San Gil is known as “Colombia’s Adventure Capital” with so much to do nearby including white water rafting, paragliding, caving, rappelling, hiking and much more. In this article we look at 16 top things to do in San Gil.
San Gil is a pueblo in the Santander Department of Colombia with a population of less than 50,000. It was founded in 1689. So, San Gil is over 300 years old. And in 2004, San Gil was named the tourist capital of Santander.
Each year, San Gil is being discovered by more foreign tourists but it’s still off the beaten path for most tourists visiting Colombia.
So, what are you waiting for? Pack a bag and head to San Gil. While there, here’s 16 top things to do in San Gil and nearby in no particular order:
1. Hike up Cerro de la Cruz (Hill of the Cross)
Cerro de la Cruz is undoubtedly one of the main viewpoints in San Gil. It’s a hill with a cross monument at the top that provides a great panoramic view of the pueblo.
Also, it’s considered a religious spot with a monument dating from 1888 when a mission of the Jesuits left a wooden cross as a reminder of passage through San Gil. In 1989, the wooden cross was replaced by the current concrete cross/monument.
This is a relatively easy hike from the main plaza in San Gil. It’s only about 30 minutes.
2. White Water Rafting
One of the main adventure activities in San Gil is white water rafting. And there are three rivers nearby to enable white water rafting:
- Rio Fonce – this is the river that runs through San Gil. It offers a 6.8 mile (11 km) rafting trip that lasts a little over an hour with class 1-3 rapids. This is the least expensive rafting option.
- Rio Chicamocha – this is the river that runs through Chicamocha Canyon. So, it offers amazing scenery. It offers a 1.5-hour rafting trip with class 1-3 rapids. Also, longer two-day rafting trips are available.
- Rio Suarez – this is considered by many to be the best rafting in the area. It offers a 12.4 mile (20 km( rafting trip that takes 2-3 hours with class 4-5 rapids. So, this is for more experienced rafters.
All three river options near San Gil are good rafting trips and will get your adrenaline flowing.
When I went rafting in San Gil, I used Colombia Rafting Expeditions and the staff was amazing. And I recommend rafting in San Gil to any adventure tourist.
When you go rafting, it’s recommended that you wear a bathing suit or shorts, a shirt, water sandals with a strap (not flip-flops), mosquito repellant and sun screen. You could also wear tennis shoes but they will be soaked.
3. Visit Chicamocha National Park
Chicamocha National Park (Parque Nacional del Chicamocha) is a national park located along the Chicamocha Canyon.
Chicamocha Canyon has a maximum depth of 6,600 feet (2,000 meters) and an area of 270,000 acres with a length of 141 miles (227 km). And the Chicamocha River runs along the bottom of the canyon.
This canyon is the second-deepest worldwide. And during the bus ride from Bucaramanga to San Gil, you will see this massive canyon.
Chicamocha National Park is a tourist attraction due to the amazing landscape and the variety of outdoor activities including paragliding, camping, fishing, rafting, hiking and mountain climbing.
The park has a cable car that crosses the Chicamocha Canyon. In addition, it’s one of the longest cable car lines in the world at 3.9 miles (6.3 km). This cable car system opened in January 2009.
Also, in the park are several attractions including Museo Guane, an ostrich park, a goat park, several plazas, an exhibit hall and a 360-degree viewing deck located at the highest point of the Chicamocha Canyon.
Chicamocha National Park is open from Wednesday to Friday from 10 am to 6 pm. And on Saturday, Sunday and holidays it’s open 9 am to 7 pm.
Chicamocha Canyon is very impressive, imposing and majestic and definitely is worth seeing.
4. Go Paragliding
There are two locations near San Gil to go paragliding. Curiti is about 40 minutes away and Chicamocha Canyon is over an hour away.
Some tourists opt for Curiti as it’s a closer, quicker and cheaper option to try out paragliding. Departures from San Gil leave at noon or later and the cost is 80,000 pesos. For this flight you’ll be flying over farmlands but won’t get a view of Chicamocha Canyon, as it’s far away.
Your flight time at Curiti will be about 10-12 minutes. And total duration for paragliding at Curiti including roundtrip from San Gil is about three hours.
The other paragliding option in Chicamocha Canyon. Departures from San Gil leave in the morning between 8:30 and 10:00 am. And the cost is 180,000 pesos.
Chicamocha Canyon is the second largest canyon on Earth. So, the views are fantastic for this paragliding tour. And your flight time at Chicamocha Canyon is longer at 20-30 minutes.
A Chicamocha Canyon paragliding adventure will take up about five hours including roundtrip from San Gil. So, it will chew up most of a day.
5. Rock Climbing at Mesa de los Santos
Mesa de los Santos (Table of the Saints) is located near the tiny town of La Mojarra. And it offers some of the best rock climbing in Colombia.
Mesa de los Santos is located on the other side of Chicamocha Canyon from San Gil. So, you’ll have to take the scenic way down a cable car to get there from San Gil.
If you are a rock climber, this place likely could keep you busy for weeks. It reportedly has over 100 bolted sport routes with difficulties up to 5.14.
In addition, Refugio La Roca is an ecological refuge located nearby that has rooms and offers climbing activities, equipment and guides.
6. Take a Stroll in Parque El Gallineral
On the edge of town in San Gil is Parque El Gallineral, which is a nature reserve on the banks of the Rio Fonce. This park is a nice place for a stroll where you can enjoy some peace and quiet after all of the extreme sports found in San Gil.
There are several paths and bridges over streams in the forest, which is full of birds. And many of the trees in the park are covered with long tendrils of moss called barbas de viejo (old man’s beard) that creates kind of an eerie but interesting atmosphere.
There is also a nice restaurant with some good coffee and even a chlorinated pool where you can swim. The pool was built to replace a natural pool that was closed because of health issues.
Parque El Gallineral is located only about a 10-minute walk from the main plaza in town. It’s located near Aratoka Street and Calle 6. And the cost to enter is only 6,000 pesos. It’s open from 8 am to 6 pm and the pool is open from 9 am to 5 pm.
7. Visit Parque La Libertad and Catedral Santa Cruz
Parque La Libertad, also known as Parque Principal, is a tree-lined plaza in San Gil that is worth visiting.
The daily life in San Gil is typically centered around Parque La Libertad, which is a one square block plaza that has trees for shade. In addition, near this plaza are several small restaurants, bars and shops.
Also, Catedral Santa Cruz is located on this main plaza, which is a beautiful 18th-century stone church that is worth seeing.
In addition, on the weekends, the plaza normally comes alive with local families enjoying the atmosphere while street vendors sell street food.
8. Go Caving in Curiti
Curiti is located only a 30-minute bus ride from San Gil. You don’t need to arrange a tour from San Gil. You can go to Curiti by bus and Gua-iti Aventura is the tour company in Curiti that offers 2-hour cave tours of the Cow Cave (Cueva de Vaca).
The Cow Cave is reportedly the best cave in the areas around San Gil. This cave has many stalactites and stalagmites and some tight spots. If you’re claustrophobic, can’t swim or are not willing to get dirty, this probably isn’t the adventure for you.
Also, there is a dreaded portion of this cave tour where you have to swim through a hole with a rope to guide you to get to the next room.
The highlight of this tour is the final room with large stalactites hanging from the roof of the cave like chandeliers and a small waterfall in the center of the room.
Note that some guides from Gua-iti Aventura don’t speak English. So, if you don’t speak much Spanish wait for a bilingual guide.
9. Go Swimming at Pozo Azul
Pozo Azul is a nice swimming location that is located only about 2 km from San Gil on the road to Bucaramanga. You could take a quick taxi for about 8,000 pesos. Or it’s walkable – only about a 20-30-minute walk from San Gil.
Poza Azul is refreshing natural pool with some very small waterfalls. The water is very refreshing and there is lots of shade nearby. Also, there is a small café selling drinks and snacks and a few larger restaurants at the top of the road.
Entrance to Poza Azul is free. And this is a good place to spend a few hours swimming and relaxing. Also, there are a number of birds in the area. So, you can also do some birding.
Another natural pool near San Gil is Pescaderito, which is located on the road to Curiti.
10. Eat at Gringo Mike’s
Gringo Mike’s is a popular restaurant in San Gil owned by an expat from Seattle. This restaurant has good American-style food including good burgers, quesadillas, burritos and sandwiches. And it’s located just north of the main plaza in San Gil.
Everything is fresh, the burgers are greasy and very tasty. Also, they have good cheese fries and milkshakes. In addition, they have breakfast with excellent French toast and breakfast burritos. And you can see Gringo Mike’s menu online.
Gringo Mike’s is located in Casa Lopez at Calle 12, # 8-35, Local 103. And it’s open from 8 am to 11 pm.
11. Take a Side Trip to Barichara
Barichara is a small pueblo located about 45 minutes from San Gil by bus that is worth a visit. Barichara has been described as one of the prettiest towns in Colombia. It’s a beautiful Colonial town where you and walk down cobblestone streets, see the beautiful natural surroundings and try out local restaurants.
Barichara’s cobblestone streets are a major part of the pueblo’s appeal. You could easily spend a few hours wandering the photogenic streets with many cafés, local restaurants and craft shops.
The main church in Barichara is Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepción. It’s a sandstone church that is particularly beautiful at sunset when the stone becomes a rich orange.
In addition, the old walkway known as Camino Real from Barichara to the nearby village of Guane has some beautiful scenery. It’s a historical stone walkway that is about a 2-hour hike and one of the best things to do in Barichara. And from Guane you can catch a bus back to San Gil.
12. Try Hormigas Culonas (Ants)
Hormigas Culonas are considered a delicacy in the Santander region of Colombia. Hormigas Culonas translated literally means “big bottom ants”.
They ants are roasted with salt and you eat the backside of the ants, not the heads. And they taste kind of like popcorn.
Also, if you happen to go during the dry season, keep in mind the ants aren’t the freshest. The ants are harvested during the rainy season.
13. Visit Cascadas de Juan Curí
The Juan Curí Waterfalls are located in the Cascadas de Juan Curí Ecological Park. This is a sizable waterfall that is 656 feet (200 meters) high.
To get to Cascadas de Juan Curi go to the bus terminal in San Gil and take a bus to Charalá and ask the driver to be dropped off at Los Cascadas. It’s located about 40 minutes away and costs about 5,000 pesos by bus.
There are two entrances on the right side of the road. And the second one (with a blue and yellow sign) has a more scenic walk along the river and you’ll get to see more waterfalls. The entrance fee when I went was 7,000 pesos.
At the main waterfall you can swim at the bottom. Also, waterfall rappelling is done at the waterfall, which is known as torrentismo in Spanish.
The rappelling cost is 75,000 pesos. But waterfall rappelling is a very adventurous activity. It isn’t for everyone, as it requires some courage, a decent level of fitness and some upper body strength.
14. Go Bungee Jumping
San Gil Bungee Jumping offers bungee jumping from a height of 70 meters with a beautiful panoramic view of San Gil.
Only 1.2 miles (2 km) from San Gil on the road to Charalá, there is a structure built exclusively for the practice of bungee jumping with 229 feet (70 meters) of free fall over water in the middle of the Fonce River.
The cost for a jump is 70,000 pesos. And a second jump is half-price. Also, San Gil Bungee Jumping has staff that speak English.
Full disclosure I didn’t go bungee jumping. However, I did sky-diving in Las Vegas once in the past. And that was enough extreme falling adventure for me.
But I did talk to some expats that did the bungee jumping in San Gil. And they said the experience was very professional and they highly recommended it.
15. Go Mountain Biking
Colombian Bike Junkies offers bike tours from San Gil. For example, they offer a bike tour of Chicamocha Canyon.
This Chicamocha Canyon tour offers spectacular views of the canyon. The 38-mile (61 km) tour go down into the second largest canyon in the world. It passes waterfalls, coffee and tobacco farms on the way to the historic pueblo of Jordán.
This Chicamocha Canyon bike tour starts at $90 and includes a multi-lingual guide, private 4×4 vehicle support, Tek and Kona dual suspension bike, protective equipment (helmet, gloves, kneepads and elbow pads), a hearty lunch and snacks and drinks.
16. Take a Kayaking Class
Colombia Rafting Expeditions offers kayaking classes on the Fonce River in San Gil. The basic classes are for 2 days, 6 hours per day. So, if you are in San Gil for a short time this isn’t an activity you should do.
In the entry-level class you start familiarizing yourself with the kayak and all equipment. Also, you will learn proper strokes, capsize training, rescue procedures and the art of the roll. And it the end of the class, all students will be able to paddle confidently in kayaks.
Unfortunately I didn’t have time to do this activity when I was in San Gil. But I talked to two expats that did. And they said it was wild and the best thing they did in San Gil and something they would remember for the rest of their lives.
How to Get to San Gil
Most foreigner tourists who go to San Gil travel via air to Bucaramanga and then by bus to San Gil. San Gil is located about 2.5 hours by bus from Bucaramanga. And buses from Bucaramanga to San Gil run about every half hour.
Palonegro International Airport (BGA) in Bucaramanga currently has regular flights from six different airlines with direct flights to and from 12 different destinations.
- Avianca – Bogotá, Cali, Medellín
- Copa Airlines – Panama City
- Easyfly – Arauca, Barranquilla, Cartagena, Cúcuta, Medellín, Pereria, Yopal
- LATAM – Bogotá
- Satena – Saravena
- VivaAir – Bogotá, Santa Marta
So, there are direct, non-stop flights to Bucaramanga from the major cities in Colombia.
Finally, it’s relatively far to San Gil by bus from the major cities in Colombia. So, foreigners less frequently use this option. For example, it’s about 15 hours by bus from Cartagena, about 11 hours from Medellín and about 7 hours from Bogotá.
Top Things to See and Do in Colombia
On the Medellin Guru website, we have been looking at some of the most beautiful places in Colombia in a series of top things to see and do in Colombia. This is due to many readers asking about several of these things to do in Colombia.
We have looked at 20 of the top things to see and do in Colombia, in alphabetical order:
- Caño Cristales – the most beautiful river in Colombia, which has also been called the most beautiful river in the world by some people.
- Carnival in Barranquilla – the second largest carnival in the world.
- Cartagena – Oozing history, romance and sun-drenched beaches, the allure of historical Cartagena is hard to resist.
- Ciudad Perdida – the site of an ancient city in Colombia that is older than Machu Picchu in Peru.
- Colombia’s Pacific coast – often overlooked by tourists visiting Colombia but offering untamed nature and undiscovered beauty that is off the beaten path for most foreign tourists.
- Desierto de la Tatacoa – the second largest arid zone in Colombia is Tatacoa Desert, which has surreal desert landscapes and some of the best stargazing in Colombia.
- Guatapé – a picturesque pueblo near Medellín known for its huge rock and lake. And it’s likely the most visited pueblo in Colombia by foreigners.
- La Guajira Peninsula – one of the most visually stunning places in South America, which is located on the northern tip of Colombia where the desert meets the sea.
- Las Lajas Sanctuary – the most beautiful church in Colombia, which has also been called the most beautiful church in the world.
- Medellín’s Christmas lights – Medellín’s annual world-class Christmas lights known as Alumbrados Navideños.
- Medellín’s Feria de Las Flores – Medellín’s world-famous flower festival each year.
- Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados – a popular national park in Colombia located in the heart of the Colombian coffee region.
- Parque Tayrona – known for its beautiful beaches and the world’s highest coastal mountain range.
- Popayán – a colonial gem in Colombia best known for its white buildings and churches, it’s a city off the beaten path for foreign tourists but is definitely worth visiting.
- Rio Claro Nature Reserve – located about three hours from Medellín, Rio Claro is the perfect place to unplug from hectic daily life and enjoy a picturesque crystal-clear river, canyon and tropical rainforest.
- Salento and the Cocora Valley – Salento is a picturesque pueblo in Colombia’s coffee region and the nearby Cocora Valley is one of the most striking landscapes found in Colombia.
- San Agustín Archaeological Park – the largest group of pre-Columbian monuments and megalithic statues in South America and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- San Andrés – Colombia’s Caribbean island which is a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve featuring many beaches, islets and coral reefs that are filled with flora and fauna.
- San Gil – Colombia’s adventure capital that is full of things to do including white water rafting, paragliding, caving, rappelling, hiking and much more.
- San Jose del Guaviare – a hidden gem and eco-tourism location off the beaten path and offering wildlife watching, jungle trekking and delving into Colombia’s prehistoric past.
Also, we included San Gil in our list of the top 20 tourist attractions in Colombia.
The Bottom Line: 16 Top Things to Do in San Gil, Colombia’s Adventure Capital
When I visited San Gil a couple years ago with a friend I only went for four days, which really wasn’t enough time considering there are so many things to do in San Gil and near this pueblo. In four days I only had time to do half of the 16 top things to do in San Gil listed in this article.
The bottom line is that San Gil deserves its reputation as the “Adventure Capital of Colombia”. There is so much to do nearby that you could spend weeks there and not experience everything. So, it’s definitely worth adding San Gil to your list of places to visit in Colombia.
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