Barranquilla is known for its beautiful people, Caribbean culture, and colorful Carnaval celebrations. Even if you’re not here for those festivities, the city’s nightlife is well-known for traditional salsa dancing and late night parties.
Visitors can hit the beach year round for some surfing or relaxing at the coast’s many bars and beach clubs. Colombia’s fourth-largest city is a vibrant port on the Caribbean Sea and Magdalena River, and though it’s a bit industrial, it’s still got charming neighborhoods, plenty of shopping, and large plazas and parks. Try local costeño foods like fried fish, coconut rice, and arepas, and catch of glimpse of the city’s Spanish heritage with a visit to its castle and churches.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Barranquilla:
1. El Museo del Caribe
Take an interactive look at the indigenous cultures, nature, and history of Colombia’s Caribbean coast at the best museum in town.
El Museo del Caribe gives guests some insight into this unique portion of the country through fun displays and experiences spread over several different rooms and floors.
There are tons of artifacts, videos, and photos to help explain the biodiversity of the Caribbean as well as its people, from culture and history to music and literature.
Guided tours are available, and the museum also includes a library area dedicated to the works of magical realism author Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
2. Carnaval de Barranquilla
Barranquilla’s colorful Carnaval celebrations are second only to Rio de Janeiro’s in Brazil.
This four-day party might be what the city is most famous for, and preparations begin months ahead of time, so be sure to plan ahead if you’re trying to attend! With roots in Spanish Catholic traditions blended with African and indigenous customs, it’s a wild, vibrant festival filled with loud music, dancing in the streets, and millions of partiers who flock to the city for this craziness.
Carnaval begins 40 days before Easter with tons of local food, elaborate costumes, and various troupes of dancers, performers, and bands.
As a visitor, don’t hesitate to get in on the action, and don’t expect any downtime.
3. Zoológico Barranquilla
It’s a small zoo but it’s still home to around 500 different animals of 140 species from several continents.
A great activity for the whole family, you can learn about endangered species as you wander around enclosures filled with snakes, monkeys, zebras, and even an elephant and tiger.
Learn about conservation efforts for native animals like the manatee, spectacled bear, and otter.
You can actually get super close to the animals here and even touch a few of them – carefully! There’s also a small cafe in the back where you can grab some empanadas if you’re feeling peckish.
4. Experience the Barranquilla’s Nightlife
Along with its beautiful people, Barranquilla is known for its incredible nightlife and dancing.
So even if you’re not here for Carnaval, grab a few drinks and head out to sample some of the places that make it renowned for good times.
Open for over 50 years, La Troja is an institution in town and a great spot for a true local experience of salsa dancing with crowds that regularly spill out onto the sidewalks.
Frogg Leggs, the trendy Agua Helada, and Coco Beach are also popular.
Aguila and Club Colombia are the favorite (cheap!) beers here, but rum is also popular (you are in the Caribbean after all).
5. Bocas de Cenizas
If you’re up for some walking and an off-the-beaten-path adventure, take the train to where the Magdalena River meets the Caribbean Sea.
Wear sunscreen and comfortable shoes, and pack your camera and some water (it’s gonna be hot), plus a few pesos to buy some snacks along the way.
Beginning in the Los Flores neighborhood, you’ll take the open-air “train” to the coast where you can hop off and make the rough walk to the very tip of the land.
Not only will you be rewarded with great views, but you’ll catch an authentic glimpse of some of the city’s more underdeveloped neighborhoods that don’t often get much notice.
6. Castillo de Salgar
A 20-minute drive from the city, the Castillo de Salgar is a wonderfully restored Spanish fort that was built in 1848. Currently it’s an event space which can be rented out for parties, and it houses a fabulous restaurant.
Located on a cliff overlooking the sea, it’s a great spot to get away from the city for drinks or dinner at sunset.
The breezes are refreshing and the setting is quite romantic, and sometimes there are musical performances.
Even if you don’t want to stop for a meal, feel free to swing on the way to the beaches for a look at history and some great views and photo ops.
7. Go to the Beaches
You’re in the Caribbean where it’s hot year round, so head to the beach while you’re here. While Barranquilla may not have the impressive beaches of neighboring Santa Marta or Cartagena, you’ll still have options.
Take the bus or taxi to Puerto Colombia and the Playas de Salgar about 15 minutes from town where you can find balnearios (bathing resorts) like Villa Alcatraz.
These clubs will provide you with umbrellas, chairs, tables, and a place to grab food and beers.
The fancier Pradomar offers giant cushions, cabanas, and upscale food, plus its on-site nightclub throws weekend beach parties reminiscent of Ibiza.
You can also sign up for surf lessons on the beaches here.
8. Museo Romantico
The history of Barranquilla is preserved at the Museo Romantico, so it’s definitely worth a quick wander to learn more about the city.
Housed in an 18th-century mansion on a beautiful street, the museum has tons of artifacts and belongings of famous Barranquilleras and other Colombians.
There are letters written by Simón Bolivar, the nation’s heroic liberator, and a typewriter used by the author Gabriel García Márquez.
You’ll find dresses and costumes worn in past Carnavals as well as furniture, musical instruments, photos, and artwork that all have ties to Baranquilla’s history.
9. Catedral Metropolitana María Reina and Iglesia de la Inmaculada Concepción
Don’t be turned off by the modern architectural style of the city’s biggest cathedral.
Built in 1982, it’s enormous and although it looks like a bunker, make sure to check out its beautiful and vast interior.
The stained glass windows are fabulous, and the sculpture above the altar is magnificent.
The Iglesia de la Inmaculada Concepción, on the other hand, is a more traditional, whitewashed church in the El Prado neighborhood.
Its stained glass and carved wooden altar are a good enough reason to venture inside, and the square outside is lovely… but what people really rave about is the air conditioning during mass!
10. Visit the City’s Many Parks
Barranquilla is filled with green spaces where you can relax, exercise, and check out free live music and cultural events.
The Parque Cultural del Caribe surrounds the Museo del Caribe and it often fills up with locals who come to see these kinds of lively and fun performances in the evenings.
It also contains a butterfly garden and a wooden terrace which serves as an open air theater.
The Parque Suri Salcedo has new playground equipment for kids, and the Parque Electrificadora attracts lots of people who meet up to cycle around town in the evenings.
Finally, Parque Muvdi is big for all types of recreation, with a skate park, tennis courts, swimming pool, lake, and dining areas all around.
11. Try Costeño Food
The coastal Caribbean food of Colombia is fresh and filling, so don’t miss the chance to try it from street vendors, markets, local mom and pop joints, or even upscale dining establishments.
Cheese-filled arepas, empanadas, fried whole fish, coconut rice, meats, sancocho, and ajiaco are all popular here.
Try the public market for cheap stuff and hit the restaurants along the Magdalena River and Los Flores neighborhood for seafood at reasonable prices.
Lunchtime offers set meals of meat or fish, rice, fried plantains, and a smattering of salad at great values.
Narcobollo and Dónde está Javier? might be fast food chains, but they’re also solid choices for sampling the local fare.
12. Plaza de la Paz
Spend some time in the main square of Barranquilla, Plaza de la Paz.
On its own, it’s just a big concrete square surrounded by a few palm trees and benches, but when there’s an event going on (which is often) you’ll find bands, dancers, street performers, and lots of young people gathering here.
With the cathedral on one side (it’s beautifully lit at night), the police station on the other, and a large shopping mall nearby, it’s a safe place for locals and tourists alike to meet up, rollerblade, skateboard, or grab a bite to eat outside.
13. Paseo Bolivar
A little rougher area but enjoyable and authentic all the same, this is the perfect place to sample some local foods from street vendors and do some shopping.
Grab an arepa and some fresh coconut water, and browse the cheap goods sold all around.
Paseo Bolivar is the old commercial center of the city and it’s bustling, busy, and a bit chaotic.
Keep an eye on your belongings as you begin meandering – start at the Simon Bolivar statue and explore the churches and plazas (especially the colorful Plaza de San Nicolás). Enjoy the crowded streets and giant public market that the city has cleaned up a bit in the recent years – it’ll give you a true taste of Barranquilla.
Known for their swimming pools and family friendly activities, Combarranquilla and Comfamiliar are community facilities that house movie screening rooms, libraries, fútbol fields, gyms, spas, ping pong tables, and even a planetarium.
There are affordable restaurants here, places to relax, and even adult education classes you can take for fun.
They often host themed festivals, performances, and shows, such as Mexican nights or Peruvian food days.
But if you’re just going to cool off, you’ll find multiple pools, water slides, and loungers for enjoying your time in the sun.
15. Go Shopping
If you don’t find the cheap trinkets or souvenirs you need on Paseo Bolivar, head to Avenida 46 and Calle 72 for cheap artisan handicrafts sold from the kiosks along the streets.
For more modern shopping, head to one of the city’s biggest malls – Buenavista, Viva Barranquilla, or Portal del Prado.
For something a little nicer but certified authentic, check out Artesanías de Colombia.
And if you’re really into bargain bin diving, you can find some great brands and hidden treasures alongside the locals at Oscar de la 30.