Santa Cruz de Lorica is a hidden gem. Situated on the Sinu river in northern Colombia, it is a fluvial port surrounded by the rich, endless swamps of the Sinu River which flow through mangroves to the open waters of the Caribbean.
They say Lorica is the sister city of Mompox and there are a lot of similarities. Both cities are on rivers. Both have been declared national monuments. Mompox is on the Magdalena River and Lorica on the Sinu – two of the most commercially important rivers in Colombia. Both cities are hot and unique with impressive colonial architecture. Both towns were chosen to be one of the 17 historical villages on Colombia’s heritage trail back in 2013. And both towns are steeped in the history, architecture and beauty the Heritage Trail was meant to triumph.
Most travelers don’t venture inland to Lorica. It’s not well known. Until recently it was one of Colombia’s no-man-lands, a lost colonial city due to revolutionary and paramilitary activity. But now one can travel there. One may ask, ‘why give up precious time on the beaches’. But if you like to get off the beaten path and see something special few other travelers take the time to see, then Lorica might just be a destination for you. Did I say it’s hot? With a population 121,000, it has an average temperature ranging from 20 degrees c. (73 f.) to 35 degrees c. (95 f).
One arrives at a congested bus terminal north of the city center which is where you don’t want to be. Get a taxi and have them take you to the historical center. Don’t waste time there or even think of getting a hotel in this part of town. The historical center is where the magic happens.
The historical center of Lorica is nothing short of impressive. It is a unique city that won’t be ignored with a special vibe that wants you outside walking around. In the mornings the center is dominated by the hustle and bustle of the indoor and outdoor markets. The market is located right on the river Sinu with steps leading up to the market so the boats can easily be tied up, loaded and unloaded. At the market one can buy food, get a meal at one of the numerous market stalls specializing in river fish. And on the other side of the market there are numerous stalls selling colorful and locally made arts and crafts, hammocks, shoes and hand-rolled cigars. Most of the crafts come from the nearby town of Tuchin and San Jacinto.
Behind the indoor market there is an outdoor market, Plaza de la Concordia, with shops and vendors lining both sides of the streets throughout the day. This is where the locals shop. The afternoons may get a little too hot. Good time to visit the Park Manuel Zapata Olivella or one principal plazas like Simon Bolivar. Duck into one of the many churches like Santa Cruz de Lorica on the Bolivar square or just find a park bench on the river walk, relax and enjoy the breeze.
Sunset walks on the malecon, the river walk along the river, are magical with the sun setting, the heat lightning flashing and the golden/red hues of the sky bouncing colors on the water. Men and boys fishing casting their nets, canoes quietly sliding down the river, bats swooping, you’ll be mesmerized until the night falls.
Founded in 1740, the city has always been open to visitors and commerce receiving. Lorica has always been a city welcoming of foreign immigration. The history talks of the exodus of immigration to the city. The first were from France and England then Belgium, later from Syria and Lebanon. There were once so many middle eastern immigrants Lorica was called Saudi Lorica and Pueblo Arabe. Lebanese restaurants and their dishes, like Kibbeh, made with ground beef, are still very popular.
The town has a prominent Afro-Colombian identity and reveres its native son, the poet, Manuel Zapata Olivella whose narrative championed the lives of Afro-Colombians in the last century. He has a mural with his portrait in a park that bears his name.
Lorica is a rich town. Besides fishing and commerce there are 2-3 million head of beef cattle being raised on the land, marshes and swamps surrounding the town and huge banana plantations. More than 30,000 square miles of swamps and mangroves surround the city in an area rich with resources and biodiversity.
How to get there?
While not very well known, Lorica is accessible. The easiest way is by bus from Montereia, the capital of Cordoba just 45 minutes away. Or one could come from the beaches. Catch a bus at the small resort town of San Bernardo del Viento, Covenas or from the resort town of Tolu – all less than an hour away. Certainly not as famous as the touristy beaches around Cartagena (180 km. away or 3.5 hours by bus), the beaches of the southern Carribean are more remote, relaxed, less traveled and inexpensive.
There are plenty of hotels, bars and restaurants in the city center which at night actually gets rather quiet.
For a day trip one could visit the town of Tuchin famous for their colorful, straw Vueltiao hats and many other straw crafts. It’s only an hour taxi ride in a ‘collectivo’.
There are buses and cars leaving from the terminal.
(See article: Colombia’s Southern Caribbean Beaches )