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San Basilio de Palenque

An hour by road from Cartagena de Indias lies a completely unique community. Inhabited by some 435 families of African origin, they are descendants of runaway slaves who were searching for a place they could call their homeland (“palenque” means tethering post) and began settling this area in 1603.

Over time, and due in large part to their isolation, the inhabitants of Palenque continue living today in much the same way they’ve been doing for centuries, their African customs and traditions playing a large role in their lives.  Palenque’s relatively intact African culture is unique in the Americas.

Palenque social organization is based on the Kuagro, a set of councils established on the basis of age and proximity of groups within the community. The Kuagro helps determine division of labor, territorial security, who marries whom, and how traditions based on honesty, group solidarity and collective values are maintained.  Each Kuagro has a leader, and an assembly of these leaders is moderated by the leader of the Kuagro of Community Elders.

Palenque is the only criollo (creole) language with lexical Spanish origins that is used by descendants of the African diaspora to the Americas, who brought with them and incorporated into their new tongue elements of the Bantu, Kikongo and Kimbundu languages.

Concepts of life and death take on a special dimension in Palenque. In the Lumbalú funeral ceremonies pain and sadness are ritualized through song, music and dance for nine days and nights.

Their traditional medicine cures illnesses and bad spells through the combined use of plants and animal parts, in the form of plasters, brews, ointments and baths, accompanied by prayers. 

Local cooking traditions illustrate just how powerfully African practices and customs have influenced creole cusine in the Caribbean region. The result is an uncommon mixture of aromas, tastes and textures.

All productive labor, whether tending livestock or agriculture, is linked to the phases of the moon. The community is famous for its fruits-based sweets, which are sold on the streets of Cartagena de Indias by women from Palenque (las palenqueras) dressed in eye-catching traditional garb who, over the years, have become a landmark attraction for tourists visiting the city.

In 2006 Palenque de San Basilio was recognized by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage Site.

SINGULAR LTD organizes personalized tours to this unique community, where visitors can acquaint themselves with the cultural legacy of a civilization through its colorful traditions, its rituals of song, music and dance, and meet people whose pride, generosity and cheerful approach to life will leave a lasting imprint.