SAN GIL GUIDE
San Gil has a reputation of being the Adventure Capital of Colombia. The settings close to wild rivers and deep canyons encourage travelers to try paragliding or rafting and hills around are a mecca for bikers. But what if you're traveling long-term and cannot spend your daily budget just to rent a bike? Do not despair because there is plenty to see and do anyway. Visit El Gallineral Natural Park, Juan Curi waterfall or explore nearby colonial village Barichara.
At first sight, San Gil is not the prettiest city we've ever visited. Also, in the mid-July, it was not the liveliest city as we almost did not meet any international travelers. But at the end, this is what we enjoyed the most. The city where locals are at home and not city transformed into tourist skansen. San Gil lives at its own pace, and only a few touts near El Gallineral Park provide a hint that something is going on here.
If you are looking for some adrenaline adventure, you won't have a problem to find a travel agent's offices to book an activity you prefer (rafting, biking, paragliding, bungee jumping, skydiving, etc.) or every front desk agent in hotel or hostel will gladly help you out (come with decent Spanish or your dictionary handy).
WHAT TO DO IN SAN GIL
We love trying new things, but as we did not set for how long we want to travel, in a nutshell, it will last only as long as we will have money to spend, we always need to think twice when it comes to activities and more expensive tours. We found all adventure activities in San Gil a bit pricey for what it offers, but good news, there are still activities you can enjoy without breaking the bank.
We were lucky enough to be in San Gil on Colombia's Independence Day. The city was full of cheerful people, waving flags and early in the morning, there was a small parade.
First in the line stood soldiers because still, even though Colombia recovers its reputation of being a violent country, the demonstration of power and presence of soldiers works well, keeps the country stable and that's why it also seems that members of police or army still receive special treatment and honor.
Back at home in Europe, we don't see weaponry that often on the streets, and to be honest, I feel more uneasy than safe with so many guns around. Right after went musician groups of different age showing their performance, flag bearers, horses, and all the parade went to the main square.
EL GALLINERAL NATURAL PARK
Right behind the gate on the main street where we paid COP 6 000 each and got a wristband permitting the access to the park, we appeared, almost literally, in the jungle.
Right in the middle of San Gil, on an island between two arms of the Quebrada Curití and Río Fonce lies the pride of the city, El Gallineral Park.
The 4-hectare park is worth exploring, and that's what we did right after our arrival.
It's a peaceful place, unlike the rest of the city, where we could've to wander around and observe colorful birds, listen to the unknown sounds and admire incredibly high trees covered with long silvery moss also known as old man's beard that dangles from the branches.
JUAN CURI WATERFALL
A spectacular 180 meters high waterfall with a natural pool beneath was exactly what we needed to escape the city's heat.
The waterfall is well-known by locals so at the bus station buy a ticket for a bus going to Charala (stand 4) and ask a driver to be dropped off at Las Cascadas. There are two official bus terminals in San Gil. One is on the outskirt for long-distance buses, but to get to waterfalls, you need to find the central one from where local buses depart (San Gil Terminalito on the corner of Calle 17 and Carrera 10).
The bus ticket cost COP 5 000, and the entrance fee is COP 9 000. The bus will stop right at the gate, and it takes about 20 minutes to walk to the waterfall base. The dip is refreshing and vegetation around lush and green, you can walk around a bit while using chains to stay safe and not to slip. To get back, stand on the roadside, wait for a bus coming from Charala to San Gil and pray there will be a seat available.
Barichara, an upscale town, only 20 kilometers from San Gil took us back to Spanish colonial times. The architecture is similar to another Colombia's gem Villa de Leyva (read our guide HERE), but Barichara looks cleaner, more consistent and we truly enjoyed our time here. For budget travelers like us, it made more sense to arrive here for one day trip from San Gil, as the accommodation is more expensive, but it is for sure very atmospheric, and you can check rates HERE if you plan to stay overnight.
HOW TO GET TO SAN GIL
You won't have troubles to arrive directly from Bogota. We were coming from Villa de Leyva, and there were two options. Take a bus back to Tunja and switch to a direct bus to San Gil or from Villa de Leyva go to Arabuco for COP 7 000 and from here take a bus to San Gil. We chose the latter, but if you are going the same direction, we recommend to go through Tunja. Not only the road to Arabuco was not fully paved therefore slow, but when we arrived in Arabuco, we were told that all the buses passing by are already occupied (although promised in Villa de Leyva that the driver will book it for us). After we tried to persuade the salesperson nicely to get us on board (using Google Translate), after 30 minutes we lost our patience and thankfully he understood from our non-verbal communication, that we have no intentions to spend a night here and found two seats for us in direct bus to San Gil for COP 25 000 each.
WHERE TO EAT IN SAN GIL
San Gil did not go beyond in terms of Colombian food. That's why we were happy to discover the restaurant El Mana. For COP15 000 they serve a 4-course menu. We did not discover their opening hours, as one day it was closed completely, the other day they opened at 6 PM and the last day around 7 PM.
WHERE TO STAY IN SAN GIL
There are many decent budget options where to stay in San Gil's downtown. We stayed in the family-run Hotel Real Polux, but you can check other possibilities HERE. All hotels will gladly help you to book a tour in case you want to spend your time in San Gil more adventurously.