San Gil is a pretty town in Northern
Colombia that has a focus on adventure travel and adventure tours. The
rivers provide good whitewater rafting (up to class 5) and canoeing
opportunities, and numerous local tour operators offer adventure tours
including caving, parapenting, bungee jumping, river rapelling, hiking,
horseback riding, mountain biking, quad biking, paintballing and
paragliding. Almost every type of outdoor or adventure activity can be
done someone near San Gil!
San Gil's lovely plaza is lively and great
for people watching. There's also lovely botanical gardens at Parque El
Gallineral, which has a good river for bathing. 20km outside of the
town one finds the spectacular 180 metre high waterfall named Cascadas
de Juan Curi - this makes and interesting and easy day trip
from San Gil.
Most tourists visit San Gil for the range
of outdoor and adventure sports activities offered by a variety of
local tour operators. In addition, lovely small colonial towns are
nearby such as Barichara and Guane. Laid back Barichara
is a lovely small colonial town that is a retreat for various artists
and writers - see the later sections on this page for more info on
San Gil Hotels
San Gil has a range of good hotels - none of
which are particularly fancy. Two of the most popular with
international travellers are Macondo guesthouse
- a basic but clean hostel in an old colonial house - and the newer Sams
VIP Hostel - book both in advance. Macondo has an attached
adventure sports tour operator and can organize a great variety of
activities. There's dozens of other hotels in the town, such as the
Mansion de Sam , Santander
Aleman and Bella
Isla, which is just out of town, and feels a bit
Barcichara is a charming colonial town 20km
from San Gil. Because it's so picturesque, many Colombian films and
soap operas have been set here - this is one of Colombia's most
beautiful small colonial towns. The fine climate and bohemian
atmosphere attract many wealthy Colombians, yet the town remains
untouristy and charmingly traditional. If you're not interested in
adventure activities, this is the place to stay in this Northern part
of Colombia. Other than hiking to the wonderfully sleepy village of Guane
or using some of San Gil's nearby adventure tour operators, there's
little do do other than soak up the atmosphere and admire the town's
architecture and tranquility. There's various boutique shops, art galleries and stone carving shops to explore.
Even more lost in time than Barichara,
peaceful Guane was capital of the the pre-Columbian Guane culture. The
village has two simple but lovely hostals to stay in (Posada Mi Terra
Guane and Shiua Shue). It's a simple two hour, 9km hike from Barichara.
If you like fine food, there's plenty of
high quality gourmet restaurants in Barichara. In addition, it's worth
mentioning the ants. Massive ones - hormigas culonas
as they're known. Many Colombians think they're the most delicious
snack in the world - I think they taste like iron mixed with nuts and
dirt. In Barichara, San Gil (and Bucuramanga) you'll find them for sale
all over the place - they're a Santander department delicacy. Buy some,
decide they're horrible and then take them on your (distant) travels
with you, offering them to locals as you go - it's a very easy way to
make friends with Colombian people. Want some ants?
Great ice breaker...
Barichara is popular with rich Colombians
getting away for the weekend - mid week it's much quieter.
Hotels in Barichara
You can find budget accommodation in
Barichara, but it's a little sparse (much more is found in neighbouring
San Gil). Try Tinto Hostel, Hospederia Aposentos (on the main
plaza) or nearby La Mansion de Virginia. A great
looking mid-range choice is the recently opened GreenGoes
Guesthouse, a peaceful place to relax in a converted colonial
home. Stylish, upmarket hotels that were once colonial mansions can be
found too - try the beautiful boutique hotel La
Nube Posada, the lovely looking Casa
Oniri or alternatively try the Hostal
Mision Santa Barbara (website in Spanish only).
Getting to San Gil
San Gil is popular with backpackers as it
is the ideal stopping point for those travelling overland between Bogota and the Caribbean coast
or for those travelling to/from the border with Venezuela.There's
regular buses to Santa Marta on the Caribbean coast (13 hours). Buses
from San Gil to Bogota take 7 hours, while Cucuta (on the border with
Venezuela) is 7 hours bus travel away. If long bus journeys aren't your
thing, there's an airport at Bucuramanga, which is a couple of hours
There's buses from San Gil to Barichara (40
minutes) at least every hour of the day, but by evening time you'll
need to take a taxi.
Travel onwards to
The city of Bucuramanga is the capital of
Santander department. It's a pleasant city, but in reality there's very
few tourist attractions. If you like cities, slow travel and more
importantly nightlife, it's worth a night or two over the weekend
though. If you do stay the night, try the very new and highly rated Kasa Guane Hostel (website in
Spanish). Note that Bucaramanga has an airport. Travelling around this
part of North Colombia, you'll often end up spending the night here.
Giron is an
outer lying suburb of Bucaramanga and feels very different. It's a
pleasant colonial town, but not quite in the same league as other
colonial places such as Villa de Leiva, Barichara or Santa Fe de
Antioquia. Consider staying at Hotel
Las Nieves or in the basic hostel Giron
Chill Out (website in Spanish only).
En route between San Gil and Bucaramanga is
the Chicamocha National Park. It's well
worth a stop-off here, if only to briefly admire the views and
spectacular canyon that forms the main part of this new National Park.
There's also a variety of hiking trails as well as a cable car offering
spectacular views of the Park. The drive from Bucaramanga to Chicamocha
is also stunning, and highly memorable on a clear day.
Travelling onwards by bus from Bucaramanga,
there's regular buses to Bogota (10 hours), Cartagena (12 hours), Santa
Marta (9 hours) and Cucuta (on the border with Venezuela - 6 hours).
Travel North Towards
Further North still lies Pamplona and
Cucuta, on the border with Venezuela. If for some bizarre reason you
decide you want to visit Venezuela, see the section about travelling from Colombia to
Venezuela for more information and for ideas about where to
stay if travelling in this direction.