10 Best Things to Do in San Gil: Colombia’s Adventure Capital
San Gil, known as Colombia’s adventure playground, offers a wide range of activities for thrill-seekers and those looking for more relaxed fun. This post will go into detail and tell you everything you need to know about the ten best things to do in San Gil, Santander, Colombia.
These recommendations are from my personal experience in San Gil, as I have travelled here on two occasions and did 8 of these 10 activities, the only exceptions being mountain biking and rock climbing. I guess a third trip will be in store for the future! Enjoy!
Juan Curi Waterfall (Cascada de Juan Curi)
For those seeking an adrenaline rush, you can try canyoning or rappelling at Juan Curi waterfall. This 180-m high waterfall is one of the top places to visit in San Gil, and I visited on both of my trips to San Gil.
After rappelling down the rock walls, the natural pool at the bottom is the perfect place to swim and relax, taking in the tranquil surroundings. Alternatively, you can book full-day canyoning trips from many tour guides in San Gil.
The hike to get to the waterfall takes 15 minutes from the Juan Curi Parque Ecologico entrance . Less common, if you’re looking for a fun adventure on your way back from the waterfall you can try scrambling through the giant boulders along the river bed.
The cost to enter Juan Curi Parque Ecologico is 15,000 COP ($3.50 USD) and the cost to rappel down the waterfall is 70,000 COP ($17 USD). You don’t need to book in advance, you can just show up to Juan Curi and a qualified guide will be there to take you rapelling.
There are two ways to get to Juan Curi Waterfall. The first is coming with a tour guide from San Gil for rappelling or canyoning. The second, and recommended way of getting there is by taking a local bus. Head to Terminalito bus station and ask for “Juan Curti”, which will cost you 5,000 COP ($1.25 USD) each way. On your way back, go on the opposite side of the road and wait for the bus heading to Charala.
We took public transportation on both visits to Juan Curi with no issues. You may have to wait a bit for the bus heading back to San Gil. We ended up hitchhiking back from a friendly local during our second visit to Juan Curi.
If you love waterfalls, make sure to check out our 15 Top Things to Do in Minca, Colombia: A Complete Travel Guide post, which includes 3 local waterfalls!
Looking for the Best Hostel in San Gil?
Try Paragliding in the Chicamocha Canyon or near Curiti
For an experience you won’t soon forget, try Paragliding at Curiti or Chicamocha Canyon. With the scenic views and relatively cheap prices, San Gil is the perfect place to check this off your bucket list!
The most popular option is paragliding over the Chicamocha Canyon. This is the more scenic option with breathtaking views and scenery. You will also fly much at a much higher altitude, with the potential to reach 1,000 meters if conditions are good. The second option and of which I did is the lower altitude flight over the Curiti valley. The views are less scenic than Chicamocha, but still spectacular.
Paragliding flights typically only last 10-15 minutes at each place, but allow a full afternoon or morning in your schedule as it takes an hour to and from by bus, as well as time for set up and waiting time while others in your group to fly.
The cost to paraglide at Chicamocha starts at 250,000 COP ($60 USD), and 150,000 COP ($36 USD) for Curiti, very reasonable compared to other locations in the world.
Our recommended tour guide for a fun and safe adventure if you’re planning to go in Curiti is Parapente San Gil (Paragliding San Gil). This is the one we organized through and they were very professional. The most popular tour guide for Chicamocha Canyon is both Parapente Chicamocha (Paragliding Chicamocha) and Parapente San Gil.
Whitewater Rafting down the Suarez River
Another popular adrenaline-pumping activity must-try is white-water rafting. Not for the faint of heart the Suarez River is one of the few places in South America with Class 5 rapids, the highest class of rapid possible before injury or death is common.
Having only experienced Class 3 rapids before and it being my friends first time rafting, we weren’t sure what to expect. Despite our uncertainty, we were excited. Thankfully our guide was an experienced rafter, giving us detailed instructions on how to maneuver through the rapids and how to communicate effectively as a team.
As we hit the first rapid, we were both thrown forward, almost falling off the raft. We were exhilarated by the sheer power of the rapid, and we knew that this was going to be a thrilling adventure. Thinking it must be at least a Class 4 rapid, our guide was quick to say it was only a Class 3.
As the rafting adventure continued, we encountered more challenging rapids, with a few Class 4 and Class 5 rapids along the way. Thankfully, no one on our raft fell off on any Class 5 rapids, however, there were a couple falls on Class 3 and 4 rapids. By the end of the trip, we both felt a sense of accomplishment for having made it out unscathed.
The best tour guide to book your trip with is Colombia Rafting Expeditions (CRE), the only operator with Grade 5 IRF qualified guides, as well as safety kayakers going ahead of the raft. The cost with CRE is 265,000 COP ($65 USD) per person which includes lunch. It is a bit more expensive than other tour guides in town, but worth the extra cost given their higher standards of safety.
For those less extreme or those traveling with a family, rafting on the Fonce River (Class 2 & 3 rapids) is a popular option. Their are two sections of the river you can raft on, La Arenera or near Juan Curi Waterfalls.
Hike part of the Camino Real from Barichara to Guane
For those a bit less extreme, hiking the scenic 6.4 km Camino Real section between the beautiful colonial towns of Barichara and Guane is the perfect day trip.
Originally built by the indigenous Guane people in the area, the Camino Real is a historic stone paved road through the Santander area winding through six remote towns and villages.
This hike can be done in either direction, but going from Barichara to Guane is the more popular route due to the trail being mostly downhill, allowing one to take in the stunning scenery at a more relaxed pace.
However, given our more hardcore nature, and feeling up for a challenge, we decided to start in Guane, hiking uphill towards Barichara.
Along the way and after a steep climb up to the top of a ridge, you will arrive to Mirador de la Piedra, a stunning viewpoint overlooking the valley. After the viewpoint you will follow along the stone trail passing several traditional farmhouses, with some friendly locals selling cold drinks and handcrafts.
Either way, make sure to bring plenty of water and snacks to keep you energized and hydrated throughout the hike. Take your time to appreciate the natural beauty of the landscape and immerse yourself in the peaceful atmosphere of the Colombian countryside.
Depending on when you go, make sure to stop to check for ticks every once in awhile, as my friend I was travelling with had one on him. He was a bit worried it had dug itself into his leg, so wanting to burn it off he went to a local farmhouse, where a local lady then proceeded to just pick it off his leg and flick it to the ground.
For those with more time, hiking the full 45 km Camino Real route is possible over a 2 day span. Starting in the Village of Barichara, the route takes you through the Village of Guane, Town of Villanueva, Town of Jordan, and Town of Los Santos. Villanueva is the perfect mid-way point for a nights rest.
For those wanting to know more or spend more time in Barichara and Guane, make sure to check out the following post with all things Barichara and Guane!
If you enjoy hiking, be sure to check out our 50 Unique and Fun Things to Do in Guatapé, Colombia post, which includes TEN hidden gem hikes in the Antioquia mountains!
Mountain Biking Chicamocha Canyon or Suarez Canyon
If you love mountain biking, a day trip in the Chicamocha Canyon or Rio Suarez Canyon is perfect for you. Take in the stunning views of the mountains, rivers, and canyons around San Gil, while enjoying the challenge of navigating the steep and rugged terrain.
The most popular tour guide to organize your trip with is Colombia Bike Junkies. They provide high-quality dual suspension bikes built for the mountains, all the safety gear you need, experienced and friendly guides, as well as water and lunch.
The most popular day tour to book takes you through the Chicamocha Canyon. Taking you into the depths of Colombia’s largest canyon with 45 km of downhill bike riding, you will pass waterfalls, coffee and tobacco farms, as well as the secluded pueblo of Jordan. The tour also includes a stop at a natural pool along the way to refresh and swim. The cost is not cheap, setting you back 395,000 COP ($95 USD) for the 12-hour trip.
Another popular day tour option is biking in the Suarez Canyon. The Suarez Canyon offers a great mix of both downhill and cross-country bike riding, making it perfect for adventure seekers looking for a little bit of everything. As you make your way through the winding paths of the canyon, you’ll have the opportunity to soak in the stunning Andean views. You’ll also have the chance to explore the charming colonial villages of Galan and Barichara, which offer a glimpse into the rich history and culture of the region.
Insider Tip – Try the Hormigas Culonas!
One delicacy San Gil is known for that you cannot leave without trying are their hormigas culonas, the large big-bottomed ants. Popular amongst locals, these ants are roasted, mixed with salt and spices, and eaten as a crunchy snack similar to popcorn. The tradition of eating these ants goes far back hundreds of years to the pre-Colombian tribes living in the area.
Caving at Cueva de la Vaca or Cueva del Indio
Caving is another unique experience that you can enjoy in San Gil at Cueva de La Vaca or Cueva del Indio.
The top cave to visit in the area is Cueva de la Vaca, located outside of Curiti, and is possible to be planned in combination with paragliding for a full day trip adventure.
Enjoy the view of stalactites overhead as you climb, crawl, and slide your way through narrow passages and wade through shoulder-deep water, with some spots where you are unable to touch or have to swim underwater.
For those with fears of complete darkness, confined spaces, and deep water, this will test your limits and reward you with a feeling of accomplishment long after you’re finished.
Contact or visit the tour company Gua-iti Aventure Sin Limite in Curiti to book your cave adventure today.
The second cave you can visit is Cueva del Indio, located in the town of Paramo. This is the most famous cave in the area, and you can zip line down into the mouth of the cave. Once inside, you will follow a path through waist deep water, observing bats and learning about the different stalagmites and stalactites.
Insider Tip – Eat Traditional Paisa Food!
When we travel, we typically eat most of our meals at restaurants serving local dishes. Our favorite restaurant for high-quality Colombian food in San Gil was El Meson del Arriero, which specializes in traditional paisa food from the Andes region of Colombia. Here you can try Colombian favourites such as Bandeja Paisa.
Bungee Jumping over Rio Fonce
If you’re feeling particularly daring, why not try bungee jumping over the Rio Fonce? Like other adrenaline-pumping sports, San Gil is the top place to bungee jump in Colombia.
Tour operator Colombia Bungee Jumping has built a 230 ft structure over the Fonce River exclusively for bungee jumping, with trained personnel and safety measures in place. This thrilling activity will really get your heart pumping.
Cost is 80,000 COP ($20 USD) for the jump and includes photos which they’ll email to you after with a completion certificate. Getting there is easy and a short 10,000 COP ($2.50 USD) taxi ride from San Gil. We’d recommended visiting late morning before lunch.
La Mojarra Rock Climbing Park in the Chicamocha Canyon
If you’re a thrill-seeker looking for an unforgettable adventure, rock climbing in the Chicamocha Canyon is an experience not to be missed. With sheer rock faces and dramatic overhangs, the Chicamocha Canyon offers a unique and exhilarating climbing experience that will push you to your limits.
The most popular spot to rock climb in Chicamocha Canyon is the popular La Mojarra climbing park. Here there are over 200 routes on the orange sandstone cliffs, with grades ranging from 5.7 to 5.14, perfect for both beginner and experienced climbers.
And when you’re not climbing, the canyon is also home to a wealth of other outdoor activities, from hiking and biking to paragliding and rafting. So why not pack your gear and head to the Chicamocha Canyon?
If you are a lover of rock climbing and plan to visit Southeast Asia, check out my partners post on her experience climbing at Green Climbers Home in Thakhek, Laos, one of SE Asia’s premier climbing destinations!
Insider Tip – Go to Casa de Mercado, San Gil’s Main Market!
For budget meals or a quick snack, head to Casa de Mercado, San Gil’s main market. Open from 6 AM to 3 PM, the options here are endless.
You will find cheap and quick meals popular amongst the locals, otherwise known as comida corriente. You can also buy tamales, soups, stews, and fresh sausage.
If craving something sweet, there is a variety of fresh fruits such as strawberries, avocados, or bananas, or freshly squeezed juices, smoothies, or milkshakes!
Play Tejo, Colombia’s National Sport
For a taste of local culture, try playing Colombia’s national sport of tejo. Dating back all the way to the 15th century, this game was created by the indigenous people living in the Turmeque region near Boyaca, Colombia.
This beer-fuelled activity, also popular among local men, involves throwing lead weights at targets filled with gunpowder, which is like a mix between bowling and shot put.
If staying at Macondo Hostel, they offer weekly Tejo Tuesdays where all guests are invited to attend the local Tejo Hall. It is a blast and an epic way to spend your evenings in San Gil.
Costs are cheap, coming in at only 10,000 COP($2.50) for a group to play a few games.
Hike up to Cerro de la Cruz Viewpoint
Finally, don’t forget to hike up to the Cerro de la Cruz viewpoint from town. This viewpoint is home to a giant white cross, which was installed by the Jesuits back in 1888. At night the cross becomes illuminated and visible from San Gil.
The hike is relative easy taking only 30 minutes to hike up, and the panoramic views are breathtaking, making and it the perfect way to cap off your adventure-filled trip to San Gil.
Safety Tips in San Gil
San Gil is a very safe place to travel, with friendly locals eager to help in any way possible. We even hitchhiked back to town from Juan Curi waterfall in someone’s 4×4 truck. We only had to put up with the driver whistling at every woman we passed on the road.
How to get to San Gil
There are many bus companies throughout Colombia, however, for longer journeys the best and most comfortable lines to choose are Copetran, Expreso Brasilia, Berlinas, Expreso Bolivariano, and Rapido Ochoa.
Bucaramanga to San Gil
The nearest airport to San Gil is 110 km away in Bucaramanga. If arriving at the airport, you will need to take a taxi to the bus station, Terminal de Transportes de Bucaramanga.
From the Terminal de Transportes de Bucaramanga it is another 2 to 3 hours by bus, with prices starting around 25,000 COP. ($6 USD) The most popular local bus operator making the trip from Bucaramanga to San Gil is Cootrasaravita, which leaves hourly. Transportes Reina and Transsander are two other options although buses leave less frequently.
Bogota to San Gil
Bogota is home to one of Colombia’s major airports where most international flights arrive. From the El Dorado International Airport in Bogota take a taxi or local bus leaving every 15 minutes to Terminal Salitre. If you’ve already spent a few days in Bogota and coming from other areas of the city, you can go to Terminal Salitre or Terminal del Norte.
From either terminal, the bus ride to San Gil will take 7 to 9 hours depending on traffic, with prices starting at 50,000 COP ($12 USD). Given the length of the ride, we believe it is worth spending a bit more to upgrade to one of the more luxury buses which start at 70,000 COP ($17 USD).
Unless traveling on a holiday, you typically do not have to book in advance and can just show up to the terminal an hour or two before, as buses leave the station frequently. It is recommended to check bus times online if booking with one of the more luxury buses, as they leave less frequently
The most popular bus operators from Bogota to San Gil are Berlinas (luxury) or Expreso Brasilia (mid level).
Medellin to San Gil
Since there is no direct connection from Medellin to San Gil, you will first need to take a bus from Medellin to Bucaramanga. This bus will take 8 hours with the cost starting at 55,000 COP ($14 USD). Similar to the Bogota journey, we recommend upgrading to one of the more luxury bus lines like Copetran which starts at 70,000 COP ($17 USD).
Once you arrive at Terminal de Transportes de Bucaramanga it is another 2 to 3 hours by bus to San Gil, with prices start around 25,000 COP ($6 USD).
Santa Marta to San Gil
With no direct connections from Santa Marta to San Gil, you will first need to take a bus from Santa Marta to Bucaramanga, This bus will take 10 to 11 hours and cost 90,000 COP ($22 USD). Booking with the Copetran Bus Line is recommended for a comfortable ride, with buses leaving the Terminal de Transportes de Santa Marta every 3 hours.
Once you arrive at Terminal de Transportes de Bucaramanga it is another 2 to 3 hours by bus to San Gil, with prices start around 25,000 COP ($6 USD).
Villa de Leyva to San Gil
With no direct connections from Villa de Leyva to San Gil, you will first need to take a bus to Tunja, From the towns only bus terminal, buses leave for Tunja every 15 minutes, will take 1 hour, and cost 10,000 COP ($2.50 USD).
Once at the Terminal de Transportes de Tunja, head to the 2nd floor of the terminal to book your connecting bus to San Gil via the Berlinas Bus Line. This will take another 5 hours to San Gil and cost 85,000 COP ($21 USD).
Guadalupe to San Gil
If traveling from Guadalupe, you will need to take two buses to get to San Gil. First, you can take a local bus or 4×4 from the main square to the town of Oiba, which will take 30 to 45 minutes and cost 8,000 COP ($2 USD). From the bus station in Oiba, it is another 1 to 1.5 hours to San Gil which will cost 15,000 COP ($4 USD).
I hope you loved this article as much as I love San Gil Colombia! I have traveled here on two occasions and it is truly one of my favorite spots in Colombia for fun and adventurous activities!
If you also love San Gil, I recommend also visiting La Guajira, Colombia’s rugged northern Caribbean desert, which offers a true backpacking experience.
As always, feel free to leave a message below with any questions or to share your favourite activities!