Welcome to an ultimate guide to Barichara in Colombia! Last year we managed to sneak in a visit to the pretty colonial town of Barichara, Colombia. It was the final place we visited before we arrived in Cartagena. In Cartagena we realised that we had no choice but to try and return to the UK due to COVID-19. However, whilst in Barichara, we were fairly relaxed, still not knowing for certain that we would be leaving Colombia sooner than anticipated. After the buzz of Bogota, the sleepy, low-key vibe of Barichara was just what we needed.
The Adventure Capital of San Gil
Barichara is located about thirteen miles from San Gil, the adventure capital of Colombia. The city is used as a base for hiking together with rafting, mountain biking, horse riding and a host of other adventurous pursuits. It is also a major transportation hub from where there are flights and buses to and from major cities all over Colombia and beyond.
The town of Barichara is located in the mountains of the district of Santander and perched on the brink of a canyon. The town is a picture postcard vision of white-washed buildings topped with red tiled roofs together with cute churches and cobbled streets. With a population of 15,000, Barichara is a popular weekend retreat for city dwellers. However, during the week, the few visitors who stay on are few and far between.
To be honest, Barichara isn’t exactly brimming with things to do, but it’s a perfect place to slow down, wander the picturesque streets and eat lots of delicious food (there are some surprisingly good restaurants in the town). Also, there is an ancient trail between Barichara and the neighbouring town of Guane, offering a great walk with valley views and a chance to escape into the countryside.
Exploring the Streets
The best thing you can do in Barichara is to explore the cobbled (and occasionally hilly!) streets. The locals take pride in their houses, and they are kept immaculately. The door frames are painted in bright colours and appear striking against the pure white buildings. Many of the houses are adorned with flowering plants, cactus or other interesting features.
The main square, Parque Principal, is at the heart of the town. The only time that it could be described as busy (and even that is stretching it!) is at weekends. The plaza is lined with bakeries along with coffee shops and shops small craft stores. At the centre is a shady park, a perfect place to sit on a seat and watch the world go by. The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, which was built in 1538, dominates the plaza.
Capilla de Santa Barbara
This small church sits atop a hill, overlooking the red rooftops of Barichara, and is the most attractive of the town’s churches. It a nice spot to take a break and sit awhile on one of the seats facing the building. A shop next to the church sells coffee and cold drinks. Nearby Parque para las Artes is a modest park which is home to a few sculptures and water features. If you keep walking past the park, there are panoramic views over the valley on the right hand side of the road.
Hiking the El Camino Real
This lovely 4.5-mile trail was probably the highlight of our time in Barichara. El Camino Real connects Barichara with the quaint town of Guane. The ancient trail was originally built by the indigenous Guane people and later used by the Spanish. In 1864, the trail was restored by George von Lenguerke. An ancient stone wall runs alongside the path for much of the way. The trail is mostly downhill and there are breath-taking views of the valley below. We also spotted several incredibly colourful birds together with an abundance of cacti and grazing cattle as we traversed the path.
Additionally, there is a farm just off the trail which is owned by a friendly old couple. They allow visitors to walk through their kitchen to a rocky outcrop at the back of the farmhouse, from which there are stunning views of the valley. The couple sell drinks and making a purchase is a great way to reciprocate their hospitality.
El Camino Real starts on Carrera 10 in Barichara and its beginning is marked by two stone pillars. The trail is straightforward and easy to follow. In other words, you won’t get lost! If you possibly can, avoid weekends and the trail will be much less crowded. Unfortunately, when we undertook the trail, it was a little hazy and consequently the views weren’t as spectacular as they would have been on a clear day.
The cute town of Guane is a smaller version of Barichara. Its church, Iglesia de Santa Lucia de Guane, was built in 1720 and is located on the plaza. A row of fossilised rocks are situated just in front of the church. Indeed, the area of Santander is rich in fossils and fittingly, there is a small fossil museum on the plaza. There are a couple of ‘hole in the wall’ stores, as well as a craft shop or two. However, Barichara is like a metropolis by comparison to this sleepy enclave. Irregular buses run between Guane and Barichara, but you never really know when they might arrive. Alternatively, you can take a jeep (as we did), which are more regular and leave when they have about ten passengers or so.
Where we Stayed – El Zagua
We stayed at El Zaguan, a budget/mid-range hotel in a traditional building with lots of character. Hidden behind closed doors, like all of the buildings in town, it has an outside breakfast area, red-tiled floors and wooden beams on the ceilings. From our balcony, we spent hours watching hummingbirds and a variety of other colourful birds on the nearby trees. El Zaguan is located a short walk up a hill from the main plaza.
Other Accomodation Options
There are a variety of accomodation options in Barichara. Many of the high-end options are located just outside town in the countryside and are resort-style hotels complete with swimming pools and spas. Most of the budget and mid-range options are in and around town. Hostel Casa Nacuma is a friendly budget option, which has a kitchen which guests can use to cook their own meals. Casa Barichara Boutique is a colonial house with beautiful gardens, located a few miles from town.
Places to Eat and Drink
This welcoming restaurant is essentially vegetarian, however you can choose to add fish or chicken to your dishes. The food is tasty, wholesome, locally sourced and created with love. Dishes at Shanti include stir fries along with burritos and ceviche. It’s not cheap, but for travellers who are craving fresh vegetables in meat-orientated Colombia, it’s a real treat.
It’s impressive that a town as small as Barichara has two veggie-friendly restaurants, especially in Colombia. Shambala is a tiny restaurant with friendly staff and attractive décor. Dishes include fresh salads, Hindu rice, Mediterranean pasta and Mango cerviche. Portions are very generous.
We went here when we first arrived in town and loved it. The staff were warm and welcoming, the food excellent and the vibe chilled. If we had time, we would have returned to Noa Comida, but we wanted to try a couple of the other restaurants. (The shrimp pasta comes highly recommended by Ku!)
For good value American and Mexican food you can’t beat Gringo Mike’s. Mouth-wateringly good burgers together with burritos, quesadillas, sandwiches and salads are on the menu and the ambience is relaxed. There is another Gringo Mike’s in San Gil.
If you want to sample the local cuisine, El Balcon is one of the best restaurants to head to. The offerings are very meat orientated but the dishes served are typical of what the locals eat. Additionally, the restaurant has a pretty courtyard.
A bakery situated on the main plaza, Panderia Central was our ‘go to’ place for freshly baked goods, both sweet and savoury. The variety of items available are impressive and everything tasted good! Ice cream and coffee is also available.
A lovely spot for tasty tapas accompanied by a cold beer. This bar has a gazebo with sweeping views of the valley below and is especially nice in the evening as the sun goes down.
The Best Coffee in Town
We also had coffee at a tiny coffee shop adjacent to the cathedral on the main plaza. Although we can’t recall its name, the coffee was superb and you could buy packets of locally produced beans. There are seats outside and it’s a pleasant spot to sit and watch the activity on the plaza. The girl who was working there was super friendly and helpful.
It feels very safe walking around in Barichara, but it’s wise to take the usual precautions, especially at night.
When to Go
Barichara can be visited all year around, however summers can be extremely hot. The months between November and February are more moderate and consequently the most popular time to visit.
How to Get THere
Barichara can only be accessed from the city of San Gil. Visitors have to reach the city by road or air and then take a bus or taxi to Barichara. Local buses leave every half an hour from San Gil’s bus station, Terminalito and it takes about an hour. The buses drop and pick up passengers in the plaza.