Valledupar: Colombia’s Vallenato Capital

After returning from Mexico at the beginning of January, I took a flight to the city of Barranquilla on Colombia’s Caribbean coast to stay for two weeks with my friend Sovio and his family. Barranquilla is the fourth biggest city in Colombia and is famous for its carnival in February, which I will soon be writing all about! We went on several trips from Barranquilla to nearby destinations, the first of which was to the city of Valledupar (capital of the Cesar region), a 4 hour bus ride south east of Barranquilla.

First things first, Valledupar is HOT. This meant that one of the first things we decided to do was go for a swim in the river Guatapurí, where we spent a happy few hours splashing around with the hundreds of other people who were there.

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The river was followed by a trip to the nearest shopping centre. It was in Valledupar that I came to the realisation that in Colombia going to shopping centres is considered a fun activity by a fair few people, as opposed to a chore. I think in this case air con was the pretext, but even so…

For dinner we went to a place called Jerry’s where we shared an ENORMOUS four-person salchipapas (basically sausages and chips), with the usual questionable “meat.” Seriously considering going veggie… This was followed by a wander around Valledupar’s central plaza, where I tried my first raspado (crushed ice with a flavoured syrup poured over). It was odd but not terrible. The plaza was still lively and full of families walking around even late into the evening – probably due to the unbearable heat during the day – so it was lovely to chill and soak up the atmosphere.

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Valledupar is famous for being the birthplace of a musical genre called vallenato, a traditional style of music that is extremely popular on the Caribbean coast of Colombia and is characterised by the use of three instruments: a small drum called a caja vallenata, a percussion instrument called a guacharaca and the accordion.

Vallenato is believed to have originated in the songs travelling singer sang as they went from town to town throughout the region. Like medieval minstrels, these were songs they composed to relate news from their towns, their sorrows and joys, as well as personal anecdotes or to express their love for a woman. Vallenato is considered so important that UNESCO have named it an “Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding,” whatever that entails…

Whilst we were in Valledupar it was the city’s 466th birthday, and what better way to celebrate the occasion than with an enormous, free vallenato concert? This took place in the Parque de la Leyenda Vallenata and was attended by a whole host of well-known vallenato artists. Obtaining tickets for said concert turned out to be a bit of a pickle, and one that saw us queuing in the baking heat for a good few hours, only to later be offered tickets by everyone and their aunt… The concert turned out to be veeeeery very long indeed, with artists such as Kvrass, Silvestre Dangond and Martín Elias. It goes without saying that after FIVE HOURS of non-stop vallenato and more hunger than I would’ve imagined possible, I was no longer quite so enthusiastic. According to my friend Sovio there are two types of vallenato, the old traditional kind, and the “new wave.” To allow those of you who have not yet come across vallenato to make up your own minds, here is a link to a popular (and in my opinion somewhat annoying) example of  new wave vallenato:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gE3R582ADF0

And here is an example of something a little more traditional:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bMFd54rgBMk

To be perfectly honest, there’s not an awful lot to do or visit in Valledupar, but I felt our little trip was just long enough to get a feel for the place and find out more about the style of music for which it is famous.

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Group photo with “La Pilonera Mayor”

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