Valledupar isn’t the most attractive city in the world. While its main square is large and lined with trees, other streets can be found strewn with garbage that rots in the incessant, irrepentant heat. Many areas are industrious, dizzyingly chaotic and lacking in any real significant charm that might transform these traits into something appealing.
If you’re already put off, no doubt Valledupar isn’t the city for you. If you’re still reading however, Valledupar may just hold some surprises that keep you enrapt for longer than expected. Indeed, in my visit there I met several people that had planned to stay just one or two nights, but had wound up in the city for almost two weeks. So what is it about this less-than-glamorous city that captures the traveler?
Firstly, some history. As alluded to by the title, Valledupar is considered the spiritual home of that most Colombian of musical stylings: vallenato. The city is fiercely proud of this cultural heritage, and rarely does an hour pass wandering around the city when strains of an accordian are not heard wafting through the air. This ratio increases tenfold during the infamous Vallenato Festival held in the city, which takes place in Spring time every year.
Thanks to this cultural heritage, the city is a great place to learn about Colombian culture, and specifically the country’s ingrained appreciation of music. It also means that la rumba, come the weekend, is unforgettable.
Valledupar has also suffered its fair share of tragedy. Until the early 2000s it was a hotspot for kidnappings, crime and other atrocities caused by civil conflict in Colombia. The city has, thankfully, turned a page, and many people that were forced out of their homes are now returning to their hometown. Tourists, too, are being welcomed back and have been increasing in numbers over the past 10 years, pulled in by the city’s character (however ramshackled it may be) and optimism for the future.
Surrounding the city are numerous tourist attractions. You can rent bikes and cycle to the nearby waters, including the Guatapurí and Badillo rivers. Alternatively you can head for a hike in Los Besotes Ecopark.
For those interested in Colombia’s indigenous history, you can visit the historic village of La Mina, where arts and crafts are sold. Nabusimake is also well worth a visit, it being the capital of the Arhuaco indigenous people.
On top of all this, Valledupar can act as a gateway to the incredible Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta; one of Colombia’s snow-capped peaks and a view you certainly don’t expect on Colombia’s Caribbean Coast.
So, while you certainly shouldn’t come to Valledupar for its urban beauty, those who brush it off immediately may just be missing out on some unexpected charms; things that could keep them in Valledupar longer than they ever would have expected.
How to get there
From Bogotá: A 16 hour bus ride costing around $100,000 will take you to the city
From Santa Marta/Riohacha: The best option is a collectivo, which you will find at the bus stop. It basically amounts to sharing a car with strangers, and will cost between $25,000 and $35,000. It should take roughly 4 hours. You can take it to anywhere in town.