“Why would you go to Barranquilla?” the man asked me about my upcoming visit to Colombia. I thought about how most tourists pick Cartagena for the charming coastal vibe and colorful colonial era architecture or Bogotá, the capital city. But I wanted to see the place my father had learned to swim and the streets where my grandfather grew up. I also wanted to feel the excitement of the city just before the carnival (one of the largest in the world after the one in Brazil!) and maybe get a photo of the Shakira statue too!

If you have ever considered Colombia as a destination and want to feel the vibe of a real city without a lot of obvious tourist places to check off the list, Barranquilla might be for you. It has just the right mix of seedy grit combined with some great restaurants and hotels, and makes a fine base from which you can hop onward to other cities via bus or car or flight.

Because there isn’t the mass tourism that one sees in Cartagena, the airport is a breeze and everyone was welcoming and even slightly surprised to see us at this less busy point of entry. Most visitors are Colombians, many now living in the US or elsewhere and the flight from Miami is just under 3 hours. We always check to see what our hotel options look like on IHG Hotels & Resorts and then book at least the first few nights. It’s nice to have a few nights in a comfy hotel with a pool before heading off the beaten path!

Before leaving the airport it’s a good idea to hit the ATMs located on the second floor of the airport and take out some cash for the taxi into town. I’d suggest getting familiar with the bills so that you know the exchange rate as it can be daunting dealing with notes in denominations like 50,000.00! There are a few cafes and places to grab a bite before you head out in search of a taxi and there is a desk booking cars on the lower level. I’d avoid renting a car as it is far easier and not costly to take a taxi or hire a car and driver for larger groups.

If you decide you want to head to Cartagena that same day (we did, in order to attend a jewelry trade show that weekend!) you can taxi to the Marsol Bus Company or across the street Berlinastur where 19 passenger vans leave every 15 minutes to destinations like Santa Marta and Cartagena. It was an easy nonstop ride along the well maintained coastal road and an easy affordable way to travel from city to city. The driver will give you a claim ticket if you check a bag into the back of the bus.

I’ll go more into the details of the places we visited next time but wanted to provide an alternative idea for places to fly in and out of in Colombia and depending on how adventurous you feel, maybe a new city to explore you’d not thought about before. I’ll share my favorite upscale restaurant and a story of how I landed in a record shop on the streets of the old city buying vinyl and beers for the locals! Stay tuned and thanks for reading about the travels of Nomadic Ant.

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