After leaving the capital of Colombia, I made my way north to a town called San Gil. If I’m honest with myself, I wasn’t expecting much, but boy, was I pleasantly surprised!
I guess the first thing worth mentioning is that catching a bus in Colombia isn’t the same as catching a bus in the East. This is for 2 primary reasons: in the East, tourism service providers’ will basically wipe your arse for you in order to get a sale but in Colombia, if you don’t like the offer, bugger off to the next seller, gringo.
The second reason is that when you’re on the bus, it won’t stop for the customary toilet/food breaks very often so be prepared. We arrived in San Gil in dire need of a meal and toilet (yes, there’s an on board toilet, but who really needs to catch Hepatitis that badly?).
Upon arrival in San Gil, we walked the 345 kms to the hostel in an attempt to save the taxi fare. Ok, ok – it wasn’t that far but in the heat, it may as well have been. Once we entered the old town of San Gil, one is hit by the strong Spanish influence – ancient cathedrals, central parks full of locals enjoying the afternoon sunlight, small food stalls and artists trying to earn an honest living – it was really refreshing witnessing all of this.
The hostel was a win too – El Dorado International Backpackers – definitely gets a thumbs up from me. They have a resident dog who was remarkable. He’s a mix of bulldog and something else but the chap is 100% personality, I’d stay there again just to see the mutt!
San Gil is known for being the adventure capital of Colombia, so this means there is an endless array of hiking, zip-lining, paragliding, kayaking etc, opportunities available. We opted for a hike from Barichara (45 minutes by public bus from San Gil) to Guane. The hike, called the Camino Real, runs for about 10 kms and is an easy hike – nothing to fear. It takes you through the rough farm land of Colombia which really is beautiful.
The hike ends in the town of Guane which is only the size of a postage stamp, but your typical quaint Spanish-style village with a cathedral and central square, surrounded by white-washed terracotta- roofed buildings.
Beware of a scam when looking for the return bus to Barichara – the bus runs every hour but some entrepreneurial locals approach tourists with a story about how the last bus has come and gone due to a rockfall (or some other bullshit). This is their way of conning you into a more expensive ride back to Barichara – don’t believe it. As one such operator was trying to con us, the local bus rocked up and the local was left feeling very awkward!
Upon our return to San Gil, the rest of our time there was spent wandering the cobble-stoned streets of the town or relaxing in the tree-lined central square. It’s so relaxed that it’s hard not to enjoy yourself! Being on a rather tight budget, we’d find a supermarket and buy some beers to drink in the park (like a homeless person, yes). Once I got over my self-esteem issues, I can’t imagine drinking a beer anywhere else now!