Mompos & Barichara, two special villages in Colombia that will make you feel like being in a totally different universe thanks to their authentic soul, the kindness of the inhabitants, the relaxed atmosphere and the cultural and natural heritage that they preserve.
Ready for a true immersion in Colombia? Let's go!
How to reach Mompos
Santa Cruz de Mompox is part of Bolívar department, the same as Cartagena. For its location, reaching Mompos is not so easy and this probably protects this town and its charm from mass tourism.
Here the best options according to your departure city:
Mompos is actually an island and if before it could be reached just by ferry, today the town is connected to the mainland by two bridges: one going
through El Banco, and the other going through Santa Ana.
You can use different navigation apps that don't need internet connection to follow the itinerary such as Mapsme.
Public Bus to Mompos
There are buses to Mompos from many Colombian cities, but I strongly recommend you to go to the bus terminal and ask for the exact departing hours because usually there are just a few bus rides each day for this destination. Book your tickets in advance to avoid bad surprises or long waitings.
Cartagena: 6 hours, about 70 000COP/18 euro (from Santa Marta, I strongly suggest you to reach Cartagena or Barranquilla and take the direct bus)
Barranquilla: 7 hours, about 80 000COP/20 euro
Bucaramanga: 8 hours, about 100 000COP/25 euro
Medellin: 13 hours, about 150 000COP/38 euro
Bogotá: 14 hours, about 220 000 COP/55 euro
Domestic Flight to Mompos
The closest airports are Corozal, a city with a 15km distance from Sincelejo, and Valledupar. There are frequent flights from Bogotà to Corozal and Valledupar and once there, you'll be able to rent a car and reach Mompos is about 3-4hours.
Another option is to flight to Cartagena and then take a public bus to Mompos as explained just before.
Now you understand why I was telling you that it's quite hard to reach Mompos? But believe me, it's totally worth it and you won't regret it at all!
How to reach Barichara
The little town of Barichara is part of the Santander department and it's usually associated with the close city of San Gil, the Colombian capital of adventure sports for the presence of the impressive Chicamocha canyon!
If you rather prefer a peace and quiet place, Barichara is the town you're looking for.
Here the best options according to your departure city:
Public bus to Barichara
You first have to reach San Gil and then take another bus of about 45 minutes to arrive in Barichara (2euro).
Bucaramanga - San Gil: 2h30, about 18 000 COP/5euro
Bogotá - San Gil: 7h30, about 90 000 COP/23 euro
Cartagena - San Gil: 14hours, about 100 000/25 euro
From Medellin you'll have to take a bus to Bucaramanga (7h30 hours, about 80 500COP/20 euro) and then another bus to San Gil (3hours, about 24 000COP/6 euro)
Domestic flight to Barichara
The closest airport to Barichara is Bucaramanga. There are daily direct flights from Bogotà, Cartagena and Medellin. Once in Bucaramanga, you'll be able to take a bus to San Gil from the bus terminal.
1. Explore out-of-the-beaten tracks destinations in Colombia
Fist of all, Mompos and Barichara are two unique places where time seems to have stopped. Here, you'll discover another side of Colombia, more quiet and extremely rich in terms of cultural heritage, far from the most common tourist routes.
But let's see how it all started...
Mompos was a prosperous port until the main commercial road was shifted to the other side of the Magdalena river in the XX century. A slow decline of the city started back then. This town is an example of how a place can reborn through culture and passion from its own inhabitants that developed interesting projects. For a real immersion, I strongly suggest you to stay at Casa Amarilla, an amazing colonial house owned by a British journalist that felt in love with this village, and his wife, native of Mompos. Don't miss a visit to Cafe Nieto that was restored by a passionate Canadian after the death of his grandfather that lived all his life here in Mompos.
As for Barichara, it was declared Colombia's Heritage Town, and its name means ''a place to rest''. In fact, Barichara is perfect to escape the crowd of the cities, to feel a real connection with the surrounding environment and to try many cultural activities.
For an authentic immersion in Barichara:
Admire the beautiful architecture of the Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepción and Capilla de Santa Bárbara
Walk up to El Mirador overlooking the Suarez River canyon
Enjoy a great coffee at La Casa de Hercilia Cafè
Try the delicious French Backery Nona's Bread (brunch option as well)
2. Follow the traces of the Nobel prize Gabriel Garcia Marquez in Mompos
Mompos with its poetic streets, colourful churches and beautiful colonial architecture, is definitely a unique authentic destination in Colombia where you can feel the magic realism as described by the Nobel prize Gabriel Garcia Marquez, particularly known for the book One Hundred Years of Solitude (Cien años de soledad).
"Mompox does not exist. Sometimes we dream about her, but does not exist"
Those were the words pronounced by Simón Bolívar in Santa Marta as told by Gabriel García Márquez in his book ''El General en la laberinto''. It was here that Simon Bolivar recruited the first troops for the army that liberated South America, in fact Mompos was hit by the rivalry between Liberals and Conservatives that caused the War of a Thousand Days in the 20th century.
It is said that Mompos has a particular resemblance to Macondo, the fictional town where many storied from Gabriel Garcia Marquez take place and the perfect example of the narrative style invented by him, the magic realism, where reality and fiction constantly interweave. Also, apparently the wife of the writer studied in this colonial town which explains even more this strong connection.
You simply have to stroll in its streets to discover many hints about the unique Colombian Nobel Prize.
3. Take part in many cultural activities
In Mompos, there are many cultural associations and organisations to discover its true soul, in fact here we had some incredible encounters!
El Boga Mompos is a foundation that promote the cultural identity of Mompos through artistic events and education; every year artists from all over the world can propose a cultural project to highlight the colonial town and help the more fragile members of the community. The foundation makes a selection and hosts them in this amazing colonial house for a few months. What an amazing idea!
If you're passionate about gastronomy and you'd like to know more about the typical dishes of the region, the restaurant Santa Marta organises cooking classes to highlight the local ingredients and culinary traditions. This is an authentic restaurant serving typical food with a familiar atmosphere that was recommended to us by a guide of the village.
Another unique mark of this colonial village is the art of filigree that talented artisans use to create beautiful jewels. You'll immediately notice their creations while strolling in the city center! Mompos is also known for its Jazz Festival that takes place every year in September and attracts famous artists from all over the world.
The strong cultural identity is one of the common characteristics of Mompos and Barichara. Here some activities that you can do to discover the deepest soul of Barichara:
Taller del papel to learn about the process of making paper with various materials;
A cultural walk to explore Parque para las artes Jorge Delgado Sierra and its precious artworks;
Visit Barichara's cemetery and admire its artistic thumbs often reflecting the job of the person when alive, it reminded me of Père Lachaise in Paris!;
The charming accommodation structure Hostal Artepolis, an artistic hotel perfect to relax and enjoy the breathtaking landscapes surrounding Barichara;
Take part in a ceramic class at Taller de Cerámica Terracota;
Fundación Escuela Taller that offers many cultural workshops, a gallery and a great community restaurant serving delicious local dishes.
4. Discover the natural richness of Mompos & Barichara
Its proximity with Magdalena river, provides Mompos with a particular ecosystem in terms of natural richness. With Chipitours, we explored the local fauna and flora along the river through a sunrise boat tour (the cost is about 20 000COP/5 euro per person). We started around 5AM and it was absolutely magic to admire the town while waking up with the first sun rays. Our guide Chipi, a passionate elderly man, told us a bit more about the story of Mompos, its evolution and its community. While strolling in the middle of the canals surrounded by animals, I really felt like in a fairy tail!
And just before the end of the tour, we stopped at the house of a farmer and his wife prepared us a delicious breakfast with coffee and arepas (corn bread), perfect start of the day!
In Barichara, don't miss this special trek: it's called Camino Reale and connects Barichara to Guane on the traces of the pre-Colombian pathways in about 2hours. Actually, there are many pathways that lead to various colonial towns in the area, but this is the most famous one.
The trek starts in the corner of Calle 1a and Carrera 10, you just have to ask locals and they will show you the direction if needed. Along Camino Reale you'll admire greenish landscapes, local farms and cute goats accompanied by the sound of crickets. Guane is even quieter than Barichara, a true authentic Colombian village characterised by the presence of fossils that are millions of years old, as well as ceramics, necklaces and other objects made by the Guane Indians.
Restaurants and activities tips: visit the Guane Archeological and Paleontological Museo, eat at Ojalà (a vegetarian place owned by a Belgian couple) or Restaurante las Brisas. If you don't want to walk back to Barichara, you can take a taxi from the main square of Guane.
5. Live an immersion in the Disney movie Encanto
If you watched the Disney movie Encanto, Barichara is exactly the village where the story of the Madrigal family could take place. Brick red streets with the surrounding mountains as a background, fascinating Andalusian style houses, boutique craft shops, a picturesque and laidback atmosphere: definitely one of the most incredible colonial towns in Colombia! You'll immediately feel like being in the Disney movie, and if you haven't done it yet, I really suggest you to watch if before visiting Colombia to start catching its most typical cultural marks.
So, did I convince you to visit those two special colonial towns
during your journey in Colombia?