Bucaramanga, 420 km from Bogotá, is the capital of Santander Department. A modern, industrial city with little remaining of its colonial past, it is nonetheless not without charm. It still has a small colonial area, some lovely parks and squares and fine dining and nightlife. It is also an important transport hub, connecting Bogotá with the main border with Venezuela, Cúcuta, and with the Atlantic coast. If you are heading to any of these destinations it is more than likely that you will have to make a stop in Bucaramanga.It stands on an uneven plateau sharply delimited by eroded slopes to the north and west, hills to the east and a ravine to the south. The city's great problem is space for expansion. The metropolitan area has grown rapidly because of the success of coffee, tobacco and staple crops.
The city was founded in 1622 by Paéz de Sotomayor but was little more than a village until the 19th century. Simón Bolívar established his campaign headquarters here in 1813, and lived here for some time in the
Casa de Bolívar
around 1828. Perú de la Croix, a French officer in Bolívar's army wrote his
here, an interesting study of his leader. Gold was found in the hills and rivers nearby, hence the Río Oro to the southwest, which were worked until the end of the 19th century.
The airport is at Palonegro, on three flattened hilltops on the other side of the ravine, south of the city. There are spectacular views on take-off and landing. Buses are scarce despite the fact that some bus boards say 'Aeropuerto' (direction 'Girón/Lebrija' from Diagonal 15).
is on the Girón road, with cafés, shops, a bank and showers. To the Magdalena at Barrancabermeja, 115 km; to Cúcuta, 198 km; to Bogotá, 420 km; to Santa Marta, 550 km, all paved.
Most taxis have meters; beware of overcharging from bus terminals. The minimum fare is US$1.80 and this should get you to most places within the city centre. When you get in the taxi make sure the driver switches the meter to '42', which is the code for the minimum fare.
On Parque de los Niños, underneath the library, also inside, Instituto Municipal de Cultura, is
Oficina Asesora de Turismo
The city can be divided into three sections, running west to east. The
Parque García Rovira
is the centre of the colonial area where you will find most of the museums and cultural centres.
is the heart of the modern city and is where most of the budget hotels can be found. Further east is the Zona Rosa, centred around Calle 33 and Carrera 33, where many of the city's better restaurants, bars and clubs are located. Bucaramanga is notable for its green spaces. There are a number of fine parks, including
, with an open-air
Parque de Mejoras Públicas
(concert shell) for public performances,
Parque de los Niños
, from which buses used to leave before the new terminal was built. Other parks worth visiting are
, with its many trees, and
Parue San Pío
Parque Las Palmas
There are several churches of interest. The
, overlooks the Parque Santander, a clean white Romanesque building with twin towers and statues of the Virgin and San José in between. The church of
Catedral de la Sagrada Familia
, has several paintings by Oscar Rodríguez Naranjo, and the
Capilla de los Dolores
(Chapel of Sorrows), was the first chapel to be built in the town and is where the poet Aurelio Martínez Mutis is buried.
. Just off Parque García Rovira, is
Museo de Arte Moderno
. This is an interesting ethnographic and historical museum and a centre of research on Bolívar and his period.
Casa de Bolívar
Across the street is the
, in a fine colonial building with exhibitions, film showings and a local
Casa de La Cultura
display. Also worth a visit is the
, good collection of Guane culture artefacts and textiles.
Museo Arqueológico Regional Guane
Away from the centre, the
is one of the most beautifully set in Latin America. There is an amusement park,
Parque El Lago
, in the suburb of Lagos, southwest of the city on the way to Floridablanca. On the way out of the city northeast (towards Pamplona) is the
, well maintained with a fine view. There is a sculptured Saviour overlooking the park, a point of pilgrimage on Good Friday.
The suburb of
, 8 km southwest, has the famous
, Eloy Valenzuela (also known as El Paragüitas gardens), belonging to the national tobacco agency. The Río Frío runs through the gardens, which have been recently reconstructed.
Lebrija, 17 km to the west, is in an attractive plain, and Rionegro, is a coffee town 20 km to the north with the Laguna de Gálago and waterfalls close by. One fine waterfall is 30 minutes by bus from Rionegro to Los Llanos de Palma followed by a two-hour walk through citrus groves towards Bocas. Complete the walk along an old railway to the Bucaramanga-Rionegro road.
, 18 km southeast of Bucaramanga, is where you can see cigars being hand-made, furniture carving and jute weaving. Cheap, hand-decorated
rugs can be bought. There are frequent buses to all these towns from the city. Corpus Christi processions in these towns in June are interesting.
The road (paved but narrow) runs east to Berlín, and then northeast, a very scenic ascent through cloudforest to the summit of the Eastern Cordillera and eventually on to Pamplona, about 130 km from Bucaramanga.
is an ideal place to appreciate the grandeur of the Eastern Cordillera and the hardiness of the people who live on the
. The landscape is stark, barren and dramatic, much like the Scottish highlands. The village lies in a valley at 3100 m. The peaks surrounding it rise to 4350 m and the temperature is constantly around 10°C, although on the infrequent sunny days it may seem much warmer. There is a tourist complex with cabins and there are several basic eating places. Camping (challenging but rewarding) is possible with permission. At the highest point on the road between Bucaramanga and Berlín (3400 m) is a café where you can camp on the covered porch.