The Santander Department is one of the most mountainous departments in the country.
The adventures begin in Bucaramanga city. It is possible to get from Bogota to Bucaramanga by ground-based transport (6 hours) or aircraft (1 hour). Bucaramanga is called the city of parks. It is situated on a plateau and is characterized by pleasant warm climate - the year round the temperature is 22-24 degrees Celsius. And, with its main natural sights - one of which is the majestic canyon Chicamocha, one of the deepest in Colombia - it is one of the most picturesque environments in Colombia. Tourists are attracted to Bucaramanga by both nature and extreme sports, significantly popular in the country. In canyon Chicamocha there is the National Panachi park and the longest funicular in South America, which opened in January 2009.
1) San-Gil is a town 2 hours by car from Bucaramanga (96 km). It is located on the almost perpendicular slopes of mountains. The inhabitants of city adapted to the movement the special system of stairs and terraces, which became a special feature of city. On the Fonse river, just at the foot of city, there is El Gallineral park – a pride of townspeople. It's unique ecosystem includes centenary trees with white threads of moss overhanging almost to the earth, called senile beard, which barely allows sunlight to pass; black hummingbirds, and orchids of all colors. Furthermore, from the park it is possible to make a descent along the river, rafting (duration from 1 to 3 hours, from 10 to 30 km), or to visit the Alyumbre and La Antigua caves, or the Gypseous cave in which there are the fragments of ancient ceramics, textile, rock axes, etc. Speleology is also practiced in other caves of this department.
The real adventure awaits you in the Cave of the Indian, when after a 1.5 hour walk through the interminate labyrinths, colonies of bats, underground lakes and staggering beauty of stalactites and stalagmites, you will have to make a giddy leap from a 5 meter height into the darkness and jump into the underground river, which will carry you out to the surface. In all excursions, an experienced instructor will accompany you. It is possible to practise rappelling – this is rock-climbing in which one is first fastened to the cliff ropes, (height of 60 m) in caning (a kind of mountain climbing practiced on waterfalls) on the waterfall Juan Kuri. You will be able to hike through different categories of complexity. This region of Colombia is characterized by absolute calmness. Here there are no criminality and illegal military formations, which contributes to the development of ecotourism. From the canyon Chicamocha or the plateau Pinchote it is possible to fly on parapent and to make horse marches.
2) Barichara – is a town 40 minutes ride from San Gil, which is rightfully called the most beautiful town in Colombia. This is an example of the Andaluzian colonial style in the architecture of the end of the 18th century. It is the national memorial.
You should be aware of the fact that these routes are absolutely ecological and you will not possibly find 5-stars comfort. Although in Bucaramanga there are expensive hotels, don’t look for the European service in the national parks (though convenient economical hotels and eco lodges with all necessary conveniences do exist). Their absence is fully forgotten for the abundance of impressions.
In the very south of Colombia, on the border with Ecuador, in the Andes, where 3 cordilleras are connected, in the foot of the active volcano Galeras, there is Pasto City, the capital of Department of Narino. It was founded in 1537. The mean temperature is 15 degrees Celsius. The height is 2559 m. The extraordinary beauty of mountain views - resembling shredded green blanket - make department Narino attractive for those who love mountains. It is possible to reach it by aircraft from Bogota in 1.5 hours, or by ground-based transport in 16- 18 hours. It is characterized by excellent colonial architecture. The old city is a national monument of architecture.
Pasto is called the city of surprise. There is very unique cuisine – the regional dish is the fried guinea pig, which is served with boiled potatoes and spicy flavouring, prepared with a peanut base. Also, don’t forget to try the special ice-cream Elado de Payla - ice cream whose preparation was learned from Indians from the snow-covered apex of the Cumbal volcano. There are excellent wooden and ceramic souvenirs and leather articles.
1) La Cocha lake is 45 minutes by car from the city. A trip for the whole day, it occupies an area of 2989 hectares. It is the second largest lake in South America, situated in the Andes. The mean temperature of its water is 9 degrees Celsius and the depth is 90 meters. On the shore there are a small port and a bright picturesque hamlet in the Swiss style, from which it is possible to make the 2 hour stroll around the lake, to visit La Korota isle - the smallest natural preserve of the country - and see a typical example of the cold Andes jungle. In the village on the shore of the lake, you can enjoy the fresh-caught iridescent trout in a picturesque small restaurant and taste the local warming beverage “ervido” - hot fruit juice with anise vodka. In the Indian reservations on the shore of the lake those who know can practice a “purifying” sacred ritual “yakhe”, which gives, with the help of the special beverage, the possibility to glance inside themselves.
2) Las Lajas church is called “the miracle above the precipice” and is a religious sacred place, for both Colombia and Ecuador. It is located in Ipiales city, a 2 hour ride from Pasto (a trip for the whole day with a visit to the near-Ecuadorian-border city Tulkan). It is a splendid construction in neo-Gothic style, built in a deep gorge, in the place where, according to legend, Virgin Mary appeared to an Indian girl. An unforgettable impression is guaranteed.
3) From the city, it is also possible to make a bus excursion to Quito city – the capital of Ecuador. To go to the border from Ipiales city it is 2 hours to the first city on the Ecuadorian side - Tulkan. From there it is approximately 15 minutes, and from Tulkan to Quito, 4 hours. A visa is not required for the visit to Ecuador, but it is necessary to get a stamp at the entrance of the border point of Rumichaka.
4) The ascent to the Asufral volcano is a march for physically-prepared people to a height of approximately 5000 meters, to visit the unusual Green Lake. During the ascent you will be able to see the real Andes - a high mountain region called Paramo with unique flora and fauna and eternal snows and you could be lucky enough to see the inhabitants of these places - the majestic Andes condors.
5) The most attractive spectacle for tourists of the region is undoubtedly the most unique carnival of the country, the carnival of White and Black that is held in Pasto on the first days of January each year. This colorful holiday bears the imprint of Indian and African cultures and is connected with the times when black slaves could for one day feel themselves as masters. They were strewn by talc or flour, and white people in turn were colored in black or dark colors. Today no person left to the street during the Day of White, will escape from being strewn by talc, but during the Day of Black clothing can be hopelessly damaged - those who dare to leave must be ready for this. Multiply all this by the unrestrained merriment on the street during the entire week of colorful performances and processions. It is worth it to take part.