San Basilio de Palenque in Colombia – a day tour from Cartagena

San Basilio de Palenque in Colombia is the first free slave town in the Americas. A 90 minute drive from Cartagena, San Basilio de Palenque can be reached via a local bus (this may take longer) or a tour company, who employs a local guide to show you the city that is proudest of its African heritage.

Benkos Biohó, a former African king escaped Cartagena’s slave trade sometime in the 16th century and founded the settlement of San Basilio de Palenque, which means “Walled City”.

When coming from Cartagena, the colorful town is located behind a mountain range and over swamps and a river, formerly a protection against slave traders. Today, San Basilio de Palenque is part of the Decenio Internacional de los Afrodescendientes, an organization striving for justice and equality for black people.

In San Basilio de Palenque, people speak Spanish and a local language called Pallenquero and also referred to as “Spanish Creole,” a mix of the African Kikongo language, Spanish, and Portuguese.

Boxer Atonio Cervantes, famous champeta musician Rafael Cassiani, who’s teaching music to Palenque’s new generation, and rap group Kombilesa Me belong to San Basilio de Palenque’s celebrities.

An interesting fact our guide Victor told us during our San Basilio de Palenque tour was that women’s braids were used as maps to lead people to the free town as well as a transportation method for seeds and such.

If you want to visit San Basilio de Palenque, I can totally recommend a 5 hour tour from Cartagena with Juan Ballena. Going there on your own by bus is possible, but you won’t get to know as much about the history as if you’re with a local guide.

Thank you Juan Ballena for taking me on this tour. As usual, all opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links of trusted partners, which will not change my opinion. 

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  • Great trip Jenny!
    Was it scary to visit such poor city?

    • Jennifer Schlueter


      No “poor” city is scary to visit for me ever. I believe in the Law of Attraction and thus, I attract what I put out. If I put out smiles and kindness, that’s what I’ll receive back.