, the colorful Iglesia San Nicolás.
From Centro, grab a taxi to the neighborhood Las Flores, where you’ll find some of the freshest, tastiest, and cheapest seafood in the city. Ask your driver to leave you at his or her favorite seafood restaurant, or take your pick of any… you can’t go wrong. After you’ve had your fill of fried fish, coconut rice, and patacones, grab a coco frío and head to the trencito that will take you to Bocas de Ceniza. This site, where the Río Magdalena meets the sea, can be reached by a makeshift motorized cart that runs along old train tracks. Wear sturdy shoes, because there’s a bit of a hike at the end, but the views are worth it!
By the time you’re back from Bocas de Cenizas, you’ll be hungry for dinner, so check out Cucayo (Carrera 49c with Calle 79), a locally-themed restaurant serving up costeño classics (their mote de queso is my favorite). The décor is inspired by Barranquilla popular culture, such as the colorful Caribbean buses, and there is often (loud) live music. And don’t forget to try a mojito! If you’re not up for dancing again, the bar Bourbon Street near Parque Washington (Calle 80 with Carrera 53) is a fun spot with reasonably priced drinks.
On Sunday, spend a relaxing morning on the beach in Puerto Colombia. Grab a kiosko on the beach in Puerto Colombia itself, or relax at Kilymandiaro beach by the Pradomar Hotel. At either place you can order drinks and buy ceviche or shrimp cocktails from the ambulant vendors. If you’re still up for some sights, check out the nearby Castillo de Salgar for some beautiful coastal views and an amazing sunset. When you’re ready to head back into the city, don’t miss a delicious dinner at the Parrilla Libanesa before you leave the city. Thanks to its history of immigration from the Middle East, Barranquilla has amazing comida árabe.
Barranquilla might not have the international tourism draw of Cartagena, but with its rich history and welcoming people, it’s the perfect place to get a truly authentic taste of the Colombia’s Caribbean coast, even if you can’t come for Carnaval. If you find yourself traveling in the area, don’t miss the chance to discover the thriving cultural capital – not overrun by tourists! – that is Curramba la Bella.