San Gil, Colombia

A man jumps of a rock into the water in San Gil, Colombia  

San Gil (pronounced Sun Hill, in case you’re struggling with your Gringo accent!) is a picture-perfect town in the north-eastern province of Santander. Surrounded by beautiful mountains, San Gil is the 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 50m 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. It’s 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, Medellin or Bogota and get back to nature for a few days.

6 San GilJuan Curi Waterfall seen from a distance

Where to Stay in San Gil?

You’re spoiled for choice for 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 book all of your adventure activities through your hostel. Some hostels, such as Macondo, run their own activities. 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.

You can’t go wrong with the location of any of these accommodation options – everything in San Gil is walking distance.

If the local delicacy of fried ants doesn’t float your boat, Sam’s VIP hostel or Gringo Mike’s will whip you up an amazing hamburger for a few thousand pesos.

Things to do?

Anything and everything that adventure junkies could ever desire!

  • Mountain Bike – Colombian Bike Junkies whole day mountain bike tour is the most famous activity. 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’s other opportunities.
  • White Water Rafting – If your bike tour doesn’t go ahead there’s plenty of other guided activities to fill your day with. Try white-water rafting along the rapids of the Suarez River with Colombia Rafting Expeditions.
  • Canyoning – Book your canyoning expedition through El Dorado Hostel. Explore a cave used by the indigenous population to hide from the invading Spaniards; rappel down a 25m rock face; climb down through the Antiquoia Canyon and jump off of the rocks into the refreshing pools.

4 San GilCanyoning with El Dorado 

  • Horse Riding – Horse riding through the valleys is a spectacular way of enjoying the scenery for those looking for something milder.
  • Paragliding – Paraglide for only USD$50 over the mountains and valleys.
  • 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.

2 San GilCuriti Rock Pools

5 San GilThe main church in Curiti

  • 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.

3 San GilBeautiful Cascada Juan Curi waterfall

Getting there:

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 in San Gil for a few days.

By Alex Sizer of Lookwhatwedone.com

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