Monteria: a Tropical City and Pleasant Surprise

Monteria is a pleasant tropical city situated on the Sinu River not far from Colombia’s southern Caribbean coast. The city of 400,000 is off the tourist the circuit and relatively unknown to foreign tourists. Considered one of the 10 most important cities in the nation, those who visit will be pleasantly surprised.

The capital of the Cordoba region, Monteria was founded in 1777 and made its riches cattle farming. The region’s inhabitants are descendants of Zenus – an indigenous tribe of the area, Africans and Spaniards. 

I discovered the city while planning a bus trip from Medellin to Colombia’s southern Caribbean coast. A grueling 10-12 hour bus ride, depending on the destination, I was looking to break the trip up into two parts. There aren’t many places of renown along this stretch of road. An overnight stop in Monteria seemed the only logical choice as it is an 8 hour bus trip (400 km.) from Medellin and only 3o miles (50 km.)  from the Caribbean sea. In fact, Monteria is so close to the sea the locals consider themselves ‘costenos’ or coastal people. I arrived at night and spent the morning exploring the city center. Instead of leaving the same day as planned, I ended up spending a couple days.

Monteria is a hot, steamy city on the Sinu River. There is a long park running alongside the river, the heart of the city center, called Sinu park.  Take a morning walk through the park and along the river. The park is dense with trees, tropical vegetation and teaming with large iguanas, monkeys and sloths.

At several points along the park there are ‘planchones’ or passenger boats taking locals from one side of the Sinu river to the other. The flat bottom boats are pulled across the river by a ropes stretching from one river bank to the other. They say you can’t come to visit Monteria and not take a sunset ride on a planchone.

Strolling north through the park and along the river, you come to the Muelle Turistico, or tourist docks, where boats from villages along the Sinu river still dock while on business in the capital city.  The city’s big market, Mercado de los cuatro patios, is just across the street. 

A few blocks in from the river lies the main park, Parque Simon Bolivar, and nearby the cathdral of San Jeronimo. The streets are lined with shops and full of people during the day. But towards night the city center empties out early. Most of the people go to the fringes of the city where most of the city’s residents live.

As in most of Colombia, the people are leaving the city centers and moving to the outer suburbs where life is more modern with apartment towers, shopping centers and abundant night life. 

If it’s night life you’re looking for, take a taxi to the zona rosa. It’s a 10 minute taxi ride north, up the river, around Park Los Laureles. A wealthy area of Monteria, the zona rosa is flush with new restaurants, bars, shopping centers, theaters, upscale shops and discos. Grab a steak dinner at one of the restaurants. Still heart of one of Colombia’s cattle regions, the meat here is top of the line. And being so close to the sea there’s also a good selection of fresh seafood.

Monteria is definitely off the tourist path. A hot, steamy river town near the sea this city has a personality all its own.