Hidden between the big cities of Bogotá and Bucaramanga you will find San Gil. Not only is it a nice town to stay in, it is also a great place for activities in the Chicamocha Canyon and a day trip to hidden gems Barichara and Guana. It is a pity, or rather nice, that these historic villages are often skipped, because here you will find the authentic and peaceful Colombia in an impressive natural landscape. In that respect, an absolute must!
San Gil is a relatively small city with a typical Colombian center. The main square is adjacent to the city’s largest cathedral and is a meeting point for residents. On the square you will find several food and beverage outlets, but also a tourist office that can help you on your way to the best activities in the region. What is there to do in San Gil?
Nature Park El Gallineral
The Parque Natural El Gallineral is located just outside the center. A park that opened its doors in 1985 and has been a green resting place in the city ever since. If you are lucky you will find iguanas among other things. A nice place to walk around if you have some extra time. The park is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and can be reached on foot from the center.
Just outside San Gil you can walk up to 2 lookout points. The first is Cerro de la Cruz and the second is Gruta de la Carmen. The viewpoints are about a 15-30 minute walk from the center of San Gil. It is safe to visit the sites after dark, making them a great sunset activity.
You can find places to play pool all over San Gil. It is especially popular among the locals. And it is therefore extra fun to spend a few hours in a pool room among the locals. You pay about 6,000 pesos/€1.50 per hour per table.
What San Gil and the surrounding area are really known for, is the possibility of doing (extreme) activities. Including paragliding over the Chicamocha Canyon, rafting, horseback riding, bungee jumping, hiking and climbing circuits, and rappelling the Juan Curí waterfall. In the center you will find several tourist offices that can help you on your way. The hostels also often have contacts and information about the activities you want/can do. Want to know more about paragliding and the Chicamocha Canyon? Then read on here.
The authentic village of Barichara is about 40 minutes by bus from San Gil. With the square and cathedral as the central focal point, surrounded by white small houses and built on hilly ground. From every street you have a different view over the village. It is not only the houses and the varying views that make the village special. The multiple viewpoints over the Cordillera de Los Cobardes mountain range also make it worthwhile to deviate to Barichara. Calle 1 runs parallel to the mountains and several restaurants or small bars have built their terraces there for the most beautiful views.
If you walk a little further on Calle 1, the road splits. The hiking trail “Camino Real” begins on the left. This is the original walking path between Barichara and Guane, which was built in 1864. Since then, the path has not been renewed and you can walk from one village to another. It is recommended to walk from Barichara to Guane, because then you almost only walk downhill. The path is rocky and not always easy to walk, but it is quiet and the surroundings are beautiful. It is a 5.6 km walk and takes about 2 hours to reach Guane.
Guane is even smaller and more authentic than Barichara. It seems as if time has stood still. Here you can see and feel the old Colombia. There was a lot of peace, (old) men with hats sit on the sidewalk or play a game together and as a tourist you are the attraction. In any case, don’t skip the viewpoint in Guane (Mirador Guane on Google), because from here you have the best view of all over the Cordillera de Los Cobardes mountains.
If you want to experience the local life completely, eat and drink the local specialties from the area. Hormigas are a very popular snack. In other words, fried ants with salt. Frying makes them bigger and crispy and that’s what people like so much. If you also want a drink, taste Sabajón. A local drink that used to be a family tradition but has also been sold since 1997. It is a creamy alcoholic drink, made from milk, eggs, and water and available in 5 flavors in the shops on the main square.
How do you get there and back?
You arrive in San Gil by bus from Bucaramanga (about 3 hours) and you drive through the beautiful Chicamocha Canyon. Tickets cost about 21,000 pesos/€5.25 and you depart from the Terminal de Transporte in Bucaramanga. It takes about 7 hours from Bogotá, you depart from Terminal de Transporte Salitre and you pay about 52,000 pesos/€13. In both cases you will arrive at Terminal de Transporte San Gil. This is the bus station for longer distances.
There are yellow taxis in the city itself. Uber and other taxi applications do not work in San Gil. But the prices are cheap. For a ride from the Terminal de Transportes to the center you pay 5,000 pesos/€1.25.
Do you want to visit the smaller surrounding villages such as Barichara, Guane, Villanueva, Curiti or Charlton. Or if you want to visit the Juan Curí waterfall yourself, without a tour, you can walk from the center of San Gil to the smaller bus station Terminalito. From here, minibuses depart quite regularly (about every 30 minutes) to locations in the vicinity. A ticket often costs a few euros per person, one way. The bus from San Gil to Barichara takes about 40 minutes and costs 6,000 pesos/€1.50 per person.
If you walk from Barichara to Guane, you can also return directly by bus to San Gil. This bus goes every 1.5 hours, the last one around 5.30 pm. If you don’t want to wait for the bus in Guane, you can also take a taxi or motorcycle taxi (tuctuc) to Barichara and from there later take the bus to San Gil. Then agree a price with the driver in advance.