San Gil: Colombia’s Adventure Capital

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San Gil
San Gil
San Gil
San Gil

San Gil has been dubbed the adventure capital of Colombia, thanks to a variety of outdoor activities including: whitewater rafting, kayaking, caving, hiking, paraglidingmountain biking, and horseback riding.

In addition, it acts as a base for exploring Parque Nacional de Chicamocha, as well as Barichara, one of the prettiest pueblos in Colombia.

If that’s not enough, it’s also a relaxing place to learn the Colombian game of tejo, and sample the regional cuisine of Santander, including hormigas culonas (ants).

Following three nights in Bucaramanga, I took a minivan service to San Gil. The minivans depart the main bus terminal every 30-40 minutes, at a cost of $8.50.

One of my favorite spots, Restaurant La Libertad (on the 2nd floor balcony), has a great view of the main plaza.
One of my favorite spots, Restaurant La Libertad (on the 2nd floor balcony), has a great view of the main plaza.

The ride to San Gil takes about three hours, because the bus makes several stops on the way out of Bucaramanga to pick up more passengers. My return ride was shorter at just under two and a half hours.

Along the way, you’ll hit some nauseating mountain roads, and pass through the Chicamocha Valley (one of the world’s deepest valleys).

For some, these brief views from a van may be sufficient, but I found a separate visit to the park to be a worthwhile endeavor.

View of the main plaza from Restaurant La Libertad
View of the main plaza from Restaurant La Libertad

The minivan let me off at the corner of San Gil’s main plaza. I quickly found Sam’s VIP Hostel, recommended to me by my friend Troy.

I checked into a private room with balcony overlooking the plaza for $19 a night, and allowed my stomach a few hours to recover from the winding roads.

Gringo Mike's restaurant
Gringo Mike’s restaurant

Once I was feeling better, I went for a walk around the plaza, and ended up at Gringo Mike’s, an endearing little restaurant started by an expat named Mike back in 2010.

Normally I’d run the other way from a restaurant with “gringo” in the name, but the menu held promise, so I took a table for dinner.

The Bangkok Belly Buster
The Bangkok Belly Buster

I ordered the new Bangkok Belly Buster, a red thai curry spiced burger with cucumber, green onions, lettuce, and house ranch served with a side of Thai sweet chili sauce for $6.75.

Not only was it one of the best, most flavorful burgers I’ve eaten in Latin America, it was one of the best in my life. It was so good, I felt inspired to write my first restaurant review on TripAdvisor.

The central market
The central market

During the following days, between my side trips to other points of interest, I explored a little more of San Gil

Housed in a large yellow building, the main market in San Gil is a few blocks from the plaza, and offers an opportunity to try local fruit drinks and foods.

Entrance to Parque Natural El Gallineral
Entrance to Parque Natural El Gallineral

Along the malecon (boardwalk) which runs along the river, you can find the Parque Gallineral.

Entrance is $3.30, but the park looked like it’d seen better days. One bright spot was the open-air restaurant, which offered a peaceful lunch setting.

Overall, I’d recommend skipping the park, unless you’re into birds or the local flora.

View of San Gil. The church in the center marks the main plaza.
View of San Gil. The church in the center marks the main plaza.

The following is a sample of activities you can book from any number of tour agencies in San Gil:

  • Whitewater rafting: $68
  • 3-day kayaking clinic: $190
  • Riverboarding: $22
  • Paragliding at Chicamocha: $92
  • Abseil the Juan Curry watefalls (60 meters): $24
  • Caving at Cueva de la Vaca: $14
  • Horseback riding: $19

Talk to other travelers to get recommendations on which company to use.

I passed on them all, more interested in staying dry, and keeping my feet on the ground. In that respect, my trip to San Gil was similar to Ryan’s visit last year.

In the next few posts, I’ll be sharing my experiences at Chicamocha, Barichara, and the local tejo parlor.

What’s your favorite thing to do in San Gil?

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