By Alex Torres
Santo Tomas is a peri-urban pueblo outside the city on the south eastern side of the Atlántico department. It takes about 50 minutes to get from the center of Barranquilla to Santo Tomas, and is about 25 minutes south of the airport. Santo Tomas has roughly 35,000 people, most who have jobs either in Barranquilla or one of its suburbs. It’s known as the “Hotel del Atlántico” because it is said that so many of its inhabitants just go there to sleep. Despite the fact that many people leave Santo Tomas to work, Santo Tomas has great food, great cultural events, and great nightlife to keep people entertained.
Best Cultural Events: During the famous Carnaval season of Barranquilla, there is a mini-Carnaval held in Santo Tomas a week prior to the one in Barranquilla. It is known as La Batalla de Las Flores. A chosen queen represents each pueblo in a parade that lasts about three hours. The festivities end at night with live music and a competition between all the queens. Los penitentes, the flagellates, takes place during Holy Week. During this event, a number of people, who made vows to God, walk barefoot about three kilometers and whip themselves with every two steps they take. This has caught the attention of many national and international news stations as Santo Tomas is one of the few locations that still practice this old tradition.
Best Places to Eat: Every Friday Séptimo Cielo has sopa de guandú. It is exquisite. The other food there is good too: pollo a la plancha, lengua, etc. There are three pizza joints in town, but Toby Pizza is definitely the best. FrutAroma is relatively new (across from Olympica), this place has a bunch of finger foods, yummy smoothies and sometimes offers delicious lasagna. Heladería, located next to Olympica, boasts consistently good ice cream, and opens around 5pm each day. Finally, Aves de Cali is a chicken joint on the boulevard that serves pretty good chicken for relatively low prices.
Where to Work Out: Elite Gym looks the cleanest and opens early in the morning. It’s not too spacious but also isn’t crowded. There is another gym located by the plaza which has a lot of equipment, but it is also often crowded.
Where to People Watch: The main plaza has a lot going on during the week. Every Saturday and Sunday there are bouncy houses for little kids to use and a “pueblo train” (a chiva for kids) that takes them throughout town. It starts and ends in the plaza. The park in front of the cemetery has dance shows, competitions, volleyball games, pickup soccer games, and other youth-led activities. Casa Cultural, located by the boulevard, does many cultural, arts, and dance shows. It also houses the Santo Tomas museum, but (spoiler alert) it’s really small. There is also a new park by the Via 40 where lots of children play. There are various food carts and benches where you will be surrounded by lots of noise and fun.
Where to Have Fun at Night: Oriza Club is definitely the premier joint in Santo Tomas. It’s located on the boulevard, has air conditioning, drinks, and good music. It’s open weekends and game days, but gets crowded after about 10 pm. You might want to get there early to steal a good spot.White Night is another top club in Santo Tomas, complete with air conditioning, music and drinks. The boulevard itself is pretty noisy and fun with lots of people roaming the streets on any given weekend. You can also trek down the road to Palmar and go to Coco Bonga; it’s a less glorified version of Oriza.
Bonus: If you know someone that can get you into El Poblado, our country club without a golf course, you can play soccer on a nice field, play tennis, use the gym, use the pool, eat yummy food, and get a massage for about 40,000 Colombian pesos.