Santa Cruz de Mompox is a small village on the banks of the Rio Magdalena. It is about 430km South of Barranquilla. There are three versions of how to properly spell Mompox. Mompoj is the Native indigenous phonetic version. Mompos is another Spanish version. Mompox seems to be the favored form.
It is not easy to get to Mompox. My bus ride from Barranquilla took 6 hours to get to the small town of Magangue. The timing of the bus almost guarantees that you must spend the night in Magangue. The reason being, that the Rio Magdalena river boats do not run at night. You must take a boat across the Rio Magdalena and further upriver to another small dot on the map where taxis and 4×4’s await.
It is another 45 minute taxi/truck ride on along a bumpy dirt road before you arrive in Mompox. If you look on the map you will understand that this area is a vast flat floodplain. The few roads that exist are built on dykes of sand that are elevated above the swampy surroundings. On the ride you pass vistas of cattle ranches and low swampy plains. The land is flat for as far as the eye can see.
Some information I have found refers to Mompox’s historical importance in relation to Cartagena. This is a bit confusing because Cartagena is about 140km West from where the Rio Magdalena enters the Caribbean sea, where is now situated the city of Barranquilla. In 1540 Barranquilla was a tiny town about 20km upriver. Several hundred km upriver lay Mompox.
It makes sense that there would be a place on the banks of the Rio Magdalena where there would be built storehouses for products and to serve as a base for further explorations further inland, upriver, toward Bogota. Momox was this place. It is far enough away from the Caribbean that it would have been difficult for vessels of pirates or privateers to get far upriver without exposing themselves to great danger.
More or less unknown to North Americans or most Europeans, Mompox became the South American equivalent of Portsmouth, New Hampshire; Boston, Massachusetts; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in that it was in Mompox where independence from Spain was first declared. Simon Bolivar claimed that: “If to Caracas I owe my life, then to Mompox I owe my glory”. It was in Mompox where he raised his first army of followers that successfully fought for independence from Spanish ‘royal’ rule.
Today, nearly forgotten little Mompox is under construction… or rather, RE construction. It was declared a ‘unesco world heritage site’. Not that I am a fan of the united nations organization but, here is an example of a branch of that crew doing something to preserve the history of a place that will forever be remembered for it’s role in breaking away from Spanish rule. (Interesting how the unesco site remembers the historical role of Mompx as: …’Founded in 1540 on the banks of the River Magdalena, Mompox played a key role in the Spanish colonization of northern South America’)
It is said that the novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez used Mompox as his model for the fictional town of Macondo in his book: The General In His Labyrinth.
I spent only a few days there. It is hot and humid. The restoration effort is in full force. Most of the riverfront is as of this writing under intense reconstruction. Looks to me like in a few years this will be an incredibly beautiful town filled with many outstanding examples of 16th century colonial architecture.
I stayed at the La Casa Del Viajero in Mompox. The hostel is a colonial style house and has been completely renovated.The owners are kind and gracious hosts. They are knowledgeable and very helpful. The place is very clean and has a/c in the dorm rooms.
La Casa Del Viajero Hostel and twilight view from the terrace