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Trekking the Chicamocha Canyon in Colombia

Ecotourism

Colombia

The Chicamocha Canyon in Colombia, located in the northeast of the country, is one of the largest canyons in the world. Close to the city of Bucaramanga, the charming town of Barichara and the backpacker hotspot of San Gil, it is considered to be one of the country’s natural wonders and a top hiking destination. A day spent trekking the Chicamocha Canyon in Colombia offers the perfect escape for lovers of nature, epic landscapes and archaeology.

In this post, Laura tells us about her experience hiking from Villanueva to Jordan (approx. 14km), along the “Camino Real” (Royal Path). In her own words:

My trekking adventure started early in the morning when I woke up in Barichara, a beautiful town with well-preserved colonial architecture and a great variety of artisan shops. I was picked up for the short transfer to Villanueva, which, as the name suggests, is a relatively new town.

Contemplating majestic mountain views

Here we met with Andrés, our extremely thoughtful guide for the day, who packed some provisions and offered us walking poles. We then hoped back on a van for the short ride to Alto de Marta, where we were to begin our trek of the Chicamocha Canyon. After just half an hour, we reached the ‘mirador’, a spot with breathtaking 360-degree views. Whilst we contemplated the epic and majestic landscape before us, Andrés told us about the history of this spectacular canyon.  

Formed around 45 million years ago, the canyon measures an impressive 227km long and 2km deep – making it deeper than the Grand Canyon in the United States. Its giant stratified rock walls are home to many archeological objects, including dinosaur fossils and remains that indicate the area once was a large lake teaming with marine life. The canyon itself is the result of millennia of erosion, where powerful water flows have washed away the soil and carved a route through the dense rock. Today, the Chicamocha River snakes its way along the canyon floor, a precious water source in this arid landscape.

Aerial view of the Chicamocha Canyon, near Bucaramanga in Colombia

Aerial view of the Chicamocha Canyon, near Bucaramanga in Colombia

Feeling at one with nature

During the first part of the trail, we enjoyed walking alongside many small farms growing tobacco and coffee. The path offers a great introduction to rural life in this part of Colombia and the surrounding vegetation provides a good amount of protection from the sun. As we descended deeper into the canyon, however, the vegetation grew sparser and the sun became hotter.

Throughout the hike, I felt a deep connection with nature through the vivid sounds and colours that surrounded us. At first troupes of howler monkeys, cicadas and birds provided the soundtrack. Then, towards the canyon floor we listened to the sound of the Chicamocha River gushing below us. It is an area of great biodiversity, a semi-desert landscape hosting a variety of endemic species such as the chestnut-bellied hummingbird.

The locals, past and present

During our next break for some much-needed rehydration, Andrés told us stories about ‘Los Guanes’, the indigenous people that inhabited the area before the arrival of the Spanish. The name Chicamocha comes from the Guane language and means ‘silver river under a full moon’. The Guane people were fantastic weavers, fisherman and climbers. They left an impressive collection of approximately 3,000 rock paintings spread over the canyon walls. Ever thoughtful Andrés also ensured we stretched whilst our muscles were warm and prepared a lovely snack of fresh exotic fruits, including passion fruit, grenadine and pitaya.

In addition to the awe-inspiring natural surroundings, we also met several farmers along the way. They were transporting their wares to the local market, packed in traditional bags (chivas) that they carry using their heads. Their traditional lightweight shoes bore no resemblance to our full-on hiking boots, but these locals have been navigating these tough trails in their flimsy shoes since they were children. It is said that people from the this region of Colombia, and in particular the women, are strong. Hiking along these tough trails, it is easy to understand why!

Jordan: Reaching our destination

As the sun was reaching its highest point in the sky above us, we reached the tiny village of Jordan on the canyon floor, close to where the three rivers, Suarez, Chicamocha and Sogamoso, converge. This hamlet used to be an important stopping point for those making the journey from Bucaramanga to Bogotá, the capital city. These days though, its population has dwindled, and it is little more than a ghost town.

By then, after around four hours of walking, we were delighted to reach natural water pools where we were able to cool off and refresh before enjoying some fresh juice and a delicious lunch.

A touch of magical realism

Trekking the Chicamocha Canyon in Colombia was a special experience for me and one I would wholeheartedly recommend. Not only did I feel a close connection to nature, but also to the past, as the same paths have been walked for the last 500 years. Our charming guide Andrés ensured we were well looked after, but also enriched the experience through his tales, adding a touch of that famous Colombian magical realism to our hiking adventure.

This post was a contribution by Laura, one of the local experts of our trusted partner in Colombia. There is an extensive network of paths in the Chicamocha Canyon, so you can take anything from a short hike up to a 4-day trek. To learn more about the activities and adventures available in Colombia , you can visit our Colombia Holidays page and send a travel request.

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