Take the time to look around and you’ll see there is more to Cucuta than a hot and dusty frontier town.
Most visitors to San Jose de Cucuta, the capital of Norte de Santander department, will see the pristine white immigration building, the airport or the bus terminal, and no more. But if you make the effort to see the city, you might just like it.
If you are in town over the weekend, the Malecon – a 4 mile strip of Avenida Libertadores – could see you through. With restaurants, clubs and bars plus parks and a rollerskating rink, it is the place to party hard on Saturday nights and recover on Sunday. Cucuteños come here after the clubs close to drink liquor and blast their car stereos loud. On Sundays, when the entire avenue is closed to traffic for the Ciclovia, it’s the turn of the sporty folk who come to jog, skate and cycle.
It’s hot place with an average temperature of about 30C and if you’re unlucky, a rainstorm will come along and soak you to the bone. However there are the obligatory malls in which to cool down or dry off. The biggest is Ventura Plaza whereas the smaller Unicentro is said to be the eco-friendly shopping center with natural water fonts incorporated into the floor.
Day trips can be made by taxi to the three rivers in the vicinity; Pamplonito, Zulia, and Cornejo. Be warned, the water is cold. If you’re feeling brave, and want to spend your bolivars instead of changing them, you could take an illicit bus ride into the Venezuelan town of Ureña. The journey is about 30 minutes and costs about $2. Buses leave from the terminal. Just make sure you head back to the international bridge to get your stamps before travelling any further into Venezuela. If you want to stay in town there are several parks to relax in such as Simon Bolivar Park, Santander Park and La Victoria Park.
Places of interest for tourists are Casa de Santander and Templo del Congreso. Casa de Santander was the childhood home of Francisco de Paula Santander, the first administrator of Gran Colombia and is now a museum dedicated to his memory. The Templo del Congreso and the adjoining park mark the site at which the first meetings of Colombia’s constitutional congress took place and where the documents were signed.
The bus terminal has a very bad reputation, so take care. Keep an eye or a hand on all belongings and when departing, pay the driver of the vehicle and wait inside it. Alternatively, you can go to Tierra Linda, a short parade of ticket offices which all coaches pass. If the cashier is feeling charitable, you may be able to leave your luggage for a while and go for a wander. Yet another option is to use the private terminals of bus companies Copetran and Berlinas de Fonce.
Two fancy hotels are Hotel B’Quin Plaza just opposite Ventura Plaza with rooms starting at COP90,000 ($48) a night and Hotel Cinera (which has a pool) for about the same price. A budget option is Hotel Avenida Tercera with rooms from COP35,000 ($19).
So if you are passing through Cucuta by necessity, don’t despair. It’ll give you a hearty welcome or a happy send-off.