“The prettiest town in Colombia” it’s been called. A compact little hillside town on a hot plateau; all whitewashed houses, cobbled streets and red-tiled roofs. A National Monument dating all the way back to the Spanish conquest, with some of the most perfectly preserved and beautiful architecture in the Americas. Barichara should really feature in every Top 10 list written about Colombia in the future…
Barichara is a small town (very small; pop. 7,063) in Santander department, about 118km from the state capital, Bucaramanga, and around 450km from national capital Bogota. To travel to Barichara you’ll need to pass through San Gil, where minibuses leave regularly to make the 45 minute journey through the desert landscapes of the Santander countryside. They will arrive in Barichara’s main square, and you will find yourself instantly transported into a world of calm and relaxation.
Barichara is a popular tourist destination, however is generally visited by day-trippers, so my number one tip for visiting the town would be: don’t limit yourself; stay for a night or two and really soak up the tranquility and history of the place. Once the day-trippers leave, you can wander the dimly lit streets along the cobble-stones in complete peace, with virtually no-one else in sight: as travel romance goes, it doesn’t get much better. The same goes in the early morning, when the buses and cars have yet to arrive and the town is calm and peaceful and pleasantly cool, before the sun comes up.
Speaking of the sun, make sure you bring plenty of sun-block; Barichara is set on a high, dry plateau, and maintains a uniformly hot climate (although the nights are chilly to say the least). The streets offer little in the way of shade and as walking the streets is the main activity in the town, you’ll be in the sun a lot! Never fear though, as far as I’m concerned the second best activity is finding a shady spot and reading a book, so there’ll be a chance for regular respite. My preferred spot was a delightful little hotel/cafe half a block from the main church: I never did catch its name, but it has a blue door, and a fantastic courtyard full of little fountains, plants and wild birds, with a view onto the church. They made a lovely little cup of coffee, and I passed many happy hours there forgetting what the time was.
This is the real beauty of Barichara – its calm and laid back vibe. It’s really impossible to feel like you’re in a hurry here, partly because the town is only about 12 blocks by 12, so any tourism can be done at a practically sedentary pace. There are some gorgeous churches, a handful of artesanal craft shops, some lovely little bars and restaurants and…actually, that’s about it! Aside from that, at the top of town there is a gorgeous lookout over the Suarez River and the canyon that it twists and turns through.
Accommodation is plentiful, being a popular tourist spot: you can choose between a range of places, from high-end boutique hotels to backpacker hostels. I stayed in Tinto Hostel (Carrera 4 N. 5-39) and have to say that it was one of the nicest places I’ve stayed in Colombia: it boasts a little pool, lovely gardens and high-ceilinged, airy rooms. At just 2 blocks from the main square it’s perfectly located, and contained my 2nd favorite ‘sitting in the shade and reading’ spot in the town: a bench overlooking the red-roofs of Barichara (from where the 2nd photo in this post was taken).
Barichara should be high on every Colombian traveler’s must-do list: it’s the perfect spot to relax and wind-down during a hectic trip, or to spend some down-time in the middle of a long South American odyssey. So, jump on the bus, pack the sun-block and a good long book, and get yourself to Barichara…there’s no possible way you’ll regret it.