San Gil, Colombia (pronounced Sun Hill, in case you’re struggling with your Gringo accent!) is a picture-perfect colonial town in the north-eastern province of Santander. Surrounded by beautiful mountains, rivers and canyons, San Gil is the undisputed adventure capital of the region!
Whatever your level of adrenaline junkie there is something for you. From mountain-biking more extreme than Death Road in Bolivia to abseiling down a 50-metre waterfall, to a leisurely horseback ride through a valley.
The town itself is small – the population about 50,000 – with everything centred around the main square (or plaza mayor). San Gil is the perfect place to slow down and relax. It’s well connected with local and national transport so you can get here from anywhere in Colombia. Take an overnight bus from Santa Marta, Medellín or Bogota and get back to nature for a few days…
Juan Curi Waterfall seen from a distance.
Where to Stay in San Gil?
You’re spoiled for choice for backpacker hostels in San Gil, all of them rated highly on booking websites. You won’t spend much more than US$12 on a private room and you can get a bed in a dorm for half of that. You can’t go wrong with the location of any of the following accommodation options – everything in San Gil is walking distance…
Top 5 Hostels in San Gil
Macondo Hostel – From $8 US / Bed
Macondo is everything you’d hope for in a hostel and so much more! Set in a beautiful old colonial building with a beautiful garden, BBQ (and even a jacuzzi!), Macondo has a lot to tempt the adventurous traveller wanting to chill after a day’s activities.
This cosy hostel is a fun, sociable place with very helpful staff who will help you get a great price on a variety of adventure sports in San Gil. There are dorm rooms from $8US and private rooms from $30 US. All in all, a deservedly popular backpacker hostel! Centrally located.
Traveler Hostel – From $6 US / Bed
With a perfect location right in the middle of town, this hostel gets awesome reviews from travellers who love the chilled out vibe and sociable atmosphere. There’s a big shared kitchen for those of you who want to cook and the rooftop terrace with hammocks is a great place to chill after an active day out! They also have regular evening events to help travellers to meet and mingle and you can book activities at the hostel. From just $6 US for a bed in their spacious dorm rooms, this place is an absolute bargain!
Hostal Nomadas – From $6 US / Bed
Located in a historical building, this hostel is friendly, clean and cosy whose owner, Camilo, is ready to help you with anything you might need while you’re in San Gil. With dorm beds at $6 US per bed, it’s super cheap and you can grab a private room for just $12 US! A wholesome breakfast of bread, omelette, Colombian cheese, orange juice and coffee included.
Bacaregua Hostel – From $6 US / Bed
A beautiful rustic hostel in a central location that has a relaxed atmosphere and friendly staff. The internal patio area is pretty and well-kept and is a great place to chill in a comfy seat or a hammock and read a variety of the books that are available for guests. From the hostel’s front-desk, you can book every kind of activity in San Gil you can think of. Dorms start at $6 US and very nice privates start at $15 US.
La Pacha Hostel – From $7 US / Bed in a Dormitory Dome
This quirky, eco-friendly hostel is located 7 kilometres out of the centre of San Gil and is a great place to stay if you want to be completely immersed in nature with animals all around! (Buses to San Gil pass every 15 minutes on the main road.) Friendly owners, Andrea and Justin, are happy to help you with everything you need and help you book outdoor activities in the area.
The sleeping arrangements are in large ‘yurts’ (costing $17 US for two adults) and there are solar showers and sky-hammocks. In terms of entertainment, travellers congregate and socialise around regular bonfires, as well as the super-cool cinema bus! As one reviewer said about the hostel: “La Pacha attracts creative, social, conscious, spiritual people.” If that sounds like you – try it!
Also, check out Sam’s VIP Hostel in San Gil.
For a flashpacker stay, check out…
Meraki Boutique Hostel – From $33 US Twin or Double Room
Located close to the centre of town, this beautiful hostel is really more of a boutique guesthouse than a hostel. Immaculately clean and decorated to perfection, with a relaxing outdoor terrace surrounded by plants, you won’t want to leave this place once you’ve dropped your bag – they even have Netflix!
The views from the balcony of the property of the surrounding hills and tiled roofs of the city are just stunning. There’s a shared kitchen, common area and the bedrooms are spacious and comfortable. A delicious filling Colombian breakfast is provided every morning – the perfect flashpacker place to stay in San Gil!
Top Things to do in San Gil
Anything and everything that adventure junkies could ever desire can be done in San Gil, home of extreme sports in Colombia! You can book all of your adventure activities through your hostel. Some hostels, such as Macondo, run their own activities. Shop around for the best price.
Colombian Bike Junkies’ whole day mountain bike tour is the most famous activity in San Gil amongst backpackers. By all accounts it is amazing, but there’s a chance it won’t run if they don’t have the minimum number of bookings required. If you’ve only got a few days in San Gil make sure you book immediately – if it doesn’t happen on your first day, at least there’ll be other opportunities. Not to be missed!
White Water Rafting
If your bike tour doesn’t go ahead there are plenty of other guided activities to fill your day with. Try white-water rafting along the rapids of the Suarez River with the great outdoor company, Colombia Rafting Expeditions.
Book your canyoning expedition through El Dorado Hostel and you won’t regret it. Explore a cave used by the indigenous population to hide from the invading Spaniards; rappel down a 25-metre rock face; climb down through the Antiquoia Canyon and jump off of the rocks into the refreshing pools. Even if you don’t stay at El Dorado you should try to do their canyoning tour – you’ll have the best day out with the guides Louis and Jose for a bargain price.
Canyoning with El Dorado.
Horse riding through the valleys is a spectacular way of enjoying the scenery for those looking for something milder.
Paraglide for only USD$50 over the mountains and valleys of San Gil.
Curiti Rock Pools
There’s plenty of adventuring to be done solo, too. Jump on a bus to Curiti then walk 3kms out of town to the rock pools. Spend the day clambering over the rocks to discover rock pool after rock pool.
Curiti Rock Pools
Cascada Juan Curi
The beautiful Cascada Juan Curi waterfall is only a 45 minutes local bus ride away. Pay your 7000 peso entry at the farm at the bottom of the hill then walk 25 minutes up the jungle path until you reach the waterfall.
Beautiful Cascada Juan Curi waterfall
How to get to San Gil
San Gil is a quick two and a half hours from Santander’s capital, Bucaramanga, with buses running every half hour. The best part is that Bucaramanga is easily accessed by all major cities. An overnight bus from Medellin or Santa Marta will take 10 hours and or 7 hours, or you could look for a cheap VivaColombia flight. Bogota direct to San Gil should take about 7 hours on a bus.
San Gil is the perfect place to lay over for a few days between any of the big cities. If you’re coming to San Gil from Bogota or Medellin, carry on up to the Caribbean Coast. Alternatively, if you’re heading south this is the perfect pit stop before Bogota or Medellin. Regardless of which direction you’re moving, just make sure you relax and enjoy the countryside of San Gil for a few days.
By Alex Sizer of Lookwhatwedone.com