Known as “the pretty city of Colombia,” Bucaramanga is the capital city of the country’s Santander department and has pleasant weather, many parks and gardens and more to offer than you may think. Read on for the best ways to make the most of your time in the city—you might even decide to stay a little longer before heading out to San Gil or Barichara.
Paragliding in Ruitoque
Paragliding is a popular tourist activity throughout Santander, a region that enjoys the perfect climate for year-round flights. It’s no different in Bucaramanga: the little town of Ruitoque (a short drive from the city) is the starting point for paragliding flights, which last about half an hour and offer stunning panoramic views of Bucaramanga’s skyline.
Visit the Heritage Town of Girón
One of the least well-known of Colombia’s 17 Heritage Towns, San Juan de Girón is located just 9 kilometres (less than 6 miles) from the centre of Bucaramanga and is perfect for a day trip to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. With nearly 500 years of history, lovely cobbled streets, whitewashed walls and a laid-back attitude, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a different time. Its location in a deep valley makes it a lot warmer than nearby Bucaramanga.
Wander the trails in the botanical garden
Bucaramanga is famous for its green spaces and the best of the lot is the sprawling Eloy Valenzuela Botanical Gardens. The garden’s 75,000 square metres (19 acres) encompass a beautiful lake, well-maintained trails through lovely woodlands and gardens and several wild animals, including iguanas and ducks. There are around 3,500 species of native plants housed in the gardens, including palms, orchids and mosses.
Check out the cathedral
The Sagrada Familia Cathedral overlooks Santander Park in the historical centre of the city and is among Bucaramanga’s most important and well-known religious buildings. Its shining white facade and ornate interior make it a striking landmark, even more so when it lights up at night.
Have a drink at Skybar
Located on the 18th floor of Bucaramanga’s Holiday Inn hotel, Skybar is where the hip youth of the Pretty City congregates to enjoy a drink and take in the best views of the city. With a 360-degree vista over the towers and mountains of Bucaramanga, Skybar is a bit pricier than other spots but worth visiting for a drink with a view.
Enjoy the view from Cerro del Santísimo
Another spot with an impressive view over Bucaramanga, Cerro del Santísimo is located in Floridablanca, an urban area bordering Bucaramanga, and boasts a huge statue of Jesus some 40 metres (131 feet) high. You can ascend to the top of the hill via cable cars, then climb to the viewpoint at the top of Jesus’s head. Needless to say, the views are something special and the statue is equally impressive.
Stop by La Casa del Libro Total
This unique cultural centre, located on the corner of García Rovira Park, is a great place to spend a few hours during a walk in the historical centre of Bucaramanga. A repository of histories and chronicles about the Santander region, La Casa del Libro Total boasts an exhaustive catalogue of books accessible on its many computers, as well as art exhibits, conferences and musical performances. Even if you just go in to enjoy a coffee in its airy outdoor cafe, it’s worth a visit.
Explore Bucaramanga’s many parks and gardens
Bucaramanga was nicknamed “the pretty city” for a reason: Santander’s capital is well known for its many parks, gardens and green spaces that are the perfect spots to escape from the city for a few hours. The best of the downtown parks has to be La Flora Ecological Park, a large space set in a long, deep valley full of birds and safe from the sounds of traffic from the city above.
Experience local dishes at Cabrón
Santander has a distinct and interesting culinary history and many unique dishes. There are many restaurants in which to sample the local cuisine in Bucaramanga, but the best is Cabrón. With a good menu of tasty local dishes, including carne oreada (a dried beef a bit like jerky) and cabrito con pepitoria (baby goat served with a rice made of blood and innards that’s much better than it sounds!), Cabrón is the place to sample the cuisine of Santander.
Wander through the Casa de Bolívar Museum
There might not be another historical figure on Earth who boasts more museums built in houses where he once slept than Simón Bolívar, and the same is true in Bucaramanga. The South American Liberator spent two months living in this lovely old colonial house in 1828 and it is now a museum dedicated to regional history. With several mummies of the Guane indigenous people who once inhabited this region, the museum also contains weapons, paintings and other important historical artifacts.