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Thanks to the peace agreement and safety initiatives that have swept through the corners of the nation, Colombia is quickly growing as a go-to vacation destination for a number of different traveler types, including backpackers, digital nomads, and even weekenders from Florida. And while big cities like Bogota, Medellin, and Cartagena are rapidly adjusting to newfound tourist traffic, much of the densely forested and mountainous regions of the country remain largely untouched by gringo feet.
Colombia is a remarkably beautiful country and even though some hiking trails may not be as established or world famous as Peru’s Incan Trail, hiking in Santander — a department of Colombia in its northeastern interior — promises to be rife with natural magnificence. Santander is ready to welcome modern explorers, so here are our favorite trails and hiking hubs in Santander.
San Gil is reminiscent of towns in the U.S like Moab, or in Europe like Interlaken. The city itself is not very big but attracts a large number of adrenaline junkies because of its intersection with nature. In San Gil, like the other places mentioned, it’s uncommon to go longer than 20 minutes without seeing someone attached to a parachute descending from the clouds.
The culmination of hiking Pescaderito ends at a series of swimming holes and natural springs, perfect for beating the afternoon heat and enjoying a picnic. To get there, take a bus from to San Gil to Curiti and ask the driver to leave you at Pescaderito. From there, it’s little more than a 40-minute stroll amongst beautiful scenery. Pozo Azul is a similar hiking destination in San Gil.
Difficulty Level: Easy
Parque Natural El Gallineral
Another easily accessible location from San Gil, as well as a good place to ease into hiking, the riverside Parque El Gallineral has an ethereal atmosphere created by the rush of the rivers and the long draping moss falling from the trees — which locals fondly call barbas de viejo, or ‘old man’s beard’.
Difficulty Level: Easy
Camino Real Barichara to Guane
Close to San Gil is the small pueblo of Barichara, a town that some will argue is the most beautiful in Colombia. The cobblestone streets, Spanish tiled roofs, and surrounding hillsides paint a very pretty picture. Just on the outskirts of town, adventurers will find an ancient cobblestone path with signs marking it as the beginning of Camino Real, a route originally constructed by the local indigenous tribe, the Guane people. The walk between the pueblitos takes about two hours to complete at a leisurely pace.
Difficulty Level: Easy for the physically fit.
For those looking for a challenge, stay in Guarne and continue for two additional days after the original route from Barichara. Day two will allow trekkers to traverse alongside then down into Chicamocha Canyon, one of the deepest canyons in the world, before settling in, or camping outside of, the shrinking town of Jordan. Chicamocha Canyon is also its own National Park with many trails and small towns that enjoy breathtaking viewpoints. The third day should be started before first light to be able to make the ascent up the other side of the canyon prior to the afternoon heat pouring onto the generally shadeless trail. Day three will be the most strenuous, both mentally and physically, as hikers may have to cross an old wooden suspension bridge in the dark, and later gain nearly 3,300 feet of elevation.
The areas occupying the triangle of Guane, Los Santos, and Zapatoca have numerous hiking alternatives for those eager to try additional moderate and difficult trails. Many of these intersect or primarily run with what is referred to as ‘El Camino de Lenguerke’, named after the German man who restored Camino Real in the 1800s.
Difficulty Level: Difficult
Quebrada Las Gachas
South of San Gil outside of Guadalupe, outdoorsmen, and women can discover a destination, quickly gaining popularity and not overly populated with people because of its isolation. Quebrada Las Gaches is a river that flows in a reddish hue and packed with numerous natural pools, sometimes jokingly referred to as “Jacuzzis”, where swimmers can lounge and enjoy the cool waters gush alongside their personal pit. The walk from Guadalupe is not difficult at all but does run through farmland.
Difficulty Level: Easy (however the bus routes to Guadalupe may be more difficult; be sure not to take a bus to the Guadalupe in the Antioquia department.)