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This is a complete guide to San Gil, Colombia, and the best things to do. It includes all of the best things to do in San Gil, where to stay, FAQs, and a few awesome places to eat!
San Gil, Colombia is the adventure capital of Colombia. This small town’s surrounding landscape is perfect for all the things adrenalin lovers (like me) enjoy.
This was San Gil’s biggest drawcard but what I found out when I visited is that there’s plenty more to do for the relaxed traveler. From exploring quaint towns to visiting one of the natural swimming holes to eating at fantastic restaurants, you can really unwind in San Gil.
We spent five days in San Gil. Although we came for the adventure activities, 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. So much so that we now consider San Gil as one of the best places to visit in Colombia.
So here’s our guide to the best things to do in San Gil that includes everything you need to know before you go!
About San Gil, Colombia
San Gil is a small town located in the Santander Department in Colombia’s northwest.
Home to under 5,000 residents, San Gil has managed to stay well off the typical tourist trail. However, San Gil is very popular among backpackers and adventure travelers because of the unique and cool activities you can do in San Gil. These include white water rafting, bungy jumping, and kayaking.
Because San Gil isn’t a huge tourist town, prices are lower than other destinations – especially compared to Medellin and Cartagena. There’s also a more authentic Colombian community which is something worth experiencing on its own.
San Gil was founded in 1689, making the town well over 300 years old. This means a rich history, beautiful architecture, and cobblestone streets just waiting to be explored. It won’t be long before San Gil becomes one of the top tourist destinations in Colombia.
Until then, be sure to discover San Gil as an undiscovered destination and enjoy the cheap activities, friendly locals, bustling markets, and delicious food! In fact, many of the best things to do in Colombia are actually located near San Gil!
Getting to San Gil, Colombia
The most common and cheapest way to get to San Gil is by bus. However, buses don’t go directly to San Gil. Instead, buses stop in Bucaramanga where you’ll need to change buses to San Gil.
For that reason, be sure to look for a bus from your destination to Bucaramanga. For cities such as Medellin, Bogota, and Santa Marta these are easy to find.
By using the website Busbud or Bookaway, you can search for buses to Bucaramanga from any destination in Colombia. The cost of each bus varies but is $22 to $30 USD from Medellin, $25 USD from Bogota, $20 to $25 USD from Santa Marta, and $25 to $30 USD from Cartagena.
Keep reading below on how to get from Bucaramanga to San Gil.
As with the bus, those wanting to save time and travel to San Gil by air will need to fly to Bucaramanga first before catching a bus to San Gil. To do so, 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 flights 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 “colectivo” for only 12,000 COP ($2.50 USD) 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’s an easy transfer to make.
Hot 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 easily.
17 BEST Things to Do in San Gil, Colombia
1. Go Bungee Jumping
San Gil is famous for having one of the cheapest bungee jumps in the world. This adventure activity is easily the best thing to do in San Gil and the reason I originally came here.
I have to admit, I almost didn’t do it! But wow, am I glad I did! Bungee jumping is so much fun – don’t miss this adventure activity in San Gil!
The largest and most popular San Gil bungee is with a company called Colombia Bungee Jumping. They have a great safety record and the entire operation was very professional and safe.
The jump with Colombia Bungee Jumping is 70 meters (230 feet) high and off of a crane 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.)
Important info: The jump is 80,000 COP (or about $22 USD) and includes a couple of photos that they will email to you along with a certificate. Getting to the bungee is easy via a taxi from San Gil for around 10,000 COP ($2 USD) each way.
If you are a thrill seeker another way to get to this bungee is to book this Private Adventure Sports Tour where your guide will actually make arrangements to transport you to 1 or more activities all in the same day! Besides bungee jumping there is river rafting, paragliding, zip lining, bungee jumping, canyoneering, caving, or mountain biking!
In a day, there will be enough time to do up to 3 different activities (depending on the selections).
2. Whitewater Rafting
Whitewater rafting is another very popular activity in San Gil, Colombia. On the outskirts of San Gil is one of the very few opportunities in the world to raft Class 5 rapids (really intense rapids offering a guaranteed adrenaline rush!)
Rio Suarez is the river we chose to whitewater raft on for the simple fact the rapids are rated as Class 4 or 5. The entire day was so much fun and we certainly got wet!
We went with the company Colombia Rafting Expeditions as they are very experienced and have high safety standards. This full-day tour we went on cost 265,000 COP ($54 USD) including lunch. The tour was so much fun and our guide was fantastic.
If Class 5 rapids sound like a bit too much of an adventure for you, this half-day Class 3 trip is available too for $339,000 COP ($69 USD). It also includes lunch but is much less scary because the rapids are smaller.
3. Explore San Gil
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 and sitting on a bench, and people-watching 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.
4. Casa de Mercado
Only three blocks from the central park is the Casa de Mercado (which is truly a local market.)
It’s not set up like a traditional market in a square, but it more so resembles a large high ceiling open-air home with tiles.
It’s also kind of a food hall too, as they also sell tasty local meals, arepas, smoothies, and the famous sangileño milkshake! There is bar stool seating at the different food vendors to choose from.
We shopped there every day picking up avocados, strawberries, bananas, mangos, and basically anything else we could throw in a salad or fruit smoothie!
They are open every day from 6 am to 3 pm and it;s free to visit. Be sure to bring cash though as it’s unlikely you’ll leave empty handed.
5. Swim at Pozo Azul or Pescaderito
One of the most popular activities for locals in San Gil is to go swimming at Pozo Azul or Pescaderito. Both are great for swimming but the one we went to was Pozo Azul.
The river at Pozo Azul has a small 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.)
Pozo Azul is located only 3 km (1.9 mi) from town and is easily reached by a cheap taxi ride. It was only a COP 7,000 ($1.50 USD) taxi ride each way, and the 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.
Pescaderito is a nicer place to swim but is a little further out of town. To get there you’ll need to take the bus to Curiti from the bus station and ask the driver to drop you at the falls. From here, it’s another 40-minute taxi or moto-taxi ride away.
Once at the falls, you can swim at a few different places but the best ones are further down the river from where you get dropped off.
6. Visit Juan Curi Waterfall
Juan Curi Waterfall is a 250-meter (820 feet) tall waterfall (one of the tallest in Colombia) that is only a 30-minute drive from central San Gil right next to the town of Palenque. This super impressive waterfall towers above you and the lush greenery around it are stunning.
You can choose to visit the waterfall on your own or on a guided tour. But in all honesty, the guided tours aren’t needed.
At Juan Curi Waterfall you can enjoy a relaxing swim at the bottom pools or if you’re up for it, repel down it. You can book the repelling once you get there for only about 70,000 COP ($10 USD).
Even if you don’t want to do the repelling be sure to climb to the top of the falls for an amazing view!
The bus you catch to the waterfall leaves from the bus terminal in San Gil called Terminalito. Just ask for “Juan Curti” when you get there or head to stand number 4. The bus leaves often so don’t worry too much about the schedule, which regularly changes and is rarely on time. The bus costs 5,000 COP ($1 USD) each way.
On the way back, jump on the opposite side of the road and wait for the bus heading to Charala.
Or you can also arrange to go on this private full-day tour of Cascada de Juan Curi. The default pick-up for the tour is from Bucaramanga but you can also have them pick you up from San Gil. It includes all of your transport, an English/Spanish speaking guide, entry to the park, and the option to stop and do more activities on the way back for an additional cost.
Be sure to pack plenty of water as it’s a 25-minute walk from the parking lot to the waterfall.
Unfortunately, it is not free to visit, the ticket booth charges 15,000 COP. The waterfall closes daily at 4:30 pm and the ticket booth at 4 pm, so make sure to come early enough if you want to spend some time here.
Because the waterfall is located in an eco-park with other activities, you can park right at the eco park’s parking lot.
The landscape surrounding San Gil is perfect for paragliding, so it’s no wonder it is a super popular activity to do. Paragliding, for those who don’t know, involves running off a cliff or hill with a parachute strapped to your back.
This rather safe activity is very relaxing and most of the tours in San Gil take you out to Chicamocha Canyon to fly.
The views you’ll get are incredible and despite not paragliding in San Gil (I did it on one of the tours in Medellin) I know this because I have been to Chicamocha National Park (more on that below.)
This specific tour is the most highly rated paragliding tour in San Gil and it includes transport, photos, and an English-speaking guide – not bad for $60 USD!
If conditions are good you will reach a height of 500 to 2400 meters (1,640 to 7,875 feet) above the ground. The Chicamocha River is the first thing you will get to soar over and then take in the beautiful panoramas of Colombia.
8. Play Tejo
If you haven’t already, then you need to go give Tejo a go! This crazy game involves throwing a disk at a target that’s loaded with gunpowder. If you hit the target it will explode!
In San Gil, you can play this at a few places with one of the most popular being the Tejo Hall of San Gil. Here you can play a few games for 10,000 COP ($2 USD). Come ready to drink as Colombians treat Tejo as a drinking game!
If you’re a solo traveler then Sam’s VIP Hostel has Tejo nights where a large group of travelers typically go for a fun night out.
9. Visit the cute town of Barichara
If you’re looking for an awesome half-day trip to get out of San Gil then you simply must visit the cute town of Barichara. The town’s name actually means “place to rest” and when you visit you’ll see why it’s a suitable name.
The best thing to do in Barichara is to grab your camera, walk the beautiful streets, and just enjoy its beauty. Honestly, you could spend a few hours just exploring. Be sure to pop into a local restaurant for a bite to eat or even visit a bar to try Sabajon or Chica, a liquor made in the region.
If you are a fan of history and architecture maybe this walking tour will pique your interest. Over 3 hours you will really get to see all the beautiful architectural details Barichara has – most notably in their churches. You’ll stop into a local coffee shop and your tour guide will explain to you how a Spanish conquest led to the creation of the town.
If you have more time here by spending at least one night then you would have time to hike the Royal Road to Jordan on this $50 USD eco hiking tour. The route offers stunning views of the Chicamocha Canyon as you walk along the Río Chicamocha, which is one of the most important rivers in the area as it helped to form what is the Chicamocha Canyon today.
On the river, there is a place called “Shangri-La” (the walkers’ refuge) that has a natural pool, restaurant, cabins, and many hammocks.
The hike is 5 km (3.1 mi) long to the tiny municipality of Jordan (just 60 residents) and another 5 km (3.1 mi) back.
Getting there: From the main bus terminal in San Gil, you can get the bus to Barichara for 4,600 COP ($0.86 USD) each way. The journey takes around 45 minutes.
10. Explore Chicamocha National Park
Ok, so Chicamocha National Park (Parque Nacional del Chicamocha) isn’t your usual national park. In fact, it’s actually a theme park overlooking the Chicamocha Canyon. Of course, the main reason to visit is to see the canyon but at the park, you can also enjoy some other activities.
One of the best things to do at Chicamocha is to ride the cable car that crosses the canyon. This massive cable car is actually one of the longest in the world at 6.3 kilometers or 3.9 miles long. Other cool attractions include the large swing that overhangs the canyon, ziplining, and paragliding.
This paragliding tour over the canyon sure looks epic! You will meet with your instructor that has over 10 years of experience and knowledge with free-flight and acrobatics. They make sure to meet all the technical and safety standards that are required so you will definitely be in good hands.
You will have the option to be picked up from anywhere in San Gil or you can choose to meet right at the paragliding office in San Gil or inside Chicamocha. This super cool experience costs $60 USD and lasts around 20 minutes in-air.
Regardless of what you choose to do, the views from the park are amazing, and from San Gil, you can easily get a shuttle to the park and do as much or as little as you want. The entrance fee to the park is 30,000 COP ($6 USD) per adult and you can buy combo tickets that include the gondola.
My recommendation is to come at sunset and enjoy the views of the canyon!
Chicamocha National Park’s hours of operation are Wednesday to Friday from 10 am to 6 pm. and Saturday and Sunday from 9 am to 6 pm.
You can also hire a private guide to take you around all of the sights of this national park! Included in the tour price of $209 USD are a round trip admission to the cable car, a guided walk of all the best viewpoints at the top park, and entry to the Guane museum which is all about the history of the Guane Indians.
11. Learn to river kayak
I’ve been whitewater rafting many times and I love it. But, what I found out is that I actually love kayaking even more. The first time I tried river kayaking was in Chile and learning this surprisingly challenging sport was one of the best decisions I’ve made.
In San Gil, you can also learn to kayak and if you love whitewater rafting or just water sports in general, give it a go! I definitely recommend doing a lesson first as it’s hard to stay upright on your first try.
On a lesson, you’ll learn rescue procedures, how to roll in your kayak, and how to stay upright (the important part.) It can be scary at first but it’s also super rewarding.
You can choose between a 1-day to a 3-day course. For $78 USD this half-day course is a great introduction to kayaking and it includes your lunch, expert guide, and equipment.
12. Go canyoning
Canyoning is another adventure activity I love that you can do in San Gil. For those who don’t know, canyoning involves repelling down waterfalls, swimming, jumping, and climbing through a canyon. It’s so much fun!
In San Gil, you can book this guided tour for just $34 USD and head off into Las Lajas Canyon for the adventure of a lifetime. The tour includes transport from San Gil, a guide, water, and all your equipment. This includes a wet suit for the cold water.
Seriously, if you haven’t been canyoning before, you need to give this extreme sport a try!
13. Go mountain biking
In true San Gil fashion, the next thing to do in San Gil is another adventure sport. Mountain biking is very popular in San Gin as the trail travels through the beautiful Chicamocha Canyon as well as Barichara.
If you choose to do this famous mountain biking track, the full length is just over 61 kilometers (38 miles). It’s classified as moderate to difficult and is best done on an organized tour. The first part of the tour is downhill, but the trail is a little bumpy, so some experience is helpful. The last 16 kilometers (10 miles) of the trail is slightly uphill, but the path is in much better condition.
The company that books this ride is called Colombian Bike Junkies. It’s a full-day tour that lasts around 12 hours with transport and breaks. The tour costs $90 USD and includes lunch, snacks, and beer!
14. Hike up Cerro de La Cruz
Located just outside San Gil is a beautiful viewpoint over the city. Cerro de La Cruz is home to a huge cross installed by Jesuits back in 1888. At night the cross is illuminated and you can actually see it from town.
With that said, come up for the view during the day to enjoy a beer or read a book. The trail to the top is fairly easy and you can walk from the main plaza to the beginning of the trail. Altogether it takes around 30 minutes to hike up.
15. Explore Parque Gallineral
Just on the outskirts of San Gil, is a beautiful park called Parque El Gallineral. It’s a beautiful place to take a stroll and enjoy some peace and quiet. Take a book, a few cheeky beers, or just enjoy nature.
There are a few trails through the 4-hectare park that leads to bridges, small streams, and lots of moss-covered vegetation. There is also a pool in the park that you can take a swim in.
Parque El Gallineral is a 10-minute walk from the plaza. Unfortunately, the park is not free, however, the entrance fee is only 6,000 COP ($1.20 USD), and it is open from 8 am to 5 pm.
16. Enjoy an amazing steak at Restaurante la Mansion Vegetariano & Steakhouse
Restaurante la Mansion Vegetariano & Steakhouse 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 ($2.50 USD) 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 ($4.50 USD)! I highly recommend The Steakhouse. My mouth is actually watering right now just thinking about it.
17. Cool off at Panaver
Just 18 kilometers southeast (11.2 miles) from San Gil via the San Gil-Mogotes Route is an awesome side-of-the-road natural swimming lake with attractions called Panaver.
Admission is super cheap at around 10,000 COP ($2 USD) for a full day to whatever you like.
There’s a waterslide, a bubble ball that you get inside and float down a rapid into the lake, a dam with a bucket that dumps water, a zip line into the water, and row boats or motorized boats to cruise around the lake on.
Additionally, if you have your own fishing poles you can fish here!
You can enjoy fresh dishes from the on-site restaurant. For groups of at least 15, there are spots to camp at.
Panaver is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm.
Where to Stay in San Gil, Colombia
Where we stayed
We stayed at La Mansion Hostel right at the central park/plaza and it was lovely. The rooms were clean and spacious and the hostel also had a large well-equipped kitchen for guest use. The property has free wifi and a restaurant. This hostel is a sister hostel to the very popular San Gil hostel called Sam’s Hostel which is only one block away. For a dorm best costing just $5 USD its hard to beat it!
Sam’s VIP Hostel
Sam’s VIP Hostel is the most popular place to stay for backpackers. They have a great bar, rooftop pool, and nightly activities for guests. You can even rent motorbikes to get around and if you like extreme sports this hostel will help you to organize tours for you. A bed in a dorm starts at $6 USD and double rooms start at $17 USD. Overall, a good option for solo or social travelers.
Hotel La Montaña San Gil
Hotel La Montana is a good medium-budget hotel in San Gil located 25 miles from Chicamocha National Park. The hotel has really amazing reviews, includes breakfast, and has a pool, sauna, and fitness center. You can hang out in the garden or sun terrace and if you need anything there is a 24-hour help desk. Overall a great stay at a really good price for $32 USD a night!
You can book your stay on Booking.com.
Best Places to Eat in San Gil
San Gil is home to some surprisingly good places to eat. Below are a few of the favorites we found during our visit.
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 the 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 ($5 USD) 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!
Gringo Mike’s is, as the name suggests, a place to get some comfort food from back home. Imagine a pub menu with amazing burgers and desserts. Of course, you didn’t come to Colombia to eat “gringo food” but once you smell the restaurant it’ll be hard to say no!
Prices here are still cheap and you can get a meal for around 20,000 COP ($4 USD). If you love tacos then get the prawn tacos, they were amazing!
Travel Insurance is more important than ever right now!
If you’re traveling during these uncertain times, be sure that you have travel insurance!
SafetyWing is our go-to insurance when we are going on longer trips. They offer travel medical insurance that’s super affordable (only $45 USD per 4 weeks!) and even have coverage in case you get that dreaded c-word. The only thing to note is that the insurance must be purchased once you’ve left your home country – we typically buy it as soon as we land at the airport.
We’ve personally used SafetyWing for many different trips, and we’ve been reimbursed for countless expenses when we’ve fallen ill. SafetyWing even covered our flights back to Canada in full when the pandemic first happened (when last-minute flights before the borders closed were super expensive!)
It’s safe to say that travel insurance has saved us thousands over the years!
Thanks for reading!
San Gil is easily one of my favorite places in Colombia. It’s small, cute, and filled with adventure! I really hope this guide has helped you plan your trip here. If you have any questions at all about San Gil, Colombia, or the world in general, please leave a comment below!