Paisa Tours: Guide to Medellin and Colombia


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San Gil & Barichara


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 Barichara.

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 "boutique" La Mansion de Sam , Santander Aleman and  Bella Isla, which is just out of town, and feels a bit resorty). 

Barichara

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 & Barichara

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 away.

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 Bucaramanga?

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 Venezuela

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.


San Gil, Colombia:
San Gil Cathedral
San Gil Cathedral

San Gil, Colombia
San Gil, Colombia.

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