Barranquilla gained popularity over the years, mainly thanks to its association with Shakira and other famous singers. Yet, should you visit Barranquilla only because it is Shakira’s hometown?
Of course not! You should visit Barranquilla for so many other reasons!
I have listed some of them below after I paid a visit to Shakira’s hometown myself.
My honest opinion about Barranquilla
In my opinion, Barranquilla is not the touristy city you expect to find on Colombia’s Caribbean Coast. In fact, out of all the places I visited on this side of the country, Barranquilla was the least touristy place. Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily!
Fewer tourists don’t mean you shouldn’t visit Barranquilla. But do not expect the same vibe and tourist activities you can do in Cartagena or Santa Marta.
Also, make sure your Spanish is good enough, otherwise, you will have a hard time communicating with people.
Because I want to give you a full picture of how my visit to Barranquilla was, I divided this blog post into 2 main categories: things I liked about the city and things I did not like.
Hopefully, the list below will give you an idea of how Shakira’s hometown really is and will help you decide whether you should visit Barranquilla or not.
First Impression of Barranquilla
The first impression Barranquilla left me was a good one indeed. I remember being driven from the airport to my accommodation and seeing the wide roads in Barranquilla, which give you the feeling of so much space.
If you land in Barranquilla, you will pass through Soledad, which is a satellite city of Barranquilla. Barranquilla is home to almost 2.3 million people (according to worldpopulationreview.com), which makes it the 4th most populous city in the country.
But what other things are there to like about Barranquilla? Let’s go through each one of them and see whether they are enough to make you visit this Colombian city.
What I liked about Barranquilla?
Barranquilla might not be the ideal tourist-friendly city you can visit in Colombia, but it definitely has its charm.
One of the ways a place can charm foreigners is through local gastronomy, and Barranquilla is no exception to this rule.
If I were to recommend Barranquilla to foreigners, it would definitely be for its gastronomic diversity. As I walked through the streets of Barranquilla, I noticed a great variety of restaurants. While there are many options for Colombian restaurants, you can also spot many Indian and Chinese restaurants.
Predominantly, I ate Colombian food, and I have to say that the food was excellent. The dishes I tried were tasty and affordable.
A place I went to twice is called Fogon Marino. The first time I went there, I tried Sancocho del dia. This dish is popular in Colombia, and many local restaurants offer it. If I were to translate it, it simply means menu of the day. It consists of a soup, fish, fried plantain and rice.
The Sancocho I ate at Fogon Marino was flavourful and filling. Many locals eat at this restaurant daily, this is why I decided to give it a go too.
I always eat in restaurants where I see many locals ordering food. This means the food is good and affordable. I never go wrong when I choose a restaurant using this method.
The second time I went to Fogon Marino, I tried cazuelas. Cazuelas is a thick seafood soup (its consistency reminded me of a stew), served with rice and fried plantains.
Like the first dish I tried, this one did not disappoint either. The soup was flavourful and rich. The rice melted in your mouth, and the plantain added an extra crunch to the dish.
The 3 foods go so well together that I fell for the Colombian food and did not desire to try any other cuisine while I was in Barranquilla.
Something I really enjoyed about restaurants in Barranquilla is that you can easily eat by yourself as a female solo traveller. You won’t have issues in getting a table for one, and nobody will stare at you because you are by yourself.
Eating out in Barranquilla was a pleasant experience for me and one of the things I liked the most about this Colombian city.
After a few days in Barranquilla, I learnt that the music goes hand in hand with Colombian culture. El vallenato, a music style that’s specific to the Colombian Caribbean Coast, can be heard everywhere in Barranquilla.
From the mechanic to the supermarket staff and hotel receptionist, everyone will find a moment in the day to listen to some music and even sing and dance along.
The fact that people are at work doesn’t stop them from listening to some music out loud and singing along.
I found this both interesting and somehow rude because as a European, you learn to treat your workplace with respect, and this kind of behaviour is not tolerated, especially at a hotel reception.
One of the hotels I stayed at in Barranquilla was exactly the other way around. The receptionists would listen to their music out loud during work hours and only put the volume down if they had a question.
Music is part of Barranquilla and is something that makes this place unique and interesting to visit. Until now, I have never come across a city whose people love to dance and sing regardless of where they are and what they do.
The locals are always willing to help if you ask for it. I met people kind enough to share their internet via hotspot with me so I could book an Uber. I also had supermarket staff helping me to find ATMs or locals showing me where to go when I got lost.
Locals in Barranquilla can give you a hand should you need it. You simply need to ask for it.
The welcoming nature of people in Barranquilla is another reason I enjoyed my stay in this Colombian city.
Easy access to Uber from the airport
It might not seem like a big deal, but quite a few cities in Latin America banned Uber from picking up customers from local airports (e.g. Cancun-Mexico, San Jose-Costa Rica). That’s because they consider Uber a threat to local taxi companies.
If regular taxi companies were fair and charged the right tariff, I would not have anything against them. Unfortunately, they don’t, and the moment they realise you are a foreigner, they try to rip you off the best they can.
After some negative experiences with local taxi companies in Costa Rica and Mexico, I was happy to find out that, at least in Barranquilla, I would pay the right fare.
That’s why I included Uber on the list of the things I like about Barranquilla.
Barranquilla is safe for female solo travellers
Despite the warnings I received about my solo trip to Colombia, I did not have a hard time in Barranquilla at all. In fact, most of my time in Barranquilla felt great.
I did plenty of things alone and never felt in danger or followed by anyone. I walked everywhere by myself, I ate in restaurants by myself, I withdrew money by myself, I took pictures by myself, and relaxed in the park by myself.
Yet, I always paid attention to my surroundings and never left my belongings unattended. Also, I limited the amount of time I took my phone out to take pictures or check Google Maps.
Using common sense, I was able to navigate Barranquilla without major incidents. After my experience in Barranquilla, I can confirm that the city is safe for female solo travellers as long as, during the day, you use your common sense and don’t venture by yourself at night.
If you travel to Barranquilla in August/September, you will get plenty of sunshine and high temperatures. Before arriving in Barranquilla, I lived for almost a month in Central America, where in August and September rains almost daily. There were only a few days when it did not rain in Costa Rica and Panama.
Arriving in Barranquilla meant the rain was gone, and the sunny days were here to stay. During my ride from the airport, the driver told me the weather is consistent all year around in this part of the country. I have been in the region for days now, and it has barely rained.
Therefore, if you look for dry weather and plenty of sunshine, Barranquilla is the place to be. Due to the high humidity, it can easily get to 42 degrees Celsius during the daytime. Yet, if you love summer weather, I am sure you won’t be bothered at all.
Make sure you stay hydrated, wear the right clothing and apply suncream. The sun can get brutal in the city if there is no shade around.
Easy access to filtered water
While tap water is safe to drink in places like Costa Rica and Panama, this does not apply to the whole of Colombia. Yet, all the places I stayed at in Barranquilla offered filtered water to their guests. As a budget traveller, I found this convenient and useful.
I liked that filtered water is widely available in Barranquilla. Although Barranquilla is an affordable city compared to other places in Latin America, it is good to know that bottled water is not on your shopping list anymore.
It is not expensive to buy a bottle of water in Barranquilla, but the cost of several bottles a day can add up pretty easily, especially in a hot place like Barranquilla, where you will drink considerably more water.
I did drink more water because you dehydrate quicker due to the high level of humidity that makes you sweat so much.
Barranquilla is an affordable city
Before arriving in Barranquilla, I travelled for 1,5 months in Costa Rica in Panama. I could not believe how affordable everything was in Barranquilla.
The cost of everything is at least half of what I used to spend in Central America. Yet, the quality of my purchases is the same. I prefer to buy everything from the supermarket because I can use my cards, but even there, I pay less for the same products when compared with Central American cities.
If you are on a budget, I recommend Barranquilla because it’s still extremely affordable. Hopefully, massive tourism won’t change that, and Barranquilla won’t become a second Costa Rica where prices match the ones in Europe.
Good transport links
As Barranquilla is the biggest city in the region, it is also a good transport hub. You can easily travel from Barranquilla to any of the coastal cities like Santa Marta or Cartagena. There are also direct buses to Aracataca, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s birthplace.
Also, if you want to travel further to Medellin or Bogota, Barranquilla has good connections with these cities too.
Just make sure you know where your bus leaves from because Barranquilla has several bus stations. It is always better to confirm your departure point with the bus company/someone local. That’s how I travelled around. I asked the receptionists/ hostel staff/ bus company staff because there isn’t much information online about public transport between major cities in Colombia.
What I did not like about Barranquilla
While there were quite a few things I liked about Barranquilla, there were also a few things I was not fond of. Below is my list of things I did not enjoy that much about Shakira’s hometown.
The city is quite dirty
In Panama, I met a Colombian guy who told me he did not like Barranquilla because it was dirty. Unfortunately, he was not exaggerating. After a few walks around the city, I can confirm what the guy back in Panama told me.
Indeed, Barranquilla looks dirtier than other places on the Colombian Caribbean Coast. I am not sure if the reason is because there aren’t enough cleaners. The truth is there is trash everywhere.
It is a shame because I think the city would appeal more to foreigners if it was a bit cleaner.
Barranquilla does not have much to attract tourists
Despite being associated with names like Shakira and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Barranquilla is pretty much a regular city. It lacks the tourist attractions other places have.
Barranquilla might be located on the Caribbean Coast, yet it is not known for its beaches or coastline like Cartagena and Santa Marta are.
The few places a tourist can visit in Barranquilla are spaced out, and takes hours (if you walk) to check them out. Plus, walking around to visit the tourist attractions in Barranquilla is not a very enjoyable experience since the traffic is loud, the humidity is high, and sometimes there is no pavement.
I can understand the distance to get to places since Barranquilla is quite a big city. And from what I witnessed, the city tends to expand as a new neighbourhood is currently being built.
Yet, perhaps if more attention were given to accessibility to certain areas of the city, Barranquilla would stand a chance to become a more appealing city to foreign tourists.
Cash is king
During my time in Barranquilla, I was quite surprised to find out that most accommodations listed on booking.com only accepted cash as a form of payment.
Having to pay in cash for my accommodation the whole time I was in Barranquilla was a huge drawback for me.
As someone with an international card, withdrawing money in Colombia means I have to pay a fee. Not because my card has a fee when I make transactions in a foreign currency, but because Colombian ATMs charge foreign cards a fee. I would rather avoid that and pay by card as much as possible.
I also found it a bit strange that all the accommodations I stayed at in Barranquilla requested me to pay in cash while I had no issues paying by card at the supermarket, in restaurants and at the pharmacy.
If Barranquilla wants to attract more foreign tourists, the hotel/hostel industry will need to work more on providing cashless payment options. Otherwise, people might feel like skipping Barranquilla.
No hablo ingles/I don’t speak English
If you don’t speak a decent level of Spanish, you might find it difficult to communicate with people in Barranquilla.
As I speak Spanish, I did not realise English speakers had quite a difficult time communicating with people in the city.
Even I was told by a receptionist that I should switch back to Spanish because he does not speak English.
Speaking some Spanish helps not only in Barranquilla but also on the coast. One time, during a guided tour to Tayrona National Park (near Santa Marta), I had to translate for an American guy because none of the tour guides spoke English.
A piece of advice for those who do not have a good command of the Spanish language is to make sure your guided tour is available in English too. Otherwise, you might end up like the poor guy I translated for when I visited Tayrona National Park.
You will get stared at (especially if you are a solo female traveller)
After travelling through 2 Central American countries by myself, I had to say that I got used to people staring at me.
If this is your first trip to Latin America, you might find it difficult to deal with the stares. More so if you grew up in Europe/ the US/ Australia/Canada and you are not used to this kind of behaviour.
My advice is to ignore the stares and keep walking. Only move to action if things become unbearable. In my experience, things
never go beyond this point.
If you get followed or someone refuses to leave you in peace, of course, you can take action. But it never happened to me in Barranquilla.
If you ignore people or refuse to give them what they ask for (there might be people approaching you to ask for money), they will eventually walk away.
ATMs can refuse foreign cards
Do not be surprised if your foreign card gets rejected in Barranquilla.
It happened to me that my Monzo card was rejected twice before I found the lucky ATM. Generally, it goes well if I withdraw from a Servibanco ATM.
When I tried to withdraw money from any other bank that has Colombia in its name, my card got rejected. Not once, but several times in Barranquilla.
Also, get used to coming across out-of-order ATMs more often than somewhere else.
In my experience, Google Wallet doesn’t seem to go through. You are better off using your physical card to make payments and not your phone.
Plus, you always have to tell the cashier the type of card you have (debit or credit) and the type of account you pay with (savings or current account).
Otherwise, you risk having the payments refused because the cashier doesn’t always pick the right options. I went through this a few times and had to pay again because my card got rejected.
Don’t expect the best customer service
Don’t get me wrong, Colombians are really lovely people. I had some really nice exchanges with the locals so far.
Yet, I also had some experiences I would like to mention so you don’t set the bar too high.
It is often mentioned the coastal lifestyle and how people living in this part of the country are laid back.
I can get that, but I don’t understand how people working in the tourism industry sometimes lack the most basic customer skills.
One time there was this issue with the wifi, and the hotel staff did almost nothing to help me get the wifi back up and running.
The receptionist was happy he had internet at the reception, and his only solution was to suggest I work from the lobby instead. Simply put, he did not try to help me at all.
I ended up resetting the router myself without any luck. So, I had to work from the lobby as the hostel staff suggested.
The point I am trying to make with this story is to not expect people working in the tourism industry to go the extra mile for you. Some of them will not show up, while others will do the bare minimum to help.
Not too many foreign tourists
If you thought you would visit Barranquilla to meet other international tourists, well, think again.
During my time in Barranquilla, I did not see any international tourists. And if there were any, they were so few that I did not notice them.
Barranquilla is not one of those hotspots foreigners travel to. For that, you will need to travel further by the coast to places like Cartagena, for example.
Watch out when you walk on the street
It is common in Barranquilla to have road works going on.
Unfortunately, as a pedestrian, you are not always warned if pavement works are underway too.
That’s why it is better to watch out for any potholes that can cause you an injury. As you find your way through Barranquilla, you will notice quite a few potholes without any warning sign next to it. Be careful so you don’t step into it and get injured. It can easily happen.
Female dorms are not that common
This is something I first noticed in Barranquilla, but it seems to be a thing in other cities in Colombia too.
In my opinion, female dorms are harder to find in Barranquilla and indeed in other cities in Colombia. I found female dorms to be widely available in Panama and Costa Rica (the countries I travelled to before arriving in Colombia).
For solo female travellers like myself, if you don’t fancy staying in mixed dorms, the next cheapest option you have available is a single room with a shared bathroom.
In conclusion, should you visit Barranquilla?
If you are looking for an authentic place in Colombia where you can mingle with locals, then by all means, do visit Barranquilla.
If you are interested in all touristy stuff like the beach and the paradisiac islands, then go straight to Santa Marta and Cartagena because you won’t find any of that in Barranquilla.