Although Cartagena is full of enough museums and colonial buildings to keep history buffs happy for days, an excursion to San Basilio de Palenque is well-worth the effort for anyone interested in the Afro-Colombian history of Northern Colombia. This tiny village was the first free slave settlement in the Americas after a boat full of African slaves was shipwrecked on the Magdalena River. Benjos Bioho, a former African king, took his opportunity and escaped into the nearby mountains and jungles. He continued to fight for his and other slaves’ freedom and he was eventually executed in 1621 in Cartagena. The fortified village he established (Palenque means walled community) was officially declared a free village in 1713 and he is now considered a national hero.
San Basilio de Palenque serves as a symbol of African emancipation from slavery and it has been recognized by the UN due to its cultural significance. Here, the people still maintain many African traditions in the village and even speak Palenque, a language that isn’t spoken anywhere else on earth. It is the only Spanish-based Creole language in Latin America and combines English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Bantu.