In the famous song of Joe Arroyo ‘En Barranquilla me quedo’ the lyrics speak to my experience so far in this beautiful city. Barranquilla is truly the cultural capital of Colombia.
‘Del caribe aflora
Con mar y rio
Una gran sociedad
Yo te canto ahora
Con gratitud y amor
del cantor al pueblo que adora’
The city has a huge impact on the cultural space within the country. Barranquilla is the hometown of some of the most well-known Colombians in the world. Here is a list of few of them: Shakira (Singer & Actress), Sofia Vergara (Actress), Paulina Vega (Miss Universe 2015), Nina Garcia (Maria Claire’s fashion director, Journalist/Reality TV Star), Edgar Renteria (Baseball player) and the list goes on.
If you’re ever in this neck-of-the woods here is a list of things you can do and events you shouldn’t miss in the cultural mecca of Colombia:
- Barranquilla’s Carnival
Barranquilla Carnival is proclaimed to be the second largest in the world only superseded by Rio de Janeiro’s. It is a four-day spectacle leading up to Ash Wednesday. The streets of the city are transformed into a unique blend of bright colored costumes, colorful parades, and energetic groups dancing to the rhythmic beats of porro, mapalé, cumbia, chandé, puya, fandango, merecumbé, and others. Also there are many cultural events, street parties and public displays. To welcome the Grand Carnival there are pre-carnival celebrations from the Carnaval de los Niños (Children’s Carnival) to the Fiestas de Comparsas, Fiesta de Danzas y Cumbias and Danza del Garabato (dance performances) to the Viernes de la Reina de Reinas(Carnival Queen Contest) creating excitement, and a shock wave of anticipation for the 4 day euphoria. La noche de Guacherna is a night parade that occurs one week before the carnival and is the last pre-carnival event. Here some of the major events during the 4 day long festivities;
Batalla de las Flores: is the first event of the carnival and last for 6 hours. It is a parade led by the Carnival Queen, who throws flowers to audiences arousing excitement and cheers accompanied by a large entourage of princes and princesses. There are huge imaginative floats, vibrant dance groups, and talented musicians.
Desfile de la Gran Parada (The Great Parade): takes place on Day 2 of the carnival and is equally remarkable as La Batalla de as Flores. This parade focuses on Colombia’s folkloric traditions such as Cumbia (dance and music), the torito folk dances, the dance of the Garabato, and the dances of the hilanderas (spinners). All are a mixture of Spanish and African styles. Cumbia is a courtship dance usually accompanied by robust drumming beats and melodious flute rhythms. These dance troupes move through the street impressing the crowd with theirs moves winning praises and cheers while being judged for prizes.
Gran Parada de Comparsas (The Great Fantasy Parade): takes place on Carnival Monday day 3. This parade is filled with vibrant colors and creativity according to its theme. More than 200 groups diced into Comparsas de Fantasia or tradición popular (Fantasy or Popular Tradition group) display their choreographies, costumes and makeup.
El Festival de Orquestas ( The Orchestra Festival): takes place on Carnival Monday day 3. It is a great event for music lovers. The audience is treated to a mixture of Caribbean and Latin America bands competing in various categories and groups for the coveted Golden Congo prize. The genre of music performed by these groups range from Reggae to Hip Pop, Vallenato to Champeta accompanied by talented local Colombian artists.
La Muerte de Joselito Carnaval (Joselito’s Funeral): takes place on the final day of Carnival. It is stated that Joselito is a former city coach driver whose only day of rest fell on a Tuesday: on one particularly Tuesday he drank himself to death. Joselito represents the gaiety and festiveness of the carnival which unfortunately like the life of Joselito must come to an end. The parade is likened to a funeral although melancholically-dressed in black the parade widow characters are not truly downhearted and, instead, focus their attention on the privilege of having partaken in a 4-day long non-stop party.
I am sorry. This is not a carnival post but is the major cultural event in Barranquilla and they spend enormous time and effort to ensure that it is executed seamlessly throughout the 4 days. I just touched the tipoff the ice-berg as there are so many other events taking place simultaneously and I’ve just highlighted the main events. Below is a link to all the events that took place in the 2017 Carnival. http://www.carnavaldebarranquilla.org/carnaval-2017/
You don’t have to be a Jazz lover to truly enjoy these concerts. 4 days of musical orgasm and that’s BarranquiJazz for you. Last year they took Jazz into the street with huge concerts on September 16- 18 at la Plaza de la Paz free to the public. These are some of the artists that performed: on the Friday Festen Cuarteto (France), Josean Jacobo & Tumbao (Dominican Rep.), and German Barrera Afrolatino (Colombia & Spain), on Saturday Yotam Silverstein Quartet (Israel), Daymé Arocena (Cuba), and Arnedo Family with Javier Colina. In closing out the event there were performances from Steve Turre, Greg Diamond & Hector Martignon Group (US – Colombia), Juventino Ojito y los reyes del Porro (the Kings of Porro), Carlos Piña and Ramón Benítez, Havana D´Primera & Alexander Abreu. My favorite performance was by Daymé Arocena. It was definitely a good blend of English and Spanish songs but music speaks to the soul it doesn’t matter what language it was sang in.
- The Old Prado Neighborhood
This is a very interesting and unique neighborhood in Barranquilla. It has wide avenues, gardens and mansions that reflect the styles brought here by German, Italian, Syrian, Lebanese and Jew immigrants. Hotel El Prado is a prime example of the Republican Architecture. The streets of the neighborhood were designed in 1920 by the Karl brothers and Robert Parrish. They are decorated with Oaks, Golden Rain among other trees. So if you’re a fan of architecture or just want good shots of well-preserved buildings from the 19 century, El Prado Viejo is the place to visit.
- Bocas de Ceniza
Bocas de Ceniza is the point where the Magdalena River meets the Caribbean Sea. At Bocas de Ceniza you can see the main mouth of the most important fluvial artery in Colombia. The site is an engineering work that was constructed with starlings that narrow the mouths of the river so that the force and the speed of the current move the sediments and allow the navigation. At the site you can take a tour by boat or take the train and walk the rest of the journey. It is truly an intriguing view.
- Parque Cultural y Museo del Caribe
The Caribbean Cultural Park and Museum is completely dedicated to promoting the natural, cultural and historical heritage of the Caribbean Colombian (persons from the Caribbean Coast near the Caribbean Sea). They’re both located in the Historic Center of Barranquilla. The Caribbean Museum is the first regional museum in Colombia. It shows the generation and social appropriation of knowledge (historical, anthropological, geographic, sociological, environmental, and economic) of the Caribbean Colombian as part of the Greater Caribbean. I saw a heritage listing of Jamaican people who came to Colombia and where they settled; many in San Andres, Barranquilla and Cartagena. A visit to the Museum begins with Gabriel García Márquez and ends with the music of the Colombian Caribbean. It presents visual and interactive literature, ethnic groups and folklore. It is well documented ethnographically. It transmits very well the ethnic and ecological diversity of the Caribbean.
- La Cueva
La Cueva is a unique and interesting bar restaurant in Barranquilla. It was an old hunters’ bar that became famous for the artists, writers, and renowned intellectuals who frequently visited it, as well as for the many events that were experienced in it. Among the most illustrious members of La Cueva are: Gabriel García Márquez, Alfonso Fuenmayor, Alvaro Samudio, Alejandro Obregon, Cecila Porras, Enrique Grau, Rafael Escalona, Orlando Rivera, German Vargas and others. This restaurant bar is highly recommended for savory food, excellent music and overall wonderful ambience.
- Plaza de la Intendencia Fluvial
La Intendencia Fluvial is a symbol of the glorious period in Barranquilla’s history, when the city played its best role as la Puerta de Oro de Colombia (Colombia’s Door of Gold). This cultural heritage recently reopened its doors after a restoration work was completed, that is a part of the revitalization of the Historic Center. This place was built-in the late 20’s and is a testimony of that time. An office of the Ministry of Culture, Heritage and Tourism of Barranquilla is located at La Intendencia Fluvial. This has reunited Los Barranquilleros with the Magdalena River and has become an obligatory point to visit in the sector of the Historic Center of the city. There are interesting artistic displays in the gallery from local artists.
- Castillo de Salgar (Salgar Castle)
The full name of this place is el castillo de San Antonio de Salgar (San Antonio de Salgar Castle) a mouth full isn’t it? Now you understand the shortening of its name. Salgar Castle is a building located in the municipality of Puerto Colombia, to the northwest of the department of the Atlantic, and 20 minutes from Barranquilla. It was built by the Spanish in 1848 on the ruins of the old fort of San Antonio, during the colonial era. Salgar Castle is located on a vertical slope, and west of the beaches of Salgar. It’s a beautiful place with a stunning view of the Caribbean Sea, with beautiful sunsets.
There are many more interesting places and things to do in Barranquilla to visit; I have just highlighted a few of them. What do you think? Leave a comment below.