We worked hard to get to Barichara!
From Bucaramanga, we traveled south through a magnificent canyon carved by the Rio Sogamoso to the scenic town of Zapatoca (we’ll say more about Zapatoca in a future post). After lunch and a visit to explore a nearby cave, we set out on a challenging unpaved road that we hoped (!) would bring us to Barichara. After almost SIX nail-biting hours covering the 37-mile distance, we arrived – more dead than alive – at this lovely, cobble-stoned village. (Note: Barichara can be reached a lot faster from Bucaramanga via a modern highway, but we would have missed Zapatoca and some breathtaking scenery. It was worth it!)
Barichara is often called Colombia’s most beautiful town, and for good reason.
“The most beautiful town” became somewhat of a running joke on this trip, since many of the other pueblos we’ve visited have made the same claim. But Barichara truly lives up to the tag line. Sitting on a high plateau overlooking the Rio Suarez canyon, Barichara offers postcard-pretty vistas around every corner. Centuries-old houses are perfectly maintained and festooned with bougainvillea. Monumental churches and chapels are built of the reddish stone from the surrounding hills, creating a striking contrast with the whitewashed houses and bright flora. And the sky just goes on forever.
As usual with our photo galleries, you can click through each one to see a larger version.
There’s so much to see and do in Barichara.
We spent a week there, which was more than enough time to fall into an easy routine about town and suss out everything on offer. Here were our favorite activities.
Visit the artisan workshops.
Barichara is well-known for its community of artisans and the numerous talleres (workshops) in which they work. We especially enjoyed the Fundación San Lorenzo, created to teach women the craft of handmade paper from plant fibers such as fique. Another interesting stop is De La Tierra, run by architects who are dedicated to preserving the traditional building methods of the area using native soils, plants, and rocks. Visitors can create artwork using the vibrant colors of the different soils, along with many other activities.
Explore the beautiful cemetery.
Everyone who reads our blog knows how much we love cemeteries. Barichara’s is especially pretty and nice for a morning stroll.
Take a bike tour.
Bicichara is a brand-new cycling outfit started by a young couple, Victoria and Goyo. Goyo led us on a leisurely, morning-long tour through Barichara to visit the main sights and a few others we might not have found on our own. We highly recommend Bicichara!
Visit Chicamocha Canyon.
Chicamocha is the world’s second largest river canyon (next to Tibet’s Tsangpo Canyon). To experience it, we drove about an hour north to the Parque Nacional de Chicamocha. The Parque is just as cheesy as the guidebooks say – but the cable car ride (one of the world’s longest!) across the entire canyon was well worth the price of admission (about $7 apiece).
Hike the Camino Real to Guane.
Just up on the mirador road in Barichara is the trailhead for the Camino Real, a centuries-old path originally created by the Guane indigenous people. In the 1800s, it was upgraded by a German engineer and merchant, Geo von Lengerke. (Side note: Lengerke was a fascinating man, and his “proliferation” is apparently the reason you see so many blue-eyed locals in and around Barichara! Here’s an interesting article about him.) The trail to Guane is about 9 km and is an easy downhill for the most part (we took a tuk-tuk back up to Barichara). Start early in the morning and take plenty of water – it’s a hot one!
Experience Cascada Juan Curí.
This beautiful waterfall and eco-parque is about an hour’s drive south of Barichara and well worth a visit.
Check out other scenic towns nearby.
On the day we visited the Cascada Juan Curí, we popped into two picturesque nearby towns: Valle de San José and Curití.
Go whitewater rafting.
We did not go rafting; we simply ran out of time. But the opportunities abound, since Barichara is situated near the confluence of two major rivers, the Rio Fonce and the Rio Suarez. We hear the Suarez is especially challenging, with class 4 and 5 rapids. There are numerous rafting outfitters in the nearby city of San Gil. La próxima vez (next time)!
Where to eat and drink
Barichara has more outstanding restaurants and watering holes than we could have ever visited in a single week. These are some of our favorites.
Elvia. Fabulous, creative cuisine prepared with artistic precision by the dedicated staff. It’s a must for foodies (like us!).
Iguá Náuno. We had an excellent and relaxing lunch in this sweet little place, near the canyon mirador.
Independencia. This new-ish restaurant/bar right on the canyon mirador has the best view in town! An outstanding place to watch the play of the sun over the canyon as the afternoon progresses (and enjoy a few cocktails!). And the burgers are outstanding.
El Puntal. We had our first lunch here after arriving in Barichara, but it stayed on the top of our list. El Puntal is an excellent típico-style restaurant on two floors of a centuries-old building right on the Parque Principal. Excellent steaks and friendly service!
Insider tip: The best WiFi in town is at El Bodegon de Toñita, just a couple of doors down from the big church on the Parque Principal. It’s a great place to have a couple of cervezas and get caught up on your blogging, photo uploading, and other bandwidth-heavy tasks. The food’s good, too!
Where to stay
We absolutely loved our stay at Casa Mahanaim, a beautiful hacienda-style inn high on a mountaintop about a mile out of Barichara. (A big shout-out and thank you to bloggers Ian and Nicky of Above Us Only Skies for the referral!) Since we were the only guests, owners Henry and Lina took us in as if we were family. During our week’s stay, we got very attached to them and their two children as well as the sweet housekeeper, Johanna. I’ll never forget the way they welcomed two strangers with open arms (well, fist bumps) and served us a wonderful dinner when we arrived after dark and well past our expected time (see reference above to our five-hour dirt road adventure!).
Casa Mahanaim began as Lina and Henry’s private residence, but over time they expanded it to the unique and beautiful inn it is today. Their singular vision and creativity is reflected in every room and each public space. And its vantage point affords breathtaking views of Barichara and the valley below.