Santander isn’t a department that I had heard much about prior to visiting. It’s definitely not prominent on the backpacker or tourist trail, however after visiting I’ve no idea why! It’s an incredible area packed full of picturesque towns trapped in time and equally arresting vistas; mountainous backdrops, lush meadows, unique colourful rivers and ample hiking opportunities!
My first stop was into the captial Bucaramanga, a lengthy but affordable bus journey from Bogotà. Plenty of parks and museums to explore but the wilderness was calling so I headed to Mesa de los Santos and the famous Chicamocha canyon. I stayed at a hostel for climbers (Mesa de los Santos is a climbers paradise) perched on the edge of the canyon with a stunning area to sit and admire the view. Perfect camping spot and equally perfect for hiking, if travelling light it’s even possible to hike to the next towns from here.
There are numerous access points to the teleferico (cable cart- interestingly the longest one in South America!) to cross this impressive canyon, I opted to cross in the direction of San Gil, Colombia’s adventure capital. For an extreme sports hub San Gil is actually a very pretty town in itself. I was beginning to discover each of these towns had similarly beautiful plazas, complete with gardens, the token church, cobbled streets and always lots of people happily sitting in the sunshine or plying their trade. Options of activtiies here range from rafting to bungee jumping or a pleasant plan B is just soaking up the rays and atmosphere whilst strolling the streets.
The Centre & South
The next stop was the small town of Barichara famous for it’s beauty and consistently rated amongst the top 5 best looking towns in the country. It didn’t disappoint. From here the common thing to do is a hike to Guane, a non strenous (1-2 hours depedning on speed) albeit hot walk through some captivating scenery, devoid of another soul let alone a tourist mob. Guane is nearly as charming as Barichara and from the plaza it’s possible to catch a bus for the return journey. Onwards to Guadalupe was an interesting journey to say the least, crammed on the back of a cart with school children, eggs, potatoes, you name it! Upon arrival the self appointed tour guide for the town appeared to meet us. José owns a restaurant nearby but will help you find accommodation as there really is no tourist infrastructure here and I didn’t see any extrañjeros at all. I don’t think there are many hotels and I ended up staying with a host family which was a wonderful experience! Again this town is really pleasing to the eye as you can see from the picture below of Guadalupe’s church. José was invaluable in providing directions (and complimentary transport) to the main attraction here, a river not too disimilar from the famous caño cristales!
All in all Santander is a rewarding and feasible trip from Bogotá with something for everyone, just a final word of warning, they eat ants as a delicacy there so watch out for those!