Nov 20

Magical Realism in Mompox, Colombia

A street in Mompox, Colombia


As a cynical European, I always understood Magical Realism as crazy Latin American folklore, a literary device that had no real connection to the world. My British skepticism couldn’t grasp the concept, the idea of magic being present in the mundane, real world, of normal, realistic settings going hand in hand with the extraordinary and unbelievable. Yet at times in Colombia, Magical Realism seems all too genuine. And nowhere more so than in Mompox.


Mompox, the square where some of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's scenes took place
The square where, in the film for Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Santiago Nasar was found dead


The town exudes magic, history and wonderment, stories abounding in every corner, every stone, every street. In fact, Mompox’s history is inextricably linked with Colombia’s past, with many people here claiming that Colombian independence was achieved in Mompox, rather than Bogotá. Bolivar himself once said “If to Caracas I owe my life, then to Mompox I owe my glory”.

Yet due to its geography and the fact that the Magdalena River split, Mompox was left stranded and isolated, an island in the middle of a vast river, giving rise to an incredible time-warp town, perhaps Colombia’s last remaining truly colonial outpost. Mompox is completely lost in time and, while this is a phrase that is often used to describe Colombian towns, it is nothing short of a perfect description of Mompox.


A street in Mompox, Colombia
A typically quiet Mompox street


If you’ve ever read any Gabriel Garcia Marquez books, you might be familiar with the fictional town of Macondo and the Nasar family. Well, step through the streets of Mompox and you will feel and breathe Macondo, wandering the squares and streets that Marquez described, giving you the surreal feeling that you are actually in one of his books, such is the descriptive power of Colombia’s most famous literary hero. And as for the Nasars, they were real Mompox residents who had to flee to Cartagena after the townsfolk started to believe what was in Marquez’s books.


Sunset over the Rio Magdalena near Mompox
The sun sets over the stunning Magdalena River as a solitary fisherman looks for his last catch of the day


The feeling and character of Mompox is almost impossible to describe. On the banks of the awe-inspiring Magdalena River – take a boat trip and gaze in wonderment at the wildlife and the isolation – with history flowing through its very core, locals sitting in the stifling evening heat on their traditional wicker rocking chairs, this is a place that is at the same time unique and (thanks to Marquez’s books) so incredibly familiar.


Courtyard of Mompox University
One of the oldest universities in Colombia. Not a bad place to study eh?


Head to Mompox if you want to feel history and magic. Learn about the town’s important role in Colombian independence, visit the cemetery where many famous generals and politicians are buried, step back in time in one of Colombia’s oldest universities or simply marvel at the soporific and laid-back attitude of one of the most historically and literarily significant towns in all of Latin America.


Mompox cemetery
Mompox’s cemetery


It might not be the easiest place to get to, although there are some direct buses/cars from Cartagena, Santa Marta and Valledupar. Be sure to ask the wise folk at See Colombia Travel (that’s us!) for advice. However, the extra travel is definitely worth it to visit Mompox, where Magical Realism is much more real than magic.


P.S. For a great place to stay, check out Casa Amarilla, beautiful, relaxing and comfortable!


Wicker rocking chairs in Mompox
Chill out on a traditional rocking chair from Mompox

6 thoughts on “Magical Realism in Mompox, Colombia


    Que buen articulo…que ilustraciones ..Pronto la conoceremos . Mas deseos nos da de conocerlos . Llevaremos las historias dulces

    Escuela de Patrimonio – Antioquia

  2. Paige on

    I have been wanting to go to Mompox SOOOOO bad for soooo long, but haven’t been able to figure out how to get there “easily” from Barranquilla. What are y’all’s recommendations for getting there in the “easiest”/quickest way? Thanks 🙂

  3. Caridad Pacheco on

    Azzam, que bueno que visito a Mompox, y que su encanto lo cautivo, gracias por escribir tan bello articulo.
    Le esperamos siempre que quiera volver.
    Venga al FestiJazz, en Octubre, y le parecerá espectacular.
    En Mompox siempre le esperaremos a usted, sus amigos y todos los que quieran disfrutar nuestro realismo mágico.


      Azzam on

      Muchas gracias! Me encanto Mompox y voy a volver de una, les aviso cuando voy! El FestiJazz suena muy chevere, toca conocerlo… Nos vemos en Mompox!

  4. Richard on

    Azzam, your last photo was taken in my wife’s grandmother’s house! Thank you for the mention.


      Azzam on

      That’s amazing, it’s a lovely house and she is a lovely woman! No worries about the mention, I really enjoyed my stay there, it’s an amazing hostel!


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