The colonial town of Honda was one big surprise. Still totally undiscovered by tourists, “the city of bridges” turns out to be a gem in the middle of the country. There is so much to tell about this place that I am devoting a whole series to Honda. In the first part, you will read about a fantastic boat trip on the famous Río Magdalena. In this article, I take you into the city. Not only the historic center passes by, but also the many bridges Honda is known for, the ghost section and, of course, the beautiful old train station. Honda breathes history and color, and so it is incomprehensible that almost no tourists come there. As far as I am concerned, the new must-see of Colombia! Honda part 2: wander through a hidden gem in Colombia and marvel at the beauty and interesting history of this interesting place.
Honda: the city of bridges
The town of Honda is a historic highlight of Colombia. With a location on the border between Cundinamarca and Tolima and the Río Magdalena running through Honda, it was one of Colombia’s most important ports between 1850 and 1910. When no extensive road network existed, both goods and people were transported via the Río Magdalena. This river runs from the Caribbean coast to beyond San Agustín, but only as far as Honda could ships sail. Thus, during this time, Honda was the economic heart of Colombia and the city experienced its golden age.
In Honda you will find over 40 bridges over the Magdalena, Gualí, Guarinó and Quebrada Seca rivers, all of which converge in this city. Besides “the city of bridges,” Honda is also called “the city of peace,” as the city was largely spared during the violent 1950s.
Honda is a veritable open-air museum where colonial architecture captures your attention. The area where Honda is located was conquered by the Spanish in 1539. By order of the Spanish king, the town was founded in 1643. In 1805, there was a severe earthquake that destroyed much of what was then a village and several bridges. The colonial heart of Honda remained intact and you can still visit this beautiful old part today.
Things to do in Honda: take a city tour
During our stay in this surprising city, we took a city tour of about 4 hours. The walk leads you not only through the colonial center, but also to other places that are very worthwhile. Discover Honda on foot!
1. Parque Alto de Rosario
The historic center of Honda is compact and easy to walk around. Start the walk at the Parque José Leon Armero in Alto de Rosario, where you will find the Cathedral of Nuestra Señora del Rosario. This beautiful church was built in 1620 and it is also worth taking a look inside once the church is open. The square is among the most historic places in the town, so it is wonderful to walk or sit there.
2. Calle de las Trampas
Walk down and turn right into Calle de las Trampas, Honda’s most famous and oldest street. Imagine yourself in colonial times in this zigzagging street with houses in all colors of the rainbow. In the side streets you can go right up the hill for beautiful views and more history.
3. Calle del Retiro
As you walk out of Calle de las Trampas you come to a t-junction. Walk right here into the equally colonial Calle del Retiro. On the corner to the left you will find Casa de los Virreyes, built in 1746. According to “the stories,” this was where the Virreyes from Cartagena on their way to Bogotá partied in the night. At the t-junction, however, walk to the right into the street. Characterized by dilapidated houses that all have their own story, this is a special little street.
On the immediate right, for example, you will find a white/blue dilapidated building with trees and plants growing out of it. This is Edificio Fayad, a property built by a Lebanese Syrian in the early 20th century. In 1979, the building burned down, but the havoc was never cleaned up.
If you walk a little further you will pass the old pharmacy in a bright green building. The inside that was made centuries ago still seems to be intact. The current owner sometimes opens the doors so you can take a look inside. We didn’t have this luck, but maybe you will!
4. More history in the old town
Before walking on, be sure to stroll more through the old town. For example, you will find the beautiful Honda Chamber of Commerce building and the bright yellow City Hall. You can also walk up the steep streets and enjoy beautiful views and the houses where the wealthier people now live.
5. Puente Quebrada Seca
From Calle del Retiro, walk into calle 10, after which you emerge at Puente Quebrada Seca. The name says it all: this bridge crosses the dry river. From here you have a nice view of Puente Navarro and the poorer part. And, of course, on the dry river. Note that on the other side of the bridge you will enter a poorer section. Do not use a camera and do not come here after sunset. We did this part with a guide (see below).
6. Puente Navarro
Honda’s most famous bridge and national monument: Puente Navarro. Not surprisingly, this bright yellow bridge was, in fact, the first metal bridge ever to cross the Río Magdalena. Puente Navarro connects the departments of Tolima and Cundinamarca, and so at this particular spot you can walk from one department to the other. Constructed in 1898, the architecture of this bridge is unique in South America. From the bridge you have a spectacular view of Honda and the Río Magdalena. If you visit Honda don’t miss this bridge! Note: Do not continue walking on the other side of the bridge, so do not cross the river all the way. You get into an unsafe neighborhood here and even with a guide we could not get here.
7. Outside the historic center: the red Iglesia del Carmen and the city’s commercial center
Walk back to the historic center and turn immediately right after crossing Puente Quebrada Seca. Walk here through a street with the old grain house and trees with papaya trees. Walk down this street until you reach another bridge: Puente Negro. Once you cross it you enter the commercial center of the city, with many small stores and eateries. On carrera 3, take the second street to the left and then to the right. On the left appears the mighty red Iglesia del Carmen on the Plaza de la Independencia. Although the church is beautiful, this place is not suitable for sitting comfortably (we did this part with a guide, but this should not necessarily be necessary).
8. The old train station in a ghost town
From the church, walk along Via Principal Honda (the main road coming from the bridge) to the traffic circle, where you will find the Monumento al Pescador. A statue of a typical fisherman in the Río Magdalena from Honda. Continue walking along calle 16 toward the train station. You enter a totally deserted part of town here. Nothing is what it once was. Abandoned buildings and businesses Honda was known for in its economic heyday, now long gone from the city. For example, here you will find the abandoned building of what was once the Bavaria factory. Today, you can find these on the road between Zipaquiráand Sopó.
It feels like we are in a ghost town, that’s how deserted it is here. Even the beautiful old train station is not what it once was. Along the old track now live a handful of poor families who were given this space by the municipality to live. Someone now lives in the train station as well. The bright orange building is a reminder of everything Honda once was but has long since ceased to be. Very impressive I can say.
9. Along the Río Magdalena
Walk back to the traffic circle again, but this time walk on to the large bridge over the river. Do not cross these, but walk down until you reach the little street that runs along the river. Turn left and walk along the Río Magdalena for a while to see fishermen at work with your own eyes. This poor neighborhood floods almost every year during the rainy season due to high water and heavy rainfall. That’s why no more houses are actually allowed to be built directly on the water, but locals have made chipboard quarters instead.
While walking, you see all kinds of things. People standing waist-deep in dirty water catching fish with large nets and boys dissecting their just-caught fish on the ground in the full sun. If you are still hungry after this scene, you will find good seafood restaurants further down the road, such as Donde Marta. Not only is the food good, but you also have a great view of the river and fishermen from here. On this particular street, my parents had their first ever culture shock.
10. Plaza de Mercado
At Donde Marta you can have a cab ordered to take you back to the colonial center, or you can walk back. If you walk, take the same way back until you reach the traffic circle again. Walk back across carrera 10 or 11 here and walk across Puente Lopez to cross the Río Gualí. From this bridge you will have a nice view of the other two bridges over this river AND you will reach the last stop: the national monument Plaza de Mercado. It took a whopping 18 years to build this beautiful green and white building, between 1917 and 1935 to be exact. Today it is a lively market where locals do their shopping. Step inside and enjoy the construction and all the fruits and vegetables on display.
Why did we walk through Honda with a guide and how do you also discover the city on foot?
In Honda, there is quite a lot of poverty and, as a result, there are neighborhoods where it is better not to go as a tourist. We were addressed twice in different places by locals that it was better not to walk any further. We still wanted to see these neighborhoods, which include Puente Navarro and the train station, so we decided to ask at the hotel for a guide. A tremendously good choice, because the owner of our hotel, Luís, turned out to know literally everything about Honda. He took us on a 4-hour walking tour of the city, which not only taught us all about its history and various neighborhoods, but also took us to places we would otherwise never have visited. Highly recommended! Book your stay at Casa Belle Epoque and ask for Luís.
Want to know more about Honda? In the next two weeks you will find a great hotel tip here on BESABINE as well as a mini-guide to Honda coming online. Including the great museums, where to eat, safety, how to get there and more!
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