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Puerto Colombia: 5 Reasons to Visit the Historic Gold Port

Whether you drive along the scenic Villa a Sabanilla or catch one of the large, colorful Cootransoriente buses ($2,400 COP) in Barranquilla, travel to Puerto Colombia is fast and easy, providing a nice little getaway to savor some culture, along with a few good reasons to visit this historic place.

colorful bus on its way to Puerto Colombia

During it’s prime, in the early 1930’s, Puerto Colombia was one of the busiest areas along the Colombian coast, serving as the vital gateway for import trade as well as immigration registry which began in the 1890’s. With more than a century of history, the municipio of Puerto Colombia, fondly known as Puerto de Oro (Port of Gold), was once the epicenter of the arrival of merchandise to the country.

Years later, Barranquilla completed the construction of Bocas de Ceniza, which led freighters to dock closer to the city, allowing for a much greater logistic capacity. Today, the town of Puerto Colombia serves as a low-key destination for travelers en route to nearby kitesurfing, or day tripping to enjoy the cool breezes drifting from the cliffs of nearby Salgar.

5 Reasons to Visit the Historic Gold Port

1. The Picturesque Plazas 

Upon arrival to Puerto Colombia, it’s quickly noted there are two main plazas: the large space in front of the picturesque Catholic church and the more centrally-located Plaza Principal, in front of the historical governmental Antigua Alcaldía de Puerto Colombia.

Graced by the beauty of Santuario Mariano Nuestra Senora del Carmen, a large pink church built in 1923, the first plaza has terra cotta tiles that bask in the daytime sun, but are cool in the evening: a place where families gather with friends and neighbors, some to take advantage of the free WIFI provided by the Ministry of Technology.

Antigua Alcaldía de Puerto Colombia with sculptures

The second plaza, across from the striking facade of the Alcaldía, boasts the original rail station, Estacion del Antiguo Ferrocarril de Bolivar, which now serves as La Casa de Cultura, an art gallery and community meeting place established in 1983.

Estacion del Antiguo Ferrocarril de Bolivar, also Casa de la Cultura

There are also several large sculptures, a miniature replica of the original Muelle de Puerto Colombia, and unusual paintings on the concrete. People mingle here and enjoy the park throughout the day.

Casa de la Cultura with replica of the original ferrocarril

2. The Friendly People

Walking around, it appears that most of the people in Puerto Colombia are very friendly and helpful. On a typical visit, locals are curious to know what is worth photographing and answer any questions about the history or local attractions of their town.

Eyes of gold in Puerta del Oro, Puerto Colombia

With eager smiles, they ask, “How are you enjoying your visit?”, and “Is there anything we can help you with?” It seems in Puerto Colombia, either the people have it, or they will help you find it.

Manuel and Diego sitting in the church plaza

Want an amiable overnight stay? Try the rustic El Hamakero de Conchi, a guest house located just a few minutes outside of the center of town, with inexpensive hammocks, hilltop views of the sea, and warm, welcoming local hosts.

Patio sleeping at El Hamakero de Conchi

3. Inexpensive Attractions

In addition to friendly people and small proximity, a day in Puerto Colombia is affordable, with free admission to Casa de la Cultura and other attractions in the area.

Take a journey along the strange boardwalk that winds through the Manglares-Mangrove, pass by the men repairing musical instruments and playing dominoes in the Centro, or watch the kids racing small cars among miniature replicas of the town’s popular buildings.

guitar strings, CDs, movies and sharpening scissors and knives
replica building of Antigua Alcaldía de Puerto Colombia

4. Eat, Drink Puerto-Style

Eating and drinking in Puerto Colombia is well-affordable, with delights centered around fresh seafood, including casuela de mariscos, the ever-popular Colombian fried fish, and street food favorites including chuzo (meat on a stick) and sancochos (soup). Whatever you crave, you’re sure to find something here.

Salchipapa desgranada at Restaurante Donde Nono

Two places to try are Restaurante Donde Nono, a popular spot on the main avenue, and Donde Fray, along the small strip of eateries leading to the beach, where vendors compete for visitors to park and dine at their establishment.

Fried fish plate at Donde Fray

Restaurante Donde Nono is small eatery with a large menu featuring hamburgers, ceviches and mezclada favorita, Salchipapas. Generally resulting in a chuckle from the Costeños, salchipapas at Nono’s were requested vegetarian-style, which means substituting corn for hot dogs, while still indulging in the other usual ingredients, including french fries, lettuce, cheese and salsas. Some argue this makes it a mazorca desgranada; whatever you call this dish, it’s certainly deliciosa.

the black spot on the sign means name your price!

Donde Fray was decided on by bargaining down our heckling vendor from $15,000 COP per plate to $8,000 COP, almost half the price. After he obliged, the vendor brought generous bowls of savory fish soup, followed by a full plate of fried fish, coconut rice, salad and patacón. Although the fish was not served whole with the head on per tradition, the batter-coated filets were just as tasty, and everything was cooked to perfection.

5. History and culture

Founded in the late 1800’s, Puerto Colombia featured the most important maritime terminal and pier of Colombia during the first four decades of the twentieth century. The opening of Bocas de Ceniza, where the Magdalena river meets the Caribbean sea, improved international maritime trade, and connected the commerce trades in Puerto Colombia and Barranquilla.

photo ©Guillermo Torres / Semana

In recent years, despite its once-strong and important status, Puerto Colombia it has seen its struggles with poverty and crumbling infrastructure. The original dock, which was once the second longest in the world at 4,000 feet in length, broke off in 2016, and today floats aimlessly at a distance offshore. Visitors can view the long dock, but it’s not advisable to pass very far beyond the water.

photo © El Tiempo

Despite its need of attention and repair to some structures, Puerto Colombia is still worth the visit. Whatever your reason for going, whether passing by to kitesurf at nearby Puerto Velero or escaping the daytime heat of Barranquilla, be sure to enjoy your time here, as the small town is slowly reviving itself, boasting recent cultural efforts and a strong, persuasive focus on local art.

Camilo en su Mundo by artist Emil Montesino
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2 thoughts on “Puerto Colombia: 5 Reasons to Visit the Historic Gold Port”

  1. What fun you are having. Your writing is wonderful and the pictures make us feel part of the location.

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