San Gil is a city with a population of 50,000 in the Santander region in Eastern Andino. It is known as "Colombia's adventure sport capital".
- 1 Bus terminal. The bus terminal to major Colombian cities is 2 km west of the city center. A taxi between there and the town center costs COP$3,000 or take one of the frequent busetas. San Gil is on the road between Bucaramanga and Bogotá, hence there are frequent buses to towns along this axis. For other destinations, you'll most likely have to change buses in Bucaramanga.
- * From Bogotá : COP$40,000, 6-7 hours (March 2016)
- * From Cartagena : COP$70,000, 14 hours
- * From Cúcuta : COP$40,000, 9-10 hours
- * From Medellín : COP$60,000, 11 hours
- * From Santa Marta : COP$70,000-80,000, 12 hours (Copetran, Brasilia) (feb 2016)
- * From Tunja : COP$20,000, 4 hours, 200 km
- Buses to Bucaramanga leave from the corner of carrera 11 with calle 8 on the river front (COP$20,000, 2½ hours, 90 km). Consider stopping at the Chicamocha Canyon National Park on the way.
- 2 Surrounding towns. Local buses to surrounding towns like Barichara (COP$3,900, 45 min), Charalá or Curiti leave from the corner of carrera 11 with calle 15 (Near the bridge).
- Parque El Gallineral, Malecón at calle 6. Daily 8AM to 6PM; pool 9AM to 5PM. Pleasant park for a stroll. Also has a swimming pool or you can dip in the Rio Fonce. COP$6,000.
- 1 Cascadas de Juan Curi, ☎ . Beautiful 180-meter-high waterfalls outside of town. To get there, get a bus to Charalá from the local terminal and ask to be dropped off at Las Cascadas (COP$5,000, 40 min). There are two entrance on the right handside of the road, the second one (blue and yellow sign) offers a more scenic walk along the river and you'll get to see more waterfalls (COP$7,000). It's a nice 20-minute walk to the bottom of the Juan Curi waterfall where you can swim. Your shoes will get wet crossing the water several times and there are ladders and ropes to help you climb. 100 meters before the waterfall, a small track on your right will lead you up to the middle of the waterfall. Rappelling is possible from there. During rainy weather, consider going early and/or enquire by phone on the flood risk as there may be too much water to walk up the trails to the pools.
Tour companies generally offer similar activities and are clustered around the entrance of park El Gallineral. If you plan to go rafting or kayaking on rapids of class 3 and over, check that the guides are certified by the International Rafting Federation (IRF).
- Colombia Rafting Expeditions, Carrera 10 No.7-83, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Organizes all adventure activities as well as being the experts at big rapids and kayaking.
- Planeta Azul (At the parque El Gallineral), ☎ , , fax: , e-mail: email@example.com.
- Colombian Bike Junkies. Mountain Biking Tours, Calle 12 No 8-35 first floor, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. The mountains and canyons around San Gil make this a great area for mountain biking. You can find bikes for hire in town, but for a guided tour ask at Gringo Mikes. They run full-day tours under the name Colombian Bike Junkies including new full suspension Kona bikes and protective equipment, 4WD transfers, breakfast, lunch and drinks and snacks along the way. You get to see some great scenery, and best of all it's about 95% downhill so you can let gravity do most of the work. You don't need to be a downhill guru, but should be comfortable with riding on dirt roads. COP$160,000-180,000 (depending on group size).
- Connect 4 Language School, Carrera 8 No. 12 - 19 Local 201, ☎ , , e-mail: email@example.com. Great little school run by a great teacher called Andres. Offers Spanish classes for travellers. Private tuition for all levels including short conversational Spanish lessons plans so you can learn the basic in just a few hours. They can also organise free language exchange activities with locals. Possible home stays available.
San Gil is the pioneering place for rafting in Colombia :
- Rio Fonce, This is the river going through San Gil, it offers an 11-km trip lasting 1hr 15min on class 2-3 rapids depending on the season. It suits all kind of public. COP$25,000.
- Rio Chicamocha, An 1hr 30min rafting trip with rapids from level 2 to 4. More adrenaline and amazing scenery going through the canyon. Possible to organize expeditions up to 3 days long.
- Rio Suarez, Considered the best, this is a 3-hour and 20-km trip of non-stop class 4-5 rapids. Experienced rafters.
There are lots of places around San Gil to go for a swim:
- Pozo Azul : Close to San Gil and accessible by taxi, it is popular with locals. 300 meters down river is la Milagrosa where you can jump from rocks.
- Pescaderito : Close to the town of Curiti, it has swimming holes and water slides. Camping possible.
Other activities are caving, parapente, paintballing, kayaking, hydrospeed and rapelling.
There are numerous trekking opportunities in the countryside surrounding San Gil. The following itinerary goes through 3 colonial towns before going down in the Chicamocha canyon and up on the other side. Doing the whole trek in 2 days is possible if you leave San Gil really early on the first morning but it will probably be more enjoyable do it in 3 days and take your time checking out the towns in details. You can also do only parts as there are buses going back to San Gil in every town except Jordan. You don't need to carry food and camping equipment as there are restaurants and hotels in every town. Carry a lot of water and be careful of the midday heat.
- Cabrera - Barichara - Get a local bus from San Gil to Cabrera (COP$4,000), it will drop you on the main plaza of the town. Here check out the church. At the upper left corner of the plaza, take the steepest street up (Calle 7) and turn left at the top. Follow the path along the stations of the cross (14 of them). From the top keep on going straight, the path is fairly flat and you'll soon see Barichara in the distance. When you get close to town, you'll encounter the local swimming pool on your right handside (COP$1,500) right before a football/soccer field. Across the street you can see upright stones placed in regular intervals under the trees. These are either meant to secure cattle for 'servicing' or possibly used as an abatoir (slaughter) a long time ago; there are different stories when asking locals. Look out for iguanas taking the sun up on the tree branches. Quite likely you will see several flocks of vultures as well hanging around near the stone bridge. A bit further there is a stone bridge that you have to cross. After a final small climb you're in the town of Barichara. Walking time: 2½ hr.
- Barichara - Guane - From the main square take any Calle going up the hill until you reach Carrera 10. Turn left towards the ridge. A stone marks the start of the trail, it is an old paved path that was restored 180 years ago by a German Geo Van Leguerke. The path crosses the paved road twice, just cross it. Refreshments are (sometimes) sold at the farm at midway. walking time: 2 hr.
- Guane - Villanueva - To exit Guane, take Calle 6 from the main plaza towards the hill and soon you'll be back on the camino real. At some point there are farms on both sides of the path and right after you get to a crossing with a bigger road, taking that road to the right would bring you back to Barichara, you need to go straight (on the good road) and keep going uphill (the track is not exactly but a bit to the right). Keep on going up through the fields and tobacco farms. Soon after passing a finca named La Ceiba on the left hand-side, you get to a fork with a cross in the middle and a basketball court on the left, take a right there. Less than 5 minutes after, you encounter a needle head turn, take a left towards the house with a white flag. This is a mirador with great views of the canyon and all the ascent you've accomplished. Keep on going up. At some stage there will be two farms on the right and what looks like a road going uphill, do not turn and keep going straight, the road goes down a bit towards bare land for 5 minutes and after that is the final part of the climb. Once you reach the hilltop, you can see the next valley with Villanueva on the left but hidden by a hill. On your right is the road used by cars to reach town but it does a lot of turn. The shorter option is to take a left and look for the path going directly to town. You have to follow the barbwire, it will start dropping towards the valley and what looks more like a ditch will turn in a footpath. After a while you'll exit a field through a door and reach jeep track, take left towards the red and white antenna. From there it's straight to town. You can stay at Hotel Victoria on the main plaza just next to the police station for COP$10,000 per person. walking time: 3 hr.
- Villanueva - Jordan - The way from Villanueva down to Jordan takes approximately 5 hours. It is best to leave after noon so that you go down the canyon (900 m) in the late afternoon. Leave Villanueva in north-east direction and ask some locals to point you to the road towards the canyon and Jordan. You start off on some dirt roads then end up on a path that leads down the canyon. You will encounter many crossings. Best thing is to ask locals when they pass by. After you went down 900 m to the canyon you will hit a dirt road. Turn right and it's a 20-min walk to Jordan. In Jordan cross the bridge and ask at the house on the other side (there is only one) for accommodation and food (in Feb 2011 that seemed to be the only option, COP$15,000 for a small dinner and sleeping). They also do a decent set lunch if you walk to Jordan in the morning. walking time: 4-5 hr.
- Jordan - Los Santos - The last part consists of a 900-m difference climb to get out of the canyon. Cross the bridge over the Chicamocha river. The stone path starts just after, you can't miss it. The path goes up continuously but is never too steep and getting to Los Santos should take around 2 hours. Avoid doing this in the midday heat. There´s a house selling refreshments halfway up. Los Santos is a decent size town compared to Jordan. Buses leave from the main square. To get back to San Gil, you first need to take a Piedecuesta bound bus that will drop you at on the San Gil - Bucaramanga road at a place called Los Curros (COP$5,000). Flota Cachira goes there but Transporte Mesa de Los Santos takes a different route to Piedecuesta, check with your driver to be sure. From there flag down a bus to San Gil (COP$12,000). Other option is to go to the nacional park Chicamocha and cross the canyon with the Teleferico. From there you can flag down a bus going back to San Gil. walking time: 1½-2 hr.
There are two places to bungee jump, located over a river a few kilometers from town, 500 m appart. You can get there by bus for COP$1,000, taxi for about COP$5,000, or moto for about COP$3,000.
- San Gil Bungee Jumping, ☎ 315 8169215. 55-m platform jump. If you time it right you can jump while there are whitewater rafters watching you from below! Cost is COP$35,000 for the jump, and COP$15,000 for pictures and a video (March 2016).
- The other one is 70-75 m high, from a crane, and it costs COP$70,000 (March 2016)
Some of Santander's Famous Regional Foods:
- Hormigas Culonas (literally "big ass ants" roasted with salt, tastes kind of like popcorn)
- Arepa Santandereana (a thick corn arepa mixed with salt and pork)
- Carne Oreada (traditional thin steak)
- Carne Seca (a dry pulled steak)
- Cabro (goat)
- Changua (milk soup with egg)
- Fritanga (fried food snacks)
- Chorizos del Valle de San José (specialty spicy sausage)
- Arroz de Peñaflor (specialty rice)
- [formerly dead link] Gringo Mike's, Calle 12, 8 - 35, ground floor of the Casa Lopez. Daily 8AM-noon, 5PM-10PM. A sandwich place opened by an awesome guy from Seattle. Serves up delicious sandwiches, burritos, salads, and burgers. Also offers big breakfast burritos in the mornings. Try the roast beef sandwich with cinnamon pear and cream cheese!
- El Mana, Calle 10 at Carrera 9. lunch and dinner. El Maná has amazing set lunches and dinners which include soup,fruit, meat, rice, beans, juice and dessert for around COP$9,800.
- Las Esteras. Famous for their goat dishes!
- Restaurante Vegetariano Saludable Delicia, Calle 11 no 08-40. M-Th 8AM-7PM, F 8AM-5PM, Su 8AM-3PM. Delicious vegetarian restaurant with good prices: menu of the day at COP$8,500. There is also a shop for meat substitutes.
- Any Store Near Parque Principal. Grab a cold beer at any of the stores around the central square park and sip it on a bench or stairs for great people watching and the feeling of being a local.
- Bar Con Versano, Calle 12 near Carrera 7. One of the only cool bars in town with art deco themes and contemporary art prints in a colorful setting. Try any of their awesome cocktails or beer selection.
Prices in most San Gil hotels double on long weekends and places are heavily booked. Book in advance for Easter, Christmas and all long weekends.
- [dead link] Hotel Alcantuz, Carrera 11 No 10-15, fax: , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Friendly local hotel with nice, clean rooms starting at COP$25,000 per night. Cable TV, Wi-Fi, large windows.
- Hotel Capri, Calle 10 No 9-31, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Very nice spotless hotel with a range of rooms and prices. Rooms with balconies are recommended. Cable TV, hot water, Wi-Fi.
- Hotel San Carlos, Carrera 11 No 11-25, ☎ . Cheap but clean. A single room costs COP$17,000 with private bathroom and COP$12,000 with shared bathroom. Good Wifi.
- Hotel El Viajero, Carrera 11 No 11-07, ☎ . A room with private bathroom costs COP$25,000.
- Macondo Hostel (Macondo Guesthouse), Carrera 8 #10-35, ☎ , . Now at a new location. Backpackers hostel run by an Australian. Includes kitchen use, big kitchen, hot water, BBQ, book exchange and hammocks. Laundry service, drinks & internet available. Tours can be booked through the hostel. Free high speed wi-fi. The owner/manager is particularly friendly and organizes inexpensive tours. Dorm COP$15,000, privates COP$40,000/50,000 with bath..
- Hostal Casa Monkora, Calle 9 No. 8-65, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. The hostel offers both dormitory and private room accommodation. It features all the usual amenities: hammocks, kitchen, laundry, TV & DVD, free coffee, internet & wi-fi, classes, local information, outdoor activities, etc. Dorm bed COP$14,000, private single COP$22,000, private double COP$28,000, camping COP$6,000 (own tent) and COP$10,000 (renting).
- Sam's VIP Hostel, cr 10 N- 12-33 (second floor in the BBVA Bank Building on the Main Square), ☎ , , e-mail: email@example.com. Run by a local backpacker, this place has a relaxed atmosphere, a bar with good views, swimming pool, sauna, modern guest kitchen, clean bathrooms, free internet & Wi-FI and LCD TVs. Clean sheets. COP$15,000.
- [dead link] El Dorado International Hostel (San gil), Calle 12 # 8-55 (20 meters from main square), ☎ . Check-in: noon, check-out: 11AM. A great hostel in in the main square. great facilities such as hot water, semi double beds, guests kitchen, free breakfast, English speaking staff, extreme sports advice and booking services, but most importantly a relaxed and fun atmosphere 15.000.
- [dead link] Hostel Santander Aleman, Calle 12 No 7 63, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: noon, check-out: noon. A colonial house with a family atmosphere near main park La Libertad and El Gallineral park. Private rooms and bedroom, lockers, breakfast, hot showers outdoors and covered 24 hours, a common area with a cozy atmosphere, hammocks, mesade Ping Pong and other games, easy for cooking and refrigeration, laundry and TV LCD. COP$15,000.
- Hostal Le Papillon San Gil, Calle 7 #8-28 (San Gil), ☎ . Check-in: noon, check-out: 2PM. COP$15,000 in dormitory COP$30,000 double room with shared bathroom,includes kitchen use and hammocks in a nice garden, purified water free. Tours can be booked through the hostel. Free high speed wi-fi. COP$15,000.
- La Mansion de San Gil Hostel, Calle 12 # 8-71 (by the main square green balconies on the corner), ☎ . Check-in: 1PM, check-out: noon. La Mansion is a beautiful colonial house on the corner by the main square. 12 en suite rooms from COP$40,000 to COP$80,000 per couple per night. Restaurant and pub. 40000.
- Open House Hostel, Carrera 8, 11-78. Relaxed and clean hostel, good kitchen and wifi, friendly and very helpful staff COP$25,000 pp (both private and dorm).
- The little colonial village of Barichara makes a good day trip. There are buses going every hour and leave from the corner of Carrera 11 and Calle 15. From Barichara it is a lovely 2-hour walk along an historic Spanish road to Guane. Buses return to Barichara several times a day. It is recommended to walk Barichara to Guane and not the other direction, since that would be entirely uphill.
- Chicamocha National Park (Panachi). Opened in December 2006, the park offers great views of the canyon and a 6.3 km length cable car system among the longest of the world that crosses the canyon. Park entrance: COP$10,000, Teleférico: COP$10,000 one way, COP$20,000 return.