San Gil is the adrenalin capital of Colombia. You can go white-water rafting, caving, abseiling down waterfalls and paragliding. If you are looking for an adrenalin rush, this is the place to go to. Most blogs have a long list of suggestions on how to spend your time doing as many adventure activities as you can.
While that is great for some people, it’s not for everyone. I don’t mind a good rush of adrenaline from time to time but those activities are expensive! Plus, the friend I travelled with despises them. And after she hiked to the Ciudad Perdida with me because it was a place I really wanted to see, it was only fair that now we did something she actually enjoyed.
If you’re like us and don’t want to throw yourself off a cliff or down a waterfall, that’s okay. San Gil is a great place to relax and take it slow. My friend and I spent two full days here, which is the optimal amount of time. We didn’t have to rush anything but we didn’t run out of things to do either.
#1 Visit Barichara
Barichara is often called Colombia’s most beautiful village. You can easily reach it by bus from San Gil. Go to the terminalito in town and take any of the busses that say Barichara. As for the ticket, either buy it here or on the bus itself.
The ride to Barichara took us about one hour. We were dropped off at the town square, where we instantly started taking pictures of all the beautiful houses around us. Barichara is full of white-washed houses with red roofs, almost resembling a village in Southern Spain. We spent the next hours walking through the streets, taking pictures of every alleyway we came through.
If you walk northwards from the main square, you get to the Santa Barbara chapel. From this church, you have a nice view of the houses, and about a hundred meters north, you can find a mirador overlooking the neighbouring valley.
While in Barichara, don’t miss the paper factory Taller de Papel Fundacion San Lorenzo. At this workshop, you can learn how paper is made from many different plants growing in the area, like pine trees, bananas or corn. They sell some pretty nice stuff, too, if you’re looking for souvenirs.
#2 Travel on to Guane
While in Barichara, you should consider taking a side-trip to Guane. This tiny village can be reached by bus from Barichara and while it is not as photogenic as Barichara itself, it is cute and charming enough that it is worth going there. Buses leave regularly from Barichara (enquire about the bus schedule in the office at the main square).
In Guane, close to where the bus driver drops you off, you can find a small museum with lots of artefacts from the region. It is a bit random, with all exhibits displayed, whether they fit the collection or not, but it does have a few cool pieces in there, like the fossils and dinosaur bones you can find in the first room.
2 – 3h (including traveling time from Barichara)
#3 Search for animals at Parque Natural El Gallineral
Have you seen the “bearded trees” yet? They are covered by moss, which hangs down from the branches. The park inside San Gil is one of the best places to see them. I recommend coming here in the afternoon when the weather isn’t too hot anymore. This also increases your chances of seeing animals. The park is home to iguanas and a few species of birds, and if you are a bit luckier than we were, you can spot them here.
We saw two macaws who live in the park. One of them was mistreated by animal traders and was missing half of its feathers – a tragic story that affects many animals native to South America. All over the continent (and also in Central America), we came across rescue centres where people take care of them.
If you come during the day and you are hot, bring your swimsuit. The park includes a swimming pool in which you can cool off.
#4 Shop fruit at the Casa del Mercado San Gil
San Gil’s market is the perfect place to buy fresh fruit. You can find lots of vendors here selling you everything you could possibly want, from granadillas to sliced watermelon or guanabana.
Besides that, the market is the place to go to if you want a cheap breakfast or lunch, or just a nice batido. If your hostel has a kitchen and you want to cook, you can also get fresh, local produce.
#5 Visit Curiti
Like Barichara, Curiti is a village that you can easily visit from San Gil. Go to the terminalito in town and get on one of those busses that go to Curiti. I saw this village before Barichara and we spent more than an hour walking through the alleys and taking pictures. Along the main square, you can find a bakery, an ice cream shop and a couple of cafes, in case you want to take a break.
From Curiti, you can take either a bus or a motortaxi to go to Pescaderito. These natural rock pools are part of a river and are perfect for taking a swim. Unfortunately, when we went, the river was muddy and brown. Locals explained to us that there is a factory upstream that washes sand and turns the water dirty on certain days. Maybe you’ll be more lucky?
But even if you don’t go swimming, Curiti is a village that is worth visiting for its colonial architecture alone.
#6 Enjoy the view from San Gil’s Mirador de la Cruz
The Mirador de la Cruz is located behind a church on the other side of the river. This viewpoint gives you a great view of San Gil, its colonial houses and the mountain behind it. From the city centre, it is a steep but short walk up. It took us about half an hour to get there, but if you are really short on time or sore from any activities you did, you can also take a taxi.
Just like the Parque Natural El Gallineral, this is one of the attractions you should do either early in the morning or late in the afternoon, so it does not get too hot.
#7 Visit the main square and the cathedral of San Gil
San Gil’s cathedral is located just next to the main square and worth taking a short look at if you are in the area. Look up to see its beautiful ceiling.
The main square itself is bustling with locals and a great place to watch people or pick up snacks from street vendors.
#8 Have dinner at Cafe Europa
Cafe Europa is run by a Colombian-German couple that offers Italian cuisine. While this might sound like a weird combination, it works and the food was so good that we went here two evenings in a row. The cafe is tiny and cosy and the German owner prepared all the food in front of our eyes.
I can highly recommend the fresh juices as well as the pasta with a cheese and mushroom sauce. The pizzas are delicious as well. But my favourite part about Cafe Europa was the homemade bread. If you have been in Colombia for a while, you will notice that locals like their bread sweet, soft and without a crust. Being German, I like my bread dense, full of grains and with a crunchy crust. I think you can understand why the homemade bread, prepared by the German owner, would have been reason enough for me to go here.
1 – 2h
I hope you enjoy your time in San Gil and have gotten an idea of things to do beyond parachuting and abseiling down waterfalls. From here, you can easily travel to either Bogota in the south or Santa Marta in the north. Please leave a comment if this guide was useful to you, you have anything to add or suggestions on what else to do in San Gil.
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