On August 2006, the City Council decided to emulate a model well tested on other cities, and divide Barranquilla administratively into five (5) “localidades” or districts. Though they respond to some extent to peoples’ imaginations to address their own ideas towards social, economic and cultural divisions, it would be a far stretch to claim that they are perfect, consistent, and homogeneous partitions. Here, we try to go into them in detail for you, our readers, with the disclaimer that though extensive, it is by no means an ultimate guide to the city’s neighborhood districts but merely an encouragement to explore it from a different perspective. We have purposely left some out, but as we’re sure we can’t possibly know them all, feel free to mention in the comments section below your favorite tips/highlights and must dos.
Metropolitana: This refers to the territory limited by Cordialidad Road, the corner of Murillo Avenue (45th Street) and Carrera 21, as well as Circunvalar Avenue (Ring). It amounts to 23 neighborhoods and roughly 20% of the city’s population (according to a 2008 population census).
Typically described as a low-income sector, it’s no wonder some of the city’s more famous social housing projects such as Ciudadela 20 del Julio, Las Cayenas and Las Gardenias were developed in this district.
It’s also home to the city’s pride and joy, one of its major attractions, Metropolitan Stadium Roberto Meléndez or “El Metropolitano” for short. It is sagely argued that one hasn’t been to Barranquilla until one has been to a soccer match in this Colombian temple for its leading sport. Not for nothing, Barranquilla displaced Bogotá as Home City for its National Team and many Colombians make a pilgrimage to the coast’s capital to join the Yellow, Blue and Red party that breaks loose at each game, whether it’s a friendly match or a qualifier for the World Cup. This sporting arena is of course HQ to Atlético Junior, the local team and object of devoted near-to-religious affection to its fans not only in Barranquilla, but scattered across the nation’s whole Caribbean region.
Other key points in the district include Metrocentro and Plaza Sur Éxito shopping malls, Cancha la Cevillar for minor sporting events, the iconic salsa venue, Donde Argel and the renowned fried pork chop locale located on Murillo Avenue and Carrera 19 where a night out exploring the south side’s party life can typically end.
Sur Oriente: This region comprises the 40 neighborhood territories limited by Carrera 38, the Magdalena River, Murillo Avenue and the town of Soledad, with a populace of near to 22% of the city’s total (2008).
Right on one of its borders, clearly one of the city’s landmarks, and nationally relevant, spanning across the Magdalena River, a gateway to the Department of Atlántico, and currently under expansion, is the Pumarejo Bridge, which officially is named after Alfonso López but which, as it often is in Barranquilla, was unofficially renamed by its inhabitants as an act of political rebellion in former but equally conflicted times in Colombian history. Here is also found the harbor, the heart of the local economy.
Following the southern boundary to Soledad we find a roundabout with an enormous flag to the city which also hinges Calle 17, where a major parade runs during Carnival, and Simón Bolívar Boulevard, which tends to all entertainment, commercial, recreational, and sporting needs of the same named neighborhood, and leads to Calle 30, a pivotal street connecting Barranquilla to its international airport and the road which leads to other capital cities such as Sincelejo, Montería and Medellín.
Some of this district’s highlights include the Botanical Garden, Almendra Park, San José Soccer Field, Panorama shopping mall, Las Vegas, a culinary and cultural haven for immigrants of the Santanderes residing in Barranquilla, and as well, two of the city’s most traditional churches: Chiquinquirá and San Roque, the latter surrounded by a recently renovated square.
Night life opportunities vary within the limits of this district, from the loud modern crossover party from Carrera 8, or “La 8” as it is known by party goers venturing to the southside for an experience which rivals any at northend nightclubs, to the traditional experience of El Rancho Currambero, a vintage disco reminiscent of old school barranquillero party style where musical legends as Sierra Maestra often play; saving something for the lustful as well on Siglo XXI, a former theater turned to adult entertainment club and red-light central.
Sur Occidente: This is without a doubt the most populated (33% of the city’s total in 2008), if not the largest district of all five, holding 67 neighborhoods within its boundaries set at Carrera 38, Cordialidad Road, Murillo Avenue and the towns of Galapa and Juan Mina.
Relevant places to the district are La Paz’s Public Library, Napoleón Salcedo Cotes Park, Santodomingo Park, Bicentennial Park, Red Cross, Americano Shopping Mall, El Bosque Penitentiary, Calancala Cemetery, and Universal Cemetery/Park where budget toy vendors gather every December for a popular toy fair.
Essential access to the district is Carrera 21, where the popular “Gran Parada” Parade, a colorful spectacle of tradition, takes place on the second day of carnival, and where various locales in the vicinity of Murillo Avenue cater to nightlife necessities.
Last but not least is the road leading to Juan Mina, formerly known as “La Calle de los Locos” on account of the absurd show of drivers talking out loud to themselves while their companions discretely hid in their seat on the way to a motel for a clandestine sexual encounter, still to be seen on this lover’s playground of over 10 Motels in less than 2 km.
Norte-Centro Histórico: This was the name allocated to the confines limited by Carrera 38, Circunvalar Avenue (Ring), the Magdalena River, Carrera 46 (Avenida 20 de Julio) up to 84th Street, and then tracing back to the river through 82nd Street and Carrera 64. It numbers 36 neighborhoods and houses about 20% of the city’s population (2008).
Without question, this is the district with the highest concentration of cultural venues and landmarks, and is a strong-point of several administrations’ efforts to renew downtown areas into more accessible, visitor-friendly spaces.
Starting from its southernmost limit, Carrera 38 from San Roque and following 30th Street one finds El Boliche, where mechanical devices, parts and everything metallic can be found or be custom-made ordered, then the Old Marketplace and Las Magolas near the sector mockingly known as Miami Caño at the heart of Barranquillita where cheap produce can be found despite minor security concerns.
Strolling down Carrera 41, one finds San Nicolas’ church and a namesake recently restored plaza around it before hitting Paseo Bolivar, a commercial boulevard and actual location of the Mayor’s office ending in an equally named Square where a statue of ‘El Libertador’ holds the central position. Almost every public office, including but not limited to courts, city and regional government can be found Downtown.
Public policy has been aiming to renew the city center, giving Barranquilla’s inhabitants increasing motives to visit it, and a huge part in this plan has been placed on the cultural offer promoted through the Cultural Complex at the Old Customs Building and the Caribbean Pilot Library, the renovated Intendencia Fluvial which now houses the office to the Secretary of Cultural Affairs, the Cultural Park of the Caribbean with its Museums and events plaza, where concerts such as the now institutionalized Noche del Río play, an evening of concerts in the prelude of carnival, paying homage to the rhythms of the Colombian Caribbean and the region at large.
At the core of the afore mentioned plan to give the city center a new air, is the construction of an avenue and a broad pedestrian zone alongside the bank of the Magdalena River, Del Rio Avenue, which intends to connect the City center to La Loma, a development project poised on the relocation of the town hall and changing other governmental structures to face the River.
All of the previously mentioned places pose several safety concerns, varying in severity, to foreign-looking people, especially in the Old Marketplace and the Calle 30 vicinity, however these can be easily circumvented by the safety provided in numbers by an event that takes place every year in December, Fotomaratón Miralcentro, a photo rally where enthusiasts gather for an opportunity to compete while snapping shots in these locations with support from the police department.
Going uptown and transitioning away from Vía 40, stage to the largest carnival parades, large industries and the grimness of the Modelo prison, we enter Barrio Abajo, a neighborhood said to embody the traditional essence of Barranquilla and the festive nature of its carnival. Prime attractions in Barrio Abajo are La Casa del Carnaval, and its museum, Casa de Hierro, a cultural foundation that hosts several events each year, the most famous being its Open Air Café every October, Alianza Colombofrancesa promoting francophony and a rich cultural year-long agenda, Amira De la Rosa Theater (temporarily closed), La Sala Theater, the Combarranquilla Theater and José Consuegra Higgins Theater. Other must-dos include a visit to Rancho Bajero, participating in the Rueda de Cumbia frenzy which can take place every Friday night up to 4 months preceding the official inauguration of Carnaval, or simply chilling on its streets, cold beer in hand, any given Sunday to find locals enjoying a laid back afternoon of music, card and table games, and tasty eats.
Emblematic to the city is its Metropolitan cathedral, a structural marvel employing concrete technologies from the 60’s in a very unique architectural design, with beautiful stained-glass windows and not at all resembling traditional religious edifices. Adjoined is the Peace Square, a natural gathering spot for Barranquilleros, a space that accommodates open air concerts and political demonstrations alike. Flanking the Square is Portal del Prado Mall.
Other highlights in relative proximity to the Square are La Cueva, former HQ to Garcia Marquez’ artistic generation and friends, including Obregón, Cepeda Samudio, and Fuenmayor, turned into a cultural foundation and restaurant, a nice place to enjoy drinks and live music; and also Centro Colombo Americano language school and cultural center.
Moving further uptown and up in history, we find El Prado neighborhood, with its mansions of neoclassic /republican architecture, remnants of yesteryear’s glory. Worthy of a visit are the Fine Arts Campus of Universidad del Atlántico and Hotel El Prado, as well as the Mudéjar architecture houses.
Next we find 72nd Street, the quintessential commerce street back in Barranquilla’s pre shopping mall era, still in business. Points of interest around 72nd Street are: La Troja, an emblematic Salsa bar that attained patrimonial status when the original venue caught fire and the bar’s vinyl collection was reconstructed from regulars’ donations; Romelio Martínez Stadium and Elias Chegwin Basketball Coliseum (both currently under renovations), Suri Salcedo Park, Joe Arroyo Transmetro Station, Musicians’ Park, where musicians for hire patiently await patrons, and artisans sell their handcrafts in a fair by the statue commemorating Barranquilla’s musical idol, Joe Arroyo.
Also worth checking in the vicinity are 4toB Rock bar, Frutera Los Compadres, an after-hours-eats favorite, and the seafood restaurants across from Escuela Barranquilla. During Carnaval season, definitely check out the Guacherna and Gay Guacherna parades as well as the coronation ceremonies. Plus, don’t miss Ay Macondo’s Carnavalada and the Beer and Orchestras’ Festival, all taking place in this district.
The districts’ nightlife is for the most part clustered around Washington Park and thereabouts, while restaurant and shopping alternatives are scattered anywhere between 76th and 84th Streets, and Carreras 46th and 53rd. Despite the proliferation of strip malls, Villacountry and El Único shopping malls remain the most popular.
Riomar: This is the least populated (5% in 2008) district of the five, though having a huge potential for expansion, with 25 neighborhoods within its boundaries set at Puerto Colombia, Magdalena River, Carrera 46 starting at 84th Street Murillo Avenue, and following 84th to 82nd Street down back to the river.
Relevant landmarks of the district are Las Flores neighborhood where locals go to enjoy fresh seafood served by the river, Bocas de Ceniza, the spot where the longest river in Colombia merges with the sea and where the cargo freighters enter and exit Barranquilla’s freshwater harbor and Mallorquin’s wetland. Bocas de Ceniza can be visited by taking a railcar from Las Flores and then walking on the wave breaker among fishermen using kites to pull their lines.
At the heart of Riomar one finds Buenavista Mall and Paseo del Castellana linear park, one of the several recreational alternatives along with Venezuela, Sagrado Corazón, Golf, and Electrificadora Parks.
Other shopping alternatives are Viva Barranquilla Mall and Miramar Shopping Center, a neighboring park to the latter offering a beautiful vantage point over the southwest end of the city. Numerous restaurants are scattered across the district, and various previously vacant lots have been transformed to parking lots to accommodate the current trend of Food trucks.
Nightlife in the district is concentrated along 82nd and 84th Streets, the second being where people massively gather to celebrate momentous occasions like national or local sporting victories.