A beautiful and safe city with amazing weather, Bucaramanga is the capital of the Santander Department of Colombia. It’s part of the Andean region too, so its surroundings boast plenty of adventure sports like paragliding and activities in the Parque Nacional de Chicamocha. “Buca,” as it’s lovingly known by the locals, is filled with universities and parks which lend to its relaxed and social nature.
There aren’t too many tourist attractions, but you’ll find markets, churches, cultural institutions, and day trips to keep you busy. Plus the nightlife is incredible and the local Santander cuisine is fabulous (if a little adventurous).
Let’s explore the best things to do in Bucaramanga:
1. Parque Nacional de Chicamocha
Bucaramanga is a great jumping off point for visiting the nearby national park, also known as “Panachi,” where you’ll find tons of outdoor activities.
The park features green landscapes, a deep canyon, and the dramatic slopes of the Andes.
You can ride an incredible aerial cable car – one of the longest in the world – for fabulous views of the canyon.
Fill your days here with things like rafting, fishing, hiking, climbing, paragliding, kayaking, camping, and spelunking.
Rent a dune buggy, check out the viewpoints and monuments, or hang out at the park atop the mountain.
There you’ll find a water park, ziplines, an extreme swing, and even an ostrich farm – just in case that was on your to-do list!
2. Try the Local Cuisine
Bucaramanga and the surrounding Santander Department are renowned for some unique dishes and “delicacies.” Fritanga is a greasy meal of deep-fried yuca, corn, potatoes, sausages, and steak.
Cabra, or goat meat, is also pretty popular around here, so you’ll see it on lots of menus.
If you’re brave, try the pepitoria, a dish of goat entrails stewed with blood and served over rice, but if you’re just craving the meats, head to El Viejo Chiflas which serves up large grilled platters alongside other typical Colombian foods.
Mercagán is a famous restaurant known for serving the best steaks in Colombia, brought to you on hot iron pans with arepas and yuca.
For the adventurous, be sure to try the hormigas culonas, the salty toasted bodies of leaf-cutter ants – you won’t find them anywhere else.
Thermal winds abound in this region of Colombia, so there’s no better (or cheaper) place to try paragliding for the first time than here.
Get a bit of an adrenaline rush mixed with the calming sensation of flight when you leap off the side of a mountain.
The views of the lush green hills below are excellent, and don’t worry, you’ll be strapped to a professional on these first tandem flights.
If you want to take a course to become a paragliding pilot yourself, there are places in the countryside that provide accommodation while you get your license.
4. Day Trip to Girón
Just 15 minutes away from Bucaramanga, there’s a lovely little colonial town that’s perfect for photographs, relaxing, and a nice stroll around the central plaza.
Founded in 1631, it’s the first Spanish settlement in the Santander region, which is evident in its cobblestone streets, well-preserved whitewashed buildings, and horse carriages.
There’s a malecón (waterfront promenade), small stone bridges, shady patios, and a couple of charming churches.
Girón is a great place to try traditional foods like fritanga or sit outside with a couple of raspados (sweet flavored shaved ices).
5. Mercado Central
The central market of Bucaramanga is well-organized and definitely worth the trip to meander among the produce, shoes, flowers, clothes, and Santandereana handicrafts you’ll find there.
Have a look at the avocados that are half the size of your head and the just-butchered meats while you say hola to friendly local vendors.
The food court on the fourth floor is the perfect place for a fresh, cheap lunch.
You can try a variety of local specialties like empanadas, caldo, fruit juices, grilled meats, and buñuelos.
6. Museo Casa de Bolívar
To soak up a little history and colonial architecture during your stay in this otherwise modern city, visit the Casa de Bolívar.
This house, built in the 1700s, once sheltered the famous Simón Bolívar himself for a couple of months during his stay in Bucaramanga.
You’ll learn all about the roots of Colombia as well as the history of “El Libertador” here.
Part of the house is now a museum which contains over 4,000 artifacts and pieces of art, and also a library that’s open to the public.
7. Catedral de la Sagrada Familia
The most impressive church in town is the Sagrada Familia Cathedral which faces Parque Santander.
The idea for the church arose in 1895 but constructions and additions were still being made at the end of the 20th century.
Its two white towers stand out as well as the yellow and green dome in the rear which reflects the colors of the city’s flag.
The interior is pretty magnificent as well, with its carrara marble altar, religious paintings, and stucco and metal crafted ceilings.
The stained glass windows were created by several artists and the ceramic cupola hails from Mexico.
The facade is even more brilliant at night when the church is all lit up.
8. Nightlife in Bucaramanga
With ten universities in the city, it’s not surprising that nightlife in Buca is alive and well.
There’s music, rumba, and salsa for those who want to party, and the modern neighborhood of Cabecera is where most people flock for a night out.
You’ll also find shops, eateries, malls, and cinemas here even if you don’t want to party.
The nearby Parque Las Palmas is a popular hangout spot in the evenings because it’s surrounded by restaurants and bars.
Make It Public is a trendy place with food, drinks, and jams, and Vintrash is a hip bar for snacks, drinks, and dancing.
If you’re into big clubs with loud music and lots of people, check out La 33.
9. Parque del Agua
Parque del Agua is a fun place in the city where you can hang out with the family for the day while enjoying some nature.
The park contains peaceful wooded paths, waterfalls, animals, and ponds.
You’ll find lots of flora and fauna, like tropical plants, trees, and flowers, plus a few turtles, birds, and fish that you can feed.
The entrance is cheap (and free on certain days) and you can walk around, sit and read, or just relax here if you like.
At night there’s a light show, and lots of tourists turn up in December because the Christmas decorations are apparently amazing.
10. Go Shoe Shopping
It sounds completely random, but if you’re in the market for a new pair of shoes, Bucaramanga is the place in Colombia to buy them. There are lots of shoe factories located on the outskirts of the city, so you’ll find inexpensive prices along with high quality leather and great manufacturing here.
Head to the shopping districts downtown and the retail outlets in Cabecera for a high density of shoe shops and factory outlets with a large range of styles and low prices.
You can also find deals on leather handbags and wallets in town.
11. Get a Little Culture
Bucaramanga is a city of education, filled with universities and other places where you can learn a little while you’re here.
Visit the Museo de Arte Moderno, one of the few real tourist attractions in town, to roam two rooms of over 200 modern paintings and sculptures.
La Casa de la Cultura is another place where you can learn about the culture and history of the city.
And finally, check out La Casa del Libro Total, a cultural space converted from a lovely old colonial house which houses computers, art exhibits, a directory of books, and a coffee place in its courtyard – check ahead of time for live performances and lectures here.
12. Side Trip to Floridablanca
A nice little detour from the center of Bucaramanga, Floridablanca is just to the southwest of the city but still part of its metropolitan area.
Here you’ll find the tallest Christ statue in Colombia on top of Cerro El Santisimo.
The area has been turned into a sort of eco-park, and there are walking paths, waterfalls, and a cable car that’ll take you up to the top for awesome panoramic views of the city.
The neighborhood is also home to the Piedra del Sol, a huge rock with carvings of circles and spirals made by the Guane people over 1,000 years ago.
With lots of options for food and drinks, it’s also a great place to grab ice cream or maybe a traditional Colombian dessert at Obleas.
13. Explore the City’s Parks
The city buildings might not have the most beautiful facades, but Buca makes up for that with its enormous amount of green spaces.
Locals are proud of their parks, and you’ll have over 150 to choose from around town.
Parque Garcia Rovira is filled with palm trees and street vendors, and it’s surrounded by the Capilla de los Dolores and government buildings.
The Botanical Gardens provide an escape from urban living with the abundant local flora and fauna – like tropical flowers, armadillos, iguanas, and squirrels.
Parque Santander, one of the most famous parks in the city, is filled with lights in the evenings and backed by the Sagrada Familia Cathedral and other historic buildings.
Las Palmas and San Pío are also quite popular.
14. Visit La Mesa de los Santos
La Mesa de los Santos is a small village that’s now connected to the Parque Nacional de Chicamocha by cable car.
A favorite spot of Bucaramanga residents on weekends because it’s only around 40 minutes from the city and a little bit cooler, lots of locals have farms or country houses here.
One coffee finca, Café Mesa de los Santos, is open to visitors, offering tours and a small museum about the coffee-growing process.
The Mercado Campesino de Acuarela is a beautiful outdoor market that’s super photogenic and a must-visit.
It’s a great place to taste local fruits, try some freshly-prepared Colombian meals, and drink beers in the German-style beer garden.
15. Resorts, Golf, and Swimming Pools
Just to the south of Buca, you’ll find places to chill out in style, with resorts and clubs offering swimming pools, golf courses, tennis courts, spas, and on-site restaurants.
Whether you want to book a room in a upscale hotel like Club Campestre for your family vacation or just grab a guest pass for the day, they provide modern luxury at an affordable price.
Even the Holiday Inn here has a heated rooftop pool, and the Punta Diamante offers packages that include access to the Ruitoque Golf Club, swimming pools, and tennis courts.