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Cruising the Río Magdalena Colombia - featured

Honda: cruise the Río Magdalena and discover Colombia from the water

by Sabine
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Languages / Talen

My Colombia wishlist always included that hot city in the middle of the country. That city where almost no foreign tourist comes, but which should be very special. I’m talking about Honda: the transportation hub of Colombia. Together with my parents, I step in Zipaquirá on the bus to arrive 5 hours later and nauseated from the terrible hairpin route in the totally unknown Honda. Soon we find out how special this town really is. Not only that: in fact, it is also fantastically beautiful. The surprise of Colombia and an absolute must-see if you want to travel off the beaten path! In this series, I will take you through Honda and introduce you to a downtown that is not inferior to Cartagena, walk through the ghost part of the city and visit interesting museums. But first, we sail down Colombia’s main river. The mother of the country. I am talking, of course, about the Río Magdalena. Like us, hop in a rickety little boat and discover Colombia from the water!

The Río Magdalena

Colombia’s main river is 1540 kilometers long and runs through as many as 11 of the country’s departments. Namely Magdalena, Atlántico, Bolívar, Cesar, Antioquia, Santander, Boyacá, Cundinamarca, Caldas, Tolima and Huila. The river begins in the Andean mountains of Huila and empties into the Caribbean Sea near Barranquilla. As far as Honda, the river is navigable by large ships, but the river continues past San Agustín. Its main tributary is the Río Cauca and its total basin covers 24% of the country. The areas along the river are home to 80% of Colombia’s population. Something that already indicates how important this river is to the country.


A piece of history

For a long time, the Río Magdalena was one of the most important roads for transportation in Colombia. In addition, Spanish conquistadors in the early 16th century entered the country by river instead of having to cross the rugged land. At the time of the Spanish colony, the river served as a means of communication between Bogotá and the important port of Cartagena. And thus indirectly with Europe. Even after independence, the Río Magdalena remained important. Both people and goods moved across the country by water. Also, the Magdalena River is the scene of many fishermen. After the advent of flight paths and a vast road network, the river was used less and less as a means of transportation and communication. Nevertheless, today the Río Magdalena is still a very important river that is in the hearts of Colombians.


Boating on the Río Magdalena

Sailing with a local

If you visit Honda do not expect a lot of tourists, you are not going to find them here. So there are also no large tour boats to take you across the river. There is a tourist boat, but it runs only when there are tourists. We took a different approach and arranged a boat trip through the owner of our fantastic hotel in Honda : Luís. Luís knows all about Honda and the river and takes us to his self-built cottage on the banks of the river. In a part of Honda where it is very poor and where the inhabitants still cook with wood instead of gas. In his wooden house, we see all kinds of finds from the river, such as pieces of wood shaped like birds. To help the locals a little, he takes one of the poor locals as a boatman.


With a rickety boat across the river

As we walk up the little beach by the river we are a little startled by the little boat. A rickety yellow/white motorboat whose engine seems to be just barely working. Five of us just fit in, including food, drinks, binoculars and a book complete with all the birds found here. Already wobbling, we get in and sail up the river. As if we were the only persons in the world, we rippled across the mighty river. Dodging branches and large stones. There is no one, no boats and no people. Only the sound of the wind, our little boat and the many birds.


Impressive flora and fauna

The fresh wind blows my hair in all directions as I thoroughly enjoy this tour. Everywhere I look I see nothing but beautiful nature. High mountains, steep cliffs, fifty shades of green, sandbars and huge numbers of birds. Luís recognizes every bird from afar. With his binoculars, he spots all sorts of things and we enjoy ourselves along with him. Sandbanks loom in the distance. In the middle of the river. We sailed a little further, docked wobbly on an island and labeled this undiscovered piece of land as Isla Holanda.


Islets in the river

Luís explains that these islets in the Río Magdalena move all the time. Also, the size depends on the state of the water. It has rained a lot in recent days, so the water is high. Still, we moor at one of the islets to get out in the middle of the river. A strange sensation, it is like walking on water. The sandbanks are very low and wet. As new islets keep emerging, hardly anyone sets foot on this land. Only at low tide do fishermen come to fish from an islet, until the islets disappear again and new ones appear. On Isla Holanda, we intensely enjoy all the greenery, mountains and birds around us.


Enjoy the sunset from the Magdalena River

When we sail back, it has already been five o’clock. Dusk sets in and the sky becomes redder and redder. Cruising at this hour is great for cooling off from the heat that characterizes Honda. The birds fly with us and we once again enjoy this boating adventure. Gee how I never would have wanted to miss this! When we almost arrive, the sun sets and the sky turns orange. In the distance, I can see downtown Honda with the mighty red and white church rising above the greenery. A trip to remember and a special end of our trip.


Where else in Colombia can you view the Magdalena River?

You can, of course, view the Río Magdalena at almost any spot where roads come, but the best known and easiest spots are these:

  • In Mompox, you can cruise the foothills of the Magdalena River and the river itself;
  • Retrieved from the alternative route to Tatacoa you cross the river into beautiful territory;
  • In Villavieja, the gateway to the Tatacoa Desert, you can see and even cross the Magdalena;
  • In Neiva, the capital of the department of Huila;
  • If you driving by car through Huila you can enjoy a spectacularly beautiful part of Magdalena: Embalse de Betania;
  • In San Agustín you will find the narrowest stretch of the Magdalena River and you can take a trip to Lake Magdalena, the beginning of the river;
  • The river runs into the sea in Barranquilla, something you can witness with your own eyes.

Embalse de Betania, Huila


Visit Honda: Colombia’s newest must-see! Curious about what else to do? Follow me on Facebook or via email and discover more about this very surprising city (including practical tips on how to get there, great museums, where to eat, safety and lodging) these weeks!

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