San Gil is known as Colombia’s paradise for extreme sports. Not surprisingly, because this gem in the middle of Santander has something for everyone. But there is more! Although the village of San Gil itself is not very interesting, there is a lot to do in the area. Read here 5 tips to do in and around San Gil, and get to know the beautiful department of Santander a bit better.
5 Things to do in and around San Gil Colombia
1. Parque Gallineral
Let me start in San Gil: the largest park in the village is a green oasis of tranquility, and lovely to go for a meal or walk through. The park is 4 hectares in size, located on an island between Quebrada Curití and Río Fonce and has several hiking trails that lead you past truly beautiful trees from 1876, and wildflowers. The trees are covered with long strands also called “old man’s beard”. This gives the park a somewhat mystical appearance.
Near the restaurants, colorful birds fly (they are fed there) and squirrels clamber through the trees. | Opening hours: daily from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Entrance fee: 6,000 pesos. Location: Cra. 11 No. 21-1, San Gil, Santander.
2. Extreme sports in and around San Gil
Although you can do extreme sports in many more places in Colombia, San Gil is the most famous. There are several organizations offering many activities. Ask at your hotel which one is the best or check the Lonely Planet Colombia for tips on where to book. Opportunities include (and many more!):
Rafting in Colombia
Three routes are possible in San Gil: over the Río Suarez (levels 4 and 5), Río Chicamocha and over the Río Fonce (levels 2 and 3). If you want to take a long active rafting trip and do like a challenge, choose the Río Suarez (3 hours). I myself have done both, and rafting down the Río Suarez was really much more fun. You will receive extensive safety instructions and an extra person will always accompany you for safety.
Abseiling from a waterfall
This activity is only for the truly adventurous among us. After about 35 minutes of hiking, you will arrive at the Juan Curí waterfall. Here you can hoist yourself into a harness and abseil down from the top, through the falling water, about 80 meters down. Jimmy did this and it was a “once but never again” experience.
For the true daredevil, there is also an option to rappel down from 130 meters. Is this also be a bit too high for you, a visit to this waterfall is still recommended, as you can also hike beautifully and take a cooling dip in the ice-cold water. Where? Cascada de Juan Curí, 22 kilometers from San Gil near the village of Charalá. Here on the map.
You can paraglide like the best in Colombia, and San Gil is one of the most popular places to do it. You book the activity in San Gil and then go to Chicamocha canyon to jump yourself into the air. I myself am afraid of heights and this is really not an activity for me. Watching and enjoying the beautiful view is a lot of fun, though.
3. Panachi: Parque Nacional del Chicamocha
For Colombians, Parque Nacional del Chicamocha (or simply: Panachi) is particularly popular. In the vacations and during puentes the place is packed with Colombians on holiday and the lines for the cable car can be quite long (I speak from experience).
If you have already been paragliding over Chicamocha, a visit to this park is no longer necessary. If you have not yet seen the canyon, then a visit to Panachi is worthwhile, but without paying an entrance fee. Because although the cable car gives a nice view of the area, I would still advise against it. It is very expensive and it is full of tourists. Access to the park is especially nice for families with children. As a backpacker, I would skip this. It is fun, though, to take a refreshing dip in the pool and dream away at the view of the canyon from the road and parking lot.
Conclusion: very nice with families with children on vacation in Colombia, but as a backpacker I would only enjoy the view and possibly the pool and save your money for something else. | Opening hours: Wednesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday, Sunday and holidays from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. (low season). Entrance: click here. Location: km. 54 Via Bucaramanga – San Gil.
4. Visit Barichara
A visit to San Gil is not complete without setting foot in Barichara. Or better yet, stay in Barichara and explore from there. Instead of from San Gil. As one of the most beautiful villages in Colombia, Barichara has much to offer. Among other things a beautiful hiking trail, the cutest streets you’ve ever seen, beautiful views of the canyon and a museum where you learn how they make paper. Want tips for lodging, sightseeing and more? Then read this mini-guide about Barichara.
5. Discover other villages close to San Gil
Santander is known for its many authentic villages. Villages where you can walk right into history. From San Gil, it is very easy to explore these. Hop on the bus and visit Socorro, Charalá, Pinchote, Páramo and Cabrera, for example. Guane is also very worthwhile, but this is where you automatically come if you do the hike from Barichara. In addition, Curití is fun to visit. From San Gil about 30 minutes by bus, you will find hiking trails, beautiful nature and you can visit visit a weaving mill. So plenty to do!
Hotels in and around San Gil Colombia
For backpackers, San Gil is an ideal place to stay: it’s central, it’s easy to get to one of the bus station(s), and if you’re short on time, rafting or paragliding is easily arranged. However, the village of San Gil is not very special, often very crowded, noisy and not very picturesque. Do you have a bit more time or looking for a hotel or hostel in a beautiful place? Then check this one out:
Located on a mountain along the road between San Gil and Barichara, this is a very nice place to spend your days in Santander. In the middle of nature with beautiful views, here you will find a hostel/camping run by a family consisting of an Englishman and a Colombian and their children.
You can stay overnight in a real yurt on the mountain, or in a regular room, eat from their own garden and shower in a cabin in the forest among the goats. You will also find an old bus that has been converted into a cinema, so in the evening you can relax with a movie. At night, all you hear is the animals and the wind. Cheap and perfect for backpackers and nature lovers. A fantastic stay in San Gil and highly recommended! Enthusiastic? Book here!
Located in Barichara, you will find this hotel on an authentic street, in green and white, with a beautiful courtyard garden. Open the green shutters and look through the beautiful streets of Barichara. The delicious breakfast is served in the courtyard garden, from where you can feast your eyes on the many colored birds that give away a veritable show.
If you have limited time to explore the area, this hotel is a bit remote and the aforementioned place is a better option. Also, this is not the cheapest you can choose; staying in Barichara is more expensive than in San Gil anyway. But if you do have the time and money, you will enjoy a lot in the middle of one of the most beautiful villages in Colombia. Would you like to spend the night in Barichara? Book here!
Just outside Barichara you will find this true paradise. This finca is so special that you might just think of not getting out of your hammock for a few days (I speak from experience…). The hotel is owned by a Belgian couple whose passion and love make your experience unforgettable. Enjoy the jacuzzi in nature, the tropical birds, the beautiful view, the lovely bed and the delicious food.
Or find your hostel or hotel in San Gil here:
Best travel time and climate San Gil
San Gil can be visited year-round, but in the rainy season you will also find more rain here. Depending on the season, not only do you have more or less rain, but conditions for going rafting can also vary.
The temperature is around 30 degrees all year round, depending on where you are (Barichara is slightly cooler, Chicamocha warmer). Furthermore, keep in mind the high season, San Gil and Barichara can get terribly crowded during the (Colombian) holiday periods. It’s in that case a must to book your ho(s)tel in advance, to still have a nice spot. Read all about the high season in Colombia here.
How long do you need for San Gil?
There is an awful lot to do (take a look here) and you can easily spend 2 weeks here. Think about what you want to see and do in advance and adjust the number of days accordingly.
For example, do you want to get to know Barichara well and do the hike to Guane and rafting and paragliding and visit another village and go swimming somewhere and go to the park? Then I would stay at least 3 to 5 nights to get everything out of your visit.
How to get to San Gil?
From Bogotá you can get to San Gil in 7 hours by bus (check times from Bogotá here). The bus arrives at Terminal de Transporte de San Gil. From here take a small bus to the center (it arrives in Terminalito, calle 15 # 10). From here you can walk to your hotel or take another bus to Barichara (and to get off at La Pacha Hostel) or another village nearby.
San Gil is also very easy to reach from other cities in Colombia. For example, there are (night) buses to and from Medellín and you can also get to San Gil from the coast. Flying is also possible: you land in Bucaramanga and from there it’s about 2.5 hours by bus to San Gil. All long distance buses arrive at Terminal de Transporte de San Gil. If you prefer to get off at the center, ask the driver.
From Bogotá, you can also make some great stops before arriving in San Gil. For example, go first to Villa de Leyva (4.5 hours from Bogotá) and one or two days later on to San Gil. Also Lago de Tota is on the route and is a nice stopover heading north.
To visit other villages or places like Chicamocha, you don’t have to go all the way back to the main bus station first. From Terminalito buses go everywhere. You buy your ticket at the ticket office in the bus parking lot and pick a seat at random.
Alternatives to San Gil
I would absolutely recommend visiting Santander! Not just for the extreme sports, but especially for the picturesque villages, the lovely people and the beautiful nature. However, don’t have time to go that way and still want to do rafting, abseiling or other activities? Then click here for more options close to Bogotá.
Santander: not to be missed during your trip through Colombia!
In this article you will find affiliate links. Click here for more information.