Usiacurí – Come Check Out the Manger of Atlantico

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Nestled in the rolling hills of the Caribbean, just 30 kilometers from Barranquilla, sits Usiacurí, lovingly called ‘the Manger of Atlantico” by locals and travellers alike. The town is framed around the beautiful church, Iglesia de Santo Domingo de Guzman, and the main streets leading up to the church are paved in multi-colored cobblestones. Usiacurí is quiet and clean, friendly and welcoming and the houses are all well-kept and colorful. From time to time, you’ll even see a donkey saunter by, laden with fruit and vegetables. The townspeople are proud of their village and it shows. It’s one of the best looking and cleanest towns I’ve seen in Colombia.

The village of Usiacurí
The village of Usiacurí

A thousand years ago, well before Colombia was inhabited by the Spaniards, the indigenous natives of this area used the majagua and cabuyas plants to form carrying sacks and other implements, perfecting techniques that have been passed down from generation to generation. All that has changed in the time between now and then is the material itself – nowadays Usiacureños work almost primarily with palm of iraca, native to the regions of Santander and Bolivar, and they make a whole lot more than sacks.

Usiacurí
Palma de Araca – The base material of handicrafts in Usiacurí

Weaving has become a family tradition in Usiacurí, a past-time taken up by all of the townspeople, young and old. The craft has become the primary source of income for many families and visitors are warmly offered all number of colorful and high quality handmade items; everything from picture frames and place-mats to baskets and boxes, jewelry, shoes, clothing, hats and bags. The sky is truly the limit when it comes to the styles and colors available, and the artisans will gladly make bespoke products if asked.

Colorful crafts in Usiacuri
Colorful crafts in Usiacuri

Founded more than 480 years ago, Usiacurí rose to fame in the 20th century thanks to it’s mineral salts baths; man-made stone and clay baths fed by natural spring water. According to legend, each bath used to contain water that cured all sorts of ailments.. everything from arthritis to gout to indigestion; it’s no wonder people used to flock to the village from all over the country. All that’s left from that era now are the the clay pools; the water has long since dried up. You can see them as you tour the jungle within and around the town.

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A typical ‘Pozo’ one of many such pools that used to hold the “miracle” water of Usiacurí.

If you’re in Usiacurí, you’ll want to check out the town’s museum, which is actually the old house of renowned poet Julio Flórez, who retired to the village in the 19th century. He purchased the house in 1911 for him and his family to partake in the healing baths and to write poetry. When you enter the museum, you’ll see the house exactly as it was when Flórez and his family lived there. Take note of the walls which are covered with his work.

“Oculta entre los árboles mi casa / bajo el denso ramaje florecido / aparece a los ojos del que pasa / como un fragante y delicioso nido”.   Julio Flórez

English translation: Hidden amongst the trees is my house / below the dense floating canopy / appears to the eyes of those that pass  / like a fragrant and delicious nest.

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Poet Julio Florez’ house (and the Usiacuri museum)

The best time to go to Usiacurí is in mid August when the town gets decked out in party colors for its “fiestas patronales”. These week-long festivities are a blast with music, traditional costumes and tons of great food.

For directions, go ahead and use the interactive map below:

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