This easy 9 km (5.6 miles) mostly downhill hike from Barichara to the neighbouring town of Guane is an absolute must-do whilst in Barichara. A national monument since 1988, the Camino Real is an ancient stone-paved road built by the indigenous Guane people passing through stunning Santander countryside. The two-hour hike takes you down a deserted, cacti-dotted canyon with stunning views of the valley below, where your only companions will be grazing cows and the odd Colombian farmer. Once in Guane, be sure to check out the 200-year-old church and stop by for a trout menu del dia at one of the family-run restaurants.
If a two-hour downhill stroll to Guane didn’t quite hit the spot, you can carry on trekking to the next village along the way, Villanueva. For those willing to put in the few extra miles, the rewards are high: epic views of deep, lush green canyons, sleepy 2-house farmer towns and, most likely, not a single other hiker in sight. Once you arrive in Villanueva, be sure to check out the famous Heladeria El Nevado, where weird and wonderful ice lolly flavours, such as yuca and avocado, are served daily by two charming ladies.
Located halfway between San Gil and Bucaramanga, Parque Nacional de Chicamocha is a little further out, but well worth the journey if time allows. You can hike along one of their well-marked trails to take in sweeping vistas of one of the world’s largest canyons, or, if you dare, take part in one of the many outdoor adventure activities such as paragliding, spelunking, kayaking, fishing, rafting, and climbing. For those who want to take in the views without breaking a sweat, there is also an aerial tramway that crosses the canyon.
Offering a solid class V (the hardest rafting level there is), the River Suarez is every hardcore rafter’s paradise. Many rafters go straight to San Gil due to the many tour operators that are based there. However, if you’re in Barichara (a much prettier base!) it can be just as easy to sort out a day trip to the river with one of the hostels here (or just get the 30-minute public bus into San Gil and organise your trip from there if you prefer). If you’re looking for something a little gentler, the lower parts of the River Suarez offers class III rapids (intermediate level) or you can opt for the calmer Chicamocha or Fonce River (beginner to intermediate).
If you haven’t quite got your adrenaline fix yet, rappelling down the 70-metre (230 foot) high Juan Curi waterfall is sure to get your blood pumping. This stunning waterfall is surrounded by lush green forest and makes for a beautiful day out – even if you just fancy admiring it from a distance. Most people come here, however, to test their nerve by lowering themselves over the edge and rappelling down the slippery rocks right down to the waterfall’s crashing pool. There are organised tours that take you from Barichara or San Gil, but it’s just as easy to get the public bus to the falls and hire a guide once you’re there.
Cueva de la Vaca – translating to “cow’s cave” – is a stunning whitewashed cave full of otherworldly-like stalactite formations and secret waterfalls. Adrenaline-packed tours here give you up to two hours exploring the cave’s many dark, narrow passageways, finishing up at the beautiful “final room” filled with impressive rock formations and a pretty waterfall as its centrepiece. Beware: if you’re not up for slithering through tight, muddy crevices, diving under narrow rock corridors and getting up close and personal with bats, crabs and spiders, then this trip may not be for you! Tinto Hostel arranges day trips to La Vaca leaving from Barichara at 7 am or 1 pm.
It may not be well established yet, but Santander’s dry, mountainous landscape makes this a perfect place for downhill mountain biking. Colombian Bike Junkies, one of the area’s only official cycling companies, offer highly-rated day trips to the stunning Suarez Canyon, as well as trips into the nearby Chicamocha National Park and multi-day biking adventures.