When crossing the Magdalena River into Atlántico department, the waters do not have the same inviting blue hue that is found in the surrounding beach towns of Santa Marta. Instead, the waters are grey, mirroring the gritty, industrial port city that is Barranquilla. What Barranquilla might lack in natural beauty is made up in the accessibility it provides to cultural and religious sites. While one cannot see all of what Barranquilla has to offer in one day, a downtown stretch does lend itself to viewing some of the major sites.
The stretch starts at the Catedral Metropolitana María Reina, which is located on 46th Avenue and 53rd Street. The cathedral is a modern structure that was built in 1982 by Italian architect Angelo Mazzoni de Grande. Standing across the street at Peace Plaza, one can admire the stain glass in the cathedral’s rear exterior. At night, the cathedral lights up, providing an illuminating show. Upon entering, one realizes how expansive the cathedral is. At the front of the cathedral is a huge bronze sculpture called Cristo Libertador Latinoamericano. The work was done by Rodrigo Arenas Betancourt and was completed in 1985. On each of the facades in the front of the cathedral are two mosaics. To the right of the sculpture is San José, the Patron Saint of the Archdiocese of Barranquilla. To the left of the sculpture is María Reina, the cathedral’s namesake. Both mosaics are flanked by beautiful stain glasses. Accompanying San José are stain glasses representing confirmation, baptism, the Eucharist, and penance. Accompanying María Reina are stain glasses representing the Eucharist, marriage, the priestly order, and the unction of the sick.
Heading out of the cathedral onto 46th Avenue, the public bus system conveniently takes you directly southeast along the avenue to Parque Cultural del Caribe at 46th Avenue and 36th Street. At the southwest corner of the park where the bus drops you off is the Museo del Caribe. The museum is a great place to visit to understand the biodiversity and cultural heritage of the Colombian Caribbean. The museum is designed to start at the top floor and finish at the bottom. You begin with an exhibit about the Colombian Caribbean’s biodiversity. The climates in the region vary from the desert in Cabo de la Vela, the northernmost point of South America, to the tropical rain forest of the Sierra Nevada. Next level down is a floor dedicated to the people of the Colombian Caribbean. Here you can learn about such indigenous peoples such as the Wayuu, Kogui, Palenquero, among others. The subsequent floors are dedicated to the languages, history, and arts of the people in the region.
Across the avenue from the museum is a shopping plaza with multiple restaurants. As you walk past each of the restaurants, waiters and hosts bark details of the menus to you as they try to usher you in. The plaza also has tons of stores that range from electronics to boutiques. Making your way through the plaza out onto the corner of 46th Avenue and 34th Street, you continue southeast on 46th Avenue. Through the traffic circle you come to 9th Street that has a nice view of the Magdalena River. There are shops as you continue north on 9th Street and street murals around the traffic circle.
Heading back along 46th Avenue through the traffic circle to 34th Street, the next point of interest is Paseo Bolivar. As the commercial buildings tower over people bustling through the street, there is an opening at the intersection of 44th Avenue and 34th. The plaza is Paseo Bolivar dedicated to Simon Bolivar with a statue in the center of the plaza and canons at the southern corners. The plaza is surrounded by shops and street vendors, calling to you to purchase their goods. Further southwest along 34th street are non-descript administrative buildings where the mayor’s office is located as well as other shopping centers. At the corner of 42nd Avenue and 34th Street, the skyline changes dramatically as opposed to yet another commercial building, you are presented with one of the three gorgeous towers of the Iglesia de San Nicolás de Tolentino, the final stop on the stretch. The white towers with a pinkish/orange trim are a welcome sight in comparison to their drab neighbors. Walking along 42nd Avenue around the outside of the church, the area opens up to a plaza. Kids are playing fútbol in the plaza while flower vendors have colorful selections for sale in the southeastern corner. Over a cup of coffee from Café Montana, the scene is an idyllic way end a day of touring downtown Barranquilla.