Barranquilla, Colombia's fourth city, lies on the western bank of the Río Magdalena, about 18 km from its mouth. It's a seaport (though less busy than Cartagena or Santa Marta), as well as a river port, and a modern industrial city with a polluted but colourful central area near the river. First and foremost, however, Barranquilla is famed for its Carnival, reputed to be second only to Rio de Janeiro in terms of size and far less commericalized. In 2003 UNESCO declared it a “masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity”. Pre-carnival parades and dances last through January until an edict that everyone must party is read out. Carnival itself lasts from Saturday, with the Batalla de las Flores, through the Gran Parada on Sunday, to the funeral of Joselito Carnaval on Tuesday. The same families have participated for generations, keeping the traditions of the costumes and
dances intact. Prepare for three days of intense revelry and dancing with very friendly and enthusiastic
crowds, spectacular float processions, parades and beauty queens. The main action takes place along Calle 17, Carrera 44 and Vía 40.

Getting there

Ernesto Cortissoz airport
is 10 km from the city. The main
bus terminal
is south of the city near the Circunvalación. Some bus companies have offices around Calle 34 and Carrera 45. If arriving into Barranquilla by boat and shipping your car, allow two days to complete all the paperwork you'll need to retrieve your car from the port.


The city is surrounded by a continuous ring road called the 'Vía Cuarenta' from the north along the river to the centre; 'Avenida Boyacá' to the bridge (Puente Pumarejo), which crosses the Río Magdalena for Santa Marta; and 'Circunvalación' round the south and west of the city. The long bridge over the Río Magdalena gives a fine view of Barranquilla and the river.

In the centre the principal boulevard is
Paseo Bolívar
leading to
Parque Simón Bolívar
. Two blocks south is a handsome church,
San Nicolás
, formerly the cathedral, in Plaza San Nicolás, the central square, and before it stands a small statue of Columbus. The new
Catedral Metropolitana
, is opposite Parque la Paz. There is an impressive statue of Christ inside by the Colombian sculptor, Arenas Betancourt. Further along is the small
Museo Antropológico
, which has a big physical relief map on the front lawn, and the
Museo Romántico
, which covers the history of Barranquilla, including the establishment of air services and radio in Colombia, with an interesting section on the local Carnival and a replica of 'Camellón Abello', an old street of Barranquilla.

The commercial and shopping districts are round the Paseo Bolívar, a few blocks north of the old cathedral, and in Avenida Murillo. The colourful and vivid
is between Paseo Bolívar and the river, the so-called Zona Negra on a side channel of the Magdalena.
Nearby is one of the biggest and best maintained
, in the country, however many of the animals (some rarely seen in captivity) are kept in small cages. There are good parks to the northwest of the centre, including
Parque Tomás Suri Salcedo
on Calle 72. Stretching back into the northwestern heights overlooking the city are the modern suburbs of
El Prado
, Altos del Prado, Golf and Ciudad Jardín, where you'll find the
El Prado Hotel

There is a full range of services including commercial and shopping centres, and banks between Bulevar Norte and Avenida Olaya Herrera towards the Country Club. There are five stadiums in the city, a big covered coliseum for sports, two for football, and the others cater for basketball and baseball. The metropolitan stadium is on Avenida Murillo, outside the city where it meets the south stretch of the Circunvalación.

Around Barranquilla

Regular buses from Paseo Bolívar and the church at Calle 33/Carrera 41 go to the attractive
bathing resort of
Puerto Colombia
, 19 km, with its pier built around 1900. This was formerly the ocean port of Barranquilla, connected by a railway. The beach is clean and sandy, though the water is a bit muddy. Nearby are the beaches of
, and north of Barranquilla is
Las Flores
(2 km from the mouth of the Río Magdalena at Bocas de Ceniza), both good places for seafood.

South along the west bank of the Magdalena, 5 km from the city, is the old colonial town of
. The cathedral and the old narrow streets around it are worth seeing. A
further 25 km south is
Santo Tomás
, known for its Good Friday flagellants who symbolically
whip themselves as an Easter penance. There are also street theatre presentations at this time. The small town of Palmar de Varela is a little further along the same road, which continues on to Calamar.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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