The Rio Magdalena is not just the country’s main artery; it’s the reason Colombia exists as a nation . . . the Magdalena is both a corridor of commerce and a fountain of culture, the wellspring of Colombian music, literature, poetry, and prayer.Wade Davis, “Magdalena: River of Dreams: A Story of Colombia”
After our visit to the fabulous Salt Cathedral near Bogota, we headed northwest to Honda in the department of Tolima. Situated on the banks of the Magdalena River, Honda was the last Pueblo Patrimonio (officially designated heritage town) we would visit on our epic August road trip through southeastern Colombia. On the way, we made a lunch stop in another interesting heritage town, Guaduas. (We’ll cover Guaduas in a future post about other cool towns and places of interest we visited.)
On our approach to Honda, we caught our first glimpse of the Magdalena since the beginning of our trip almost a month earlier. Somehow it seemed fitting that this journey would begin and end with the Magdalena, the country’s most important river and the star of one of our favorite books about Colombia: “Magdalena: River of Dreams” by Wade Davis.
The Magdalena is the heart and soul of Colombia. For almost 500 years – until the mid-20th century – the river was the main transportation link connecting Bogotá to the Caribbean coast and the rest of the world. Founded in 1539, Honda was once the most important river port in the country, the southern terminus for all imported goods destined to be carried overland to Bogota and other inland cities.
Things to do in Honda
Wander the historic district
During its shipping heyday during the latter half of the 19th century, Honda was a hub of global trade and attracted foreigners from all over the world. Many of the splendid old buildings once housed foreign consulates or (in the case of our hotel) served as mansions for wealthy merchants.
This is a great town to explore on foot. The only Pueblo Patrimonio in the central Magdalena region, Honda is experiencing a rebirth as a tourist destination. Many of the colonial buildings have been beautifully restored not only as residences but as boutique hotels, restaurants, and museums.
(Click through each photo for a larger version.)
Explore the Plaza de Mercado
Built between 1917 and 1935 on the site of a Franciscan convent, Honda’s beautiful main market plaza is a Colombian National Monument and boasts 148 steel columns. Inside is everything we’ve come to expect from a Latin American market: stall after stall of beautiful produce, local meats and cheeses, housewares, and plenty of juice and food stands. One thing we especially loved about this market are the giant murals that pay tribute to local people.
Visit the Magadalena Museum
This small museum honors the Magdalena’s commercial, cultural, and historical significance, telling the stories of the people who have worked the river and lived along its banks for centuries.
Where to eat
- Guaka. Here, we had our first taste of bagre, local catfish caught from the river. Served with a creole sauce, it was delicious!
- 40 Puentes. Named for the 40 bridges (puentes) that once traversed the Magdalena in Honda, this outstanding restaurant turned out to be the perfect place for Susan’s birthday lunch. Lovely cocktails and a varied menu with beautifully prepared food.
Where we stayed
We loved our stay at Posada Las Trampas, a former mansion built in 1780. This hotel has the feel of an ancient castle, with endless stone staircases leading to guest rooms, gardens, and relaxation areas. At the same time, the accommodations are thoroughly modern and the pool area is wonderful, with a panoramic view of town. Once again, we had the place almost all to ourselves!
Honda was not originally on our radar for a visit, but friends recommended it. The town doesn’t get a lot of attention from standard travel guides, but there’s a wealth of information available on other travel blogs. The Magdalena, Honda’s rich history, and the surprisingly good tourist infrastructure all make for a perfect two-night visit. Also, it’s a lot warmer than the higher-altitude places we’d visited over the past weeks. Off came the sweaters and jackets!