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The Colombian Caribbean city of Valledupar is not particularly well known among travellers, but that is starting to change as people wake up to the incredible natural beauty surrounding the city and the interesting musical culture of the region. From the Arhuaco indigenous capital of Nabusimake to one of Colombia’s most important folk music festivals, here are the top 10 things to see and do in Valledupar.
Valledupar’s most famous event is the annual Valledupar Legend Festival, a celebration of vallenato music – an accordion-led style that was born in the city – that takes place every April. With large concerts by popular musicians, as well as a running competition to find the best accordionist in the city, this is the festival to attend in Valledupar.
These two restaurants are Valledupar institutions, and if you only eat at one or two restaurants during your stay, make sure it’s these. Compae Chipuco is on the corner of Alfonso Lopez Square and serves hearty Colombian fare under the shade of a giant mango tree in the courtyard, while El Joe‘s meat dishes are famous throughout the region.
The main square in the old town of Valledupar is also one of the nicest in the Colombian Caribbean region. A large plaza, bathed in shade by flowering trees (and often featuring a stage with live music) and usually full of local people chatting, dancing and playing with their children, Alfonso Lopez square has a pleasingly laid-back vibe. It also contains the dramatic Revolution monument, one of Valledupar’s most beautiful public works.
This huge concert venue on the outskirts of the city has become shorthand for vallenato concerts: if a popular artist is playing in Valledupar, chances are they are performing at the Parque de la Leyenda Vallenata. A concert here is an amazing experience: as with salsa in Calí, the people of Valledupar eat, breathe and sleep vallenato music, so they approach concerts with a great deal of enthusiasm and enjoyment. Check out what’s on in advance, and book yourself a ticket.
Many of the Arhuaco indigenous people of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta live down in the city, but the vast majority still call the high mountains north of Valledupar home. The spiritual capital of the Arhuacos is Nabusimake, a small settlement around four hours from the city, along a treacherous dirt road into the mountains. Getting to Nabusimake is tough, but the reward is the chance to spend some time among a totally unique civilisation in a truly stunning natural setting.
Another of the indigenous peoples of the Sierra Nevada are the Kankuamo people, who have generally mingled much more openly with the people of the city than the more distant Arhuacos. Their capital is Atanquez, a small town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, not far from Valledupar. It’s a nice place to visit to escape the city, and maybe pick up a beautiful handwoven mochila bag.
Also known as the Casa Beto Murgas – named after a famous vallenato musician and composer – this excellent museum is a hymn to the instrument that has shaped the history of modern Valledupar. At 20,000 COP (around US$7), it’s not the cheapest attraction in town, but it’s worth visiting for its amazing collection of accordions and its knowledgeable and passionate guides.
Valledupar is surrounded by beautiful rivers, flowing down from the high Sierra Nevada mountains, and a favourite activity for locals on the weekends and holidays is to head to the Hurtado swimming hole, a calm section of river just outside the city, to eat, drink and swim. It’s a hive of activity on Saturdays and Sundays, as musicians play songs, locals drink whiskey and rum and families enjoy the cool river waters.
If you want to get further away from the city to enjoy the nature of the mountains and escape the crowds, then it’s a good idea to take a bus out to some of the other rivers surrounding Valledupar, where you can swim and enjoy the fresh water in peace. The best swimming area outside the city is La Mina, a stunning section of the Guatapuri River, surrounded by giant, smooth white rocks. The Sierra Nevada mountains tower over you in the distance, and the scenery is absolutely breathtaking.
Valledupar is full of beautiful public works commemorating the city’s most important symbols, and the best of them are located on traffic islands at the four corners of the city. It might seem odd to take the time to visit traffic islands, but the giant statues of accordions, indigenous coca gourds, a maria mulata (a local species of bird, ubiquitous in the region) and a typical vallenato drum are all beautiful sculptures, and tell the story of the city.