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Day Trip to Calamar. The Colombian Town that was Once a Bustling Inland Port.

Note* Calamar, translated to English comes back as “Squid.” So, if you see the word “Squid” in some google search related to Colombia then you can almost be sure it relates to Calamar, on the Rio Magdalena river.

Our Day Trip to Calamar. The Colombian Town that once was a Bustling Inland Port.

Train from Cartagena to Calamar. Used in the article A day trip to Calamar.
Image from u-tube Video.

There are many towns in Colombia, which if you just stumbled upon you might wonder why there are where they are.

What do the people do here?

Why did they settle here?

Calamar is one of those.

lets see what I found.

Getting to Calamar.

A map of out route to Calamar from Barranquilla. Used in the article, Day Trip to Calamar. The Colombian Town that was Once a Bustling Inland Port  .

One of our little group hatched a plan to visit Squid to catch up with some friends.

So, 10 of us (7 women and young Sebastian), with myself and Julian piloting the cars, we set out from Barranquilla early on Saturday morning.

Travelling through Barranquilla to Soledad, then Malambo and then onto a reasonable 2 lane road to Calamar.

There are numerous small towns along the way, all with speed humps before you enter and exit the town.

However once past Malambo, the road is a speed camera minefield.

I am sure there are more speed cameras per kilometre on that road than anywhere else I’ve been with limits set below that of many of the main streets of Barranquilla.

While the actual distance from Barranquilla to Calamar is only about 100klms, even with very light traffic, it took us slightly more than two hours to get there.


Before entering the town we pulled to side of the highway and called the friend to give her a heads up we were not far away.

We found a place to turn off the highway and drove up alongside the cemetery.

Calamar Cemetery, Used in the article, Day Trip to Calamar. The Colombian Town that was Once a Bustling Inland Port
Calamar cemetery.

Looking very well kept, the glare from the headstones in the mid morning sun, making no secret the day was already hot.

Going past the cemetery, we made our way to the friends place, to be greeted by more friends who had come over to spend time with us.

The group had grown to 10 women.

Calamar Markets.

A phone call was made and 3 Paolas (bike taxis), showed up to take us over to the town center.

The women made a bee line to the wharf area, where a fish market was doing a flourishing trade even at this late stage of the morning.

Fish markets aren’t exactly my thing, so I wandered off before I could be roped into being the bagman.

Just past the end of the market I watched an old guy throwing in a fishing line, catching a small fish, throwing it back, and casting out again in the hope of catching its mother.

A raft with a roof of corrugated iron on the Magdalena river. Used in the article, Day Trip to Calamar. The Colombian Town that was Once a Bustling Inland Port
Raft on the Magdalena.

A couple of other guys had the right idea to escape the heat and parked their boat next to this covered raft.

There was more activity towards the Canal De Dique.

Fisherman were unloading boxes of fish, then sorting them and repacking them with ice, and sealing the styrofoam containers ready to to be shipped elsewhere.

Calamar the Town.

Old buildings near the wharf area in Calamar Colombia. Used in the article, Day Trip to Calamar. The Colombian Town that was Once a Bustling Inland Port
The old and renovated.

The town offers a mix of emotions.

There is enough remaining of the older buildings to tell you there was once a period of wealth and opulence.

Not all of the buildings are inhabited.

Those that are have had the insides gutted, and transited to selling brooms, mops and plastic chairs.

There is much that has been lost in Calamar.

Once the railway would have bought people up from Cartagena to board luxury ships cruising the Magdalena river.

The store fronts, now selling building materials and furniture behind the fish markets along the boardwalk, would have once been bars and hotels.

It is said there were once about 30 brothels in Calamar.

In the 1840s, 2000 men with picks and shovels were paid 8 gold pesos a month plus food and board, to dig the Canal De Dique.

Unlike in 1582, when the colonists put 2,000 African and indigenous slaves to work to connect the wetlands west of the Magdalena River with the bay of Cartagena.

The canal kept silting up, so in the 1890s a railway line was built from Cartagena to Calamar.

Calamar prospered.

Trains travelling to and from Calamar, dropping goods off at small towns along the way, and people catching a ship to cruise the Magdalena or take the train to visit Cartagena.

In 1923 they cleaned the canal again, plus they took a lot of the bends out of it to make it easier for the barges.

The railway couldn’t compete with the barges and the tracks were pulled up in 1953.

But it didn’t matter, the canal was never maintained and 7 or 8 years later the canal had silted up again…for about the 5th or 6th time in 500 years.

And… Calamar died.

To go a block back from the river front and turn left at the Olympica, I see some attempt to bring some life to the town.

Across the road are some very well kept buildings still inhabited and maintained.

I was told told this area was where “High society people” hung out.

The mayors office is across the road from the café where we had lunch.

The difference in buildings could not have been starker.

Bought home by the word “Palaceo Municipal” at the top of the mayors office.

The restaurant was single storey with a rusty corrugated tin roof.

Lunch at Calamar.

After my walk around the main streets I went back to check on the fish buyers.

They had finished buying what they wanted and had it packed and sealed in a stryofoam container with ice which was then sent to the friends place.
Others had been browsing through Squids other markets.

Luckily the streets with the exception of the boardwalk, have shady trees where you can escape the sweltering midday heat, and have a cool drink.

Beer being the preferred drink.

In many ways the heat here reminded me of places I had been in Australia.

Dry, hot, and not much wind. At least here there were trees.

The great minds were discussing lunch.

Some went one way, we went another on someone’s recommendation to: Asadero y restaurante brasas Caleñas.

The entry didn’t look all that inviting, an old fibre cement roof extending over the footpath, but once inside you were stepping back in time, although a fairly new rotisserie looked like it didn’t belong here.

Still we were there not for the look of the building, but because someone said the food was good.

Not only was it good, but the cost was reasonable. I paid 150,000 pesos for 3 of us.

Across the Magdalena to Puerto Niño.

With lunch done we stocked up on water and went back up to Malecon.

Walking back the way we came, a guy thanked us for visiting.

It was time to take a canoe across the Magdalena to visit other friends who live on an island over there.

We arrived and were greeted by glare and hot sand.

The debris from a previous flood was still visible on the piles carrying a water pipe.

Debris from floods still on the piles of the water pipe. Calamar. Used in the article, A day trip to Calamar.
Debris from a flood on the pylons

It was about a 15 minute walk along the levee to get to where we were going.

The smarter people took a moto.

A pig walking around at Calamar. Used in the article, A Day Trip to Calamar.
A pig grazing among the homes on Puerto Nino.

We gave the friends some of the fish we had bought, had some tinto (coffee), the women chatted and we left after about 2 hours.

During the time there I didn’t have much to do, so I basically followed a pig around as it made its way around the huts.

Later we were joined by another smaller pig.

Leaving Calamar for the Island.

Back in the canoe to go back across to Calamar, as you get closer to the wharf you can see that parts of the structure have been weakened from flooding.

For 500 years they have been trying to control the Magdalena, but the river thwarts them every time.


P.S. About a week later I received a notice that I had been caught speeding. 60klms in a 50 klm zone. When I went past the camera I was doing about 40klms. But the camera clicks once you pass a sign about 100 meters before the camera.

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