Rafting, paragliding, caving, mountain biking, canyoning, hiking, birding, and rappelling are all within reach in San Gil, Colombia’s adventure sports capital.
Rafting and Kayaking
Three rivers near San Gil offer some excellent rafting adventures. The Río Fonce, whose banks the town stands on, is the closest and one of the best suited for rafting. It’s a category II-III. It’s fine year-round, although in March and April the water level is higher. A rafting trip on the Fonce costs about COP$30,000 for a 90-minute trip. The Río Suárez is a category III-V river. The starting point is about an hour’s drive towards Bogotá. You’ll definitely get wet on this one. The trip leaves at 10am, returning at 4pm, and costs COP$125,000. You’re on the water for about 2.5 hours. The third river is the Río Chicamocha, but many consider the previous rivers to be the best.
Colombia Rafting Expeditions (Cra. 10 No. 7-83, tel. 7/724-5800) is considered the best rafting company in town. They focus exclusively on river activities. The walls of their small office are covered with diplomas and certificates earned by their team of experienced guides. They can organize trips down all the rivers, determining which one is right for you based upon on skill level, your sense of adventure, and water levels. They also do kayak trips. This company takes safety concerns very seriously and conducts safety training exercises in English.
Three-day kayaking courses (four hours per day starting at 8am) are offered by Colombia Rafting. These cost COP$400,000 and take place on the Río Fonce. They can also arrange for kayaking on the Río Chicamocha. They also rent out kayaks to those who can demonstrate their level of experience. You can also try your hydrospeeding (riverboarding) skills on the Río Fonce. That costs COP$45,000.
There are two main paragliding areas near San Gil. One is the spectacular Cañón del Chicamocha and the other is 16 kilometers (10 miles) away at Las Vueltas in Curití. Tandem paragliding trips over the Chicamocha, of about a 45-minute duration, cost around COP$170,000. That price includes transportation to and from the landing and pickup sites. Chicamocha paragliding flights take place in the mornings. At the windy Las Vueltas location, it will cost you about COP$60,000. Those flights are held in the afternoon. As far as courses go, Colombian Paragliding (cell tel. 312/432-6266) has the best reputation. They are based near Bucaramanga.
Waterfalls and Rappelling
The Cascadas de Juan Curí (road to Charalá, COP$7,000) are quite close to San Gil and easily reached on public transportation or by bike. These falls, about 18 meters high, are privately owned by two neighbors who are fierce rivals! For a more rustic climb through the jungle to reach your refreshing goal, go to the second entrance (Donde Efigenia). It’s about a 15-minute hike, and it can be treacherous at points. Wear some shoes you don’t mind getting muddy and wet. And bring a bathing suit to cool off in one of the pools. You can camp there as well. It’s a nice excursion. If you don’t want to sweat and struggle at all, take the first entrance. To test your rappelling skills here, contact Páramo Extremo (Cra. 4 No. 4-57, tel. 7/725-8944). They can organize an excursion, with all the safety equipment and an experienced guide, for COP$45,000.
Several caves around San Gil make for good exploring. The Cueva Indio is one of the most popular. It’s filled with bats, and you don’t really have to do much bending over to explore. It is near the town of Páramo, just beyond the Cascadas de Juan Curí. An excursion including equipment and a guide costs COP$25,000, but that doesn’t include transportation. Contact Páramo Extremo (Cra. 4 No. 4-57, tel. 7/725-8944) in the town of Páramo.
The Cueva Vaca, near Curití, is the most challenging of the caves in the area. You will be in water and mud the entire time you are underground, and at one point you’ll have to swim underwater to get through to the next cave. It’s action packed and there are some tight squeezes as well, but the adventure is worth it. There are lots of stalactites and stalagmites and bats to see. It costs COP$25,000 plus about COP$3,000 in bus transportation. Colombia Rafting (Cra. 10 No. 7-83, cell tel. 311/283-8647) or other outfitters can organize a trip here.
The La Antigua cave is on the road towards Barichara. El Dorado Hostel (Cl. 12 No. 8-55, tel. 7/723-5069) organizes an extreme trip that includes the cave plus canyoning, rappelling, and two waterfall descents. All that adventure during just five hours! This trip costs COP$80,000 including transportation.
The Medellín-based outfit Expedición Adventure (cell tel. 314/258-9499, email@example.com) specializes in unique 3- to 20-day caving trips to mostly unexplored and unspoiled areas in Santander. The starting point is usually in Barbosa, a town between Tunja and Barichara.
Colombian Bike Junkies (Cl. 12, No. 8-35, cell tel. 316/327-6101 or 313/411-5332), run by a pair from Seattle, Washington, and the United Kingdom, organizes downhill day-trip rides, crazy canyon adventures, multi-activity combos, and multi-day adventures. One day trip starts at 2,000 meters on the top of the Cañón del Chicamocha, going, down, down, down through beautiful countryside to the ghost town of Jordan. After a swim and lunch, there is yet one more downhill trip near Curití. Some 50 kilometers (30 miles) of downhill riding! All on top-of-the-line mountain bikes. If you want to rent a cheap-o bike for the day, go to Bicicletería El Ring (Cl. 7 No. 10-14, tel. 7/724-3189).
On weekends and on holidays, families head to swimming holes to splash about. The atmosphere is joyous, and there’s usually music and plenty of food and drink as well. (A little trash, too, unfortunately.) Pozo Azul is about five minutes by bus or taxi from San Gil (or a 20-minute walk). Pescaderito is in Curití, about a 40-minute bus ride away, and there are five swimming holes in which to cool off. During the week it’s quieter.