One of the most memorable tours we’ve done so far in Colombia is a visit to Nueva Venecia. A community built on stilts in the middle of a swamp which is a natural sanctuary, it’s like nowhere I’ve ever been. Keep reading for more about our day trip to Nueva Venecia in Colombia.
Cienaga and Nueva Venecia
You may have already guessed that Nueva Venecia is Spanish for New Venice. Named after the famous Italian city, the entire town is on the Grande Ciénega, a marsh leading from the River Magdalena to the Caribbean Sea. Residents live in houses built on stilts in the marsh, and instead of cars and bikes, they get around by boat, mostly long canoes. It was a real treat to visit and get a glimpse into the lives of its residents.
Getting to Nueva Venecia
For the day trip to Nueva Venecia, we took a tour from Santa Marta by bus to Ciénaga, where we met our boat driver. A quick drive under an hour from either Santa Marta or Baranquilla, and then a couple of hours boating around makes a great day trip!
Our bus tour guide spoke English and imparted interesting information about the region and its history. The boat captain who we met in Ciénaga spoke Spanish, and he took us for a long tour of the village and the surrounding waters, where we saw a variety of birds and the local fishermen at work.
For more day trips from Santa Marta, read about our day in Parque Tayrona
The Stilt Town of Nueva Venecia
Nueva Venecia is an interesting place! This community is approximately 300 people, every one of whom came to their door, window, or front porch to wave hello to us, or at least it felt like it from the warm welcome our boat received as we slowly glided into town. We were told not to get too close to anyone to protect them from the pandemic, but everyone was friendly, especially the children.
What a treat to come from the middle of a swamp to approach the distant houses on stilts, appearing seemingly out of nothing. As we neared, the houses came into view, with colorfully painted exteriors, some with beautiful murals.
It’s a pretty sight to see.
Inside Nueva Venecia
Nueva Venecia even has a town square, joining the important sites with bridges. Centrally located by the square are the football pitch, which even has lights, the church, school and library. The school’s teacher, and most of Nueva Venecia’s supplies, comes from the nearby city of Baranquilla. They are still getting groceries and other essentials, but the teacher hasn’t been there in a year, again due to protection from Covid-19.
The men make their living from fishing, and often are sent away after school to try their luck in the big city. According to our tour guide, most return because they don’t take to city life. I can only imagine the culture shock of a land town with cars and everything else after growing up in Nueva Venecia.
Nueva Venecia has no running water, limited electricity, and no computers and video games. The kids are good football players, especially at defense to prevent losing all their balls to the water, despite the fact the football pitch is flooded almost half the year during rainy season.
The Wildlife in Ciénaga Grande
On the way to the town, our boat driver toured us through the marsh, Ciénaga Grande de Santa Marta for at least an hour. Sections of the water are quite shallow, only a couple of meters deep. The fishermen pole through the water and use large nets to catch their prey.
All of us had cameras and we took lots of photos and videos of the beautiful scenery.
Here is just a glimpse of the sheer numbers of birds surrounding us on the boat.
Take a Day Trip to Nueva Venecia
If you are in Baranquilla or Santa Marta, I recommend taking a day trip to Neuva Venecia. As anywhere you travel, respect the local people and follow expected protocols to keep them safe. We wore masks the entire time and kept our distance as requested. Everyone was welcoming and the kids were happy to pose for photos with us and show off their football skills. We had a great day.