While it may take some effort for a traveler to make it even to Colombia, it is certain that many outsiders might not consider Monteria as a primary destination when cities like Bogota, Medellin and Cartagena dominate the tourist scene. Monteria however is a city of respectable size and it offers more than it would seem to. This is a growing town in an area with a mixed yet very particular culture, one which the visitor will not soon forget and one in which hospitality and the enjoyment of farm and coastal life come together for some of the best living, partying and eating in all of Colombia.
Monteria is the capital city of the department of Cordoba on the Northern coast of Colombia. It is surrounded by fertile farmland which stretches for miles in unbroken plains, full of cattle, rivers and occasional trees. The town has a feel of the old West in the United States. There is a great connection to the land and what it produces along with strong traditions of music, entertainment and a year round climate of hot and humid air which makes night time the best time to be out socializing, while afternoons are for naps. There are many things which are culturally typical of this region, but just to narrow it down I will relate three things which represent the area well: Fincas which are the local farms, The Sinu River which is the landmark of the whole region and Vallenato: a style of music which is popular on the whole Caribbean coastal region.
The Fincas or farms of this area are what have attracted so many immigrants to the region over the centuries. Peoples such as natives, Spaniards and most recently Arabs have settled here looking for their own piece of land. There is ample land for raising cattle and crops and many families have created very successful farms and even city dwellers all have their farms out of town which they escape to regularly. The farms provide for the tasty delights which are typical of the region. Steaks of all sizes and cuts are juicy and tender and very affordable. A local cream called Suero is a delicious side for fried plantains or yucca plant too. The area is famous for its local sweets as well. The food is a large part of local culture and the La Bonga del Sinu is a growing restaurant chain which got its start in this savory beef town. The settling of various immigrants, especially the Arabs in the 1920’s has led to an inundation of great Arabic Cuisine which is found in homes, on street corners and in nice restaurants all around the city.
The Sinu river has played a significant role in the life of the city. The oldest part of town is settled along its banks and in fact the city is known as the pearl of the Sinu. The river provides a lifeline from the outlying farms to the nearby Caribbean sea for the trade of local products and it is really the watershed which allows so much of this region to maintain its fertility and the city its beauty. Even its periodic flooding brings rich silt and nutrients to the surrounding fields. The river forms a valley and a vast plain which allows for the vast farms to exist, as only a few hours away the land ascends into steep hills which are far less navigable and tillable. The town center along its banks holds many pleasant places to visit. There has been a successful effort to beautify the city and today one can enjoy the banks of the Rio Sinu that divides the old town in two. Crossing the river from side to side in one of the famous local boats is an adventure. These are large wooden boats held together with cables that often make the trip from shore to shore. Here one will see locals listen to music and exchanged the fresh news. The center of the city still retains many majestic architectural wonders like houses and public buildings. Be sure and see the famous Cathedral of Saint Jerome and the area called Plaza de la Castellana. Also the Paseo del Sol is a pedestrian avenue that concentrates a large number of restaurants and pubs that are open all night. Many of the downtown bars and hangouts are placed all along the Sinu river and it is the main hangout all year round.
Enjoy lively people, great Vallenato music and cold drinks of fresh fruit and good beer all along the banks of the famous Sinu. A part of the very soul of this regions culture is music. Music is the fuel which drives the unstoppable relaxation and party environment which one can come to love here. Vallenato is from another city on the Caribbean Coast but its effects are well experienced here too. Children play the accordion here as it is an essential instrument to this style of music and still today many of them court and woo their first love with their own compositions. The music is always about love and life and it is expressed even more locally in the style of music known as Porro. The great annual festival of San Pelayo, a town just down the road is an amazing all night attraction of an open air concert with non stop live music. The music expresses well the life and culture of this very particular place and the melodies are often unforgettable.
Monteria is a city in which to relax, unwind and make new friends. It is also the starting point for visiting many picturesque villages nearby, particularly at close range is Cereté that still has well maintained colonial houses. Further afield one can pass through miles of beautiful farms with lakes and tropical trees. The Caribbean Sea is only 50km away and in that same vicinity one can experience a great day trip of the beautiful beaches of the Gulf of Morrosquillo. As well take the hours drive from Monteria to a less crowded volcanic mud bath in Arboletes (Santa Fe de la Plata corregimiento). This bath is far more expansive and less crowded than the El Totumo site near Cartagena. An experience of the curious warm mud baths is unforgettable and it is renowned for its healing and rejuvenating properties. Perhaps Monteria is not the typical tourist destination found in big historical cities, but it is a city with the tremendous development that has left nothing to be desired in terms of a growing infrastructure. Overall it is a city to visit for its unique cultural appeal, it is a place to have fun and forget the stresses of life and it is a to celebrate and make new friends. Most of all it is a city that you won’t forget and you will certainly want to return to.