San Gil is quickly becoming Colombia’s hottest backpacker destination due to its proximity to many adventure sports and the beautiful nature that can be explored in the area. After Bucaramanga, we boarded a bus that winded through the stunning mountains of the Chichamocha Canyon. We saw the new teléferico (cablecar) there that stretches 6.3km/3.9miles and is now one of the largest in the world.
Once dropped off along the Rio Fonce in the center of San Gil, we made our way to a new hostel we read about online – Sam’s VIP, situated right on the main square. This place was quite possibly our favorite hostel of the trip so far. A San Gil resident all his life, Sam converted his childhood home along with his family into a warm and friendly hostel. With a beautiful terrace overlooking the park and mountains, a small pool, free WiFi, two kitchens and spotless rooms, the place was amazing and really felt like home, which I later found out is just what Sam was hoping for.
Erik and I took a walk along the river to Parque Gallineral, filled with beautiful gardens, gorgeous fuzzy bromelia trees and rivers which meander through the park.
We also saw the famous huge ant sculpture, which honors a local delicacy – hormigas, or baked ants.
Taking advantage of the fantastic kitchen at our hostel, we cooked a scrumptious breakfast everyday and ate on the gorgeous terrace overlooking the park. We still couldn’t believe this was a hostel – it felt more like staying in a penthouse apartment!
We jumped on a local bus to the Juan Curi waterfall. After the 20 minute walk through grassy hills, we saw the rushing waters. This waterfall was impressive but to get there, we had to walk through the fast moving rapids – thank goodness there was a rope strung across for us to hold onto for balance. We barely went in since the water was so rough and freezing, but we got some cool photos out of it. As we were leaving, we saw people rappelling down the huge waterfall, and were glad we skipped that part.
The next day, as we were having breakfast on the terrace, our friends Michele and Nirmil checked into the hostel, we’d told them it was a great place. After chatting with them about their mammoth trek through La Ciudad Perdida (the Lost City), we decided to go check out some natural pools around town. The first, Pozo Azul was not very azul (Spanish for blue), but a rather foamy shade of brown. We jumped in a taxi to the other natural pool a bit farther from town called Pescaderito. We had fun chatting with our driver and he told us about the area along the way. Since it’s so remote, we set a time for him to come back and pick us up. This natural river runs along huge rock slabs forming two tracks nearly perfect for water tubing. So we rented 2 tubes for the mere price of $1 each for the afternoon. What fun! A bit of a scary time crossing the rapid moving river, but we all had fun tubing. Erik went down at least 5-6 times, and had fun recording his run down the river on video. I managed to go down the fast track with a big drop at the end, but it was definitely good fun. We spent the rest of the day lounging near the pond in the sun and floating in our tubes. The real excitement of the day was when we heard and felt this huge rumble and explosion. It felt like a very earthly sound, and since in our travels we had a great amount of education of what a volcanic eruption sounds like, I thought it could be that. But we soon found out from our friendly cab driver that a meteorite had hit the earth just 50km away. Incredible!
Our driver insisted that we try hormigas and took us to his favorite shop for the best ants. We got a small bag for $1. We all tried them and they were ok. They bake the very pregnant ants and eat the huge egg sacs. The taste is quite salty and sandy, but not as bad as I thought. Erik still prefers the grasshoppers he tried in Oaxaca, Mexico.
Our nights were filled with the four of us playing cards and chatting over card games while sharing a bottle of Colombia’s famous Aguardiente (very similar to Sambuca).
The next day was Michele’s birthday and she tried to convince us to go whitewater rafting with her and Nirmil (and most of our hostel), but after our wild ride in Costa Rica, we declined. Turned out to be a good idea since the waters were rough and their raft flipped over. Yikes! But, we celebrated Michele’s birthday with a cake that the hostel was sweet enough to help Nirmal order. We had a nice dinner and I had them play this very entertaining version of Happy Birthday (sang in both English and Spanish) throughout the entire restaurant. We all had a good laugh.
Sam had arranged tickets to the local basketball game, so we had a fun time there. Even though we were miles away from home, something about watching a basketball game just felt very comforting. After a drink with the hostel friends who’d gone to the game, we took Michele out for karaoke. We only got to sing a few songs, but it was a blast. I managed to find a version of Jennifer Lopez’ “Waiting for Tonight” in English and it seemed to go over pretty well. Good times! More late night chats, beverages and card games and lots of laughter.
Although it’s a small, quiet town, we loved San Gil’s nature – the parks, rivers and the waterfall. But, what really made it for us was the fantastic hostel, Sam’s VIP, and good times with our new friends.