San Gil 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 getting 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 come here only for the famous adventure activities 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 and 4 nights in this town and although we came for some adventure (we did do the bungee) we were surprised by the amount of time we enjoyed just exploring the town and hanging around in the central park and fruit market.
Getting In/Out – To Bucaramanga and San Gil
By Bus – There are a few bus routes directly to San Gil, one I know for sure is to and from Santa Marta. However, since San Gil is a smaller town there definitely is less of a selection of buses to and from. I would recommend looking at buses to a nearby city called Bucaramanga, which is more of a “transport hub” and will easily be reached. See below on how to get from Bucaramanga to San Gil.
By Air – 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. 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
We bused from Medellin to Bucaramanga on a 9 hour long journey and then once in Bucaramanga we jumped straight on a mini bus or “collective” for only COP12,000 which took us right to San Gil. These mini buses are frequent 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.
Hostels San Gil
In terms of Hostels in San Gil there are a few options to choose from, some 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. Even though we stayed in “La Mansion” we were able to hang out in the pool at “Sam’s” whenever we wanted and use their laundry service. One night we even had a couple of other backpackers we had met in Medellin over to our hostel to have a couple drinks and play pool and ping pong. We highly recommend “The Mansion” as the best choice for a San Gil Hostel.
Things to Do in San Gil
Like I mentioned before, there is a wide variety of things to do in San Gil, from adventure to relaxing it really has it all!
Bungee San Gil
I have to mention bungee jumping first, as this was a super exciting thing for me to do in San Gil – it was my first time! I have been tandem sky diving a couple of times but then you are attached to an expert who essentially carries you out of the plane, with bungee jumping it is all up to me, getting the courage to literally jump off the edge of a 70m high crane takes a lot of nerves, I almost didn’t do it, but I am glad I did in the end 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 the location is right over top of the river, with 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 COP70,000 (or about $30 AUD) and includes a couple photos which they will email to you along with a certificate! This has to be one of the cheapest bungee jumps in the world at this price! The 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 (COP5,000 .) The staff were professional and spoke good English and the gear all seemed to be in top shape.
White Water Rafting San Gil
This is a top activity in San Gil as it is one of the very few opportunities to raft Class 5 rapids (besides the Futaleufu river in Chile.) I opted to skip it this time as I rafted the Futaleufu in Chile, but let me tell you, Class 5 rapids are crazy fun but also crazy scary and will get your heart pumping. Our hostel recommends the company “Colombia Rafting Expeditions” as they are very experienced with high safety standards. The full day trip costs about COP180,000 with lunch. If Class 5 rapids sound like a bit too much of an adrenaline rush there is a half day Class 3 trip available for about half of the price.
Check Out the Town
The central park/plaza is the small square in the center of town, and although it is small it is very busy! I recommend getting yourself an ice cream or croissant from one of the many store around the park and sit on a bench and people watch for a bit. I did this a couple of times as it 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, it is truly a local market. I shopped there every single day picking up avocados, strawberries, bananas, mangos, and basically anything else I could throw in a salad or fruit smoothie. All of the produce is SO cheap, only a couple of dollars for a bag of things. With our amazing kitchen in “La Mansion Hostel” we were cooking up a storm with all the veggies almost every day!
Have a Beer and Swim at Pozo Azul
Only about 3km from town there is a river perfect for swimming! It has a current but it is tame enough for hanging out and relaxing. We went here one afternoon and just spent the time tanning and having a couple of beers which are sold icy cold at a restaurant nearby. It was only COP5,000 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 on TripAdvisor, but unfortunately at this time the road to access this waterfall is currently 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 it once you get there for only about $50,000. The bus you catch if 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!
Where to Eat in San Gil
Although we did a fair amount of cooking 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.
The Steakhouse San Gil – This restaurant was attached to our hostel (The Mansion) so we ate here a couple of times. They offer a menu of the day for lunch for only COP12,000 and also have other options such as burgers and steak (also some vegetarian options.) This place advertises 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 a restaurant in all of South America and only for COP22,000! I highly recommend The Steakhouse, my mouth is actually watering right now just thinking about it.
Mano’s – This 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 it’s fame with tourists yet as it isn’t on any top list 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 COP25,000 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!
Where to Go Next
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.) Next you could go to Medellin, Guatape, Bogota, Santa Marta, or Cartagena! Like I said before, if you are having trouble finding buses out of San Gil go to busbud.com and look at buses leaving from Bucaramanga and get a mini bus there first.
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