Nicknamed "La Tierra de Aventura" or The Land of Adventure, the Santander region of Colombia lived up to its name during our week long visit. Located in the middle of the country, about six hours north of Bogota, this part of Colombia is known for its scenery - complete with deep canyons, raging rivers and majestic mountains.
Santander region is in red.San Gil
Traveling with my roommate Kelsi and her friend Megan, who was visiting from California, we left Cali early on Saturday, July 31st. After a flight to Bogota, a ten hour layover (Thanks Aires Airlines), then a connecting flight to Bucaramanga and a three hour bus ride, our vacation really got started in San Gil. We stayed in a fairly new hostel named Sam's that was located right on the main plaza and loved it! I love finding places like this with free internet, clean rooms, clean bathrooms, kitchens and rooftop patios. Since food in smaller towns of Colombia doesn't tend to be that great we made most of our meals here, which included fruit, cereal, and pasta. We saved some money and met some great new friends from all over the world!
View of Sam's Hostel from the main plaza.
Kelsi and I in the main plaza.
We spent our first day in San Gil exploring the Parque El Gallineral, a small nature reserve near downtown where trees are covered with long silvery moss called barbas de viejo, or old man's beard.
Kelsi and a tourist map of San Gil near the Rio Fonce.
Trees in the park. So cool!
Pretty flowers along the way.
The second day we tried to go white water rafting, but the river was too high due to rain, so we set out for the Juan Curi waterfalls instead! Following some advice from friends, we rented bikes to head to the waterfalls about ten miles from town. The ride there was long, but scenic, and we arrived at the waterfalls tired yet excited! Crossing the river using a rope and trying desperately not to slip, we explored the falls and the freezing cold water within them! We headed back on our bikes around 1 pm, only to have about 2/3 of our return trip filled with pouring rain. We stopped for awhile to see if it would let up, but it never did, and upon realizing we had no option but to push on, we just biked through the rain. Definitely not one of my favorite trip experiences, especially after a Colombian police van drove full speed through a puddle and doused me in an avalanche of water while Colombian teenage boys looked on laughing, however we felt quite accomplished upon arriving back in San Gil!
Biking from San Gil to Las Cascadas de Juan Curi - 22 km.
Finally arrived at the waterfall - it's 180 meters high!
River crossing with rope.
We spent our last day in San Gil white water rafting on the Rio Fonce, which you can read about here, before heading to the small town of Barichara.
Located just 45 minutes from San Gil is the small Spanish colonial town of Barichara. With super clean cobblestone streets, whitewashed building and red tile roofs the beauty of this mountain town is stunning. The name of the town comes from the Guane word "a good place to rest", and after two days there we couldn't agree more! In Barichara, we stayed in a cute little hotel named La Mansion de Virginia where we were practically the only guests so the woman in charge was super friendly, helpful and made us tea & coffee every morning.
On the way to Barichara we convinced some of our new friends from San Gil to come check out the town with us, so we brought "The Euros" (as we nicknamed them) along on our bus ride for an evening of good food and delicious wine after which we ended up in the local pool hall.
Out to dinner in Barichara!
The next day we set out for an easy 9km hike to the pueblo of Guane along the historic El Camino Real. The ancient stone-paved road was declared a national monument in 1988 because the indigenous Guane people maintained it continuously over the years.
Kelsi and I at the start of El Camino Real.
The small town of Guane.
After two nights in Barichara, we set out to return to Bucaramanga, by way of San Gil. Fortunately, the weather that day was great so we were able to stopover in San Gil for some paragliding! I wanted to paraglide from the minute we started planning this trip and after some arm-twisting I convinced Kelsi to try it with me. The experience was absolutely breath-taking and its definitely my new favorite way to see Colombia! The 15 minute tandem ride with an instructor only cost us about $30 USD each and brought us high above the town of San Gil to a spot where we could see for miles! Although I felt a little motion sick by the end because of all the wind and flying around and such, I loved the experience!
Strapped in and ready to fly!
Kelsi taking off.
After paragliding we were off to Bucaramanga, the capital city of Santander. Overall I was not too impressed by the city of "Buca" (for short)...although we did find some good eating spots in the Parque de Las Palmas and some friendly people. In general, the city is kind of hot, smelly and not really that nice looking. However, it did make an excellent base for travel to the region and a day trip to Colombia's most recent national park (opened in 2006), Parque Nacional de Chicamocha.
Located halfway between San Gil and Bucaramanga, this park is set in the huge canyon of the Chicamocha River and features lots of tourist attractions, as well as a huge cable car that takes you from the rim of one side of the canyon all the way down to the river and then all the way back up the other side!
Cable car overlooking the Chicamocha Canyon.