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!
I love Colombia, what can I say? Thanks for the great pix
Con mucho gusto, amigo! Hope you and Mariah are well.
Very nice. Thanks for the tour.
Thanks, Larry 🙂
Great photos. Wonderful place to spend a birthday! Hope it was very happy. Thanks for this venue for me to travel to Latin America through your adventures!
Thank you, Rebecca! Glad you’ve enjoyed these posts – our road trip was a once-in-a-lifetime journey!
I loved this place with the beautiful, colorful buildings! As always your photography is outstanding!
Thanks, Mimi, and a big hug 🙂
Another incredible tour of a beautiful town! The historic district looks like a perfect place for a peaceful walk wandering through those lovely streets.
Thanks so much! Yes, Honda is a perfect town for exploring on foot – one of our favorite things to do. Have a great day!
What a cute town. We hadn’t heard of Honda but it looks so perfect! I love these heritage towns in Colombia with the old colourful buildings and grad plazas. Thanks for the tour! Maggie
Thanks, Maggie! Each of the heritage towns we visited has a lot in common with the others, but each is also special in its own way. Honda is oozing with history!
I would love to get my hands on one of those hats!! the vibrant colors are always sooo beautiful to see – cheers!
Looks a cool place, colourful too!
Thanks, you two! Home back in England, are you?
Yep, got home yesterday (Sunday)
Magical….and as colourful as always to brighten yet another grey and rainy day here in England!
It’s grey and rainy here in El Retiro today, also! Glad the post brightened your day 🙂
We can’t wait to return to Colombia – and reading about your amazing road trip has made us even more impatient!
We can’t wait to get you two back here! Hope it’s soon. Happy day to you and Nicky 🙂
Question: With all the travelling you do, when do you find the time to research and write so much about the history of the lovely places you visit? Absolutely fabulous! Cheers, Muriel
Hi Muriel! Ha, it’s one of the reasons we’re still playing catchup on the postings for our road trip, even thought we got home at the end of August. John is my research editor – he does a lot of the legwork so that I don’t have to! Accuracy is really important to both of us.
I probably spend way more time than really necessary on these posts, trying to make them perfect. Maybe it’s the former journalist in me – but that was my MO throughout my career (I just retired in June). Old habits die hard!
Anyway, thanks for your kind comment.
Honda was on my radar, but unfortunately, I never got there. I really enjoyed seeing it through your eyes.
Thanks, Henry! Have an awesome week. 🙂
Beautiful pictures of Honda, Colombia, I like the picture of the Colombian hats, I don’t know what they call them there, but they remind me of the hats my grandfather used to wear. They were exactly that style.
I’d love to see a picture of your grandfather in his hat! I think you mean the “panama” hats in the crate, right? Interesting thing about those – they’re actually made in Ecuador. But they’re super-popular here in Colombia. Thanks for reading!
Honda looks like a charming Colombian town that I’d love to visit. The buildings are so colorful and I love those views. The air looks so clear there.
Thanks, Becky! Honda really is a gem, like so many others we saw on that trip.
I’m late to the party..very late..about 7 years i think?
Greetings from Guanajuato, Mexico. Retired in Mexico 2012.
I tripped across an interview on the Medellin Guru site…from 2019.
You had just moved from Boquete (on my short list) to Medellin. I think you are still in Medellin? Which probably answers my question..do you still like it there? What are the biggest cons of life there?
Hello! We actually moved out of Medellin early this year to a smaller town, up in the Andes about 45 minutes away. Yes, we still love life here, especially now that we’re in a quieter place with clean air and a lovely small-town feel. I guess our cons are probably similar to yours in Mexico – things move at a much slower pace here and you just have to readjust your expectations sometimes regarding when things will get done. And of course, a little Spanish is really important, especially outside the city. Otherwise, we’re super-happy!