Colombia 🇨🇴: Exploring Santander, Boyacá & Cundinamarca

After three weeks of family holiday across Colombia, Laura and I had a little more time before the time together in Colombia was also up for us. We decided to visit Guatavita, Tunja, San Gil, hike the Camino Real and spend some time in and around Bucaramanga for my 40th birthday. Owing to some flight changes, we also had another night in Bogota (4th time in a month!) to celebrate the Little Candles Day.

Guatavita: Quiet Colonial Pearl

Guatavitain in the region of Cundinamarca is just 75km outside of Bogota and easily reached by bus. It was our fist stop towards Santander though, owing to limited public transport options, we had to return to Bogota first. Nice village near a lake that offers lots of outdoor options on top of its colonial architecture. We skipped outdoor this time due to wet weather. Memorable remain the conversations with two (drunk) farmers in the evening … not easy to understand admittedly …

Tunja: Better impression second time round

I had been to Tunja briefly before on the way to Villa de Leyva. My memories are far from brilliant, as I stayed near the bus terminal and missed the historic center completely. This time I fixed that and explored the plaza and many streets with colonial houses. Sadly we didn’t explore the hills around the city … they look very inviting for a hike. Tunja is the capital of the Boyaca department – the main place where the Colombians grow potatoes.

San Gil: Rafting the Colombian way

San Gil is commonly considered the outdoor capital of Colombia offering sports like bungee jumping (we just went for a look, but didn’t jump), paragliding, rafting and more. We started with a visit to the botanical garden and had fun with some squirrels (and mosquitoes). San Gil is also home to a rather special delicacy … the big ass ant or “Hormigas Culonas”. Apparently it has aphrodisiac-like effects (but that could convince me either … just didn’t like the taste). At night San Gil is covered in light all around the main square with life music and a very relaxed atmosphere.

Rafting the Suarez river: In the end we decided to do rafting. Here the video. Now, i have been on previous rafting tours. Never (ever) did they spent 20mins on the safety briefing. Already there and then i felt something was coming. When we had to practice live rescue in the river, it was clear that they did this for a reason.

In the end we flipped once on a grade 5 rapid (the other boat three times!). Being under water in rapids with not exactly the best life vest was a frightening experience. You just don’t stay as calm as you should and your heart is racing and your breathing not controlled. Needless to say i was happy to get back into the boat to enjoy some more up to two meter high waves.

At the end of a memorable trip the consensus was clear – not again. People also thought that in other countries tour operators would not be allowed to expose clients to this level of risk.

Bucaramanga: Paragliding on my 40th birthday

Bucaramanga is a nice city. Quiet and tidy and with many restaurant options. To celebrate my 40th birthday we checked ourselves into the Dann Carlton hotel. Five star express into my next decade!

The birthday organisation was flawless. Paragliding over the roofs of the city, time for a bit of wellness and an amazing dinner… We even managed to recycle the helium inside my birthday balloons 😂🤣😂

Giron: This suburb of Bucaramanga can easily be reached by bus or (if coming from Bucaramanga) by Uber/Taxi. Stunning colonial architecture awaits you.

Bogota: For the fourth time …

I guess laura just didn’t want to leave! Her flight to Bogota was delayed and that meant she wouldn’t make her connection to Santa Marta that night. So we headed to downtown together and participated in the Little Candles Day celebrations – the unofficial kick-off of the x-mas season in Colombia. And after the fourth stopover in Bogota also my Colombia trip came to an end. See you in Berlin for new years!

Colombia 🇨🇴: Colonial village spotting on the Camino Real

Camino Real (‘Kings Road’) is a generic reference to a vast network of former indigenous trade routes that were subsequently paved by Spanish conquerors. We hiked about 42km from Cabrera to Los Santos (including a fair amount of climbing) while most people just hike the short 6km from picturesque Barichara to Guane. This part of the camino real was rediscovered by German Geo van Lengerke (a run-away murderer) who used his road engineering skills to support his own trade business. It also has a religious touch with virgins and other religious items on display throughout. However, it is nowhere near the pilgrimage you get to experience on the Camino de Santiago.

Day 1: Cabrera to Barichara (8km)

https://www.wikiloc.com/hiking-trails/cabrera-barichara-25092975

Catch a bus from San Gil to Cabrera from the regional bus terminal to get to the trail head. It takes about one hour once you actually leave San Gil (=when the bus is full). Pretty bad road and slow going, but nice scenery.

Cabrera is a nice little town and the actual starting point of the camino real. The first stretch takes you 400m straight uphill following the 14 stations of the cross – each depicted with a small sign. The trail is obviously less well traveled and in bad shape. As you climb up, the scenery unfolds though. Amazing views over Cabrera and the surrounding mountains. After 2km or so you top out. From here is it about 6km straight to Barichara with great views again.

Barichara is a really well maintained, clean colonial town and popular amongst tourists. Highlight for us was a super tasty dinner at Shanti. Very enjoyable evening indeed.

Day 2 – Barichara – Guane – Villanueva (14km)

https://www.wikiloc.com/hiking-trails/camino-real-barichara-guane-villanueva-18970409

We left it late to leave the hotel after a great breakfast on this rather warm 1st advent Sunday. After a little more reconnaissance of Barichara we got on the most popular section of the camino real – a 5.5km stretch to Guane. The hike is almost all the way down (adding to popularity) and well preserved for large parts. All the way you are entertained by the spectacular scenery of the Santander region.

We reached the village Guane by 11.30 for refreshments including a shot of Sabajon – mine with whisky and Laura’s with tequila. Similar to baileys and rather tasty – so we bagged two bottles (I would come to regret that decision a little bit later on).

The heat had picked up by now and the path out of Guane to Villanueva leads uphill (c600m). After the first 200m climb is the last shop on the way – we got some more liquid in and continued up.

Half way is a viewing point (mirador) with great views and after another 300m climb we reached the top and crossed over into the opposite valley where the roofs of Villanueva greeted us.

Villanueva was a lot bigger than we anticipated (given there was not a single listing on booking.com) and didn’t quite have the same charm as tiny Guane or colonioal Barichara. First up was finding a hotel… The old fashioned way! (and yes, still works!).

Back in town we sampled a few empanadas, visited a billards boozer for some beers and had dinner in a local fast food place as most restaurants where closed Sundays. What a stark difference to the tasty homemade dinner in Barichara yesterday…😔

Day 3: Villanueva – Jordan (17km)

https://www.wikiloc.com/hiking-trails/villanueva-jordan-3810015

This day promised to be an easy one. In the beginning flat and from about half way just down. So we didn’t leave too early, about 10am. We’d pay the price by way of getting grilled later in the day.

First event of the day was a lonely puppy not far from Villanueva. It seemed lost and frightened. Laura, always the animal lover, managed to feed her all our bread (=lunch) and a fair amount of water before we left it near a school where two construction workers carried out some refurbishments.

A bit further we reached a small village and enjoyed refreshments while watching locals playing ‘bolos criollos‘ – a very basic version of bowling with three pins in front of a wooden plank wall and an iron ball thrown at them (rather than bowled). Not long after we reached an amazing viewpoint into Chicamocha canyon.

 

From here the descent into the valley and ultimately the village of Jordan began. It was hot (and getting hotter with every step down) and the sun burnt relentlessly. Further, the path down has lots of loose rocks and one can slip easily. In fact, the following day a tuk tuk driver told us of occasional fatalities as people slip and fall (and no-one finds them for days on this not a well trodden path). On the flip-side, views were stunning.

Once in Jordan, a village with 70 inhabitants, we secured a bed in the only hostel around and got ourselves finally some food. Evening relaxed with some smule karaoke action going! Hallelujah. Literally.

Day 4: Jordan – Los Santos (5.5km)

https://www.wikiloc.com/hiking-trails/jordan-los-santos-28269980

The last day had arrived. The shortest day (on bloody paper that!), but with 900m of climb ahead to get out of the canyon up to Los Santos. Upon leaving Jordan we bumped into another hiker from Bogota who asked us a seemingly endless number of questions. He, however, would only hike tomorrow (well, we think he wont 🤣😂).

The path is of much better quality than yesterday’s descent and more improvements are being done as we speak. Every 100-200m of ascent little huts provide shelter from the sun. Just take sufficient water (and best some ice)… You will need it. I recommend 2.5l per person. If you run out, there is a little creek to take water about 3/4 up the way.

By midday we reached Los Santos Another beautiful village and with significantly better infrastructure than Jordan. Here we concluded our hike with a quick picture in front of the church. Time for some food (the Camino Real restaurant offers not cheap, but tasty lunch… Try the trout!).

Buen Camino everyone!