This is the adventure sports capital of Colombia, so expect to meet a lot of thrill-seeking travelers in the otherwise quiet town of San Gil. A pretty spot in the Department of Santander, the city is close to green mountains, rivers, trails, and the Chicamocha Canyon.
It’s known throughout the country as the place to try adrenaline-inducing activities at good prices, and there are plenty of tour companies and hostels who can hook you up with mountain biking, parasailing, bungee jumping, and canyoning trips.
When you need a breather, there are quite a few places to relax, from town parks and plazas to waterfalls and natural pools. And for a little culture, you can always visit the nearby colonial towns of Barichara and Guane or play some tejo with the locals.
Let’s explore the best things to do in San Gil:
1. Cascada de Juan Curi
The best waterfall around San Gil, it’s a 180-meter high beauty where you can bathe in the cool natural pool at the bottom.
Lots of people come to Cascada de Juan Curi with a tour guide to rappel down its rock walls, but you can visit via the public bus to Charala on your own.
Hike along the trail from Juan Curi Parque Ecologico for 15 to 20 minutes in order to reach the falls which are surrounded by dense, jungle-like vegetation.
The park itself has a restaurant and toilets, so you could easily pass a whole afternoon here swimming and sunbathing.
2. Mountain Biking Tours
With tons of lush mountains on its doorstep and an abundance of trails, what better way to see the area around San Gil than mountain biking? The most popular tours are run by Colombia Bike Junkies and include dual suspension bikes, safety gear, great guides, as well as meals and snacks for this all-day affair.
Venture out to see the Chicamocha Canyon and the colonial town of Jordán, stopping for a swim to cool off.
Or visit the Suarez Canyon with a tour of Barichara and lunch in the village of Galán.
A bike tour is a great way to explore the scenery and culture while getting some exercise and regular jolts of adrenaline.
3. Casa de Mercado San Gil
When you’re not busy eating American comfort food and burgers with the rest of the backpackers, be sure to check out the market in San Gil for a taste of authentic local Colombian food.
Head to the busy Casa de Mercado to pick up some quick and cheap meals known as comida corriente.
Stalls serve things like tamales, arepas, fruit juices, smoothies, soups, and sausages.
The covered market also sells fresh produce, meats, and grains, and it’s a great opportunity to stroll around with your camera and capture the colorful scenes.
Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays are the best market days – it’s the perfect place to grab breakfast!
4. Parque Gallineral
A large ethereal-feeling park within the town of San Gil, head here to take a stroll down its pathways and bridges along the Río Fonce and Quebrada Curití.
It’s a breath of fresh air only ten minutes’ walk from the main plaza, and you can spend a few hours hiking the 4-hectare reserve or just reading beside the rivers.
The vegetation and wildlife are interesting, with over 1,000 trees covered in Spanish moss, tropical flowers, and critters like red squirrels and parrots.
There’s a pool for swimming (for an extra fee) and a couple of restaurants where you can relax with a coffee or beer.
5. Go Bungee Jumping
San Gil is THE place for adrenaline-producing adventure sports in Colombia, so if you’re trying to bungee jump you won’t find a better town.
It’s scary, thrilling, and amazing all at the same time, and the team at Colombia Bungee Jumping can hook you up (literally) for an outing you won’t forget.
They’ve got the gear, thorough instructors, and appropriate safety measures to help you tackle this death-defying feat.
It’s relatively cheap, and they’ll transport you out to the superstructure they’ve built 230 feet (70 meters) over the Fonce River exclusively for bungee jumping.
6. White Water Rafting
There are two rivers close to San Gil where you can arrange whitewater rafting trips.
Río Fonce is suitable for younger kids with its class II and III rapids and easy-going style.
But for the more daring, head out on the Río Suarez for some class IV and V rapids that’ll really get your heart pumping.
Trips include transport, rafts, paddles, helmets, life jackets, and all the instruction you’ll need to handle the big boy rapids.
Tours with Colombia Rafting Expeditions also throw in photos, videos, and even a riverside meal.
For something even more intense, ask about riverboarding (or hydrospeeding) solo down the Río Fonce.
7. Go Paragliding
Try paragliding – or parapente in Spanish – while you’re in San Gil, and you’ll discover what it’s like to soar over the rolling green mountains and the dramatic Chicamocha Canyon.
These are the best views possible of the surrounding countryside and you’ll be perfectly safe as you fly with an experienced pilot strapped to you.
There’s nothing like running off the edge of the canyon into the sky, and the scenery here is stunning.
GoPros and photographs are available, and tourists give great reviews to Parapente Chicamocha and Paravolar Colombia.
8. Visit Barichara
One of the most charming colonial villages in Colombia, Barichara is just a short ride from San Gil.
Take the bus to wander its cobblestone streets, white cottages, the Iglesia de Santa Bárbara, and the Parque Para Las Artes.
While you’re here, try the local speciality, hormigas culonas (roasted “big ass ants”), at the restaurant Color de Hormiga.
If you’re into hiking, walk the Camino Real, a long stone pathway created by the indigenous Guane culture to the nearby village – you’ll see the Chicamocha Canyon and surrounding farms along the way.
If you’d rather take it easy, just enjoy Barichara’s colonial architecture, lots of fabulous mountain views, and the great restaurants in town.
9. Parque La Libertad and Catedral de la Santa Cruz
A busy main square in San Gil, the tree-lined Parque La Libertad is lively almost all the time.
A city center for social life and street food, you’ll find locals and tourists alike hanging out here amongst the fountains and statues.
Weekend nights are especially popular, providing a vibrant atmosphere of vendors selling beer and typical foods – try the chicken skewers.
You’ll also find the Catedral Santa Cruz, a beautiful 18th-century cathedral, at one end.
Check out the interior (or attend mass) to see its stark white walls, intricate ceilings, stained glass, and confessionals.
10. Swim in the Natural Pools
If you’re looking for a break from adventure sports, visit the natural pools around San Gil to cool off and relax.
Pescaderito is about a 40-minute walk (or a mototaxi ride) from where the bus drops you off in the village of Curiti.
It’s free to enter these five swimming holes where you can also camp, hike, and picnic.
Be sure to wander around and check them all out, because you’ll find hot springs here too.
Pozo Azul is a smaller natural pool just 2 kilometers away from town.
You’ll find refreshing waters that are part of the Curití River along with a waterfall in the middle of the jungle.
Despite the remote feel, there are a few little restaurants and places selling beer as well.
11. Play Tejo
If you haven’t yet played Colombia’s explosive national sport, head to the tejo hall in San Gil.
This awesome game involves throwing lead weights at the gunpowder targets stuck in clay at the end of a narrow court – the loud bang means you’ve done it! You can arrange to go out for tejo nights with Sam’s VIP Hostel or Macondo Hostel if you want transportation, ready-made friends, and a little lesson on how to play.
Otherwise, you can visit the Comite Municipal de Tejo in town for a couple of beers with local Colombian players while you attempt to explode some targets!
12. Go Canyoning
You could just go waterfall rappelling down Cascada Juan Curi, but if that isn’t enough excitement for you, check out one of the tour companies that does full days of canyoning activities.
El Dorado International Hostel does a great canyoning tour (even if you don’t stay there) which involves climbing through caves and across boulders, rappelling down waterfalls, and jumping from cliffs into the natural pools below.
They provide the transportation, instruction, professional guides, and safety equipment, so no worries if you’ve never done it before! They’ll also take photos and videos of your awesome adventures as you abseil down steep rock faces.
13. Caving at La Cueva de la Vaca
For an extreme activity you can’t do just anywhere, head to one of the caves just outside of San Gil to explore the inside.
La Cueva de la Vaca is the best cave in the area, located on the outskirts of Curiti, a short bus ride from town.
Stop by the tour company Gua-iti Aventura Sin Limite to find a guide who’ll take you through the cave.
Not for the extremely claustrophobic, caving involves slipping through narrow passageways, wading through neck-deep water, crouching in darkness, and even ducking underwater to get through tight spots.
You’ll be rewarded with ceilings full of stalactites overhead and an experience unlike any other!
14. Hike up Cerro de la Cruz
One of the best viewpoints of San Gil, hike up to the white cross at the top of the hill that you can see from the city.
It’s an easy trek and you can reach the starting point by walking through some less touristy parts of town or taking a bus or taxi.
At night, the cross is brightly illuminated and the city sparkles beneath.
It was erected by the Jesuits in 1888. This is a laid back activity if you’re in need of some panoramic shots of town and you’ve had enough of the super exciting stuff – bring sunscreen!
15. Check Out the Village of Guane
Arrive in pretty little Guane by walking the Camino Real from Barichara or simply catch the bus to wander a town that’s packed with history.
This pre-Columbian village was settled by the indigenous people of the same name, and now it’s home to a peaceful plaza set alongside the Iglesia de Santa Lucia.
Visit the town’s museum which contains ancient marine fossils, archeological artifacts, and even a mummy.
The well-preserved architecture makes it a magical place to stroll, and Guane is the perfect town to buy traditional handicrafts, eat handmade sweets, and sample the local liquors, sabajón and chicha.