Travel Guide to the Pueblos Patrimonio of Colombia

During our time in Colombia we made a point of traveling to as many of the colonial towns on the country’s elite list of Pueblos Patrimonio as we could. In the end, we explored 13 of the 17 towns currently on the list. Here’s why you should too.

The Pueblos Patrimonio of Colombia

The Colombian government operates a program called Pueblos Patrimonio which recognizes towns in the country which retain a remarkable amount of Colonial architecture, living history, and thriving traditions. Here’s a travel snapshot of the 13 Pueblos Patrimonio in Colombia that we visited.

Villa de Leyva

Villa de Layva Colombia Pueblo Patrimonio

Close to Bogotá, this extremely popular pueblo deserves more than just a day trip.

 

Santa Cruz de Mompox

Iglesia de la Concepcion - Mompox, Colombia

Time stands still, history is alive and an important part of the essence of Colombia is at hand in Mompox (sometimes called Mompos). This riverside stunner is getting easier and easier to reach, so no more excuses.

 

Barrichara

Barichara Colombia

Our choice for most beautiful Colonial town in Colombia. Hands down.

 

Honda

street Honda, Colombia

Honda did not make a good first impression, but we warmed up (a lot) to a great boutique hotel and meaty alfresco dining in this steamy town.

 

Aguadas

Traditional hat weaver in Aguadas, Colombia

We spent  just a few hours in Aguadas, but that was enough to get an impressive look at the town’s hat-making heritage and get some video of the artists at work (below).

 

Santa fe de Antioquia

Parque Principal Santa Fe de Antioquia Colombia

A creative vibe and a legit place in Colombian history make Santa fe de Antioquia a top day trip choice from Medellin.

 

Salamina

Salamina Colombia

The weirdest breakfast and tallest palms in Colombia can be enjoyed in and around Salamina.

 

Jardin

Plaza Jardin Colombia

Outdoor adventure and one of the most charming plazas in Colombia await in Jardin.

 

Guadalajara de Buga

Holy Water Ale cervesaria - Buga, Colombia

Buga, as it’s usually called, is home of a miracle which pilgrims still come to celebrate. It’s also home to Colombia’s only Bed & Beer hostel with it’s own microbrewery.

 

San Juan Girón

Colonial Giron Colombia

Called the “white city” because of the amount of whitewashed Colonial buildings, Girón offers good food and a charming little hotel as well.

 

Jerico

Jerico, Colombia

Colombia’s first saint and its beloved traditional man bag are both from Jerico. And that’s not all.

 

Guaduas

Guadas, Colom,bia Peublo Patrimonial

We did not spend the night in Guaduas, but we did tour through long enough to appreciate the town’s picturesque church and time-worn cobblestone square.

 

Monguí

Mongui Colombia Pueblo Patrimonial

Altitude, Andes, and a whole lot of soccer balls–all in little Monguí.

 

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Come for the Crucifix, Stay for the Craft Beer – Buga, Colombia

There are two miraculous reasons to travel to Guadalajara de Buga. One involves a crucifix. The other involves craft beer.

Holy Water Ale cervesaria - Buga, Colombia

Mmmmm…..craft beer.

The miraculous crucifix of Buga

Guadalajara de Buga (usually simply called Buga) is just 45 miles (70 km) from Cali, but the tranquility of this colonial town, whose architecture and living tradition earned it a place on Colombia’s elite list of Pueblos Patrimonio, makes Buga feel a world away from the big city.

Founded in 1555, Buga is one of the oldest cities in Colombia and its main claim to fame is a story that’s nearly as old. As the legend goes, an indigenous washer woman was trying to save money to buy a crucifix. She finally washed enough clothes in the local river to save the money needed to buy a simple crucifix. However, as she was on her way to make the purchase she saw a neighbor being hauled off to jail because of unpaid debts.

Instead of buying the crucifix, the woman paid off her neighbor’s debts. When she returned to work in the river she noticed something shiny in the water and discovered  a small crucifix floating by. She grabbed it and brought it home where the crucifix continued to grow and grow.

Today, the legend of the indigenous washer woman and her miraculously growing crucifix is marked by The Lord of the Miracles, a distinct dark-skinned Christ on the cross, which is housed in the Basilica del Senor de los Milagros in Buga. Every year millions of pilgrims visit the pink church.

The miraculous craft beer of Buga

If you worship at the house of hops, you’re in luck as well.

Stefan Schnur Buga microbrewery & hostal

Brew master Stefan Schnur with some of his Holy Water Ale beers made in Buga, Colombia.

When German Stefan Schnur arrived in Buga he did not intend to create the only bed & beer hostel in Colombia, but that’s what he did when he opened the Buga Hostel in 2011.

The hostel is affordable with standard hostel accommodation. The Holy Water Ale brew pub and cafe attached to the hostel, however, is a craft beer miracle with nine different beers brewed by Stefan at a small, nearby brewery. There’s also an inventive menu including homemade bread and legit pizzas with locally made sausage and other great toppings on homemade crust. Don’t miss happy hour.

Holy Water Ale brew pub - Buga, Colombia

The Holy Water brew pub, part of the Buga Hostel in Colombia.

 

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Hats in a Hurry – Aguadas, Colombia

The town of Aguadas is an official Pueblo Patrimonio for all of the usual reasons: historic importance, living culture, and surviving architecture and ambiance. But Aguadas is also famous as the source of some of the best hand-woven hats in Colombia and that’s why we traveled there on our way from Salamina to Medellin.

Traditional hat weaver in Aguadas, Colombia

A traditional hat weaver at work in Aguadas, Colombia.

Finding the hat makers of Aguadas

We’d been assured that practically every household in Aguadas had at least one hat-maker in the family. We imagined blocks full of houses fronted by talented hat makers working their craft in comfy chairs on stoops. So we were surprised when a first pass through town turned up precious little evidence of any hat making.

We asked around and the town’s tourist info office directed us to the home/workshop of Don Jorge Villanova but he only sells hats so there was no hat making to be seen. Then we were directed across town to Doña Rosa’s house, but she was busy dying fairly garish hats out of reeds that had been dyed hot pink, green or yellow as if the Easter bunny had possessed her. Though Doña Rosa can barely walk, we’re here to tell you her hands still move like lightning.

Weaving Sombrero Aguadeño in Aguadas, Colombia

Almost everyone in Aguadas makes hats. We found this woman working on a beauty in her tienda.

We left Doña Rosa’s unsatisfied, still in search of more traditional, less day-glo artistry. That’s when we noticed a woman working on a hat as she tended her tienda. Check out her amazing handiwork (see what we did there?) in our Aguadas hat making video, below.

 

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The Town that Coffee Built – Salamina, Colombia

Harder to reach and less well-known than other coffee region destinations, Salamina, which is part of Colombia’s elite group of Pueblos Patrimonio, offers travelers an unexpected stand of wax palms, the weirdest breakfast in Colombia, some quirky architectural touches, and a rich coffee growing heritage.

Salamina Colombia

Central Salamina, Colombia.

Inside Salamina

Salamina, reached via a mostly-paved and always scenic secondary road from Manizales in the Caldas province of Colombia, was founded in the early 1800s by a group which included women as well as men. The town is now home to roughly 20,000 people and is known for its coffee production (the crop flourished here even before other coffee regions took off).

Plaza Salamina, Colombia

Salamina’s main plaza. The fountain came from France and was dragged over the mountains and into Salamina by mule.

Many of those pioneering coffee growers got rich enough to build city homes and many were influenced by a woodcarver named Eliceo Tangarife who developed an elaborate form of woodworking that can still be seen in distinct balconies, doorways and window frames in Salamina.

Architecture Salamina, Colombia

Wood carvers in Salamina, many inspired by carver Eliceo Tangarife, are famous for their elaborate balconies, doorways, and window frames.

We were invited into one of those traditional homes by its current owner, Fernando, who showed us his open central courtyard full of plants and wire orbs adorned with shards of glass which Fernando makes. They’re sort of DIY disco balls and Fernando says that when the moon is full he uses them to “make stars.” Fernando called Eric “maestro” and we’re pretty sure that many other elaborately carved doorways in Salamina lead into a world full of the same sorts of charm and charmers.

Devil Doorway Salamina, Colombia

Some houses in Salamaina have a devil like this carved into the frames around their front doors. If you know why, don’t keep it to yourself.

The Masons played a role in Salamina’s formation as well and we were told that masonic symbols, including the iconic Masonic triangle with an eye inside of it, can be seen in the Basilica de la Immaculada Concepcion church on the main plaza. We looked and looked but never found the symbols.

Donkey Transport Salamina, Colombia

Salamina is still the kind of town where a girl can ride her mule around on a nice afternoon.

Colombia’s weirdest breakfast

Years ago the owner of El Polo Bakery in Salamina devised a way to add eggs to his menu without buying expensive new kitchen appliances. Instead of cooking eggs in a pan on a range top (which he didn’t have), he used the milk steamer arm on his coffee machine to steam eggs in a coffee cup along with chopped hot dog and butter. The results, called huevos al vapor (steamed eggs), are still offered today (2,500 COP or about US$1.20). They’re hot, fluffy, rich and, yes, a bit weird. You can also order a side of macana which is a cup of steamed milk with butter, crumbled saltines and cinnamon.

El Polo Bakery in Salamina, Colombia

Huevos al vapor taste better than they look, though don’t expect service with a smile.

Unexpected wax palms

Everyone talks about visiting Salento to see stands of rare wax palms, the tallest palm in the world and the national tree of Colombia. You certainly can see beautiful wax palms in the Salento area (though the best wax palms in Salento aren’t where you think they are). We were surprised to learn that Salamina has some grand stands of wax palms as well.

Wax Palms Salamina Colombia

The town of Salento is famous for its stands of wax palms, the tallest in the world and Colombia’s national tree. But Salamina has impressive stands of palms nearby as well.

Seeing the wax palms near Salamina requires a two hour drive from the town up to around 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) where, suddenly, the remarkably tall palms begin to appear–a few at first, then the cattle fields are peppered with them. There are no organized trails or circuits. Just park and wander through a pasture to admire the palms.

Wax Palms Salamina Colombia

Towering wax palms near Salamina.

As we were doing just that, a local farmer pulled up on his motorcycle and invited us to his small nearby farm where he has 20 cows, some sheep, potato fields and a trout pond. When we arrive at his farm his wife greets us with hot cups of sweet Nescafe, a welcome bit of warmth in the foggy cold. We sip and talk in her stove-warmed kitchen with views of the mountains and fields. It’s the kind of kitchen that makes you want to cook and do the dishes.

Their son is urging them to open a small homestay and we hope they do it. Their farm is tranquil and atmospheric and they are the kind of generous farmers who built Salamina. We didn’t want to leave.

La Casa de Lola Garcia Boutique Hotel - Salamina, Colombia

La Casa de Lola Garcia Boutique Hotel in Salamina, Colombia.

Where to sleep in Salamina

In Salamina we stayed at La Casa de Lola Garcia Boutique Hotel which is run by Mauricio Cardona Garcia who is the great grandson of one of the town’s Masonic founders. Mauricio opened the stylish and central hotel after renovating his aunt Lola’s two-storey house. There’s an open air courtyard, an open kitchen and a back garden with a Jacuzzi (180,000 COP or about US$59 double occupancy including breakfast and use of all facilities). It’s the most stylish hotel in Salamina and Mauricio is a wealth of information.

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