San Gil is a town close to the majestic Chicamocha Canyon. However, you don’t have to travel all the way to the canyon to enjoy the landscape. There are plenty of options for a walk, run or cycle through the impressive surrounding countryside. There are also a number of rivers and waterfalls, both to explore on your own, with a box community on the weekend, or maybe while kayaking or white water rafting with a group.
San Gil’s food market, hostels, and Crossfit boxes make it a great place to base yourself when visiting the region, but this area is really about what surrounds the town. So make sure that you get out and explore.
Fruit, veg, & spices
Towards the lower of town (the town is on a steep bank), close to where the buses leave from, there is a sheltered market which you will want to familiarise yourself with. It opens early and starts to wind down by 2pm, so don’t leave it to late.
The fruit and vegetables in the market were good value, and I used the opportunity to stock up on nuts and dried spices. I even stumbled upon fresh turmeric!
On the road outside the market, you’ll see avocado stalls lined up, with a number of shops on the other side of the street selling chicken. It’s worth noting, however, that goat is the meat of the region. It’s worth making the most of this healthy meat that roams the local countryside.
It seemed to me that the best, and healthiest restaurants options in the area were a little outside the town itself. However, there are a few quick wins if you neither want to cook or head out of town.
Breakfast - Head to the market
You’ll see a number of Juice stalls which also do a generous fruit salad with granola at a very good price. It came with cheese and ice cream which seemed a bit much for a post workout refeed, so you might want to ask for it “sin queso y sin helado”.
Dinner / Evening Snack - As the sun starts to set you will see some women start to set up little BBQs at the bottom of the town square. They sell either chicken or beef on a skewer for a good price, and it comes with some homemade guacamole and ahi, a spicy sauce.
Note: some of the women will cook each skewer to order, whilst others will have them ready to go and just warm them up to order, so it pays to consider who you order from.
Around San Gil
To be honest, when I arrived in San Gil, I was surprised that this particular town had ended up being the the honey pot for adventure-seeking travellers visiting Santander. There is nothing wrong with San Gil, but the surrounding area is awesome, and has a lot more to offer than what you might see if you only stay in San Gil. If you can, take some time to explore the area.
If it wasn’t for the CrossFit in San Gil, I would have considered staying in nearby Barichia, or somewhere closer to the Canyon. San Gil is great, but if it’s the only part of Santander that you see, you’ll be missing out.
Entering into this little town feels like if you have been plucked from Colombia and placed into a Mediterranean Italian town. Both the food and architecture is completely different to anything else I have experienced in Colombia.
There are a number of nice restaurants to explore. I had a first-rate chicken salad with focaccia, olive oil and balsamic vinegar from ‘Nona’s Bread’ in the square.
Juan Curi Waterfall
This is more a series of waterfalls than just one. It’s roughly a 30 minute bus ride out of town, but it’s worth every minute! Even better if you can get your hands on some bikes to cycle it! The top waterfall is definitely the highlight with a big, deep plunge pool at the base which you can dive into. The water was perfectly cool after a tough workout at Zona E. The other waterfalls below are worth checking out too. The water has shaped the rocks into perfectly cubed formations which makes them look like they belong in a scene from Tomb Raider.
There was a bit of confusion over the entrance to the waterfall. There are two people offering entry to the waterfall, at two different prices, and to be honest two different experiences. My assumption is that they own the land on either side of the river.
If you are approaching the waterfall from San Gil to the North, the first entrance from the road will ask you to sign in, and pay a fee which wasn’t extortionate, but was quite a bit more than I was expecting. They do, however, partner you with a guide who will lead you up through the multiple waterfalls and wait for you whilst you swim. If you ask, they will say that you can’t climb to the top of the final waterfall. But we learnt from our friends who took the second entrance that this wasn’t true.
The second entrance is on the South side of the river. Here, the entrance looks more official, it’s cheaper, and you can easily follow the path to the waterfall without a guide. However, note that you will not see the other waterfalls as you approach from this side, so take the time to follow the river down for a bit and explore.
The Chicamocha Canyon is epic! At a maximum depth of 2,000 meters, it’s the second deepest canyon on dry land. It’s also over 200 meters in length meaning that it can be explored from many more areas than just San Gil, but San Gil is generally the most popular base. As a motorcyclist I absolutely loved weaving up the roads around the Chicamocha Canyon and I was completely in awe of the biblical landscape. However, if you don’t have a motorbike there are plenty of other ways to experience its magnitude.
Helicopter. Not really, this isn’t Vegas.
Paragliding - This has to be one of the most magical places to paraglide. Your hostel or hotel will be able to organise this for you. However, it’s worth paying attention to the launch location. Some will take off from the Parque Nacional del Chicamocha, meaning that you will also get the chance to ride the cable car into the canyon (see below).
Cable car. 40 kms along the road to Bucaramanga, there is something which resembles a small amusement park, perched on the edge of the canyon. From here you can take a 6 km long Cable car which drops you right into the Chicamocha canyon and back up the other side. It’s breathtaking and worthwhile doing if you want to get a great look at this marvel of nature. https://parquenacionaldelchicamocha.com/portfolio/teleferico/
White water rafting. There are a couple of options for white water rafting, but if you opt for grade 3-5 (and I suggest you do), then part of the route will take you through the canyon. I’ll be honest though, whilst I really enjoyed the rafting, as a way to take in the magnitude of the canyon it didn’t beat standing at it’s edge or climbing it with my bike. Maybe it’s just too big to get a full sense of it’s magnitude from the bottom.
Walking and trail running. First of all, if ultra-marathons and trail running are your thing, then check out the Chicamocha Canyon in May/June. This area is all about trail running, and even if you’re not into it then it does mean that there are some well established routes for you you walk. It’s possible to walk from Villanueva to Jordan at the bottom of the Canyon. However, there is no easy way back apart from the way you came, so my advice would be to either run, or cut out the flat bit at the start and get a lift closer to the canyon. This way you should be able to ensure that you are back before it gets dark.
Mountain biking: There are a number of companies offering mountain biking tours at different levels. It’s my intention to do more research into these, but for now drop me a message on Instagram and I’ll help you out.
San Gil is a meca for adventure sports in Colombia. We will be adding a lot more information on the different options for each of the below, but for the moment, drop me a message on Instagram and I’ll answer any questions you have.
White water rafting