Barranquilla has played an important part in Colombia’s history. Nicknamed ‘Colombia’s Golden Gate’, it was the gateway for progress. Telephones, radios, aviation, trains and football all came to Barranquilla first.
Nowadays, Barranquilla seems to be forgotten, or ignored, by most visitors to Colombia. It’s a city that a lot of people pass through, but don’t choose to stick around.
And we would mostly agree with that decision. Except when it’s time for…
Carnival in Barranquilla
Since the 19th century, every year, the carnival has been exploding in Barranquilla. It’s now the second biggest carnival in the world, after the one in Rio de Janeiro.
Attracting over 240,000 visitors from all across the world, the streets of Barranquilla become a flurry of music, dancing, parades, colourful costumes and people having the time of their lives.
For four days and nights, people of all races, nationalities and beliefs come together to express themselves and dance until their feet hurt.
After all, what better place to host a carnival than the birthplace of Shakira and cumbia dancing?
If you’re in Colombia during the period of carnival (normally in February or the start of March), then you have to visit Barranquilla.
Top Tip: As you can imagine, Barranquilla is the place to be during carnival. Almost all accommodation is fully booked at this time, so we’d recommend booking in advance.
Is Barranquilla safe?
So, why is Barranquilla typically left off of most travellers’ Colombian itineraries?
Barranquilla is often overshadowed by the two other popular coastal cities — Cartagena and Santa Marta. This is mainly because they have more to offer and they are thought to be safer than Barranquilla.
In general, Barranquilla can be considered safe. That’s as long as you practise common sense and follow what the locals tell you. For example, don’t walk around once it’s dark. Take a taxi instead.
Follow the popular Colombian saying ‘don’t give papaya’, which means don’t flash around your valuables otherwise you’re ‘asking’ to be robbed.
The main crime that happens to tourists is theft of phones and valuables. Stay in the recommended areas, and this shouldn’t happen to you.
How long should you stay in Barranquilla?
Whilst the period of carnival is a once in a lifetime experience in Barranquilla, outside of this time there aren’t a ton of things to do.
One day/night is enough time in Barranquilla. This will give you time to explore the city and get a feel for its atmosphere.
Plus, it’s home to incredible cuisine and seafood, so you’ll have time to try some.
There are so many more magical and stunning places in Colombia, such as Salento, Medellin and Cartagena, that we’d recommend visiting instead.
Where to stay in Barranquilla
Barranquilla is Colombia’s fourth largest city. That means there are a number of districts and neighbourhoods that make up the city. However, it’s not recommended for tourists to stay in certain places.
To make sure you pick the right neighbourhood to stay in, here are our 3 recommendations of safe areas in Barranquilla:
Location #1: Alto Prado — the safest and nicest neighbourhood in Barranquilla
Best for: a safe place to stay. Alto Prado is one of the nicest neighbourhoods, and where we recommend most people stay.
Who is it for: those who want to dance the night away. Staying here, you’ll be close to the heart of Barranquilla’s nightlife. This is also where the city’s best restaurants, cafes, bars and nightclubs are found.
Don’t miss: the shopping opportunities. It’s the centre of commerce and business.
Biggest downside: Alto Prado is where expats and the wealthier residents of Barranquilla live, so you may not get the local experience you’re looking for.
Accommodation in Alto Prado
Alto Prado is one of the nicer areas of Barranquilla which has attracted more boutique and luxurious hotels.
Prices do tend to be a bit higher in Alto Prado, with private rooms starting from $20 per night.
Location #2: El Prado — large mansion-style neighbourhood
Best for: being in the middle of other popular neighbourhoods. El Prado puts you between Alto Prado and the Historic Centre, so it’s not too far to visit either.
Who is it for: those looking for a safe area with cool accommodations.
Don’t miss: having a wander. The houses are built in an impressive mansion style, with large gardens and gated areas. It was one of the first planned urban developments in Colombia.
Accommodation in El Prado
A lot of the large mansions have now been turned into boutique hotels. This means there are some pretty cool and unique accommodations to pick from.
Prices are also higher in El Prado with private rooms starting at around $20 per night.
For a budget-friendly, but comfortable stay, we’d recommend staying in the bh Barranquilla.
Location #3: Historic Centre — where the history of Barranquilla began
Best for: all things social, political and historical. The Historic Centre is where it all started for Barranquilla.
Who is it for: those looking for cheap accommodation and a local vibe.
Don’t miss: visiting museums, the main plaza and admiring Barranquilla’s diverse architecture.
Biggest downside: the Historic Centre isn’t considered the safest of neighbourhoods. During the day, it’s bustling with locals and tourists, but at night it’s not advised to be out on the streets.
Accommodation in the Historic Centre
Staying outside of Barranquilla’s fancier neighbourhoods does mean that you can find cheaper places to stay.
You’ll find smaller hotels and B&Bs run by locals — private rooms start from $11 per night.
Our favourite place to stay in the Historic Centre is Casa Caribe Colonial with its beautiful architecture and spacious rooms.
Where to eat in Barranquilla
Barranquilla’s location on the Caribbean coast of Colombia puts it in a unique position when it comes to food. Here, cultures and bodies of water collide.
You’ve got both Colombian and Caribbean influences. Plus, where the Magdelena River meets the Caribbean sea, you have both freshwater and saltwater fish. Essentially, Barranquilla has some incredible seafood.
There are lots of highly-rated restaurants to pick from in Barranquilla, but to make that choice easier for you, here are our 4 favourite places to eat:
It’s frequently argued that Peru has the best food in South America. If Peru isn’t on your itinerary and you want to get a taste of its delicious cuisine, head to Restaurante Cuzco.
Their dishes are designed to surprise your taste buds, combining the fresh seafood they have on their doorstep with the magic of Peruvian gastronomy. The food is faultless and so is the service and ambience. Enjoy your incredible food whilst a live band is playing in the background.
Varadero — Cuban-style restaurant with live music
Another brilliant fusion restaurant is Varadero. This time it’s Cuban-inspired food, served within a beautifully decorated Cuban-style restaurant. The live Cuban music makes it more than just a meal, it becomes an experience.
The food is imaginatively presented, using only the highest quality and freshest ingredients. The portions are also pretty big, so there’s no chance of you going home hungry. Varadero can get busy, so it’s best to make a reservation.
Restaurante Palo de Mango — unforgettable fine dining
The first thing you’ll notice about Restaurant Palo de Mango is its stunning and thoughtfully designed interior. You instantly feel relaxed, even though it’s a fine dining restaurant.
The owner, Alex Quessep, is almost always on hand to make sure that everything runs and tastes perfect. You can trust him to take you on an unforgettable culinary journey.
The Meeting Point — a taste of Italy
There are lots of high-end restaurants in Barranquilla, but if you fancy something simple and delicious, head to The Meeting Point. The pizza here is great!
The owner is from Italy, so he makes sure his pizzas are authentic and tasty. The thin and crispy base, covered in a flavoursome tomato sauce, almost transports you to Italy. It’s that good.
How to get around Barranquilla
Barranquilla is a pretty big city, but there are lots of areas that are of no interest to tourists. And due to Barranquilla’s public transport and number of taxis, it’s a pretty easy city to get around.
Here’s some more information on how to get around Barranquilla:
During the day, your own two feet are a great way to explore an area.
It might be too far to walk between areas such as Alto Prado and the Historic Centre, but once you’re there, walking will get you everywhere you need to go.
Top tip: Walking around after dark is not advised in Barranquilla. At night, we’d recommend getting a taxi.
A taxi is the easiest way to move around Barranquilla. As in other Colombian cities, they’re bright yellow, and easy to spot.
You can flag them down from the street, but be aware that the taxis don’t have metres in Barranquilla. Make sure to agree on a price before getting in the car.
The base fare for taxis start at 6,000 COP ($1.25), so keep this in mind when haggling for a price.
To give you an idea of prices, the 30-minute journey from Barranquilla airport to the city centre costs around 26,000 COP ($5.50).
Using Uber in Barranquilla
Uber is our preferred option in Barranquilla. It’s often cheaper than traditional taxis, safer and is easier to order.
The only problem is that Uber is actually illegal in Colombia. This doesn’t stop them from operating, though. But it does mean that you might have to sit in the front seat, and may not be able to get in the Uber right outside the airport or bus terminal.
Barranquilla has a pretty developed bus system. The local company Transmetro provides 29 routes in and around Barranquilla.
There are also dedicated bus lanes throughout the city, so unlike with taxis, you can avoid Barranquilla’s pretty frequent traffic.
Bus tickets cost around 2,000 COP ($0.40) depending on the distance.
Now that you’ve finished reading this guide, you’re almost ready for your adventure in Barranquilla. The next step is to create your personalised itinerary with our top picks of things to do in Barranquilla. Simply choose your favourite activities and places to visit, and you’re all set to make lasting memories in Barranquilla.
Our favourite places to stay in Barranquilla
Barranquilla is a bustling city with plenty of places to stay. You’ll be spoilt for choice here. This also means that you can find some cheaper accommodation options compared to the rest of Colombia and the Caribbean coast.
With that many accommodations to choose from, we’ve made it simple for you. Here are our favourite places to stay in Barranquilla:
Crowne Plaza Barranquilla — Treat yourself
If you’re looking for a luxury hotel with a pool, Crowne Plaze Barranquilla is the place to stay. This 5-star hotel has everything you need. Besides the gorgeous pool, the hotel has an onsite gym and offers spacious and clean rooms.
In the morning you will be treated to a delicious breakfast. Thanks to the staff you will feel like royalty during your stay in Barranquilla.
Casa Caribe Colonial offers exceptional value for money, with rooms starting from $20 per night. As the name suggests, the hotel boasts a colonial-style design with vibrant splashes of blue throughout.
The rooms are clean and large, looking onto an open-air courtyard at the centre of the hotel. The perfect place to relax.
Kate is a writer, (ex)Management Consultant and avid traveller. She recently returned from a 2-year career break exploring the world and decided corporate life wasn’t for her. She’ll soon be testing life as a digital nomad. She’s visited over 40 countries and fell in love with Latin America in particular. Her travelling has inspired a passion for yoga, salsa, hiking and Spanish.
Aleksandra is a writer and editor who recently moved from Hong Kong to London. She’s worked and studied in four countries (and counting) and picked up a new hobby in each of them. She’s a big fan of long train journeys so you can count on her to take the scenic route, finding a few hidden gems along the way.