Grab Your Walking Boots!
Located in the Santander region of northeastern Colombia, San Gil is more popularly known as Colombia’s ‘adventure sports capital’. But if adrenalin pumping activities are not really your thing, there is much more to discover around San Gil, particularly if you enjoy walking like we do!
After a quick Google of the area, we discovered that the nearby pueblos (small towns) of Barichara and Guane offer some great hiking and photographic opportunities. Part of the Network of the ‘Heritage Villages of Colombia’, they are linked by a 9km cobbled pathway known as the ‘El Camino Real’ Trail.
Walking along the cobbled pathway known as the ‘El Camino Real’ Trail.
Origins Of The Trail
The section of the trail to Guane is part of the old ‘Camino de Herradura’ that traversed the countryside from Girón, near Bucaramanga, to Barrancabermeja on the banks of the Río Magdalena.
It was originally built by the Guane indigenous people, then later used by the Spanish. The old paved path was last restored in 1864 by the German George von Lenguerke.
Taking a step back in time…
It’s a big statement but Barichara has been one of our favourite places whilst travelling through Colombia. We found it to be one of the best preserved and most beautiful colonial villages that is both charming and inviting. Sitting in the main square, watching the world go by, you really feel like you’ve been transported back in time.
A model of preservation.
The main square is a charming place to sit and watch the world go by.
From San Gil it is easy to reach Barichara by local bus. The buses run every half hour or so from the local bus station located on the corner of Carrera 11 and Calle 15. The 40 minute journey costs $4,200 Colombian pesos. (Approximately £1.20 GBP).
We set off after breakfast catching the 9:30am bus which drove through some stunning countryside and winding valleys. After reaching Barichara, the bus dropped us off in the main square which is atop a hill.
We spent a couple of hours exploring, taking photographs and soaking up the general atmosphere. We enjoyed wandering through the cobbled streets, admiring the white washed traditional buildings set apart with their colourful wooden doors and window frames.
Buildings are extremely well maintained. There is a real sense of pride in the village.
Traditional white washed buildings catch the eye with their colourful doors and shutters.
Every street has similar characteristics.
The small town is simply charming. We could have easily spent a few days here if our itinerary had allowed.
The Catedral de la Inmaculada Conception that dominates the main square is also well worth a look as its wooden roof is a really unique feature.
Inside the cathedral looking up to the wooden roof.
The Start Of The Trail
To find the start of the trail from the main square, continue uphill for a couple of streets to Carrera 10 and turn left. There you will find a stone slab marking the start of a path to the equally quaint village of Guane.
The official start of the trail.
Setting off in this direction means you have a mostly downhill walk that takes you through a beautiful canyon and valley. The trail offers some great views as well as some solitude in the peace and quiet of the countryside.
Heading off downhill.
The trail offers extensive views across the valley.
Beware of the cactus!
Spanish moss hangs from the trees.
A great place for a pit-stop on a hot day!
Although sparse enroute, there is some signage as you approach Guane.
Life Away From It All
After around an hour and a half to 2 hours of walking you seem to literally stumble upon the tiny village of Guane.
Guane is an even smaller version of Barichara, although less elaborate. We strolled around the square and adjoining streets making pleasantries with the locals that were lingering on park benches taking shade under the trees.
The cobbled pathway continues into the smaller village of Guane.
Passing a shrine on the way into the village.
The village museum located in the main square.
Children hang around the jeepney in the square – the local taxi.
Sitting on a bench in the square and taking in the view.
We joined the locals on a bench to enjoy an ice cream and take some respite from the afternoon sun. We watched children wander home from school, a farmer herd his goats through the square and women busy sweeping their front door steps.
There are a couple of restaurants and artisan shops located in the village. These are perfect for a visit if you are intending on returning by bus and have a long wait.
Not as elaborate as the cathedral in Barichara, but Guane still boasts its own traditional village church.
Taking a look inside the church.
An interesting sight. Goats are herded through the village.
It really did seem like a village lost in a time warp. But a charming and interesting place all the same.
Back To San Gil
To return, we could have walked the trail in reverse from Guane to Barichara, however that would have meant we would be walking almost entirely uphill, and it was also incredibly hot that day. So we decided to catch the bus from Guane straight back to San Gil as it was only $6,000 Colombian pesos. (£1.80 GBP).
The buses from Guane are less frequent, but there is a timetable posted on the door of a shop in the square near to where the bus picks up and drops off, so you can check times and availability.
A helpful bus timetable that was current at the time of this post.
Make Time To Walk The El Camino Real Trail
If peace and tranquility is what you’re looking for then this is a great walk, with the added bonus of getting a real feel for Colombian life in the countryside.
Hit the cobbles and walk the Camino Real Trail for a real insight into life in the Colombian countryside.
For the photographers out there too, walking the trail also gives you the opportunity to capture life in these charming pueblos.
And best of all walking is FREE! So grab your walking boots and head off into the Colombian countryside…