San Gil

About 21 km northeast of Socorro, is San Gil, a colonial town with a good climate in the deep valley of the Río Fonce. San Gil is an important centre for adventure sports. The river systems of the Ríos Fonce and Chicamocha run through deep valleys and gorges in this part of Santander, providing the best rafting and canoeing in Colombia . With a broad range of hotels, San Gil is an excellent base from which to explore Santander's string of stunning colonial villages. There is a tourist office here:
Instituto Municipal de Turismo y Cultura
.

Near the centre of the town by the river is the enchanting
Parque El Gallineral
. The park, created in 1919, covers 4 ha where the Quebrada Curití runs through a delta to the Río Fonce. It is named after the
chiminango
trees, which make up 80% of the trees in the park. These trees have a natural tendency to lean over and are therefore popular with roosting chickens. There are streams everywhere to create a delightful botanical garden full of butterflies and birds. Notable are the heliconias and the huge
ceiba
near the
playa
where the canoes end their trip down the Río Fonce. Outstanding are the many fine trees covered with moss-like
tillandsia
. There is a restaurant and a superb public natural swimming pool which uses water siphoned off from the Quebrada Curití.

In the centre, the
Parque Principal
has a fountain surrounded by huge
ceiba
and heliconia trees, very attractive when illuminated in the evening. Overlooking it is the
church
, which has interesting octagonal towers. There is a good view of the town from
La Gruta
, the shrine overlooking the town from the north (look for the cross).

Activities

San Gil is increasingly recognized as the centre of Colombia´s burgeoning adventure- sports industry. There are a number of activities available in the surrounding countryside. There are many adventure companies in San Gil, some better equipped than others.

Rafting

Blessed with three rivers in proximity to each other, San Gil can provide excellent rafting for people of all levels of experience.

The Río Fonce is the main river running through San Gil and is the best one for beginners with Grade II-III rapids. The trip begins 11 km from town and winds up in the centre of San Gil, opposite the Parque Gallineral.

The Río Chicamocha has Grade I-IV rapids and travels through the spectacular Chicamocha canyon.

For a more extreme experience, the Río Suárez has Class IV+ rapids.

Abseiling

Known as rappelling in Colombia, abseiling down Juan Curri, a spectacular three-tier, 180-m waterfall, is a popular activity. A descent down one of the waterfall's 60-m cascades costs US$20 per person.

The Juan Curri waterfall is also a popular hiking destination and has a lovely swimming spot at the base of one of the cascades. You can climb to the second of the three tiers using a number of ladders and ropes.

Paragliding

San Gil has two excellent locations for paragliding (known as
parapente
). The most spectacular location is over the Chicamocha canyon.

Kayaking

Three-day beginners courses on the Río Fonce, including eskimo roll training in a local swimming pool. More experienced kayakers can make runs on different rivers with experienced guides.

Caving

On the road to Barichara there are a series of caves known as La Antigua with saloons full of spiders and bats. There is a guided crawl through small tunnels of mud and water to underground waterfalls. Near Paramo is Cueva del Indio, a cave full of stalactites, stalacmites and bats. You have to slide down a zip line into the dark mouth of the cave before wading through waist-level water.

Hiking

The surrounding countryside has several old indigenous trails, known as the Lenguake or Camino Real, linking many of its beautiful villages. A popular 1½-hour walk is between the historic villages of Barichara and Guane .

Swimming

There are lots of good swimming holes on San Gil's rivers. A local favourite is the Pozo Azul, just outside town, popular on Sundays. The most spectacular option is Pescaderito, just outside Curiti, which has a number of beautiful, clear pools. From the main square in Curiti, walk past the church four blocks and take the road leading out of town. Alternatively, Parque Gallineral in San Gil has a spectacular swimming pool fed by water from the Río Fonce.

About 20 km south of San Gil on the road to Duitama, is
Páramo
, (with some accommodation eg
Páramo
in the Plaza Principal) one of the centres of activity sports . About 30 km further on is
Charalá
, which has a plaza with a statue of
José Antonio Galán
, leader of the 1781 Comunero revolt. It also has an interesting church and Casa de la Cultura.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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