If you love photography you will be in heaven in Mompox, Colombia! In fact, even if you don’t you will still love Mompox (or Mompos as it is sometimes known).
This town, situated on an island in the Magdalena River is so simple, charming and peaceful. Mompox feels like stepping back in time where life goes back to being quiet and slow moving like it should be. Even the graveyard is beautiful and I spent a good amount of time in there taking some of the pictures below.
Mompox – A Town Lost in Time
I have christened Mompox as my personal Macondo. Some say that Mompox was the inspiration for Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Macondo, while most say that it was Aracataca. Since we never made it to Aracataca, I’ll take Mompox. It is also a brilliant coincidence that I am reading One Hundred Years of Solitude
while I am visiting Mompox and even more relevant that the book was the inspiration for this blogs name! Mompox has helped me bring to life the details of Macondo and its residents amazingly, not that you need any help with visualizations in Marquez’s masterpiece. As I walk the streets of Mompox I see an old woman stooped with age and think “Oh my god its Ursula!”
The center of Mompox was named as a world heritage site and the importance of preserving its beautiful colonial architecture is evident with a walk around the center. All the buildings have huge castle like doors and all the windows are covered with wrought iron grills giving the town a unique historic Spanish feel.
When you are not exhausting in the heat, walking around the streets is very peaceful.Old men cycle by quietly on ancient rusty bicycles over the crackly gravel of the roads, families of four or more (often with dogs too) hold onto each other tightly on the back of a single motorcycle and everyone else just sits outside their colonial style houses in rocking chairs talking with one another, observing the visiting strangers or simply minding their own thoughts.
We got a guided tour through Mompox on our penultimate day there. The tour was definitely worth it. We never would have got to visit the silver filigree workshop where we got to witness beautiful pieces of silver jewelry being created from scratch in this craft famous to the town of Mompox. We also got a chance to climb to the top tower of the Santa Barbara Church overlooking the Magdalena River, the first church in the world to have a balcony and witness the bells toll beside us as the clock struck 3pm.
During the final part of our tour, we were brought into the house of an Austrian man who moved to Mompox two years ago to pursue his love of creating beautiful pieces of furniture and art out of guadua wood. He displays all his creations in his home; a beautifully spacious and wildly decorated colonial building. After a quick chat he invited us for “one of the best pizzas in Colombia” that night, which he makes in the giant stone oven in his kitchen. Known as ‘El Fuerte; Gallery and Gourmet’, he has crafted a business from combining the beautiful surroundings of his artistic home with his delicious pizzas, which definitely are among the best we’ve tasted yet in Colombia. Although not for those on a rigid budget, and best recommended for larger groups of four or more people, we really enjoyed the visit to El Fuerte as you are never short of entertainment; from the unusual art hanging from the ceilings, to the relaxing classical music ringing out from the upper level of his home. If you are visiting Mompox, be sure to ask for El Fuerte or Walter Maria.
Getting to Mompox
Getting to Mompox is no easy feat; first you must get to Magangué, a small town in the municipality of the Bolivar Department of Colombia. We traveled from Cartagena by “bus” (and by “bus” I mean a 8-seater mini-van) to Magangué, which took 4 and a half hours through the winding mountains. In Magangué, the driver dropped us off at the riverbank, where extremely enthusiastic local youngsters were almost wrestling with each other in order to carry our very heavy bags to the boat, in the hopes of a good tip. (They seemed pretty happy that we gave them $2,000 COP per bag). After registration and ticket purchasing we hopped in the speed boat and took a 10-minute boat ride to what I assumed was Mompox. It wasn’t. Apparently we were still one hour away.
So all five of us squashed into a taxi, after more local men had taken our bags from the boat and placed them on the roof of the taxi, before we even had a chance to disembark. There was not much choice in the matter. I sat in the front, sharing a seat with our friend as we sped off towards Mompox.
Mompox is hot! Very hot. And humid, so I tried to cover my face with my hat for the one-hour journey as we bounced and leaped from our seats numerous times on the extremely decaying roads, which are in dire need of repair and maintenance. Some spots are much worse than others and often the taxi man swerved sharply from left to right to avoid gaping holes in the road. Other spots are perfect but unfortunately they don’t last long.
Apart from a sore ass, the journey is not too bad and I got a lot of entertainment from watching the local, seemingly wild and free cows stroll along and cross the roads casually, completely undisturbed by any oncoming traffic. If a cow decides to cross the road while you are coming, you will wait for him. Period.
Where to stay in Mompox
Finally we arrived. Andres and I did our usual routine of hotel scouting on arrival as we left our bags with our friends in their very nice (and expensive) hotel room.
The locals stared, mainly at me as usual, and they knew instantly that we were not from around here. Of course they did. It’s a very small town. We had been handed a business card for La Casa Amarilla when we got off the boat so we decided to check it out.
It was a beautiful hostel, the best we’d seen yet with a lovely woman who greeted us from a rocking chair. The kitchen was amazing, the rooms spotless and the garden like a self contained tropical paradise of color and variety. However we didn’t stay here….but we do recommend it! There was one catch…we prefer private rooms, not because we don’t trust other travelers but because it’s the only “luxury” we allow ourselves to have on our low budget travel. With a private room we can talk loudly, be messy and do as we please without having to worry about the other guests.
La Casa Amarilla had only one private room available and it was expensive ($150,000 COP). We were about to take the dorm room for $16,000 COP each when we checked another hotel on our way back to get our bags. Casa Hotel Villa de Mompox was nice, with friendly staff but completely empty. However they had a private room for $15,000 each. After some deliberating we went with the private room. Despite our trust in other people’s good intentions, with all our expensive equipment (laptops, cameras, lenses, hard drives etc) it’s better not to risk anything. I have to admit the gorgeous golden labrador dog at the Casa Hotel Villa de Mompox was also a personal selling point for me.
The “Dog of the Tourists”
On our second day in Mompox, we had lunch by the river for a mere $6,000 COP each (soup, main course and drink all included). After I threw a few pieces of leftover meat to a very hungry looking dog, she became our best friend for the rest of the day, following us loyally all over the town and barking at any local pedestrians or cyclists who came too close to us. It was nice to have a bodyguard for the day but in this lazy town, it was probably the place where we needed it the least in all of Colombia! After we parted ways with the dog that night we thought we’d never see her again. Sadface.
Alas, when we went to the same restaurant the next day she was there, waiting for us (so I tell myself anyway). Again, she followed us all around the town. One smiling local man on a rocking chair pointed out that she is known as “The Dog of the Tourists” as she doesn’t like the local people and will follow the tourists around like….well like a lost puppy. Our little black protector soon found some fresh tourists to follow so we didn’t see her again but I thought it was a funny story all the same. So if you visit Mompox, watch out for the “Dog of the Tourists” as she will probably follow you too.
Next stop…Medellin, Colombia
For more travel photos from Mompox, check out our Flickr set here.