The Next Caño Cristales: Guadalupe
Journey to Chicamocha Canyon
Our first stop was a trip through Chicamocha Canyon. It had rained pretty heavily the night before our journey so the road our guide had planned to take to the canyon was unpassable. So, after about an hour in onedirection, we had to turn around and go a different road, which likely added about 2 hours to our drive. Whew.
Peer into the Canyon
We stopped at the entrance to the Chicamocha National Park and got out to stretch our legs and enjoy the view. The park is located on the side of the green covered canyon. We didn't enter the park, as our ultimate destination for the day was the small town of Guadalupe, but the park does include a water park (which didn't appear to be open when we visited), a very recognizable monument to the local culture, and most notably a cable car system that stretches across the canyon. The cable car ride is known to provide a great view of the canyon, but we were forewarned by friends who had previously visited that it was probably not a place to take a kid who was afraid of heights (i.e., my son).
Stop at the Fruit Stands
As we continued our trip to Guadalupe, our guide stopped at a local fruit stand to let us sample some fresh squeezed jugo de mandarina (mandarin orange juice) which was delicious. My husband was enthralled by the fruit stand and its colorful display of gorgeous bunches of fruit. He couldn’t figure out how we’d fit a bag of mandarins in our suitcases, so we had to be satisfied with just the juice.
The kids and our guide entertained themselves at the stand by trying to get the pet parrot to squawk various phrases. And, the stand also had the most adorable baby goat who was almost smuggled home in the kids’ suitcases.
Welcome to Guadalupe
We continued our journey which likely took over 6 hours and finally found ourselves in the very, very small town of Guadalupe. I loved this town. It was small, and quaint, and beautifully maintained, with a traditional town square and obligatory catholic church. Its color scheme is white walls, green doors, and red-tiled roofs. It is known as an affluent community, so they don’t need tourism to survive, but the inhabitants seem to be welcoming the recent influx of tourists.
Few restaurants were open because we arrived on a Monday holiday. There is a crepe restaurant that our guide highly recommended (Crepes y Algo Mas), but it was closed. We ate at the only spot in town that was willing to feed us lunch. I do not even know if it had a name, but it was located right on the square next to the church and served us delicious roast chicken with baked potatoes. We were so thankful for their hospitality.
Slide into a Plunge Pool in Las Gachas
The purpose of our journey all the way to Guadalupe was for their recently publicized natural swimming holes, called Las Gachas. Las Gachas apparently became famous when a few years back our guide and some friends posted a video of the river, which went viral.
Las Gachas is a shallow river with a naturally red stone as its riverbed. The stone itself has these large, deep holes in it. Some holes are several meters deep and over a meter wide. The river and stone is reminiscent of Caño Cristales, another rainbow river found deeper south in Colombia. But the color for Las Gachas is the result of the colored stone, rather than colored algae in Caño Cristales, so you can visit Las Gachas any time of the year and see the beautiful color because it is not seasonal.
Our guide parked our vehicle in his favorite, non-descript spot at a home along the road and we hiked approximately 30 minutes to the river among this amazing landscape of green mountains. There is also a more traditional hike to Las Gachas directly from the center of town too.
The famous activity to do at the river is to run and slide head first across the rock (think Slip and Slide from your childhood days) and dive into the holes. Our guide, and eventually my husband, were brave enough to try. My husband and I also heaved my daughter by the arms and sent her sliding into the pools too. The kids and I were mostly happy to just sit and jump in the holes.
We visited during a period of rain in the afternoon, so it was nice to sit in the holes as the water inside was warmer than the air. And it is recommended to bring water shoes and an old t-shirt. The shoes are for walking on the slippery rock and the t-shirt is in case you want to protect your chest and bathing suit as a you slide across the rock.
Due to the rainclouds and time of day, the colors of the rocks were not as dramatic as other photos we’ve seen. So, we still have visiting Caño Cristales on our travel list, but it was a fun adventure (and you can’t slip and slide at Caño Cristales).
Sleep Restfully in the Hostel
Because Guadalupe is such a small town, there are no traditional hotels, only hostels. We stayed at one run by José Navarro located right on the town square, who also runs his own adventure tours in and around Guadalupe. We had his hostel all to ourselves which consisted of 3 bedrooms, a bathroom (with a shower, but no hot water), an open courtyard, a sitting room with hammocks, and a kitchen. All clean and lovely. And José is such a nice and gracious host too. He doesn’t speak any English, but we communicated with our gringo Spanish just fine.
Our guide took us to a small Colombian eatery for dinner where we were served by the young son of the proprietor and later returned to the hostel and slipped into our beds listening to the rain as we fell fast asleep.
After Guadalupe, we made our way to San Gil, the adventure capital of Santander. Learn more about this busy town with its quiet spaces too. Read more here.
Location: Guadalupe is far from most everything. It is a 5 to 6 hour drive from Bucaramanga. The road into Guadalupe turns to dirt with large pot holes, and the random cow crossing.
Accommodations: There are more traditional hotels located 20 to 30 minutes outside of Guadalupe. But, if you want to stay in the city itself, you will have to stay in a hostel. We enjoyed the one run by José Navarro.
What to Bring: The hike into Los Gachas can be through some tall grass, so hiking shoes or shoes appropriate for such a hike would probably be good to wear. I walked in wearing water sandals and that was not the best option. Plus, carry old socks and/or water shoes to be able to walk on the rocks of Las Gachas. Some people also wore old t-shirts so that they didn't scratch their stomachs or ruin their suits when they slid on the rocks.