Oct 07

Santander’s “Caño Cristales” – The Rivers of Guadalupe

las gachas guadalupe santander

 

Photo Gallery: The Red Rivers of Guadalupe, Santander

Caño Cristales is (rightfully) becoming one of Colombia’s most iconic sights: next year it will appear on Colombia’s new banknotes, and people from around the world are coming to Colombia and leaving enchanted with the ‘river that escaped from heaven.’ However, this trip is not easy to undertake or cheap; for many people it’s a step too far on a budget trip to Colombia…Enter Guadalupe, a small pueblo of a few thousand people in southern Santander department. Before visiting Guadalupe I had little idea of it even existing; there is very little information online (save a Wikipedia page!) and tourism there is very limited to some puente weekenders from Santander itself. And, in fairness, Guadalupe is much like many pueblos in Santander: white-washed, low buildings, with red-tiled roofs and cobbled streets. The climate is hot, the skies are blue, and the people are friendly…so far, so Colombia, right?! However, what Guadalupe has to give it an advantage and make it worthy of your visit is it’s own little answer to Caño Cristales: Quebrada Las Gachas…

 

Las Gachas Guadalupe Santander
Relaxing in a ‘Jacuzzi’ in Las Gachas

 

Quebrada Las Gachas is a small(ish) river that runs through the green, hilly countryside surrounding the little town: it’s easy to reach: just walk out of the town towards the smaller church, past the gas-station and you’ll see a sign for it: it’s about a 4km hike through some lovely, rural countryside, occasionally interrupted by a herd of cows blocking the path! It takes about an hour to hike there (set off early if you can, the heat gets intense towards midday!), but it’s well-worth the sweat…

 

Las Gachas Guadalupe Santander
Those jacuzzis are deep (this photo isn’t fake – it really was deeper than my height!)

 

Las Gachas isn’t red for the same reason as Cano Cristales: there the redness (and other colours) is caused by algal plants, here it’s the colour of the rocks and an oxide they contain that makes the river appear red. However, the advantange of that is that there is no ‘season’ at Las Gachas; it’s like this all year round (but it looks better when the sun has been shining, and the jacuzzis are clearer if it hasn’t been raining recently!). The flow of the water has also added another bonus element to a visit here: the ‘jacuzzis.’ These are the deep, round holes you can see in the above photo: they are up to 2/3 metres deep and perfect for sitting in and relaxing in the water after a hot, sweaty hike! The distant views of the Andes and the calm, quiet countryside around, the silence punctuated only by birdsong and occasional cow-sounds, make this place like something out of a slightly trippy dream! It might not be as iconic as Colombia’s other red river, but that certainly doesn’t make it any less beautiful or unusual…

2017 UPDATE – There have been worrying recent reports from Guadalupe about tourists leaving large amounts of trash behind when they visit Las Gachas – please, please, please (and we really can’t emphasise this enough) clean up your rubbish and take it back to town to dispose of it properly! Las Gachas is a wonderful natural treasure and needs to be properly protected. 

 

Las Gachas Guadalupe Santander
The red river…

 

And, best of all: as gorgeous as Las Gachas is, it’s the not the only sight worth seeing in Guadalupe and the surrounding area. I only spent a weekend there, and I already need to find a spare weekend to go back, as there were extra activities I didn’t have time for! Most focus around rivers, waterfalls and caves: I didn’t manage to visit Salto la Llanera and the nearby caves of Perico and Indio, but they look amazing!  The town itself also has it’s charms: the ‘Casa de Cultura’ on the main square is interesting and free, you can hike a short distance out of the town and enjoy a wonderful panoramic view, and the main church is one of the more beautiful I have seen in a country of beautiful churches!

 

Guadalupe Santander Church
The beautiful main church

 

On my second day in the town however, I did manage to enjoy a hike through the countryside again to visit Quebrada del Salitre and Pozo La Gloria, another river and swimming hole that were almost equally beautiful as Las Gachas. Both are just 10 minutes walk from the town, but can be turned into a lovely little hour long hike: simply walk to Salitre and then hike 2km up along the shallow river, before turning off into the countryside over a hill and coming to the man-made swimming spot La Gloria. This could be tricky to find by yourself: we went with excellent local guide Jose, from the Hostal and Restaurant Bonanza. He was born in the town and returned here about 18 months ago to realize his dream of bringing tourism to the town: we were having breakfast in his (excellent) restaurant, just off the main square, and asked him about visiting Salitre – he told us to come back in an hour and proceeded to take us on a totally gratis hike along the rivers, and I hadn’t even name-dropped the blog!!

 

El Salitre Guadalupe Santander
Enjoying a hike up El Salitre

 

The trip was lovely: a relaxing (if sometimes slippery) hike through the actual river, enjoying the cool waters running over my feet, basking in the warm Santander sunshine, and marvelling at the (still red) waters of El Salitre. La Gloria is a deep swimming hole, fed by a river and dammed up (apparently for over a hundred years) to create a safe and peaceful swimming spot. It’s not radically different to visiting Las Gachas, but if you like gorgeous scenery, sunshine and swimming in beautiful rivers…then you can’t go far wrong with a visit to Guadalupe!

 

El Salitre Guadalupe Santander
What a place, right?!

 

Jose is an excellent guide (and I’m not just saying that cause of the price!) – I’ve rarely had a more attentive, passionate and knowledgeable tour guide in all my travels: he clearly cares deeply about the place and it shows in the information he has to give a visitor. He charges around 15.000 for a trip to the waterfalls and caves mentioned above, and it’s certainly worth that fairly small sum. His restaurant is the best I went to in the town as well (the churrasco was especially good) and, although I stayed in a different hotel, the location of his is great. He even helped my friend and I buy some unroasted coffee from the local coffee cultivator’s collective, and then walked us around the town, explaining the history, before taking us to the ‘bus station’ to buy a return ticket! What a guy, right?! Look him up, even just to say hi, if you pay attention to this blog and visit Guadalupe…which you really should! You can contact him through his new Facebook page here or email him in advance of a visit at: bonanzayaventura2015@gmail.com. 

 

Coffee Santander Colombia
Some fresh Santander coffee drying in the sun: as a coffee-lover it was so cool to see this on almost every porch in town!

 

Practical Guide: visiting Guadalupe is pretty easy really: from Bogota take a bus bound towards Socorro or Bucaramanga and make it clear that you want to depart in Oiba: from Salitre terminal this trip should take 6 hours, more like 5 from Portal del Norte. If you arrive in Oiba before 5:30pm then grab a colectivo to Guadalupe (cost: 6.500 for a one hour trip); if you arrive later, enjoy the main square in Oiba and sleep over – we stayed at Hotel Los Balcones, directly over the road from where the colectivos depart. It was clean and quiet and a double room cost just 20.000. 

In Guadalupe we stayed at Hotel Remanso Colonial, one of several lovely old hotels near the main square. The rooms were high-ceilinged and airy, and a room with both a double and single bed cost just 35.000 (a steal when split between 2 people or more). Breakfast and lunch are easy to come by – breakfast at around 6.000 and ample, and lunch at around 8-10.000. Dinner, as in many small towns, is more limited to fast-food. 

 

Guadalupe Santander Colombia
Guadalupe

 

Chris

33 thoughts on “Santander’s “Caño Cristales” – The Rivers of Guadalupe

    Rachel on

    Hi Chris,

    Thanks for the tips! I’m going to be traveling to Guadalupe after catching a flight from Santa Marta to Bogota. I haven’t booked the flight yet, but the plan is to try and get an early flight so that I can catch a bus to Oiba and then the colectivo to reach Guadalupe the same day. Do you think this is feasible? My travel day would be a Saturday and if I can’t get to Guadalupe that same day, I’m worried I won’t be able to make it there until Monday because I know a lot of places and services are either limited or unavailable on Sundays. Is this the case with the colectivos?

    Thanks in advance!
    Rachel

    Reply

      Chris on

      Hi Rachel,

      Sorry for the late response, hopefully you haven’t been yet (or have been and loved it!). You will be ok with a colectivo on Sunday if you can’t make it in one day. But I think if the flight is nice and early you can do it in one day, the colectivos run from Oiba to Guadalupe until around 5pm, so you should make it if you’re getting into Bogota by mid-morning.

      Reply

    Hannah on

    Hi Chris,
    Thanks for the excellent advice. We are in Guadalupe right now… arrived last night and went to la Gloria. Going to las gachas today!
    The problem is… we have very limited Spanish, can’t find Jose and cannot figure out how to get out of the town! Do you know where the colectivos go from please? We want to leave early tomorrow for Medellin. THANKS for any advice!

    Reply

      Chris on

      Hi Hannah, I’m very sorry for the slow reply, I’m in the UK visiting my family and was a bit behind getting to your comment. Did it all work out ok? I hope so…

      Reply

    Luke Thorn on

    Hi Chris,

    We are looking at going to las gachas next month coming from Santa Marta. Just wondering what would be the best travel route. We were thinking we could get the bus to bucuramanga then from there to Guadalupe from there. Is that possible?

    Thank you for all the great information on Colombia.

    Reply

      Chris on

      Hi Luke,

      That’s basically spot on – get the bus to Bucaramanga first. Then you have a couple of options – there won’t be any direct buses to Guadalupe itself, which is still over 4 hours from Bucaramanga. You’ll have to assess your options in the bus station: either a bus to Tunja (and ask to stop in Oiba, from where you get a 45 minute bus to Guadalupe); or a bus to Socorro, then catch a local bus to Oiba. Those are your most likely options. Potentially a bus to Bogota will pass Oiba too, but they might not stop. It’s definitely possible to get to Guadalupe from Bucaramanga though. Hope that helps

      Chris

      Reply

        Luke Thorn on

        Hi Chris,

        Thank you so much for the reply and the information and all the other posts on Colombia has been a great help while we have been planning our trip.

        Reply

    Christian on

    Hi, I was wondering if it would be safe to drive to these areas….Is parking an issue? would I have to worry about my car being taken apart over night?

    Reply

      Chris on

      Hi Christian,

      I wouldn’t imagine you’d have any trouble driving to Guadalupe – the road from Oiba is a bit bumpy so it might depend a bit on your car perhaps. Parking shouldn’t be an issue either – if you contact Jose (mentioned as a guide in the article) he will be happy to help you with looking for a parking space. But Guadalupe is a small town where everyone knows everyone so I would say there’s very little chance of any harm coming to your car.

      Reply

        Christian on

        thank you! I will be driving a really strong jeep (with the option of 4 wheel drive). I contacted Jose already, told him I found him through your site. Ill be going in about two weeks if all goes as planned. Thank you

        Reply

          Chris on

          No problem Christian, you’re very welcome. Hope the trip goes as planned

          Reply

          Delfin on

          Hi could you please give me jose’s phone number?

          Reply

    maya on

    Hi there,

    is it posible to take a day trip here from san gil?

    Reply

      Chris on

      Hi Maya,

      A day-trip might be pushing it, but with private transport from San Gil would be possible. I’d recommend at least a night to make the most of the town and its surroundings

      Reply

    Gabriel Jaime Castañeda Corzo on

    Colombia is an authentic paradise, it’s such honor to be colombian!! thanks for share our beauties.

    Reply

    BW on

    We are keen to visit Las Gachas but with our itinerary, it looks v expensive with private transfers. Are there public buses from Villa Leyvas to Guadalupe? Them from Guadalupe to Barichara? Appreciate your advice. Thank you.

    Reply

      Chris on

      Hi Bettina, thanks for your comment. There is no direct bus, but you can get there by public transport easily enough – get a bus from Villa de Leyva to Tunja, then from Tunja to Oiba (the bus will probably be listed as going to Socorro or San Gil – ask the driver to take you to Oiba), and from Oiba get the 45 min. bus to Guadalupe. Then to get to Barichara, get back to Oiba, take a bus to San Gil, and from San Gil there are regular, short bus trips to Barichara. Villa de Leyva to Guadalupe should take between 4-5 hours, maybe with some extra time waiting for buses. Then Guadalupe to Barichara: 2-3 hours (again with added time for waiting). Hope this helps, please get in touch with any more questions

      Reply

        BW on

        Much appreciated, Chris!!! Happy Christmas and I will definitely be in Las Gachas!

        Reply

    dalia on

    Hey Chris,
    My husband and I are planning a trip to Colombia in December and noticed that Cano Cristales will have just closed out its season. However, I am very happy to hear about Guadalupe 🙂 Is there a quicker way to get there instead of by bus? Would it be safe to just rent a car and drive out there on our own?
    Thanks for your input!
    dalia

    Reply

      Gustavo on

      Hi Dalia:

      I am Colombian and though I haven’t been in this little town I can tell you that car rentals are quire expensive in Colombia and driving can be quite challenging for people not used to Colombia’s roads and Colombia’s cowboy driving manners. You’ll be much better off taking a bus as explained by Chris, not worrying about safety while driving and relaxing and admiring the landscape instead.

      Reply

      yeison on

      Hi , I have been last holy week in Guadalupe . It was wonderful. If you need more information of how to get there I can help you for my feedback

      Reply

        BW on

        Hi yeison. I would appreciate info on how to get there. We will be coming from Villa Leyvas then after Las Gachas, would need to head to Barichara same day. Are there any public buses plying those routes? Appreciate your help.

        Reply

    Fabio on

    Hi Chris,
    We are planning to go to Colombia next month, and we wanted to book a trip in Santander with Jose, but his facebook page does not seem to work. The link is death.
    Does he reply fast when I will email him?
    Thanks in advance,
    Fabio

    Reply

      Chris on

      Hi Fabio,

      That’s strange, the link seems to be working fine for me. You can search “Guadalupe hostal y restaurante bonanza” on Facebook directly if the link still doesn’t work for you, or contact Jose directly on WhatsApp on +57 311 8351573. Just tell him that Chris from Colombia Travel Blog gave you the details. Also, in terms of booking, the number of people visiting Guadalupe is growing but still pretty low, so I doubt you’ll have any trouble doing a trip with Jose. Hope that helps,

      Chris

      Reply

        Fabio Verhelst on

        Hi Chris,

        We just left Guadelupe and Jose! It was an amazing experience, thanks for sharing this hidden gem with us!
        Jose was very helpful and friendly, even though we did not speak Spanish, we managed to have fun with Jose! 🙂
        We will recommend everyone to go to Guadelupe!

        Fabio & Tine

        Reply

          Chris on

          Hi Fabio and Tine,

          I’m so glad you got a chance to go and explore Guadalupe and meet Jose. It’s such a beautiful place, glad you enjoyed it!

          Chris

          Reply

    Ashley Peak on

    Thank you for leading the way! I am definitely putting this on my Colombia bucket list!

    Reply

    Jefferson on

    This is my beautiful town these streets saw me grow, definitely an earthly paradise worth visiting Guadalupe is culture, art and beauty, and still has much more to show and discover. Come on and visit it!

    Reply

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