Most backpackers come to Barranquilla for the annual Carnival. Well, actually most backpackers don’t come to the city at all. Sandwiched between the much more popular walled city of Cartagena and the Santa Marta/Taganga area, Barranquilla is usually at most a bus stop when traveling between the two.
Barranquilla might not attract the tourists but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t thrive. As one of the largest cities in Colombia and the most important port in the country, Barranquilla holds a good deal of power and influence. Most travelers to the city are actually coming on business trips and the city is home to many international companies.
The city is also known for being one of the most diverse cities in Colombia thanks to an influx of immigrants after World War I and World War II. It’s not often that you can say you ate authentic Lebanese food in the middle of Colombia but thanks to the large Middle Eastern community (who immigrated after WW II) you can easily find authentic Syrian-Lebanese food along with your typical Colombian arepa.
The one time per year that Barranquilla does become the hot spot of Colombia is during the annual Carnival. Held the week before Ash Wednesday, the Carnival has been named one of the best in the world (right after Rio) and called a “World Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO.
The city floods with visitors and every hotel and hostel room is booked weeks to months in advance. The party is none stop for over 4 days and includes a unique mix of European, African, and Native Indian influences.
If you miss the Barranquilla Carnival, you might be tempted to skip the city on your visit to Colombia. It’s true the party is the real highlight of the city but it’s not all the city has to offer.
This is the birthplace of Shakira and if you love dancing, especially the hot dance moves of the Caribbean, this is your city. The nightlife is awesome, from high end nightclubs to corner bars. One minute you’d think you were in a South Beach, Miami club, the next you are out of the streets still dancing and taking shots of the “burning water” – Aguardiente.
If you are a soccer, I mean football, fan Barranquilla is also home to the Estadio Metropolitano Roberto Meléndez. The stadium is the biggest in the country and where the national team of Colombia plays. Ask around to see if there is a game while you are there and your hostel or hotel should be able to direct you on how to purchase legitimate tickets.
If you are more interested in relaxed sightseeing, Barranquilla also has a number of nice museums, great art-deco architecture, and river tours down to the mouth of the Magdalena river and the Caribbean Sea. The gold museum isn’t as good as the one in Bogota but the Museo del Caribe has a lot of unique displays featuring the history of the settlement of Colombia.
Couple Travel Tips
- Barranquilla crime rates continue to drop but there are still many neighborhoods in the city that you should avoid. Stick to the northern area of the city, don’t go out by yourself late at night, and you should be fine.
- If you run into any problems while traveling on the Colombian coast, most of the embassies in Bogota also have consulate offices in Barranquilla where you can report stolen passports or other travel issues.
- For anyone planning to enjoy a football match, be aware that the crowds at the national stadium can sometimes get quite rowdy. It’s best to wear the local teams colors and you might want to leave a bit before the crowds to avoid a sometimes dangerously charged atmosphere (whether they win or lose).