The Colombian Caribbean coast.

The famous writer  Gabriel Garcia Marquez described in his invented Caribbean town of Macondo a beautiful social mosaic of Indian, African, Spanish and Arabic influences and traditions that in combination form the culture of the Colombian Caribbean coast. So beautiful written that travelers sometimes look for this town, but the town is only created in his most famous novel, and can be found in the culture of  the Colombian Caribbean Coast. In the Colombian Caribbean Coast indigenous roots & African roots, and Spanish and Syrian Lebanese influences have created a culture that has many roots and flavors that is present in not only its writings but in its food, dances, thinking, and beliefs and religion as well.

The profound influence of African and Indigenous influences can be felt in the Cumbia which has incorporated both African as Indigenous rhythms and traditional west African dance, and Shakira who is Colombian of Lebanese descent that has integrated Arabic influences in her music and dance. The Carnaval of Barranquilla and the Vallenato music with it’s origins in the songs sung on the fields of the Haciendas during work are other examples in which African roots are profoundly presents.

The Caribbean Colombian  coast is a wonderful of colors, flavors, and cultures.

Some major urban centers are situated in the Caribbena Colomian Coast such as Cartagena, Barranquilla and Santa Marta.  Barranquilla is built at the mouth of the Magdalena River and was for a long time the entrance to the country. It was a zone that attracted the Spanish conquistadores that arrived in this part of South America on their way from the Caribbean encountering new cultures . A different religion  and culture were introduced. The Atlantic coast and especially the city of Cartagena was the main port in Colonial days and it was there where people, goods, religion &ideas  came from Spain, Europe, and Africa arrived to Colombia.

With time the African descendants that were forced here freed themselves from the chains of slavery, and built palenques as free towns  where until the present the language, cultural practices and traditions are kept alive.

Cartagena and Santa Marta are famous for its architecture, music, and in general culture and beaches. The  Caribbean  coast has a great variation in landscapes and ecologies. Most of the Colombian Caribbean coast is a lowland plain with altitudes to 130 meters above see-level. Exception is the Sierra Nevada near Santa Marta. Here are peaks that rise up to more than 5.500 meters above see-level.


Cartagena is known for its beautiful Spanish historic centre and citadel that between the 16th century and 19th century functioned to protect the city. The city now is one of the mayor touristic attractions of the country. The fortifications are the largest of the South American continent. The city is built following a geometric urbanist renaissance patron, that is followed in other cities founded in the early part of the colonial time  as well. In this period Santa Marta (1524) and Mompox (1540) were founded as well.

It was a major hub in the conquest and control of the New World, and was a primer port for the Spanish navy and merchants, just like Havanna & San Juan Puerto Rico.

The old monumental inner city of Cartagena can be divided in three parts: San Pedro with the cathedral and it’s Andalusian architecture, San Diego neighborhood and the now vibing Getsemani neighborhood which was the first expansion outside the old walls.  Cartagena de las Indias as it is called officially was founded in 1533 by Pedro de Heredia. 

Strolling through its streets it brings in mind the important of this city for trade and its big military importance. In 1586 the city was occupied for two months by English troops under the control of Guillermo Drake.

Cartagena was a main slave trade port. Between 1595 and 1795 it was even the only Spanish American port authorized to import slaves from Africa. From Cartagena slaves were traded with other parts of the Spanish Empire. But already from its foundation Cartagena was licensed to trade in slaves. At first in small numbers to help with the conquest and as domestic servant but later in a more massive scale in which slaves also were set to work on haciendas, road construction, on river boats and in mines. People came to Cartagena to buy slaves, and the diaspora of Africans led to the breaking up of families and culture from their lands of origin.

In the seventeenth century there were some successful rebellions of slaves most famous that of Benkos Bioho  who was born in the actual Guineau  Bissau and shipped to Cartagena. In 1599 he leaded a revolt of so called Cimarrons and freed slaves that funded the first free state on the American continent:  50 km stream upward along the Magdalena River: The Palenque of San Basilio.

At the end of the 17th century the port was  threatened by pirates. In this period more and more Afro Colombians liberated themselves from slavery and settled primarily along the Magdalena River and forests on the Colombian Pacific and the Colombian Caribbean coast 

Between its past and present the city has had a turbulent history. That ultimately led to the declaration of the city as Unesco World Heritage site in 1983, and the signing of peace in the city with the FARC in 2016. Cartagena now has one of the most beautiful and lively historic centers of Latin America.

Sierra Nevada

The Sierra Nevada is the second oldest national park (Parque Nacional Natural Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta) which was founded in 1964 and home to the descendants of the Tayrano people.The Lost Tayrona City (La Ciudad Perdida)  also lies in this park.

The Sierra Nevada is a compact mountain area with peaks that rise up to 5.775 meters. The area lies close to the Caribbean with its highest peak only a marathon distance from the sea and Santa Marta (42 km). The national park has beaches and high mountains and everything in between.

Due to its isolation from the Andes (completely surrounded by the coastal plain )and proximity to the sea there is great variety of altitudes, climates, landscapes and species. The national park has everything from beach and high peaks and everything in between.

La Guajira

The beautiful Colombian road-movie Los Viajes del Viento (2009) besides Vallenato sounds and culture gives breathtaking images of the northern coastal region of  Colombia: it starts in Majagual, Sucre and takes the viewer on to the Guajira desert.

The Guajira peninsula is the most north land-part of the continent of south America and Colombias most north-eastern department.  The southern part of La Guajira has altitudes of more than 5000 meters and form parts of the Sierra Nevada near Santa Martha. Gradually the altitude of the department of Guajira drops to 3000 meters and later a vast drop to below 50 meters above see-level. The different altitudes have different climates, landscapes and ecosystems. In the most northern edge of the peninsula sharing its border with Venezuela where the land meets sea and beach the land is very arid (desert). This is also where the National natural park Macuirais located. This park is a tropical oasis in the desert. The altitude varies from 864 above see-level(Cerro Palúa)  and  Cerro de Jibome (753 meter above see-level) to the beach.

Mix of Cultures

La Guajira has around the 900.000 inhabitants. Ethnically La Guajira is a mix cultures the indigenous people, afro Colombians and Mestizos (Criollos)

Besides this the city of Maicao has the second biggest Mosque of Latin America. Since the end of the nineteenth there has been Arab migration to Colombia. The main reason was at first conflicts within the Ottoman empire that made people from Syria and Lebanon migrate to the Colombian Carribean Coast. Later the Israeli – Palestinian Conflict made the arrivals of this colony grow tot the Caribbean coast of Colombia.  Sometimes at first as stop over on the way to North-America, Argentina, Mexico or Brazil, but because of reasons like love, lack of money etc decided to stay. Later because people in Colombia helped other people from Arab countries come over. First entrance was often in the port town of Barranquilla from which people moved south to La Guajira that has always been important as a merchant town due to its proximity to the harbor of Puerto Bolivar and the border with Venezuela.

Until the 30’s  of the twentieth century many Arab migrants were Christian (Roman Catholic & Maronite). More recently from the seventies and onward more islamic Arab migrants came over to Colombia mainly from Palestine.

Vallenato Music

The accordion has gotten a new life for next generations in Colombia with Vallenato music tthat also originates from the Colombian Caribbean coast. It is a mix of Cumbia and accordion with its origins in Valledupar. But the music has since the sixties grown to be an important music culture especially in the Colombian Caribbean coast.

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