Honda is a diamond in the rough. A quaint, beautiful colonial town everyone dreams of stumbling upon.
Honda and Mompox are the most visited villages on the Magdalena. Both are sister cities of the 17 historical, heritage villages of Colombia, highlighting the culture, history and architecture of Colombia’s finest Spanish colonial pueblos.
Traveling around the interior of Colombia the town of Honda is a is a pleasant surprise. Located just 100 kilometers (62 miles) north of Bogota, the town is a natural paradise of historical buildings and stone paved streets. Walking through the streets of Honda one is reminded of the historical center of Cartagena; white-washed buildings and oppressive mid-day heat. The town regularly heats up to 35 degrees C. (95 degree F.) in the afternoon.
Founded in 1539, Honda is a small city on the banks of the lower Magdalena in the department of Tolima. It was once an historically important river port. The town’s golden age dates back to 1850 and 1910 when the Magdalena river was the only means of transportation between the Caribbean coast and the inland city of Bogota.
Large cargo boats called champans went up and down the river propelled by men pushing and pulling on long poles. Steamships cruised up the Magdalena carrying passengers and cargo to the port of Honda. But their golden era came and went. Railroads arrived in 1910 greatly diminishing the importance of this inland port. Today Honda’s main occupation is tourism, fishing and cattle ranching.
The colorful buildings of the historical center spill down sloped hills overlooking the river. Steep cobblestone streets tug you downhill to the river. Honda’s stunning architecture is testament to the towns prosperity and vast economic power in the past.
The historical center is on a hilltop where there is a charming plaza and a stone church – Nuestra Senora del Rosario (Our Lade of the Rosary). Here there are a variety of small cafes and restaurants with outdoor seating. The Magdalena River Museum (Museo del Rio Magdalena) is free and has informative displays about the town’s rich past and its importance as a river port town.
The Magdalena River is the 5th largest river in South America and the longest in Colombia stretching 1,528 km (950 miles) through the heart of the country.
(see article: Villages Along the Magdalena River)
The river is very much a part of the town. The people fish the river with nets and swim on the banks of the river by the malecon. The restaurants, bars and even the tejo bars all line up along the river.
Honda is called the city of bridges. The first iron bridge, Puente Navarro, was built in 1899 by the San Francisco Bridge Company. It is oldest iron bridge in South America.
Honda is the last navigable port on the Magdalena because in Honda there are a series of rapids and huge rock. The Magdalena is navigable after Honda but goods must be transferred to other boats or the smaller boats must be portaged.
There are plenty of restaurants and hotels in the center ranging from the boutique hotels like Posada Las Trampas to more economical hotels located north and just outside of the historical center. There are many ice cream parlors offering a break to the town’s sticky heat. One can easily spend a day wandering around the historical center.
At sunset the historical center is gorgeous with the setting sun and shadows creeping over the cobblestones and bright white and yellow buildings.
Due to its proximity to the river, river fish dishes are the town’s strong suit. The restaurants in town and around the market also feature Sancocho de pescado (fish stew) and Lechona – oven roasted piglet.
The main market, Plaza de Mercado, was once a convent that was converted into an indoor market. In the center of town, it is bordered by impressive arches and columns. Here the locals come to shop for just about everything from clothes to fruits, vegetables, meat and fish. Get up at dawn and catch the local fishermen selling their catch in the streets in front of the predawn market. Women also sell portions of lechona to take home or eat there.
A bit of a disappointment, the river front (malecon) has been neglected over the years. But judging by the infrastructure along the river, it had once been a place of importance.
La Dorada – for a better river front experience take a collectivo taxi from Honda’s bus station. It’s 30 minute trip north to the village of La Dorada. This busy, little town isn’t much to look at but the Magdalena riverfront here is a delight.
There are clubs and restaurants along the riverfront where people eat fresh water fish, enjoy cold beer and a constant breeze coming off the river.
Further down the river there is a large market where the fishermen dock and sell their catch to the fish mongers in the market and the general public.
A docked ferry boat, named the Suma, will take people up and down the river for 25,000 cop ($6) per person but there has to be at least 10 paying customers before it will leave. Next to the ferry, there small boats or launchas offering river trips to smaller groups tired of waiting for the Suma to sail.
Honda is definitely a unique village to visit and spend a couple days. It’s a Colombian destination that should be put on your map. It’s close enough to Bogota to be a weekend getaway. If you’re coming from the north you can get there from Medellin or Barrancabermeja and cities north. Or if you’re coming from the south you come from the cities of Armenia and Ibague (two towns that merit a visit), pass over the Cordillera mountain chain, past the Los Nevados National Park. The road descends to the Magdalena river – a four hour bus trip from Ibague.