City Report: Barranquilla
Barranquilla is the capital of the Atlántico Department and is bordered by the Caribbean Sea and the Magdalena River. With a population of approximately 2.5 million, it is the largest city along the coast and the fourth largest city in Colombia.
Having visited Barranquilla for the first time 11 years ago, I am fascinated at the progress it has made and continues to develop. The city skyline has completely changed with high-rises bursting all over the city along with new commercial office space and industrial facilities. The largest conference center in Colombia was recently inaugurated in Barranquilla and the modernization of Colombia’s main and largest maritime port is well underway.
Barranquilla has never been a main tourist destination and people have no idea what they’re missing. Most travelers only come to Barranquilla for business or Carnaval, so official city English tourist information is still being developed. Nonetheless, you will find plenty of helpful English speakers in the younger generation so don’t be afraid to venture to this wonderful city.
Flying there and getting around
The Barranquilla airport was the first and is oldest airport in South America. You can fly into Barranquilla directly from New York, Miami, and Panama. Of course, there are direct flights from Bogota, Medellin and other Colombian cities as well.
For local ground transportation, I don’t recommend you rent a car or take the bus to get around. Taxis and Uber are rampant throughout the city and are safe to use.
Carnaval (in Spanish)
If you’re going to visit Barranquilla for the first time, you must plan it around Carnaval. The Carnaval de Barranquilla is considered to be the second-largest Carnaval in the world after Rio de Janeiro. In 2016, over 600,000 people attended the four-day spectacle. More details about this amazing event in a separate blog post.
What to eat
Each city has its own twist to the exquisite Colombian cuisine, but my favorite hands down is the coastal food. The seafood is fresh and mouthwatering, and the fruit juices are refreshing and a must-have. You can get a decent “executive lunch” for about $5 USD which includes soup or salad, main course and a drink. If you’re a foody, you won’t be let down by any of the hundreds of fabulous sit-down restaurants throughout the northern part of the city.
What to see
Despite Barranquilla’s modern industrial atmosphere, it is a very historical city with lots to see.
Churches – The Catedral Metropolitana María Reina is a very modern and charming church and is a true reflection of the new up and coming Barranquilla. The Iglesia de San Nicolas is more of a traditional Catholic Church with a Colombian personality.
Museums – The Museo del Caribe, Modern Art Museum, Museum of Anthropology are all worth a visit.
Shopping – You have plenty of choices and world-wide recognized brand name stores locally. Viva Barranquilla Mall is the city’s newest shopping mall and one of the largest in Colombia. It is closely followed in size and variety by the Buena Vista Mall.
Where to stay
Over the last 2-3 years, international chains like Hilton have opened hotels in the city and rooms are fairly priced. Rooms are cozy, have air conditioning which is a must before you melt from the heat, and include breakfast. If you’re going to visit during Carnaval, book early or you will find yourself without a room. Online vacation rental properties are booming throughout the city so keep that option open. You definitively want to stay on the northern side of the city so plan accordingly.