San Gil, Colombia – A Traveler’s Guide
San Gil, Colombia
We loved San Gil, Colombia and therefore wrote this detailed guide for other travelers to help everyone get the most out of a visit to this unique town. From whitewater rafting to eating the best steak ever, San Gil is a place of many experiences.
Topics included in this San Gil, Colombia guide are:
- Getting there and away (via Bucaramanga)
- Where to stay (the best hostels)
- The best things to do
- Where to eat
- Where to go next
San Gil, Colombia is the adventure capital of Colombia, but you would never know it upon arrival as it is actually a quaint town nestled between valleys and rivers with an overall very relaxed atmosphere.
From having a massage to visiting one of the natural swimming holes to eating at an amazing restaurant, one can really unwind here. However, the majority of international tourists visit San Gil, Colombia only for the famous adventure activities. It is well-known on the backpacker trail in South America as one of the cheapest places to get an adrenaline rush – this was the original appeal for us.
We spent 5 days in this San Gil, Colombia and although we came for some adventure (we did do the bungee jump) we were surprised by the amount of time we spent just exploring the town, hanging around in the central park, and at the fruit market.
There are a few bus routes directly to San Gil, Colombia, one I know about for sure is to and from Santa Marta.
However, since San Gil is a smaller town there is definitely less of a selection of buses to choose from. I recommend looking at buses to a nearby city called Bucaramanga, which is more of a “transport hub” and will easily be reached. By using the website busbud.com, you can easily search for buses to Bucaramanga.
Keep reading below on how to get from Bucaramanga to San Gil.
The nearest airport to San Gil is in Bucaramanga. From there you must take a taxi to the main bus terminal to catch one of the mini-buses to San Gil as described below. Or, you can get a taxi all the way to San Gil but I can’t imagine that this would be cheap at all.
Domestic fights in Colombia are super cheap, but just be aware that the price usually doesn’t include a checked bag and the fee for that is about the same price as the actual flight!
How to get from Bucaramanga to San Gil, Colombia
We took a bus from Medellin to Bucaramanga on a 9-hour long journey. Once in Bucaramanga, we jumped straight on a mini-bus or “collective” for only COP 12,000 which took us right to San Gil. These minibusses are frequent (about every hour or so) and leave from the main bus terminal in Bucaramanga so it is an easy transfer to make.
*Tip, we have taken the “Expresso Brasilia” buses a couple of times now in Colombia and have found them quite comfortable, affordable, and professional – I would recommend this bus company for a more enjoyable journey. You can book this bus on busbud.com easily.
In terms of Hostels in San Gil there are a few options to choose from. Some are in the city and some are a couple of kilometers out requiring a short cab ride into town.
We stayed at The Mansion Hostel right at the central park/plaza and it was lovely. This hostel is a sister hostel to the very popular San Gil hostel called Sam’s Hostel which is only one block away. The rooms were clean and spacious and the hostel also had a large well-equipped kitchen for guest use.
Like I mentioned before, there is a wide variety of things to do in San Gil, Colombia. From adventure to relaxing it really has it all! Our favorite thing was the bungee San Gil, keep reading for details!
Bungee San Gil, Colombia
I have to mention bungee jumping in San Gil first as this was a super exciting thing for me to do – it was my first time!
I have been tandem skydiving a couple of times, so you probably think “bungee jumping will be easy in comparison.” Wrong! With skydiving, I was literally attached to an expert who essentially carried me out of the plane. With bungee jumping it is was up to me, getting the courage to literally jump off the edge of a 70m high crane takes a lot of nerves,
I have to admit, I almost didn’t do it! But now I am glad that I did because it was an absolute blast!
The largest and most popular San Gil bungee is with a company called Colombia Bungee Jumping.
The jump is 70m off of a crane and hanging over the top of the river. This makes for a gorgeous view of the city from the top where you jump (I used the view as my excuse for delaying my jump when really I was just trying to get my nerves under control.)
The jump is COP 70,000 (or about $20 USD) and includes a couple of photos which they will email to you along with a certificate! This has to be one of the cheapest bungee jumps in the world!
The bungee jump should be the same price whether you buy it from a travel company in town or just in person when you show up. No booking is required as when you arrive it is first-come-first-serve and you must take a taxi to get there (COP 5,000.)
The staff were professional and spoke good English. The gear all seemed to be in top shape and I felt safe overall.
Whitewater Rafting San Gil, Colombia
Whitewater rafting is the most popular activity in San Gil, Colombia. This is because it is is one of the very few opportunities in the world to raft Class 5 rapids (really intense rapids offering a guaranteed adrenaline rush!)
We opted to skip it whitewater rafting as we recently rafted the Futaleufu River in Chile, but let me tell you, Class 5 rapids are crazy fun but also crazy scary and will get your heart pumping.
The hostel we stayed at recommended the company Colombia Rafting Expeditions as they are very experienced with high safety standards. The full-day trip costs about COP 180,000 including lunch. If Class 5 rapids sound like a bit too much of an adventure for you, there is a half-day Class 3 trip available for about half of the price.
Explore the town
The central park/plaza is the small square in the center of town. Although it is small, it is very busy! I recommend getting yourself an ice cream or croissant from one of the many stores around the park, sit on a bench and people watch for a bit.
San Gil is a nice relaxing town, but at the same time, there is a lot going on in the square. I also found that although San Gil is a tourist destination, I didn’t see that many tourists around and felt like I was really experiencing the local lifestyle.
Only three blocks from the central park is the fruit and vegetable market (which is truly a local market.) We shopped there every day picking up avocados, strawberries, bananas, mangos, and basically anything else we could throw in a salad or fruit smoothie.
All of the produce is SO cheap, only a couple of dollars for a bag of produce. With our amazing kitchen in La Mansion Hostel, we were cooking up a storm with all the veggies!
Swim at Pozo Azul
Only about 3km from town, there is a river perfect for swimming – Pozo Azul!
It has a current but it is tame enough for hanging out and relaxing. We went here one afternoon and just spent our time tanning and having a couple of beers (which are sold icy cold at a restaurant nearby.)
It was only a COP 5,000 taxi ride each way and entrance to the river is free! Although it isn’t the most beautiful river we have ever seen, it made for a nice (cheap) afternoon.
Juan Curti Waterfall
This is the top thing to do in San Gil, Colombia on TripAdvisor, but unfortunately, at the time we were there the road to access this waterfall was blocked!
We tried to get to the waterfall but the buses were so infrequent (only every couple of hours) and the bus was going to be about 2 hours long with a longer walk to the waterfall. We just didn’t have enough hours in the day by the time we got to the bus station.
If you do want to go to this waterfall it is supposed to be beautiful with the opportunity to repel down once you get there for only about COP 50,000.
The bus you catch is from the bus terminal in town, just ask for “Juan Curti” when you get there to find out how long it will be until the next one. Pack plenty of water as it is a fair walk once you get dropped out there and will be a full day trip with the long bus rides!
Although we did a fair amount of cooking while we were in San Gil, we still like to treat ourselves to nice restaurants every now and then. We have two top choices for where to eat in San Gil which are amazing choices and also affordable.
The Steakhouse San Gil
This restaurant was attached to our hostel (La Mansion) so we ate there a couple of times.
They offer a menu of the day for lunch for only COP 12,000 and also have other options such as burgers and steak (also some vegetarian options.)
This place advertises as having the best steak in Colombia, so naturally, we had to test them on that claim, and they weren’t wrong! In fact, it was probably the best steak I’ve had at any restaurant in all of South America, and only for COP 22,000! I highly recommend The Steakhouse, my mouth is actually watering right now just thinking about it.
Mano is a local place with the nicest owner. They specialize in burgers but also offer other options such as wraps, mixed meat dishes, and gourmet salads.
The prices were extremely low for the size and quality of food. Mano’s hasn’t gained its fame with tourists yet as it isn’t on any of the top lists on TripAdvisor, but the locals have definitely figured out how good it is because when we were there it was packed on a Sunday evening!
We ordered a dish for two people for only COP 25,000 and it had chicken strips, steak, pork belly, onion rings, potato wedges, avocado, tomato, and arepas. It was more than enough for two people and really tasty!
San Gil is an awesome destination because it is sort of in the middle of everything (however you are still looking at a good 8 hour or bus ride anywhere.)
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July 8, 2018