When people plan trips to the Colombian Caribbean coast, Barranquilla is not often contemplated as a travel destination (that is, unless, it’s during Carnival season). Most Colombians have told me that’s because Barranquilla doesn’t have a beach zone, and because it’s a very industrial city with few attention-grabbing attractions to draw people in. It was surprising to learn, then, that Barranquilla is the most populous city on the Colombian Caribbean coast, and the 4th most populous city in Colombia.
Having made Barranquilla my home city (at least for the time being), I have discovered there are actually quite a lot of things a traveler can see and do in Barranquilla. I wouldn’t recommend spending more than a few days here, but if you’re passing through, definitely get to know “la arenosa,” as Joe Arroyo named the city in his famous song “En Barranquilla Me Quedo.”
That being said… What can you do in Barranquilla?
Go to a Carnival parade (if you’re here in February)
Carnival in Barranquilla is a big deal. The entire city celebrates and celebrations begin long before actual Carnival. You’ll have to look at the official Carnival website for more information about events and parades: www.carnavaldebarranquilla.org/ Be ready for lots of partying and crazy celebrations!
Take a Sunday stroll through el Centro area of Barranquilla.
On Sundays, the Centro comes to life with live music, street vendors, and all sorts of typical Colombian food being made right in front of you. Be sure to buy a cup of limonada (limeade) for 500 pesos (~25 US cents) and an arepa de queso (cornbread like pastry filled with costeño, homemade coastal, cheese and topped with butter). Your arepa in hand, walk towards la Plaza de San Nicolas where you will find what I think is the most beautiful church in Barranquilla–la Iglesia de San Nicolas. The church is newly restored, and definitely worth a visit. Try to get there before or after Sunday mass, as the church is not open all the time. After visiting la Iglesia de San Nicolas, walk down el Paseo Bolivar until you get to the Museo del Caribe (Caribbean Museum). If your Spanish is up to par, a visit to the museum should not be missed. Check out the museum’s website for more information about time, prices, and exhibits: www.culturacaribe.org/.
Eat a typical costeño breakfast at Narcobollo
Everyone that lives in Barranquilla has eaten at Narcobollo. It is a small place known all over Barranquilla for serving up typical costeño pastries, juices, and delicacies. Be sure to stop by: Cr43 84-188.
Take a trip to Puerto Colombia
Puerto Colombia is not technically Barranquilla, but is a small “city” that lies about 20 minutes outside Barranquilla. You can catch a bus or a taxi there. Walk around the town for sure, but don’t miss the muelle (pier). It used to be the longest pier in the world, and people in Colombia still remember when it was. If you’re up for a day at the beach and don’t mind the water not being crystalline, take your swim suit and a towel and enjoy a day on the beach in Puerto Colombia. You can rent chairs and tents, and can also find delicious fried fish, coconut rice, and plantains for a reasonable price. A place I frequent often is Villa Alcatraz. Though the food is a bit pricey, the beach is clean and there are places to shower and change before leaving. There is also a lifeguard on duty.
Check out the restaurant la Cueva
La Cueva is a bar-restaurant that has a unique and fascinating history. It is where the famous Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez used to frequent along with many other famous Colombian intellectuals. Check out the place’s website for more info: http://www.fundacionlacueva.org/index_main.php
Go to a Junior game
If you like soccer, Barranquilla has a fairly good soccer team–they won the National Championship last year (2011), and they play regularly at the stadium here in Barranquilla. Be sure to buy yourself a Junior jersey before you go to the game. If there’s no game, you can still take a bus down to the stadium. I am not sure if you can go in the stadium, but you can definitely take a picture with the giant Shakira statue that stands outside of it.
Check out the outdoors fería de artesanías (handicrafts fair) on Cra 46 con Calle 72
If you’re looking for some traditional handicrafts or souvenir items to take home with you, this is the place to find them. You can find magnets, t-shirts, mochilas, bags, jewelry, hammocks, sombrero vueltiao (traditional coastal hat), homemade sweets, and more. It’s located all around el Estadio Romero (Stadium Romero).
Other sources of information for Barranquilla: