Sunday, 15 April 2012


San Gil is a larger town in the south of Santander. The streets are cobbled in places around the colonial style centre and some are incredibly steep. A number of companies offer adventure sports in and around the canyon. Having seen the nearby River Fonce with very powerful rapids, I can imagine the rafting and canoing is exhilarating. There's also climbing, caving, mountain biking and paragliding on offer.

The people of Santander are famous for eating “hormigas culonas” or big-bottomed ants. The fried abdomen of these giant leafcutter ants, one the largest species in the world, were traditional food of the local Guane tribes. Now they are sold by street vendors, and the ant is used as a symbol around Santander. I've not tried eating them yet, I'm waiting for the fresh harvest.

In the town is Gallineral park. It is well maintained and makes for a good visit. Just outside is a giant ant sculpture. The trees and flowers around the several small bubbling streams and the powerful River Fonce make for good pictures.

Just outside San Gil is the Pozo Azul, a small natural swimming hole which is great for cooling off. Outdoor swimming holes are dotted around the area and they are one of the big pluses for me. You might have to put up with very loud Vallenato accordion music from the cafe in Pozo Azul. Playing loud music is just part of Colombian culture unfortunately.

Not far from San Gil is the pretty colonial town of Barichara, which I like a great deal. The municipal authorities have been very strict in maintaining the character by enforcing rules on the appearance of the the buildings, the narrow cobbled streets, and the main square with its stone church.

The cafes and restaurants are also pretty good. Many of them serve roast goat, a local specialty. We were told the property prices in the town were very high, and of rumours that ex-presidents owned buildings there. I'm sure Barichara gets plenty of tourists at peak times, but it was very quiet when we went during the week. Just a few blocks from the main square are two purpose-built viewpoints with impressive vistas. You can look out over the Rio Suárez about 800m below to the next mountain range on the other side. There's a walk of about 10km to another small town nearby, Guane, which we hope to try soon.

They even have a statue and even a monument to the ants in the beautifully restored town hall!

Saturday, 14 April 2012


The south of Santander has some exceptional destinations for tourism and we've had a few day trips and one overnighter. There is stunning mountain scenery, colonial architecture, interesting food and a host of outdoor adventure activities. The Chicamocha canyon is an attraction on a grand scale and together with the area around it provides a great place to visit. Here, the Chicamocha river has cut a deep canyon into the mountains and it makes a u-turn, winding around a place called Pescadero before joining the Sogomoso River. The canyon seems to have its own climate and is much drier than surrounding areas, so there's much more cactus and desert type scrub amongst the open rocks.

At Pescadero, the road from Bucaramanga to Bogotá climbs a series of hairpins before reaching Panachi – Parque Nacional del Chicamocha – and then goes on south to San Gil. The visitors centre perched on the mountain is well worth stopping for, even if the entrance fee seems high. The panoramic views are superb.

The enormous sculpture commemorating the “Revolt of comuneros” of Santander who started an uprising against tobacco taxation in 1781, is also very impressive. The sculpture represents a tobacco leaf, on which are posed various larger-than-life size figures with dramatic expressions making it a little disturbing when you stand amongst them.

There are a few attractions in Panachi for the adrenaline junkies – two long zip-wires, a couple of very large swings which take you out over the cliff edge, a zorb track and more attractions are being developed. There is also a cable car running across the canyon for a distance of about 6km to the Mesa de Los Santos. This 25 minute each-way trip is a great way to see the canyon closer-up.