Do you ever have a place where you want to go back to because of the way it made you FEEL?
Barichara, Colombia was that special place for us. From the moment we stepped off the bus onto the cobblestone streets and received our first "hola" and "bienvenidos" from a resident passing by, we instantly knew we could relax here. It was as though the stress and tension from the noise and commotion of our home base in Medellin melted away. Then it was replaced by a calming, welcoming and tranquil atmosphere somewhere on a distant planet.
It is no wonder that Barichara means a “place of rest” in the ancient Guane indigenous language because it is exactly that- a place to totally chill. And we highly recommend you do just that! Our visit consisted mainly of wandering, doing a little bit of work (the Wi-Fi was surprisingly pretty good here), enjoying excellent dining and going on a moderate historical hike.
Colombia takes their small historic towns very seriously. In fact, there are 17 towns in Colombia that are designated as historical areas of interest (known as the Pueblos Patrimonio of Colombia). They receive funding from the National Tourism Board for preservation and tourism projects.
Established in 1714, Barichara is a town that is beautiful from literally every angle. Every street, every corner, and every back alley are wonderfully manicured and filled with Spanish colonial architecture, with rolling hills and pristine farmlands as its backdrop. It is carefully preserved and a major restoration of it has created this historical masterpiece. Just take a look at our photos and video and you will understand why!
1. Artisanal Workshops at Its Finest
The indigenous materials of stone, clay, and cotton lend authenticity to the wonderful artisan crafts and workshops. There are plenty of workshops in the area where you can explore these works of art.
One notable workshop enjoyed by our friends is the Taller De Ceramica Terricota, where they create ceramic bowls and other masterpieces. Pick up the Barichara guide from your hotel/guesthouse to find at least eight other workshops and galleries in the vicinity.
2. Hiking: Jaw Dropping Views of the countryside even for a leisurely stroll
The El Camino Real is a traditional trail that connects the towns of Barichara to Guane in Santander, Colombia. This trail was built by the Guane, an ancient indigenous culture that was later used by the Spanish.The 9-km path was restored in 1864 by a German man, George von Lenguerke, and declared a national monument in 1988.
Check out our video below
The trail starts off at the west end of Carrera 10 (where the road ends). Every map in the city shows the Salida Camino Real, if you can’t find it.
The trail is very well-marked with a stone sign, its easy to follow.
The trail starts by descending into the canyon. It's a peaceful cobblestone trail hike, with views of the Chicamocha Canyon, the peaceful countryside, and birds and farm animals.
When you arrive in Guane, you can relax, have breakfast, visit the Paleontology Museum and catch a Consangil bus at the central park. It leaves approximately every 30 minutes and costs 2200 COP (0.75USD). The bus drives around the park and honks its horn to pick up passengers.
Tips for the Hike:
Start the trail from Barichara early morning to beat the heat!
Bring water and wear a hat with you.
You can stop at the El Mirador for the views and a drink (it is a family farm). You have to walk directly through their house to get a view from the cliff. You will see a large white painted boulder on the top, with a cross. If you decide to do this, give the family a couple mils for the trouble. (as they are expecting it).
To Hike the Entire El Camino Trail - 3 Days
The Barichara-Guane trail is perfect for a morning excursion. But for a more in-depth commitment hike, this trail is a 5-section multi-day hike (ideally three days) that will tour you through multiple towns in the area.
Hiking Trail Map Fellow hikers have provided the trail map on Wikiloc which you can download here.
The Entire Trail sections are as follows:
1) Cabrera to Barichara (Approx 2.5 - 3 hours) – you can take a bus from San Gil to Cabrera. Ask for directions to the trail when you arrive.
2) Barichara to Guane (2-2.5hours) – as mentioned above
3) Guane to Villanueva (3 hours) - ask for directions when you get to Guane (or use the Wikiloc trail map above). Make sure you indicate you are going to Villanueva (or they may direct you back to Barichara). The trail is marked with red arrows, but ask for a map at the visitor's center. There is an accommodation in Villanueva for the night.
4) Villanueva to Jordan (approx. 4-6 hours) This leg of the trek is known to be more strenuous with a limited reprieve from the sun and a descent to the canyon.Again, asking for directions (or consulting the map) will be needed from locals.
Jordan is town is in the Chicamocha Canyon and currently without road access. It’s basically a ghost town with only a few residents. There are no facilities there and no public transport, so you will need to hike the next leg of the trail to Los Santos. (Another option is ride a horse or arrange for transport.)
5) Jordan to Los Santos (2 hours – mostly uphill) Once you arrive in Los Santos, there are buses that go back to San Gil – a connection to Barichara. However, you are now closer to Bucaramanga, and you can connect through this city too.
Barichara is best explained by its ecosystem – a tropical dry forest. At 1340 m, the weather is relatively consistent, as explained by the locals. The range of temperatures is 17°C-27°C all year long. The days are hot, the afternoons are windy, and the evenings cool down. That is exactly what happened every day we were there.
The wet season is March-November, with October as the wettest month. The hottest month is January. Typically, Jan 1-20th is the busiest time for Colombian travelers. So, make sure you book ahead. Surprisingly, after Jan 15th some businesses close their doors for vacation. Although this time is very busy for foreign travelers, it is a slow season for Colombian tourism. We discovered that many restaurants are often closed for the rest of January.
Colombia, in general, is not a credit card country. You will find that most places in Colombia only accept cash. There are three bank machines in town and we’ve had no problems with any of them. But it never hurts to bring cash from San Gil or Bucaramanga before you arrive.
Our Favorite Guesthouse in Colombia so far is Artepolis
We booked two nights at Artepolis but we stayed for five nights because we finally found our dream guesthouse. It is on the outskirts of the main streets with incredible views of the mountains (only a 15-min walk to the central park). We felt away from everything, enjoyed our afternoons reading, spent some time relaxing in the shade and enjoyed the afternoon's cooler breezes. The room was so comfortable, spacious and cool during the hottest part of the day.
The bathroom is an open roof in the shower with only cold water, which is incredibly refreshing, especially if you reserve your shower time when there is sunshine.
The breakfast is excellent and hearty with an excellent cup of coffee. Maria and her staff are incredibly welcoming and attentive. We love staying with people that clearly love what they are doing. Artepolis also runs creative painting workshops.
There are many hotels, boutique hotels, and even small fincas, and houses to stay in Barichara. You can find them using Booking.com or Airbnb.
We were surprised to find some outstanding restaurants that are not just offering ‘typico’ Colombian fare but some international fare as well.
You may hear about the delicacy of the area – Hormigas Culomas (or big bottomed ants), which is no surprise why there is a ceramic statue by the entrance into town. This is not our thing, although you can read more about it here.
Best plate of the day – Almuerzo
If you aren’t familiar with the Colombian Almuerzo, it's a classic plate of the day which includes soup, rice, salad, meat (it may be chicken, pork, beef, goat or pork belly, called chicharron, depending on where you are in Colombia), fresh juice and a dessert.
We LOVED the Almuerzo at Santa Maria de la Rueda. For just 12,000 COP ($4USD), we enjoyed this plate because it is super flavorful and hearty. Enjoy a shaded patio seat, as this place is busy with locals and foreigners and just steps up the hill from the main central square.
Delicious International Fusion
Shambalá offers delicious Indian, Thai or Ceviche fusions with rice, pasta or in a burrito. It is a small place with great music and cool vibe, where you can enjoy some cocktails, juices and beers. We loved it here and we ate dinner here twice.
Healthy food, Modern, and Exceptional Service
It’s difficult to find a good salad or vegetarian option in Colombia, especially in smaller towns.
Good thing there’s Igua Nauno where we enjoyed the partly outdoor atmosphere of this modern restaurant. And their service was exceptional. The menu is vast, with meat and vegetarian options, juices, and cocktails. It is definitely worth a visit. It is closer to the cemetery and where the trail for the El Camino Trail starts.
Great Pizza, Cool Atmosphere
La Piazza Pizza Café has an interesting high ceiling. It is a family-run restaurant. Pizza is a nice thin crust, with different choices. Only open on weekends.
We have heard from many of our friends their good comments about Shanti restaurant for healthy as well as some vegetarian offerings. But it was closed during the time we were there. Also, Filomena Restaurant was recommended but it was also closed mid-January for holidays. It is usually open Thursday-Sunday.
Best Cafés in Barichara
For a good coffee (beyond just the local ‘tinto’), it's not easy to find here than in the cities. The best option was Panadería Central right at the main square. They have good coffee, Americanos, lattes (as well as bakery and ice cream goods). There was another café on Calle 6 (MainStreet), although it was rarely open.
Snacks and Markets
In Barichara, there is no shortage of tiendas for snacks, ice cream, and beer, as well as fruit and vegetable markets (located on the corner of Calle 7 and Carrera 6). The tienda on Calle 6 in the main square is fully stocked.
In Santander, Consangil is your very best friend in this area. These transport buses are the mainstay of the area. They are usually small buses (about half the size of a regular bus). They are relatively new, frequent, reliable and reasonably priced. You pay the driver before you exit the bus.
Barichara is in Santander, just a 45-minute bus trip up the mountain.
Consangil is the regular bus service that has a bus every 30 minutes.
Cost from SanGil to Barichara is 4400 COP (approx. $1.50USD).
Guane to Barichara (after the El Camino Trek) 2200 COP (0.75USD)
You can easily travel from Bucaramanga to San Gil, then on to Barichara. The total trip duration is approximately 3 hours (dependent on traffic). There are a lot of trucks on the road of this two-way highway, so it may take longer. From Bucaramanga (and transfer in San Gil): 25,500 COP (approx. $9USD).
However, we would recommend you spend some time in San Gil because not only it is a great town, but it can also nicely break up your travel time.
From Chicamocha National Park
It is possible to visit this national park while you are in Barichara. But we would recommend staying in either Bucaramanga and take a day trip to Chicamocha or stay in San Gil and take a day trip to the park. Chicamocha is between either location.
This would be a crazy long distance. However, you could fly to Bucaramanga (via Viva Colombia or Avianca) and spend some time there (it's a nice city to visit for a couple of days). Then you could take a bus to San Gil.
Be prepared to unwind, recharge and enjoy the idyllic setting of Barichara. Definitely, the most beautiful and relaxing town to visit in Colombia.
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Dorene is a marketing consultant and freelance writer. She quit her 20-year career in marketing to redesign her career and lifestyle on her own terms by living location independent. Now with her husband Troy, she helps people who want to redefine their midlife and make conscious changes at TravelLifeX. She also trains & coaches travel and hospitality clients to improve their marketing at TravelLifeMedia.com