Santa Cruz De Mompox has passed the centuries in relative obscurity, changing little since its days as an important inland port on Colombia's Magdalena River. Today this sleepy town will delight you with its colorful churches, bayou setting and laid-back culture of rocking chairs, card playing and story swapping. Plan a visit and prepare to be fascinated with a past of revolutionaries and artisans.

 Overview

Plaza de la Concepcion, one of the church squares of Mompox.
 

An important port on the Madgalena River for centuries, Mompox was established as an inland safe haven for traders and wealthy Spaniards who feared pirate attacks that plagued the Caribbean coast during the 1500s.

Many locals believe that gold brought here by the Spanish Marquesas for protection may remain hidden in the walls of their homes and churches to this day.

In the 19th century, erosion in the Magdalena forced ships to seek alternate routes for trade, forcing many of the cities inhabitants to move elsewhere. For over 100 years the city lay quiet and secluded from the outside world. Fans of Gabriel Garcia Marquez may feel that the town resembles the fictional Macondo. In his writings, Marquez once commented: “Mompox does not exist, sometimes we dream of it, but it does not exist.”

Only reachable by ferry in the past, the locals will laughingly tell you that it was common for the ferries to break down, leaving the passengers spinning in circles. The first bridge connecting Mompox to the rest of Colombia wasn't finished until 2015. 

Compared to Cartagena and Santa Marta, Mompox sees a relatively low number of foreign travelers. But as the city becomes more accessible, the locals have been making preparations to show off this magical island they call home.

Planning Your Visit

  • Yellow fever vaccinations are not required for the department of Bolivar, however, Mompox’s close proximity to the river means mosquitos are abundant. Pack dependable bug spray and take extra precautions to prevent bites.
  • ATM machines can be located near the main shopping streets and city squares. While some businesses to accept credit cards, be prepared to pay cash for some purchases.
  • With only two major streets running parallel to each other, navigating Mompox is simple and can be done entirely on foot. Bike rentals are also available if desired. 
  • Having a basic understanding of Spanish or an English speaking guide is highly recommended. However, the locals who do speak English are notorious for their excitement at getting to practice it with travelers.
Red howler monkey enjoying a snack on a balcony in Mompox.

When to Visit

Weather 

Temperatures average between 80°F and 95°F year-round with high levels of humidity. Pack light layers, sunblock, and bug spray.

Best time to visit

The weather in Mompox tends to be hot year-round so the weather shouldn't affect your travel plans. If possible, avoid the December and January, when hotels get booked out for the holidays and prices rise. Many hotels even require a minimum stay of three or four nights during this time of year. If you must visit during this time of year, be sure to book well in advance. A great time to visit is for the exciting Jazz Festival in September (see below).

Festivals & special events

March/April: Santa Semana (The Holy Week) Street processions begin before dawn and last into the night. Perhaps the most popular event of the week is The Illumination of the Cemetery held on Wednesday of Holy Week. At sunset, the town residents dress up and gather in the local cemetery to light candles in honor of their deceased loved ones.

September: The Mompox Jazz Festival, held in September, attracts big-name artists and is far more relaxed than similar festivals in Bogotá and Medellín. Hotels get booked out well in advance as locals and foreigners come here in droves to enjoy the music and mingle with legendary jazz artists.

The Cemetery of Mompox where the Illumination Ceremony is held every Holy Wednesday during the Easter Holiday week

How Many Days Do You Need

Mompox is small enough to see all the main attractions in one day. However, it's a good idea to stay a second day, simply to relax, wander and meet some of the locals. Bear in mind that getting here also requires a half-day from the Caribbean coast.  

Things to See & Do Around Mompox

Traditional fishing canoes lined along the Magdalena.

Motorized Canoe Tour of the Marshlands

A sunset canoe tour of the Magdalena River is one of the best ways to experience Mompox. You'll depart at 3 pm and witness the beauty of the river and its inhabitants as the day transitions to night.

As you make your way past villages and into the swamps, you'll spot herrings and iguanas among other wildlife. Swimming in the warm water is also possible, so bring a swimsuit. You'll return to Mompox by sunset, just as the streetlights illuminate the old town.  

Learn From Passionate Artisans

Filigrana Goldsmiths  

Mompox is well-known for its skilled goldsmiths and is home to the unique art of Filigrana jewelry. The seven-step art is a result of North African techniques brought by Spaniards mixing with Colombian goldsmith practices. The silver is melted down and made into a thread, which is then crafted into beautiful and unique works of art.

The people of Mompox are proud and dedicated to preserving this art form, which is passed on from parents to children and is also taught at a local community center for disadvantaged youth. 

A traditional canoe crossing the Magdalena.

Cheesemakers 

Don't miss the opportunity to try the unique local cheese of Mompox, queso de cappa, sold by street vendors. This layered cheese made from cows milk is mild and just slightly sweet. The recipe has been passed down from generation to generation, and can’t be found anywhere else in the world.

The cheesemakers will tell you that in spite of their willingness to teach others, every attempt to recreate the cheese by outsiders has failed. Whether it's due to the humidity, the local diet of the cows, or an unnameable quality passed down by the generations, the cheese here is something special, so don't miss the opportunity to taste queso de cappa for yourself!

Ironsmiths 

Ironsmiths have long been a part of the local economy and you'll see wrought iron on windows, door hinges and other places around town. You may even get an iron key at your hotel! With so many beautiful iron works around you, it’s hard not to grow curious about the hands that crafted it.

To find the ironsmiths of Mompox, you'll have to venture just outside of the city center and down a few narrow alleyways. You'll likely find them moving from fire to anvil and back again with a rhythm they've established over decades.  

Even with 50+ years of experience, you can see that the art requires an acute level of concentration. The trade is often a family affair, with fathers working alongside sons, and grandfathers teaching grandsons from an early age.

Intricate ironworks on the windows used to signify the wealth and status of those who lived inside.

Discover the religious heritage

Take some time to explore the town's seven colonial churches on your own. You'll learn how the Catholic faith of the Spaniards mixed with the indigenous and pagan faiths of the region for a truly unique religious culture. Climb the bell tower of Iglesia de Santa Barbara where you can see the contrast between the historical city center and the surrounding neighborhoods. 

Uncover fascinating local history at Casa de la Cultura

Recent restoration projects on the buildings of Mompox have shed new light on the past inhabitants of the city. Under two of the churches, San Francisco and Santa Barbara, the excavators uncovered the graves of indigenous Quimbaya tribes, as well as the graves of slaves brought with the conquistadors who first settled in Mompox.

You can read about the restoration projects and the history it uncovered at the Casa de la Cultura. Here you'll also find replicas of the uniforms and weaponry used by some of the 400 Momposino revolutionaries who fought with Simon Bolivar for the independence of Colombia. After gaining independence, Bolivar famously said: "If to Caracas I owe my life, then to Mompox I owe my glory". A statement that will never be forgotten by the proud city of Mompox.

The bell tower of the Church of Santa Barbara offers great views of Mompox and the Magdalena.

Getting There & Away

The island of Mompox is connected to the mainland by two bridges: one going through El Banco to the Southeast, and the other going through Santa Ana to the Northwest. The next bridge in the project is expected to open by the end of 2018 and will create a more direct option for those coming from Medellin.

Mompox is most commonly visited by travelers coming from the Caribbean coastal towns of Cartagena, Santa Marta, and Barranquilla. The transfer can be done by bus, car, or bus and ferry in roughly five to six hours. Another popular option for those coming from the central interior of the country is to take an overnight bus from Bucaramanga, which takes roughly eight hours.

Coming from the south is less convenient. The travel time from Medellín or Bogotá takes between 11 to 14 hours by bus. The nearest airport is located in Valledupar, a 3.5-hour drive from Mompox. 

Local school children hangout by the river in front of the Old Market building before it's remodeling.

Where to stay

Hotels in Mompox range from budget-friendly hostels to exclusive five-bedroom luxury guesthouses. While options are not abundant, they are surprisingly varied. Momposino's have a knack for design, and their hotels are no exception — each one carries its own unique character and history.

Pro-tip: Not all hotels here offer air-con rooms. If you or a travel companion are sensitive to heat, paying a little extra for a room with air-con will go a long way in ensuring you enjoy every minute of your trip.

Where to eat

You can sample a variety of cuisines in Mompox, from authentic pizzerias to stylish cafés serving Spanish-style tapas. For a unique option, you dine at Cronicas in the Plaza de la Concepcion. Located in the old market building, the restaurant is run by students of the "Escuela de Taller", a school teaches life skills to children of low-income families. The menu is seasonal and often contains items that won't be found anywhere else in the city. The ideal location offers a beautiful view of the Magdalena and the Plaza below for a really beautiful and unique experience that shouldn't be missed!

Map

Map of Ultimate Guide to Mompox: Colombia's Hidden City
Map of Ultimate Guide to Mompox: Colombia's Hidden City