I just got back yesterday from spending four nights and five days in Barranquilla, Colombia which is located on the Caribbean coast, north of Bogota. Barranquilla is famous for its annual carnival in February or early March where everyone in the city gathers for a few days of non-stop partying. It’s the second largest carnival in South America other than Rio de Janeiro’s. Barranquilla is not known as a touristy city and there isn’t much updated information online in regards of how life is in the city. I live for situations like this because I want people to know how life really is like in one of the most underrated cities in Colombia. Here are 10 Things I Learned From My Recent Trip to Barranquilla Colombia:
1. Taxis are ridiculously cheap – I was shocked when I mapped out my hotel in El Prado from Ernesto Cortissoz International Airport and found out that it was 45 minutes away from the city. My rule of thumb is $1 USD for each minute of taxi use and though it would cost me $45 USD one way. Fortunately, the costs of taxis are regulated by the government and the prices are fixed depending where you want to go. The cost from my Barranquilla International Airport to my hotel in El Prado was only 26,000 COP ~ $12.84 USD. There is no tipping culture for taxis in Colombia which is awesome. When in town, you will need to negotiate a fare before getting into the taxi as there are no meters. Fares start at a minimum of 6,000 COP ~ $2.95 USD for a typical ride up to 2 miles. I never paid more than 8,000 COP ~ $3.95 USD for a ride within the city.
2. Ernesto Cortissoz International Airport (BAQ) is the first airport in South America – I couldn’t believe it when I Wiki’d Barranquilla International Airport and found out that it was the first airport ever built in South America. It’s one of the smallest international airport’s I’ve ever been to and only a handful of airlines fly in and out of BAQ. The baggage claim area was pretty pitiful as they only have two carousels and you can actually see the baggage handlers place the bags from the tarmac.
3. People drive like crazy – I’ve been to over 30 countries and I’ve never seen crazier drivers than the ones in Barranquilla. First of all, no one obeys the signal lights and run red lights all the time. In Barranquilla, walking is dangerous since pedestrians don’t have the right of way. Drivers don’t stop when someone is backing up and they just drive around you. Also, there are many two lane one way streets and drivers will create a third and drive 1 centimeter away from hitting another car.
4. Rush hour is ridiculous – Almost half of the cars in Barranquilla are taxis and they all drive like crazy (as aforementioned). You will hear honks from buses, cars, and taxis all throughout the day because Barranquilleros hate waiting. It creates a noisy city atmosphere where honking really gets them nowhere, but it’s part of the unique culture in Barranquilla.
5. Rain and thunderstorms are normal – Barranquilla has a tropical savanna climate which means it’s hot all year round and has an average temperature of 28.4 C ~ 85 F. It’s super humid and hot, but there’s also daily rain and thunderstorms throughout the evening hours. There is also a potential occurrence of flooding throughout the streets of Barranquilla. I saw videos online about the cars being submerged and people getting killed when the streets are flooded since the water currents are really strong.
6. Do not rent a car in Barranquilla – At first, I thought it was ideal to rent a car to avoid taking taxis everywhere. I researched car rentals and found out that almost all of the cars had manual transmission for $50 USD/day. I didn’t know how to drive manual, so I picked automatic and the price nearly doubled to $100 USD/day. In addition, you have a limited amount of rental agencies to choose from and you are limited to the allowed kilometers as no rental car company had an unlimited kms option. There was also the fact that the rental car companies only open at 10am and close at 8pm. That means if your flight lands at 9pm, you are screwed and if you have an early 6am flight, you have to return the rental the previous day which is a complete hassle. As I previously said, taxis are cheap and the drivers in Barranquilla are crazy, especially during rush hour and in the rain.
7. Barranquilla is the happiest place in the world – According to an article in 2013, Colombia was the happiest country in the world and Barranquilla was the happiest city. Barranquilleros play music throughout the streets all day and night which make it a lively atmosphere. Life is pretty laid back in the Caribbean coastal city as people love to sit outside in front of their porch socializing with friends and family.
8. Barranquilleros are some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met – Although Barranquilla receives little tourism, locals are always amazed by foreigners. I saw this in taxi drivers where they were really friendly and gave me advice in what to see and what to do. There was one taxi driver who drove me to Puerto Colombia which is 45 minutes away from the city center of Barranquilla on a negotiated rate of 25,000 Colombian pesos ~ $12.35 USD. He was so nice and even showed me off the beaten path places along the way where the total journey took 70 minutes to my final destination. There was another instance where I befriended a couple who was eating at the same restaurant in the beach town of Puerto Colombia. After chit chatting and watching the sunset together on the beach, they offered me a ride back to my hotel which was 45 minutes away!
9. Mosquitos are everywhere – I couldn’t believe at the amount of mosquitos that were present in Barranquilla. Even with anti-mosquito repellent, I was still bit by at least 10 mosquitos around my body. They can smell me from a mile away and my blood is fresh since mosquitos just don’t bite everyone. You can’t avoid mosquitos in Barranquilla since they’re practically everywhere in the tropical climate.
10. The food is amazing – Although there aren’t many touristy attractions in Barranquilla, there is a lot of Colombian Caribbean food to be had. I especially love seafood and you can’t beat fresh fish in the Caribbean. My favorite fish is the mojarra which can only be found in the Caribbean islands and it’s especially delicious when deep fried. Another specialty is the coconut rice and patacones (thick fried plantains). Other types of food include sancocho (stews), soups such as mondongo (tripe), and mote de queso (cheese soup). I especially love the arepas de huevos (egg stuffed corn cakes).