Santa Cruz de Mompox
Mompox (often spelt Mompos) is a friendly, sleepy town on an island on the Magdalena river, which thrived during colonial times as it was the main resting port for ships travelling up the Magdalena from Cartagena to Honda. It has beautiful colonial architecture which rivals Villa de Leyva’s.
Few Colombians, however, seem to know about this place, and being on an island without any bridges reaching it makes it rather inaccessible; as a result very few tourists come here except during Christmas and Holy Week. The mayor is keen on promoting tourism here, and a bridge is being constructed at El Banco, meaning it will soon be within easy-ish reach of the Bogotá-Santa Marta road. This will greatly facilitate access to Mompox, and I couldn’t help feeling that this little town is about to undertake an irreversible transformation with the imminent arrival of hordes of tourists.
From/to Valledupar or Maicao, there are some early morning buses which take the ferry straight to Mompox with Cotracegua (6 hours from Valledupar, 30,000 COP).
From/to Medellin and Cartagena, you need to travel to Managué via Sincelejo. Then take a chalupa across the river, and take the short trip to Mompox.
From/to Bogotá and Bucaramanga, the best route is probably via El Banco.
I’ve also heard that it’s possible to go by boat upriver all the way from Barranquilla, but have no idea about how this can be arranged.
It’s also possible to fly to Mompox.
Mompox is small. Mototaxis take passengers to any point with the town for 600 COP. Note that they may take several passengers to different places at the same time, so they are unlikely to take you directly to your destination.
There are various colonial churches, of which the Iglesia de Santa Barbara is probably the most famous as it appears on many representative photos of Mompox. It is unusual in that it has a Moorish-style tower with a balcony. Most of the churches only open for mass, which is unfortunate. The best time to take photos of most of the churches is in the morning, as their facades are not in the shade.
Walk around the streets of the Colonial centre and along the river front, which are all very beautiful. If it’s too hot, you can arrange an hour’s tour of Mompox on a mototaxi (10,000 COP); it’s also a good way to get your bearings and if you’re lucky, learn some of the local history.
There’s a museum on the Calle Real del Medio, which I didn’t have time to visit.
The botanical gardens appear, at first sight, to be rather unkept and overgrown. For me, the principal reason to visit this place is to talk to the guide, Don Ernesto, who resembles a living encyclopaedia with his extensive knowledge about all the plants and trees in the garden, including their medicinal properties. Although this man has never received a formal education he is extremely knowledgeable in general and we found him very interesting to talk to. Sadly, the future of the Botanic garden seems to be uncertain, as the local council are not supporting it, and the owners are considering selling it as they cannot afford to keep it running.
It is possible to go on tour to the Cienaga del Pijiño if you are interested in seeing wildlife such as birds and reptiles. These tours can be arranged by calling at “La Cuarta” hotel and talking to a guy named Chipi. (I personally didn’t get round to going on one, but hope to do so on my next visit).
Strike up conversations on the street with the friendly locals, and they may let you peek into their colonial mansions.
Try the local wine at ViniMompox (Cra 3 No. 20-34), where they sell various wines made of banana, guayaba, mamon, orange and tamarindo.
Buy silver jewellery at various workshops around the Calle Real del Medio. Gold jewellery is also produced, but is less common.
The so-called “Zona Rosa” has several bars along the riverfront, quite a pleasant place to have a drink in the evening.
(Note: all the prices quoted here increase substantially during the Christmas vacation and Holy Week). Mompox is hot, and you may want to consider staying in a room with air-conditioning.
The cheapest place is “La Cuarta” at Cra 4 No. 18-57. The telephone number is (095) 684 6127. Prices for a double are 25,000 COP for a double with a fan, and 35,000 COP with air-conditioning. It’s not a colonial building but the service is friendly, and has been recently built.
The mid-range hotels which are set in colonial buildings are Hotel La Cassona at Cra 2 No. 18-58, Tel. (095) 685 5307 which costs 22,000 COP for a double with a fan, 35,000 COP for air-conditioning, and Casa Hotel San Andrés at Cra 2 No. 18-23, Tel. (095) 685 5886 which costs 35,000 COP for a double with a fan, and 50,000 COP with air-conditioning.
The best hotel in town is supposed to be Hostal Doña Manuela, although it seems to be a bit overpriced. It’s located at Cr 2 No. 17-41, Tel. (095) 685 5142/ 685 5621/ 685 6175, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. A double room with air-conditioning here will set you back 95,000 COP. We had a look at the rooms but they didn’t seem any better than other rooms in hotels set in colonial houses. It does, however, have the only swimming pool in Mompox. If you want to stay at a colonial hotel, and save a bit of money, it may be best to stay at a cheaper hotel, and pay the 8000 COP daily swimming pool entry fee.