Colombia's Department of Santander is the perfect destination for thrill-seekers, history buffs and lovers of nature. In one day you can paraglide over canyons, climb through water-filled caverns, visit a traditional coffee farm, and relax in historic towns that time seems to have forgotten. This exciting 12-day itinerary weaves through cities, villages and nature reserves to bring you the best activities that this off-the-beaten-path destination can offer.

Highlights

  • Go whitewater rafting on Class IV-V rapids
  • Enjoy the colonial charms of historic Barichara
  • Soar over Chicamocha Canyon on a paraglider
  • Rappel down a waterfall and explore water-filled caves
  • Wade through a water-filled cavern under the town of Paramo
  • Explore the botanical gardens, parks and lively nightlife of Bucaramanga  
  • Take a tour of a 100-year-old farm and enjoy the coffee produced on-site 

Overview

This 12-day itinerary is perfect for adventurous travelers who enjoy thrilling activities, such as rock climbing, rafting, rappeling in canyons, hiking and paragliding. Unexpected twists include hiking Indiana Jones-style through a water-filled cavern that crosses underneath a city! In addition to the adventure activities, the itinerary includes a visit to a coffee farm, a cocoa farm and tours of historic towns.

The region lies north of Bogotá and can be visited as part of a longer tour that includes the Colombian capital and the coastal city of Cartagena.  

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival and free time in Bucaramanga Bucaramanga
Day 2 Rock climbing at La Mojarra and visit a farmers market Coffee Finca
Day 3 Morning coffee tour and afternoon in Chicamocha National Park San Gil
Day 4 Juan Curi waterfall rappel and caving excursion San Gil
Day 5 Whitewater rafting (choose from 3 rivers) San Gil
Day 6 Explore Guadalupe and "Las Gachas", a natural wonder  Barichara
Day 7 Hike from Barichara to Guane with free afternoon in Barichara Barichara
Day 8 Paragliding over Chicamocha Canyon Bucaramanga
Day 9 Full day in Bucaramanga metropolitan area  Bucaramanga
Day 10 Boat tour of Lake Topocoro, horseback or 4x4 tour of small local farm San Vincente De Chucuri
Day 11 Cocoa farm tour and cultural exchange San Vincente De Chucuri
Day 12 Hike in a cloud forest preserved by the efforts of local conservationists Bucaramanga

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Bucaramanga

Bucaramanga skyline against the foothills of the Andes

Bucaramanga is known for its parks and it has over 160 of them within the metropolitan area. Start your tour of the town with a visit to the Botanical Gardens in Floridablanca. Then go people-watch in San Pio Park, a centrally located park that features a Botero statue and is within walking distance to several good restaurants. 

You can stop by the red-brick church Iglesia Sagrado Corazon de Jesus to admire its grand facade. Next, head to the neighborhood of San Francisco to understand why Bucaramanga is known as "Colombia's Shoe Capital". Take your time browsing the beautiful leather shoes sold here before enjoying dinner in the city.

Day 2: Rock climbing and farmers market in La Mesa De Los Santos

Locals serving up homemade arepas at El Mercado Campesino

Harness up to spend your day rock climbing in La Mojarra Park surrounded by incredible views of Chicamocha Canyon. With steep steps descending into the canyon, the 30-minute hike to the climbing routes is not for the faint of heart. Routes range from 5.7 to 5.14, making climbing in the park enjoyable for all skill levels. Take a break from a challenging route and soak in the beauty surrounding you, and save some energy for the hike back up! 

After returning your climbing gear, drive 20 minutes to El Mercado Campesino, a local farmers market. Here you can eat local favorites including plantains fried and stuffed with cheese, corn arepas, and local sausages. After walking through the stalls of handicrafts and local artisans, enjoy a drink at a relaxing local cafe.

Pro-tip: El Mercado Campesino is a weekend market and is only open Friday-Sunday.

Day 3: Coffee tour and Chicamocha Park

Ziplining over Chicamocha Canyon

Today you'll tour a coffee farm and hacienda with more than 100 years of tradition. Spend the day learning how coffee goes from a small red berry to the beloved drink that gets so many people through the day. After tasting some coffee, you'll visit an open-air coffee museum and learn about the different plants grown on the farm as well as the rare birds they attract. After lunch and dessert, make sure pick up some coffee to take home.

In the afternoon you'll head to Chicamocha National Park where you'll take a 30-minute cable car to the park. You can visit the Guane Museum to learn about the history of the indigenous people of the area,  or climb the 100 steps to visit the Santander Monument. The monument commemorates the first steps taken toward Colombian independence in the nearby city of El Socorro.

If you're up for it, keep walking past the monument to the top of the hill where you'll have a 360º view of the canyon. If you're looking for a little more excitement, you can also ride an extreme swing, and go canyoning or ziplining.   

Rock faces of Chicamocha Canyon in La Mojarra

Day 4: Waterfall rappel and caving excursion 

Put on your swimsuit and prepare for a day of rushing waters and adrenaline! You'll start with a 30-minute hike and 180-foot waterfall rappel down Juan Curi falls. At a total height of 820 ft, the waterfall is broken up into several segments that cascade into deep pools before rushing on to the next big drop. Even if you've rappelled down waterfalls before, the sheer size of the falls is enough to get your heart racing. Upon reaching the bottom you can jump into the deep pool for a swim and soak in the gorgeous surroundings. 

After lunch, drive 20 minutes to the city of Paramo. At the edge of town, you’ll enter a cavern that runs underground for the length of the city! You'll spend the next 90 minutes walking, crawling, and wading through water to reach the other side of town. At the end, you can leap 20 ft into a deep pool in the dark if you’re feeling up to it!

Pro-tip: Adrenaline junkies seeking more thrills can do a bungee jump over the Fonce River before heading to San Gil for the night.

Day 5: Whitewater Rafting near San Gil

Chicamocha River, an excellent river for rafting level III-IV rapids  

The Fonce, The Suarez, and Chicamocha are three possible rivers to raft near San Gil. With rapids ranging from level II - V, there’s something for all skill levels. Keep in mind that the intensity of the rapids depends on the time of year and recent rainfall.

With class II and III rapids, the Fonce River (about 30 minutes from San Gil) is perfect for first-time rafters and those looking for a more relaxed experience. More advanced rafters will want to try the Chicamocha (class III-IV rapids) while advanced rafters can try their skills on the Suarez (Class III-V rapids). In addition to excellent rafting, the terrific views of Suarez Canyon are sure to make this an unforgettable experience!

Day 6: Guadalupe watering holes Las Gachas

After a two-hour drive from San Gil to Las Gachas, take a short walk through the grasslands surrounded by beautiful mountains. When you reach the river you’ll have a full view of the city of Guadalupe and the unique red color of the riverbed. The river has natural slides and many small pools (some 16 ft deep). Spend the afternoon gliding across the river into the pools, sunbathing, and even hiking to a nearby waterfall. Continue to Barichara for the night.  

Day 7:  Admire the colonial architecture of Barichara

Quiet and picturesque streets of Barichara.

Barichara is renowned for its quiet charm and is considered to be one of the most beautiful pueblos in Colombia (among many beautiful pueblos). Start the morning with a two-hour hike (mostly downhill) to Guane. Explore this small colonial town before catching the bus back to Barichara to admire the handicrafts on sale in the shops, and maybe pick one up for yourself. 

If you fancy exotic foods, make sure to try some hormigas culonas (fat-bottomed ants). Every year in April, life in Barichara comes to a halt when these ants make their appearance. The locals drop everything in order to harvest and roast as many ants as possible to be enjoyed throughout the year.  

At sunset, walk or take a tuk-tuk to a scenic outlook for a beautiful view of Suarez Canyon and the surrounding mountains. Walking back to your hotel after sunset, you'll have the opportunity to enjoy in the laid-back lifestyle of the locals in this picturesque town.

Day 8: Paraglide over Chicamocha Canyon

View from within Chicamocha Canyon

This morning you’ll visit Chicamocha Canyon for a paragliding tour. After receiving the safety instructions you and your pilot will dash off the side of the canyon for take-off! As your chute fills with hot air coming up from the canyon you’ll ascend higher and higher, watching as the magnitude of the canyon takes on a whole new perspective. Flights generally last around 15 minutes, giving you ample time to enjoy the views and the feeling of flight.

After lunch, drive for two hours back to Bucaramanga where you can settle into your hotel for the night, or use the evening to experience Bucaramanga’s nightlife. If opting for the latter, head to Cuadra Play, a street lined with bars where local patrons enjoy shots of Aguardiente and the year-round warm weather. Enjoy the laid-back party atmosphere on the street, or head into the bars to dance the night away to the latest Reggaeton hits. 

Day 9: Full day in Bucaramanga metropolitan area

Locals enjoying another sunny day in front of Basilica San Juan Bautista in quaint Girón.

Today explore Girón, a beautiful and quaint colonial town that predates Bucaramanga and was once the major city of the valley. As Bucaramanga grew, Girón was one of the three cities to be adopted into its borders. The cobblestone streets and main square seem to have changed little over the centuries. 

For sunset, take the cable car up to Santisimo Eco Park, where you’ll have an amazing view of the city and the surrounding mountains. The park includes the 114 ft high Jesus Statue Santísimo. You can take an elevator to the top of the statue to watch the sunset and the lights of the city from the viewing platform.

Day 10: Lake Topocoro boat ride and horseback riding

Today you'll take a boat tour of Lake Topocoro, located a 90-minute drive from Bucaramanga. You'll get great views of Chicamocha Canyon and explore waterfalls that can only be reached by boat (some discovered as recently as 2017). Enjoy the day jumping from waterfalls into the warm water in this uniquely remote setting. After the boat tour, you’ll head to a nearby farm where you can take a one-hour ride, either by horseback or 4WD vehicle, to explore the area and see incredible views of the lake.

Day 11: Learn the process of chocolate making on a cocoa tour

Learn how cocoa is harvested on a farm in Colombia's largest cocoa producing region.
 

Get ready to roll your sleeves up for a day of hands-on fun and amazing food! After a restful night in the city of San Vincente De Chucuri, you’ll head to a nearby cocoa farm to learn every step of the cocoa growing, harvesting, and chocolate making process.

For the cocoa farmers of Santander, chocolate is not only their passion, it’s a way of life. From the first sprouts on the tree to grinding the roasted beans, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of what it takes to enjoy a “simple” piece of chocolate. After a walking tour of the farm, enjoy lunch with the family before making chocolate in its most traditional form.

Day 12: Spot hummingbirds at Reinita Cielo Azul Reserve

Hummingbirds are easily spotted in Reinita Cielo Azul Reserve.

The beautiful Reinita Cielo Azul Reserve was founded with the purpose of preserving a rare forest that is the seasonal home to many migratory bird species in Colombia.

Upon your arrival, you’ll be greeted by dozens of hummingbirds busily eating from the many feeders around the property. After a brief introduction to the reserve and its mission, you’ll hike along a cobblestone path to the top of the mountain where you’ll enter the rainforest. Soak in the stillness of the forest as you make your way to another feeding area for the hummingbirds. Once there, your guide will excitedly point out the many species of hummingbirds who deign to make an appearance.

After lunch, make your way back down the mountain and on to Bucaramanga for one last night before catching your flight home.

Map

Map of Multi-Activity Adventure in Colombia's Santander - 12 Days
Map of Multi-Activity Adventure in Colombia's Santander - 12 Days