The Guanentina Province, Santander Colombia
Historic Towns and Royal Roads
In the department of Santander are located the last foothills of the Andes mountain range, and in these vast valleys, with massive slopes are located classic Colombian towns, along with a unique natural environment, an abundance of water resources, large waterfalls, and wonderful landscapes.
The Guanentina Province in Santander, Colombia is an incredible area where you’ll find small towns connected by traveling short stretches of the highway or walking the Royal Roads (some dating back to the 15th century). These towns are very representative of the Colombian Andean culture, include a lot of pre-Columbo history, as well as the location for the first steps of the independence movements in Colombia.
Here you’ll also discover PANACHI (Chicamocha National Park). A place full of fantastic 360’ views, a museum full of the history of the Guane people, a waterpark, extreme swings, a zipline, and other activities. It’s located in the Chicamocha Canyon; the second largest canyon in the world, with more than 180,000 hectares and 2,000 meters of depth. And the most fun way to get there is to enjoy a cable car ride from Mesa de los Santos on the other side of the canyon. The ride will take you between 22-30 minutes, right down into the bowels of the canyon, passing over the Chicamocha River and up the other side into the PANACHI entrance. Over 46 billion years ago the Chicamocha Canyon was actually an immense lake. This allowed for the formation of caverns and housed large varieties of marine animals (many remains of their remains can still be found here today). There are also unique plants in the area such as palms, Indian cocoa, chestnut trees and ceiba. The best towns to base yourself for ease of access to the canyon are Curití, Barichara, and San Gil.
The architecture of these towns and others tells us about their colonial past under Spanish rule, during which time tobacco production was established and continues to this day. Tobacco producers and artisans in colonial times started the Commune Revolution; an uprising that took place before the rebellion of Simon Bolivar and attributed to the start of the revolt that finally saw the Spanish leave Colombia in 1819.
Throughout this area you’ll discover 7 historically important towns with references to the Commune Revolution:
The iconic town of Socorro is the location of the first steps towards independence, which was stretched into all the surrounding. Due to the historic events that took place in Socorro, it was declared a Site of National Cultural Interest in 1963 and receives many visitors on a daily basis who wish to immerse themselves in the history by walking the streets and squares.
To one side of this town, you’ll find steep slopes flowing down into the Chicamocha Canyon and concluding in the Chicamocha River, at the base of the canyon. In this area there are many hiking trails along with the Cueva de la Vaca, the cave considered the most beautiful in Santander with majestic formations and galleries that captivate its visitors with their exuberant beauty. You’ll also discover many beautiful souvenirs made in fique; a native plant, from which a fiber is used to create bags, belts, rugs, curtains, among many other products.
Aratoca, a small town located within the breathtaking Chicamocha Canyon. It’s main attraction, other than fantastic views, is the colonial church, Nuestra Señora de las Nieves. The entire façade was built with locally sourced Guane stones. With its interior containing one large nave and 4 chapels. You’ll also discover a wonderful bell tower singing daily.
Called the Cradle of Freedom, due to the great support it provided in the Commune Revolution, Charalá has several places of interest, such as the Virolín natural park, the Tigre cave, the chalice-shaped waterfall of Quebrada Tinagá, the church of Nuestra Señora de Monguí, the House of Culture and the Archaeological Museum.
Santander is one of the departments that has more caves in Colombia, and Charalá has adapted and specialized many of them, so they can be enjoyed by people of any age. Not only this, but it is noteworthy that there are rivers, lagoons, waterfalls, and natural waterfalls of differing colors, such as red, black, blues, and greens. These special places can be experienced with your families and friends every day of the year, thanks to a good organization of sustainable and community tourism.
Barichara is the jewel in the crown of the province of Guanentá. Its unspoiled colonial architecture, stone streets, and white houses that have preserved the old construction materials such as Tapia (compacted earth) and bahareque, make it one of the most beautiful towns in Colombia. Here you’ll discover a vibrant activity in its streets and squares, with boutique hotels, restaurants, and cafes of international stature.
For the Guane Indians, the definition of Mogotes is “Bathing in the stream that rises in the pit of the mountain”. It is surrounded by beautiful nature and a number of waterfalls with swimming holes are in close proximity. All be it, access to most a 4×4 or motorbike is required. It was recognized as a garden town of Santander and the sweet land of Santander. It is a very traditional Colombian country town, where you will enjoy the weekend markets that are full of the local farmers who have come to sell and buy their products.
San Gil is the capital of the Guanentá province and regarded as the most popular destination in Colombia for adventure and extreme sports, with elements of water, land, and air, all linked to nature tourism. It has an abundance of natural spaces filled with waterfalls, rivers, caves, mountains and the great Chicamocha canyon is also located just an hour away. This is the ideal place to base yourself to enjoy hiking, repealing, torrentism, paragliding, and other extreme sports.
San Gil Highlights:
Located on the banks of the Fonce River, the historic center dates back to the seventeenth century and is considered a National Monument of Colombia.
Just a short drive or a 30-minute walk from San Gil you’ll find these popular little waterfalls. It’s a great place to just relax and enjoy a day in the sun on the surrounding flat rocks, along with enjoying a refreshing swim in the waters of the Curití stream.
Ragonessi Ecological Park
Also located on the bank of the Fonce River you’ll find the Ragonessi Ecological Park. An area of four hectares filled with beautiful trees, abundant vegetation, nature trails, plentiful water, and rich flora. These wonderful attributes surrounded by the Curití Gorge, combine to create a paradise full of exotic landscapes.
El Gallineral Park
The most symbolic place in San Gil, El Gallineral Park is located in the sector known as El Malecón Turístico. Created in 1694 this small island between the Fonce River and the Quebrada Curiti covers an area of 4 hectares made up of trails, restaurants, moss-covered trees resembling beards, and a swimming pool for recreation of visitors. It is a great place to just chill and take a break for a few hours.
Liberty Park is the main square of San Gil, a popular meeting point, and in its surroundings, you’ll discover the municipal mayor’s office, the cathedral church, hotels, café gallery, several coffee shops, fast food places, and renowned restaurants. Along with all of this, you’ll also find a meditation site under centenary ceiba trees, a luminous fountain, and the winged statue of the brave chief Guanentá.
The Fonce River
One of the biggest attractions in the city where you can experience multiple activities. There are several ways to enjoy the Fonce river currents such as rafting and kayaking for everyone from a novice to professionals. These activities are provided by formally authorized and certified agencies, with duly qualified guides and instructors, in addition to regulated equipment. In this fast-paced river, you’ll also find some calmer areas for swimming and relation.
Royal roads (Caminos Reales)
In the 19th century, a German named Geo von Lengerke was chosen by the Sovereign State of Santander to improve ancient walking trails originally built by the Guane Indians hundreds of years before. The reason was based on the need to shorten the time of exchange of goods between towns and to improve the conditions of transport of passengers and shipping.
With the passage of time these transit trails (now known as the royal roads) have become of great cultural, historical, and archaeological importance to Santander and Colombia. Often referred to as Caminos Reales or Lengerke paths, these 7 hiking trails linking one town to another in the Guanentina province, have varying levels of difficulty. They range from a low level, short routes with great landscapes of rivers and mountains, waterfalls, to other longer routes in the moors, reaching heights of 3400 meters above sea level.
In some places, such as PANACHI, you will find a variety of restaurants providing many international options. But if you’re interest is in trying the gastronomical experience typical of this region, it’s best to follow the royal roads to discover the typical foods of this area. You’ll enjoy typical foods such as sancocho, oreada meat, mute, egg broth, yellow arepa, masato, guarapo, aguapanela, tamale, and the exotic culona ants. Read on to discover these foods and more…
Usually accompanied by pepitoria and yellow arepa, this delicious dish can be eaten fried, oven-baked, or dryed.
A good Santander breakfast must include a yellow arepita (small arepa – flat corn bread). This dish has among its ‘secret’ ingredients chicharron (pork belly-fat) and cooked peeled corn. When possible, the peeled corn is roasted in clay pots, to provide even more flavor.
A delicious soup prepared with a variety of ingredients such as red meat, tripe, beef ribs, grains, potatoes, pasta, corn, and spices. Due to the ingredients included, it is a bit thick, but also really delicious.
Pepitoria, is prepared with the intestines of a goat or lamb. Served with rice, yuca, and potatoes, you can order a good fresh salad as a side. You may not like how it looks but it tastes good!
The tamale is a dish that is eaten in various parts of Colombia, but in Santander it is prepared with peeled corn dough and filled with beef, chicken or pork, chickpeas, onions, and paprika. It is then wrapped in banana leaf giving it a rectangular shape. If you need a powerful breakfast to get you through the day, have a tamale with hot chocolate, bread, and cheese
This is a marinated, salted, sun-dried beef ready to grill. A classic dish, you’ll find it in many restaurants as a specialty. Served with yucca and chili, it’s delicious!
Hormigas Culonas (Big Bum Ants)
A traditional dish of the Guane indigenous inhabitants of this region. The head, wings, and legs of these giant ants are removed, leaving the body and bum to be fried and seasoned with salt. Don’t think about it too much!
Created in the town of Vélez, the Veleño Sandwich is prepared with the pulp of ripe Guava and is wrapped in a bijao leaf, giving it a characteristic flavor. Combined with goat cheese it is a perfect marriage
A soup prepared with water, potatoes, toast, coriander, egg, and milk, and enjoyed for breakfast or lunch. There is also a variation called changua or chingua, which is normally prepared only with water, potatoes and coriander.
Chorizo from the San José Valley
12 km from San Gil, on the road that leads to Charalá, you will find a town called Valle de San José. People from this region say this is the best Colombian Chorizo, but people from Santa Rosa de Cabal, in the Coffee Zone, will tell you the same.
The wafer is a superfine cookie that is spread with Arequipe (caramel, sweetened milk spread). Over time, other ingredients such as cheese, blackberry, chocolate, etc. have been incorporated.
Masato is a fermented drink that is prepared with rice, water, wheat flour, sugar, cloves, and cinnamon. All this together forms a desired drink to accompany fritters or meat patties.
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