Barranquilla is a much less popular destination in Colombia when compared with cities like Medellin and Santa Marta.
But nonetheless, it still has lots of charm and a sizzling nightlife scene!
Situated along the Caribbean coast, this city has a desirable climate along with many beautiful beaches to spend the day relaxing on.
It also has an underrated, colourful history too.
Which can be explored through its numerous museums, landmarks and even the local cuisine.
And that’s all without mentioning that Barranquilla hosts the second largest carnival on earth annually!
In this comprehensive guide, I’ll cover everything you need to know about Barranquilla.
Including not just what to do in Barranquilla, but also some added tips & tricks to help make planning your stay easier & more affordable.
Let’s get into it…
So is Barranquilla worth visiting? 100% Yes!
Those who love a more authentic and “off the beaten path” destination will love Barranquilla.
Whilst other popular areas are heaving with tourists, here you can get to know the real Colombia. From exploring the fruit markets to conversing with locals in restaurants, you’ll see a much different side compared to the other touristy destinations. There's plenty of cultural experiences on offer too.
Barranquilla also surprises most travellers who visit with its range of contemporary and iconic museums, which are dotted throughout the city.
Museo Caribe is one of the very best, which was the first of its kind in Colombia. Here you can learn about the history of the coastal regions (from early civilisations up until more recent centuries).
Those who love art will want to explore the Museo de Arte Moderno, which features works from famous artists such as Alejandro Obregón and Fernando Botero.
This city also offers many opportunities for kicking back and letting your hair down too.
Barranquilla’s beaches are a hidden gem in themselves, with Sabanilla, Puerto Colombia and Palomino being the very best for lounging on expansive white sands.
You’ll also find plenty of great nightlife here. Salsa venues are popular, which are great for dancing the night away as well as learning your first steps (we’ll explore this later on in this guide).
Barranquilla is located in the very north of Colombia, within the state of Atlántico.
It’s very easy to get here, given it has its own airport as well as being just a couple of hours from the hubs of both Cartagena and Santa Marta. You can also arrive here by bus too.
Although Barranquilla isn’t as visited as other coastal cities, it has an international airport which connects well domestically and with other countries. It’s definitely the most preferred way of getting to the city.
Within Colombia there are many cities that fly directly to Barranquilla daily.
These include Cali, Bogotá and Medellin, with a one-way costing between $30-60 (without baggage included). Those either on the island of San Andrés or in the city of Valledupar can fly direct too.
You’ll also find that certain countries have direct flights into Barranquilla too. Those who are already in Latin America can fly from either Panama or The Dominican Republic for $90-135 (which are both well-connected countries themselves).
If you're in the United States, you can also fly to Barranquilla directly. Miami and Fort Lauderdale both have direct flights departing several times a week, with a one-way costing between $120-170.
For anywhere else in the world, it’s best flying directly into Bogotá first and then connecting to Barranquilla on a second flight.
You can check out the different flight routes and prices here on SkyScanner.
The other main method of getting to Barranquilla is by bus. This is definitely the best option for those who are already close-by, or don’t want to spend as much on flights.
If you're already in Santa Marta (which is the closest nearby city to Barranquilla), then you can easily take a bus from the main terminal. The ride takes around 2.5 hours, and departs every 1/2 hours. You can expect to pay around $7-10 for the trip.
The other nearby city that is suitable for taking the bus is Cartagena. The bus will take roughly 3 hours to arrive to Barranquilla, and departs every 2 hours from the main bus terminal. The cost is also similar to the bus from Santa Marta, costing between $8-10.
If you're currently elsewhere in Colombia, I’d highly recommend you to fly to Barranquilla instead of taking the bus.
This is because the distances will be too big (sometimes over 15 hours, which can be made even longer by bad weather or social instability (which is common in the north of Colombia).
You can see all routes and prices here on BusBud.
Within Barranquilla you can either use local taxis or buses to get between different neighbourhoods.
Those who are feeling adventurous can also use the local busetas, which are like mini-vans and are more frequent and cheap (however they also get heavily packed - hence the adventurous part!).
You can see various schedules here for the Busetas.
If arriving from the airport, it’s best to use an Uber over a traditional taxi to get to your apartment. Not only are they safer (all drivers are registered), however fees are agreed in advance so you won’t be overcharged.
From Barranquilla there are also many worthwhile day trips to head on, such as to the nearby cities of Cartagena and Santa Marta. You can easily take a bus from the main bus terminal which depart hourly, or go for the most cost-effective colectivo option.
Similar to other Colombian cities, Barranquilla has a few areas which are safe for tourists to stay in. These are in the north of the city, such as in Alto Prado and neighbourhoods like San Vicente and Villa Country.
Anything in the centre and South should be avoided given they’re quite dangerous.
Here are some top tips if you're wondering how to find cheap hotels...
Now we’ll explore the very best things you can see and do when in Barranquilla.
Whilst many jump straight into the most exciting activity or landmark when arriving somewhere new, we think that heading to the main square is a much better idea.
Not only will you get a real feel for your destination quicker, you’ll also be able to orientate yourself better too (given the main plaza is a good landmark to look out for when out exploring).
In Barranquilla, the main square is the Plaza de San Nicolás, which sits within the historic centre of the city.
This bustling plaza is a great place to experience typical daily Colombian life, where you’ll also find many pop-up markets selling fresh food and other goods.
On the west of the plaza you’ll find the Parroquia de San Nicolás de Tolentino - a stunning church with a bright orange and white facade.
We recommend going for a stroll inside where you’ll see the multi-coloured columns and altar, as well as to get out of the harsh sun for a while.
Within this area of South America, you’ll find many rare species that are not found anywhere else in the world.
Whilst it’s possible to head out on treks into the more remote regions and see them in the wild, those who prefer a more relaxing day will love this option.
Here at the Zoológico de Barranquilla, we can see over 140 different species which range from rare mammals such as the endangered manatee as well as the Jaguar, to reptiles and various amphibians.
There’s also quite the collection of birds too - where you can see everything from Pink Flamingos to Toucans and Eagles.
You’ll also find that there are various live shows held on a daily basis, where you can either watch animal feedings or even get up and close with some of the species!
The Zoológico de Barranquilla is located roughly 5 km north of the Plaza de San Nicolás, with the drive taking around 10 minutes.
It’s open from 9:00am until 5:00pm all days of the week.
By far the biggest thing you can experience in this coastal city, Carnival is an annual event which draws over a million tourists.
As a result, it’s known as the second largest carnival on earth! (after that of Rio).
During these four days, the city of Barranquilla descends into a beautiful chaos where main roads and streets are closed to allow various parades and street events to take place.
The carnival celebrates the ethnic diversity of the region, which includes roots from Africa, European and Native influences.
Here you’ll be able to enjoy many dances, music and also crazy local antics (watch out for the flying paint!).
Whilst it’s still not known exactly when it was first held, it’s commonly agreed that it’s as many as seven or eight centuries old.
Carnival is held every year, four days before Ash Wednesday (which means it usually falls around late March or early April).
It’s highly worth planning your trip to the city or even Colombia around this, given it’s one of those “once in a lifetime” experiences.
As we’ve already seen with the Carnival, Barranquilla is an extremely diverse city with roots from all over the world.
This has resulted in a melting hotpot of cuisines that have now become regular staples for locals and incoming tourists throughout.
Some of these include the infamous Arepa, as well as Kibbes, which has its origins from the Middle East.
Whilst you could go it alone trying foods in various markets, we highly suggest heading with this all-inclusive food tour.
Here you’ll have a knowledgeable local show you the very best food stands, where you’ll also stick to the safer spots too.
You’ll have the opportunity to try various dishes such as Butifarra, Pescado Frito as well as Carimañola.
Walking through the market you’ll also meet locals who can teach you how some of these ancient dishes are made, as well as try out some exotic fruits that are popular here and also throughout mainland Colombia.
Included in the tour is insurance, as well as transport to and from your accommodation.
By far the most important street in Barranquilla, the Paseo de Bolívar is a must-visit during your time here.
It was first built in 1886 to pay homage to Simon Bolivar, who liberated Colombia from Spanish rule, as well as the indigenous people that also used to live in huts along here too.
Reminiscent of something you would find in Paris, the Paseo de Bolívar is lined with trees, important landmarks and buildings as well as a much cleaner and upbeat setting.
Some of the best things to see here include the statue of Simon Bolívar himself, the Parroquia de San Nicolás de Tolentino, the Alcaldía de Barranquilla as well as the Public Market.
The start of the Paseo de Bolivar is just a few blocks north of the Plaza de San Nicolás, along Carrera 45. From here it then stretches down to Carrera 37, which is around a 10 minute walk.
The first regional museum of its kind in Colombia, the Museo del Caribe is a fantastic place to come and learn all about this region and its colourful past.
This begins with the Kamash Indians that occupied the region prior to the 16th Century, before the settlement of the Spaniards and their colonial rule.
Walking through the various exhibit rooms, you’ll learn how the city’s identity has radically changed, which is clear by the changes in customs and architecture (although you’ll still find native ways throughout modern-day Barranquilla).
You’ll also learn how traditions such as the Carnival play an important role in preserving the past history and heritage of the city.
The Museo de Caribe is located around a 5 minute drive north of the Plaza de San Nicolás.
It’s important to know that the museum is temporarily closed as it’s undergoing renovation, so it’s worth checking local sources about opening times when you're visiting.
One of the best ways to appreciate a new city (or to take in some awesome views) is to head up to the mirador, which is an elevated point usually on a nearby hill or mountain.
In Barranquilla, the very best place to ascend to is the Mirador de los Nogales, which is a picturesque viewpoint in the east of the city.
As well as numerous benches and the romantic walkway along the top, you’ll also find many public chess tables too for those who are up for challenging a local!
We recommend coming up in the evening (around 5:00pm) for the most scenic views.
The Mirador De Los Nogales is located close to the neighbourhood of Campo Alegre, which is around 6 km east of the Plaza de San Nicolás (the driving distance is around 25 minutes).
One of the longest rivers in the country, the Rio Magdalena is massive - spanning over 1520 km through Colombia!
It exits into the Caribbean Sea from Barranquilla, which is the perfect place to explore its banks which contain numerous wildlife as well as indigenous populations too.
We recommend heading with this awesome day tour, where you’ll spend the day on a private boat navigating these waters.
Keep an eye out, since you’ll be able to spot animals such as Caiman, Tortoise and colourful birds along the way.
As well as learning more about the history of Barranquilla and its native tribes, you’ll also make stops at important landmarks along the river such as the Pumajero Bridge as well as the Salamanca Island Park.
Bizarre yet satisfyingly beautiful at the same time, this metropolitan cathedral is a must-visit for anyone in Barranquilla.
The Catedral Metropolitana María Reina de Barranquilla was built in 1955, and has an odd (yet beautiful) high exterior wall that looks similar to that of a classic theatre.
On the front we can see seven large, kite-shaped windows that show various murals when lit-up from the inside. These beautiful stained glass windows sure are a sight to see!
It’s unlike many of the other churches in the region given it has more of an Italian modernist architectural style, as well as a giant hanging cross structure from the wall (near the altar).
The Catedral Metropolitana María Reina de Barranquilla is located within the historic centre of Barranquilla, around 2 km west of the Plaza de San Nicolás (around a 10 minute drive).
It’s open from 8:00am until 12:00pm as well as 2:00 until 4:00, Monday to Friday.
One of the most interesting things you can visit in Barranquilla, the Museo Mapuka is where you can learn all things about the city’s deep anthropological past and development since.
There’s various exhibition rooms that highlight each stage of development, beginning with the first civilisations to live here (which are some of the oldest on the continent!).
Afterwards we can find a detailed room about the pre-Hispanic communities such as the Tairona and Malibues, who served different roles and helped to develop what is now known as modern-day Barranquilla.
Following this was the Spanish conquest, which again had a major impact on the city’s development and culture.
The collection of artefacts is also quite impressive, with everything from jewellery and weapons to pottery and mosaics.
The Mapuka Museum is located in the district of Villa Campestre, in the far north of Barranquilla. It’s roughly 11 km north of the Plaza de San Nicolás, which is a 30 minute drive.
It’s open from 9:00am until 5:30pm, Monday until Friday.
This famous bridge connects Barranquilla with the adjacent green lands, which are otherwise separated by the Magdalena River.
At a total length of 3,237 metres, it’s the longest bridge in Colombia, and offers some great views of this giant river which then flows out into the Caribbean Sea.
Whilst you can easily walk along the bridge anytime of the day (just be careful with the traffic), you can also join this boat tour for more impressive views, as well as getting close-up with some of the local animal residents.
The Pumarejo Bridge is located within the eastern portion of Barranquilla, roughly 6 km south of the Plaza de San Nicolás (a 15 minute drive).
Located within the Aduana Nacional, this small, private plaza is a worthy stop when in the historic centre.
Originally built in 1849, this beautiful yellow building and plaza now houses a gallery, and is a great visit for those who love colonial architecture.
Near the courtyard of the plaza you’ll find an old railway train as well as the perfectly-trimmed gardens which are great for a photo.
The Plaza de la Aduana is located just a 15 minute walk north of the Plaza de San Nicolás, although it’s best to use Uber or a taxi to get to and from since it’s not the safest area to walk around.
It’s open from 8:35am until 6:30pm, Monday until Saturday.
Although Barranquilla is not renowned for its beer scene, it hasn’t at all stopped locals from enjoying a variety of cool brews to escape the hot temperatures.
As you can imagine the scenes during Carnival are something to be witnessed, however any other time of the year you can also enjoy your time by heading out with this fun beer tour.
Here your group will head to four different local bars, trying many different artisan and regional beers along the way.
These include the locals favourite of Hafen, although there’s also many Colombian classics like Aguila and Costeña.
You’ll have all drinks provided, as well as hotel pick-up and drop-off which will come in handy too (especially in the latter stages).
This tour is also a good option since it’s fully customisable, meaning you can head to more or less venues depending on your parties preference.
The most northern tip of Barranquilla, Bocas de Cenizas is known for being the meeting point between the Magdalena River and the Caribbean Sea.
Although many travellers tend not to head here, we highly recommend coming for both the views as well as the adventure in getting here!
Bocas de Cenizas translates from Spanish into “Mouths of Ash”, which describes well the grey and murky colours created from the meeting of the two waters.
To get here you’ll need to ride in a small cart along the railway tracks, which only have a thin strip of land (a dozen or so metres) which protects the passage between the waters.
Once in Barranquilla, you can speak with your accommodation or a local tour agency to book your spot on a tour.
Bocas de Cenizas is located roughly 8 km north of Barranquilla, however you can only get here by train.
One of the most stunning forts located along Colombia’s Caribbean coast, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this is a palace rather than a defensive structure!
The Castillo de Salgar Fort was built in 1848, and is known for its bright yellow facade as well as the classic colonial arches and windows that run along the complex.
Not only does it boast some awesome views of the coast, but the castle has had a pretty varied history too.
Since its military days, it has also been used as a prison and a university, as well as for other purposes.
Today it hosts an art gallery inside, and once you’ve explored it you can also enjoy a dinner within the fort too. As such, it's one of the best places to visit in Barranquilla, Colombia.
The Castillo de Salgar Fort is located roughly 21 km west of Barranquilla, which is around a 40 minute drive.
It’s open from 8:00am until 6:00pm all days of the week.
If you’re heading to Barranquilla (or already are here), then you’ll know that there are many fantastic destinations to visit close-by.
Whilst it would be ideal to spend various days in each, sometimes a day trip works better for those short on time.
If this is you, then you’ll want to take an early bus to Santa Marta along the coast.
This incredible city is arguably the most varied in all of Colombia, and whilst here you can walk along the Malecón as well as seeing the picturesque white cathedral too.
You’ll also want to visit Tayrona National Park which is close-by, which is home to one of South America’s beautiful beaches - Cabo San Juan.
Whilst here you can explore the more hidden beaches, as well as walking through the thick jungle whilst spotting monkeys and iguanas along the way.
Santa Marta is located roughly 100 km from Barranquilla, and you can easily take one of the many daily buses that head here (the trip takes around 2 hours from the main bus terminal).
It's one of the best day trips from Barranquilla, so we'd certainly recommend heading here if you have a spare day!
Those on the lookout for some after-sun fun will love Barranquilla.
The hometown of the legendary singer Shakira, there’s a reason why many come to party here - it’s a really heated scene.
When looking for the very best Barranquilla nightlife, you’ll want to head to the Zona Rosa which has pretty much everything.
Those who want a fancier and more contemporary scene will want to head to Bourbon St. Here you can enjoy a more relaxed atmosphere along with Cajun-Creole food, a large variety of drinks as well as live music daily.
As you can see, there are plenty of awesome bars and night clubs in Barranquilla.
However, whenever you head out for the night, be sure to take extra caution where possible.
Areas such as the Zona Rosa aren’t particularly safe, so it’s best to use Ubers to get to and from your destination, as well as to leave valuables locked up in your apartment.
Although Barranquilla doesn’t get the same kind of reception as Santa Marta does when it comes to beaches, it still has plenty of great options nearby.
One of the very best is Sabanilla Beach, which is a long stretch of (relatively) underdeveloped coastline.
You'll find many palapas and beach services here, however it’s much quieter compared to those in nearby Cartagena with the high skyrisers and constant sales pitches from the locals.
There are many great food spots here such as Las Velas which serves some pretty tasty seafood.
Those with extra time can also spend a night or two in the cheap cabinas here too.
Sabanilla Beach is located roughly 17 km west of Barranquilla, with the drive taking 30 minutes.
Given it’s located close to the Castillo de Salgar Fort, it’s worth combining these in a same-day trip from the city.
You can see more great beach options from Barranquilla here.
Barranquilla is a pretty big city when looking at a map, and sometimes this can intimidate first-time travellers heading here.
However many of the best city highlights are actually quite close together, so you can easily walk between them without passing too much time.
Those who prefer to have an itinerary scheduled out for them will love this walking tour, where your knowledgeable guide will teach you everything there is to know about the historic centre of Barranquilla.
This includes the famous Paseo Bolivar as well as the Plaza de San Nicolás, where you’ll also make stops at the Carnival Museum as well as getting some awesome views of the Magdalena River.
As well as pick-up and drop-off from your accommodation, with this tour you’ll also have some food tastings included too!
Another fantastic day trip to take from Barranquilla is to the city of Cartagena.
Known as the walled city, here we can explore the famous historic centre which is protected by fortified walls that are lined with cannons.
There’s also the nearby Fort of San Felipe, with both of these structures known to be the largest and most formidable constructions of the entire Spanish Empire!
The architecture in this city is quite incredible too - where you’ll see many red, white and yellow arched buildings as well as some truly awesome street murals in nearby Getsemani.
Be sure to head to the Totumo Volcano too - where you can climb into the crater and enjoy a good ol’ fashioned mud bath!
There are so many awesome things to do in Cartagena, so don't miss out on a visit.
Although it’s best to spend multiple days here, those short on time can easily make it a day trip given the bus ride is only two hours.
The distance from Barranquilla and Cartagena is roughly 134 km.
Living your trip to the fullest is the most important thing when heading somewhere new, however it’s also nice to grab a quality souvenir too (either for the memories or for friends and family back home).
In Barranquilla it’s not so straightforward, given the city doesn’t really have touristy streets filled with gift shops like those in Santa Marta or Bogotá.
However those who are looking for some awesome memorabilia still have good options, such as that of Paraíso del Artesano.
This souvenir shop is quite a decent size, and is packed with literally everything you could possibly want.
Among the potential ideas here include colourful, hand-woven bags and jewellery to painted, wooden handicrafts.
Paraíso del Artesano is located within the district of Ciudad Jardín (which is close to the safe neighbourhood of Villa Country).
It’s open from 8:00am until 6:00pm, Monday through to Saturday.
The climate in Barranquilla can be best described as tropical, which has both a dry and wet season.
The dry season runs from December until April, and is the overall most popular time for a visit. Average daily temperatures range from 80-82°F, with highs of up to 89°F and lows down to 76°F.
Rainfall is really low this time of year, with as little as 0-0.5 inches falling each month. This is the best time to come for heading to the beach, and for exploring without worrying that the weather will alter your plans.
The wet season is longer, which begins in May and lasts through until November. Temperatures are higher this time of year, with average of 82-83°F, with highs of up to 90°F and lows of down to 78°F.
Levels of precipitation are much higher, and you can expect anywhere from 3-5 inches falling throughout each month. Although the rains put many travellers off, it is a cheaper time to visit Barranquilla as a result.
You can check the weather for Barranquilla here on WeatherSpark.
Most who visit Barranquilla often only come for a few days (or even just as a day trip from the other coastal cities).
However, given there's a lot of sights to see within the city as well as in the nearby region, you’ll want to spend longer (also to not feel like you’re rushing between everything).
We recommend spending a minimum of 5 days in Barranquilla, where you’ll get to know the city on a more personal level, and also have plenty of time to relax and enjoy everything that this Coastal Colombian city has to offer.
Given Barranquilla isn’t as developed as other cities in Colombia, here you’ll find accommodation and restaurants that cater for all kinds of budgets.
Those who are travelling on a budget can expect to spend around $20 a day when staying in Barranquilla. You’ll be staying in a comfortable dorm room, and mostly eating at local restaurants (although you can also find some great diners too for a good price). You’ll also have some money leftover for buying beers at night or for using buses to get around the city.
If you want a more deluxe and comfortable experience, then you’ll want to budget between $30-35 a day. You’ll be upgrading to a private room, and also able to eat at nicer restaurants more often. You can also take taxis more often, although just be sure to check they are registered (as previously mentioned using Uber is better).
It’s important to remember that these budgets only account for accommodation and food, with just a little left over for an attraction or taxi ride. It doesn’t account for flights, travel insurance, tours or buses between destinations.
In an ideal world we would have plenty of time to explore everything on offer in Barranquilla.
However this is not always the case, and you may find yourself rushing between activities and destinations.
We instead recommend heading on this half-day tour, where you’ll get to see the very best city highlights.
This includes walking along the famed Paseo Bolivar Avenue as well as a visit to the Carnival Museum.
You’ll have an expert local guide showing you all the way, and teaching you important things you need to know about the history of the city.
As well as having hotel pick-up and drop-off, you’ll also have free tastings of typical Colombian snacks such as Butifarra and Fritos.
Once you’ve finished exploring everything that Barranquilla has to offer, you may be wondering where is next best to head.
Along the Colombian coast there are many awesome destinations worth visiting, however we highly recommend heading to Cartagena, which is just a couple of hours away.
This historically-important city is known for its colourful, colonial streets as well as its fortified walls and forts.
If you’ve also ever wanted to visit a Mud Volcano where you can bathe in the middle, here’s your chance!
If you’re short of time (or prefer to have everything organised for you), then we recommend joining this action-packed city tour.
Here you’ll visit some of the most important areas of Cartagena, including the Historic Centre as well as the Fort of San Felipe.
As well as having many street food tastings included, you’ll also head up to La Popa for some unrivalled panoramic views of the city.
You’ll have all entries included as well as hotel pick-up and drop-off.
Now over to you…
Do you have anywhere else to recommend, not included in this list?
Or perhaps have a question about something listed?
Just drop a comment below.
And in the meantime check out some of our other South America travel guides: