The drive to San Gil is one of the most beautiful we have experienced so far. Waking up to daylight beaming through the bus windows to find a view of vibrant green mountains and waterfalls cascading beside the road, was an incredible feeling.
Wade, Hanna and I decided to check into Sam’s VIP hostel right on the main plaza in town. It’s quite a cool hostel with a rooftop area and pool and friendly staff who organized all the adrenalin tours and day trips in the area.
After a brief wander around town for the afternoon, we took the advice of the hostel and went out for a steak at a local restaurant. It was a proper thick, eye fillet steak with vegetables, which is a real rarity in South America and was the best meal any of us have had in months.
Over breakfast the following morning we were discussing what to do and getting some advice from other travellers on what the best options were from the huge variety of activities in the area. San Gill offers everything from downhill biking to Paragliding, Canyoning and Whitewater Rafting. It is known as the adventure capital of Colombia and attracts plenty of travellers all wanting to brag about their daily feats over a few beers and testosterone fuelled stories!
While we were all keen to go whitewater rafting, the guide came and told us that the water level in the river was a bit average so we needed to make other plans for our first day. Arial, the rafting guide suggested that we visit the nearby town of Bariloche that is known for being picturesque and much less touristy than San Gil. From there, you can also do a one-hour hike to the next, even smaller village of Guane.
The day trip and small towns sounded different to anything we have seen so far in Colombia so we packed our things and also managed to pick up a new American mate, Graham, who decided to join the three of us for the day. Graham looks like our good mate Ryan’s long lost brother, so Wade and I felt a strange familiarity to him and liked him straight away. Although it became a bit awkward when I kept asking him to pull ridiculous faces to imitate Ryan and then wanted to hug him when he did it right. Yeah…. in hindsight it was a little odd.
Bariloche is an exquisite little village on which many of the local paintings sold in major tourist towns are based. The beautiful white washed houses with a stunning backdrop of rich green mountains makes it impossible not to appreciate this quaint village.
We began the hike to Guane by following some rough directions out of town until we found a sign that pointed down a narrow cobblestone goat track. The track took us past local farmhouses and stone fenced paddocks littered with goats and sheep, all the while looking out over a spectacular view of mountains and a green valley below.
The walk was one hour of beautiful scenery and annoying, ankle-twisting rock paths that constantly stole our gaze from where we’d rather be looking.
Upon arriving in Guane, we strolled around three or four streets before realizing that we had just seen the entire town! There was a quaint plaza, a few laneways lined with locals sitting and chatting and one or two restaurants.
Wade and I had been told that this area is known for goat dishes so we both ordered a typical Colombian lunch of stewed goat with rice and salad. It was super tender and flavoursome and it was while Wade and I were discussing the deliciousness of this cute little creature that we learnt Graham is a vegetarian... ohhhhhh. We all left full and ready for the bus back to Bariloche.
We spent the afternoon sipping coffee and wandering around Bariloche looking at the artisanal stores and churches. We even spent a good hour searching fruitlessly in the rain for a church and graveyard that Hanna had read about in Lonely Planet. It was only when we finally found it that Hanna cared to mention that she couldn’t remember the significance of either!
Tired and in desperate need of a shower, we all walked through the doors of Sam’s VIP to an excitable Arial, the white water rafting guide awaiting our return. He was pumped to tell us that tomorrow would be perfect conditions if we wanted to go rafting on the River Suarez through some grade 5 rapids.
So there we were, all decked out in our life vests, helmets and paddles as we hit the water of the Rio Suarez. Wade, Hanna and I were all in a boat with a German couple and our instructor Arial. Between us, we could almost understand one another in three different languages so really, it was a perfect combination for a team about to partake in a dangerous sport! At least the water was a refreshing temperature so made the prospect of going overboard vaguely less intimidating.
The rapids were awesome and Wade copped a solid wall of water in the face on more than one occasion! At one point we all jumped over board and drifted alongside our raft which was great until we began to hear the thunder of the next rapid and a casual Arial suggested we get back in if we wanted to go over the rapids "in the boat"! We all squirmed back into the boat just as the speed of the water began to pick up!
There are plenty more photos from our whitewater rafting trip on our Colombia - Part 3 Photo Album here.
That night we went for pizza and beers and Hanna packed her things to leave the following morning. Wade and I had decided to stay and check out some of the surrounding forests and waterfalls but we had all decided to meet up again in Bogota in two days time.
On our last day in San Gil, Wade and I jumped on a local bus to go and see a waterfall, Juan Curi, just 40km out of town. We hiked up to the rocky, rainforest covered track, to the base of the falls where we had exclusive access to the waterfall as the last tourists were walking back while we were walking up. Sadly the water was absolutely freezing so we just had a quick break at the top and tried not to be swept away in the icy water while taking some photos in the slippery falls before heading back into San Gil.
Photo: Juan Curi waterfall 40 minutes drive out of San Gil
We decided to take advantage of the awesome kitchen at Sam’s VIP and stopped off at the local market to cook up a veggie stir fry using all the incredible fresh produce. We had a quiet night chilling in the hostel and booked a bus to Bogota for the following morning. We wanted to arrive in Bogota before sunset because it certainly was not going to be the safest city we’ve visited during our travels.
We had read a lot of blogs about petty crime, violence and scams in the city so we wanted to make sure we were in our hostel and at least vaguely familiar with the city before sunset.
Looking back I was excited about visiting Bogota, the capital of Colombia and a city renowned for good parties and nightlife. Oh how my opinion changed over the coming days! I’ll be writing my Bogota post this week but until then, one last photo of Wade being hit in the face by a wall of water….
Cheers for reading!
Enthusiastic but Useless Traveler.