Travel Guide to the “Ciudad Vanidosa”: Ciénaga, Magdalena, Colombia

Ciénaga is considered one of the most beautiful towns in Colombia, it was the setting for the inspiration of the book One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Walking through the streets, squares, and houses of Cienaga you can bring to life the characters and events that are narrated in the book.

Founded in 1751, its historic center, consisting of 76 blocks, was declared National Heritage in 1994. Ciénega was also declared a Heritage Town in 2012 for its history, culture, and architectural richness, which further boosted tourism.

Within its architectural heritage, you can find the Templete, the Chapel of the Santa Teresa School, the Old Railroad Station, the Church of San Juan Bautista, the Masonic Lodge, and the Casa del Diablo (House of the Devil).

At the cultural level, its main events are the Cienaguero Cayman Festival held every January 20th and the National Guitar Music Festival that pays tribute to Guillermo Buitrago every June.

Besides, Cienaga has the magic to make you travel back in time for its historical, architectural, urban, environmental, and social values. In this guide, you will receive the necessary information to make the most of your visit to this special heritage town.

Exploring Ciénaga

This town and its surroundings have gone through difficult situations of violence and armed conflict in the past. Today, ecotourism, cultural tourism, and community-based tourism are economic bets for the people of the region.

Ciénaga Magdalena is known as the “Ciudad Vanidosa” because it has an endless number of water mirrors around it that reflect its beauty from any point you look at it.

It is located in the department of Magdalena, 33 km from Santa Marta, on the shores of the Caribbean Sea, and next to the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, at the northeastern end of the Ciénaga Grande de Santa Marta, a Ramsar area of Colombia and one of the biosphere reserves present in Colombia.

Ciénaga is wealth in water, with reserves coming from the Caribbean Sea, the Ciénaga Grande de Santa Marta, the Toribío and Córdoba rivers. It also has the hot springs Volcano, located in the village of Cordobita, just ten minutes from Ciénaga, which is the only hot spring in the Caribbean region.

The average temperature in Cienaga is between 23 ºC (73ºF) to 35 ºC (95 ºF) and the best time of the year to visit Lórica for hot activities is from mid-December to the end of February.

How to get to Cienaga Magdalena

  • Bogotá – Santa Marta– Cienaga

Take a 1,5-hours flight from El Dorado (BOG) in Bogotá to Simón Bolivar International Airport (SMR) at Santa Marta city. Once at in Santa Marta you take an approximately 40 – minutes ride (33 Km) to Cienaga Magdalena.

  • Bogotá – Barranquilla – Cienaga

Take a 1.5 hour flight from El Dorado (BOG) in Bogotá to Ernesto Cortissoz International  Airport (BAQ) in the city of Barranquilla. Once in Barranquilla, it takes approximately 1,5 – hours (72 km) to Cienaga Magdalena.

Where to stay in Cienaga Magdalena

Ciénaga has a low hotel demand but we recommend the hotel: Casa D’remedios La Bella Hotel Boutique.

Thanks to its proximity to the city of Santa Marta we recommend these hotels in the city:

  • Hotel Nueva Granada,
  • Oasis Fresh Hotel,
  • Placita Vieja Hotel Boutique,
  • Hotel Boutique Don Pepe and
  • Hotel Santorini Casablanca Santa Marta.

Attractions and Activities in Ciénaga, Magdalena

This beautiful town is a place where you can still breathe colonial air and where you can see the most beautiful landscapes due to its location at the foot of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.

Visit the Cienaga Grande, Biosphere Reserve of Humanity 

Ciénaga del Magdalena - Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta
Ciénaga del Magdalena view from Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta

It is possible to enjoy this beauty, thanks to a tour called The Tour of Nature, which allows you to visit all the rivers that are tributaries of the swamp complex which concentrates a large number of important species of flora and fauna.

Visit the Palafito Villages of the Ciénaga Grande

Here you will experience a cultural exchange with fishing communities on a trip that includes land and boat transportation. The palafito villages of the Ciénaga Grande de Santa Marta have colorful wooden houses, and canoes are a vital part of the landscape.

Nueva Venecia, Buenavista and Trojas de Cataca are the only palafit towns in Colombia. Their streets are made of water and can only be moved by canoe, the only bridge that exists connects the school and the church.

Nueva Venecia

It is a magical town on the water, where you can discover a different reality in the country, with a surprising lifestyle. To get there you must do it by the river, it takes approximately 2 hours from the point of Tasajera.

Walking through its streets in canoes you will be able to explore and get to know a new reality. This place has an infinity of species in flora and fauna; it has its own Flora and Fauna Sanctuary, a magical place to connect with nature.

Nueva Venecia is completely fluvial, amphibious, and palafitic. To cross the town, visit neighbors, go to the store or to the police station, you must necessarily go by canoe.

Cultural and Architecture Places

Ciénaga, Magdalena, Colombia. Photo by Edgardo Perez Diaz, CC BY-SA 4.0

Historic Center of Ciénaga

Touring the historic center is to marvel at the magical realism that inspired the Nobel Prize winner in literature to recreate Macondo, the splendor of its buildings, there are also corners and moments taken as if from a book. You can enjoy sunsets with shades of yellow, red, and orange painted in the sky.

The Santa Cruz de Papar Farm

This is one of the places you can’t miss, it will transport you to colonial times thanks to its architecture. It was a hacienda where sugar was planted and alcohol was produced for export.

Centenario Square

This square has an ecclesiastical style, giving it the shape of an eight-pointed star, designed by the French architect Eduardo Carpentie. You will also be able to appreciate four water fountains, donated by the Italian colony, bordering this square.

San Juan Bautista Church

It was built in 1612 at the request of the indigenous people of Ciénaga to the representatives of the Spanish crown. The walls of this church have stucco murals. According to historians, its construction lasted several decades, due to the multiple battles that plagued the town.

Municipal Palace

It has a republican style, it was built in four stages. Its plans were designed by the firm Parrish of Barranquilla. What stands out the most is its tones have varied between a strong yellow and white, color that is already established for the buildings that are the heritage of the country. What will impress you the most are its arches, wooden doors, and floor.

Ruins “Casa del Diablo”

It is a corner mansion with two floors and republican style, white facade with 14 Roman columns and crowned by a pediment with zither shapes, built by Manuel Varela.

Its name is due to the fact that the inhabitants of Cienaga say that every year Manuel Varela sacrificed a worker from his banana plantation to Satan as payment for the prosperity granted to him.

Despite being a possible myth, other versions speak of some 300 dead, and some estimate that there were thousands, a tragedy that remained in the history of Colombia as “The Massacre of the Banana Plantations”.

Gabriel García Márquez was also tempted by this myth and therefore also referred to this event, unreal or not, in his book One Hundred Years of Solitude.

About the Authors

Sara Colmenares

The current director of Sula. Doctor in Biological Sciences. Her main interests are to explore and understand the organism-environment interactions, taking advantage of emerging knowledge for the management and conservation of species and ecosystem services. She is currently working as a consultant in functional ecology, ecosystem services, and conservation projects in Colombia related to ecotourism and birdwatching.

Luisa Martin

Engineer, world traveler, amateur photographer, traveling blogger, and foody.