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)
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)
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)
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)
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!