Barichara, Colombia

A horse on a colonial street in Barichara  

Hidden among the hills of Colombia’s Santander region is a sleepy, colonial town with cobblestone streets and scenic views. Most backpackers who arrive in nearby San Gil for a quick adrenaline rush usually skip a visit to this gem, which has earned the title of most beautiful town in Colombia. If river rafting, paragliding, or drinking the night away with adventurous backpackers at one of San Gil’s party hostels isn’t your thing, Barichara might just be your kind of place.

Barichara charms visitors with its natural and man-made beauty. Strolling along the town’s streets with houses boasting colorful doors and windowsills might tempt you to take up photography professionally. And the best part? It is only a 40-min bus ride from San Gil, which means that if you do want to go mountain biking (or participate in any activity offered there), the commute is short and a small price to pay for the inspiration you will receive from Barichara’s serenity.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABright green doors of Barichara

Things to do:

Barichara is a destination neither for the thrill seeker nor for the activity junkie. In fact, the less you do in this town, the more you will experience. Put on your Baricharan attitude for a few days, visit the market to buy some fresh fruits, get a manicure at Yaja Sala de Bellaza, walk around town aimlessly. Barichara might just surprise you with what you find in its nooks and crannies.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOver the rooftops of Barichara

  • People watch in the main square: Get a delicious ice-cream stick from the store next to the ATM machine in the main plaza, find an empty bench in front of the Church of the Immaculate Conception and watch how Baricharans have managed to stop time.
  • Visit nearby town Guane: Guane is an even smaller version of Barichara and like all Colombian towns, has a main plaza with a church in the middle of it. While it consists of more or less eight streets, one can easily spend an hour or two watching the locals go about their day, sampling their famous goat milk, and visiting the fossil museum.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe streets of small Guane

  • Hike El Camino Real: While buses frequently shuttle locals between the Guane and Barichara, the historic Camina Real is a scenic, stone-paved path, connecting the two towns.  The 9 km hike is not tough and takes about two hours with plenty of rests to take in the view. Unless you want to hike both directions, I recommend walking to Guane as it is more downhill and then taking the bus back to Barichara.   Remember to leave enough time in Guane before the last bus departs around 18:00. (Ask for an updated schedule at the ticket office by the main plaza in Barichara).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Camino Real

  • Casa de Aqueleo Parra: For a bit of history, visit the home of Aquileo Parra (1825-1900), Colombia’s first president, who was born in Barichara.
  • Taste Baricharan delicacy fried giant ants. If eating crunchy insects isn’t your thing, go to La Casona for a delicious goat lunch or try an arepa burger at Igua Nauno.

Where to Stay?

Tinto Hostel with its wooden terraces and comfy hammocks might ruin you for all future hostels. The place, which even has a small pool, feels more like a home than a hostel, especially if you make yourself a meal in it’s well-equipped kitchen. Book in advanced, as this hostel is a backpackers’ favorite.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe kitchen at Tinto Hostel

While I haven’t stayed there myself, I heard good things about Color de Hormiga from travelers who arrived in town to find Tinto fully booked.

Getting there:

Barichara is a 30-40 minute local bus ride from San Gil. Beware as there are two bus stations in San Gil and the main busses coming from Bogota or Santa Marta drop you off on the side of the main road. Best take a cab for 4,000 – 5,000 pesos and ask them to take you to the local bus terminal on Calle 15/Carrera 10.

Where to Go Next?

From San Gil, overnight buses run to most main destinations. Santa Marta and Medellin are approximately a 12-hour bus ride away. If you couldn’t get enough of Barichara’s serenity and are on your way south toward Bogota, stop by Villa de Leyva to check out another gorgeous colonial town.

About the Author: Nathalie Alyon is a Tel-Avivian Turk currently traveling in Latin America and writing about it. Follow her blog on intercultural living at www.packthestory.com

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