How is it possible that it’s already November? Seems like yesterday that we wrapped up our epic road trip through southeastern Colombia. Through the month of August, we drove almost 2,500 km primarily through Santander and Boyacá departments, with additional stops in Cundinamarca and Tolima. We spent several days each in Barichara, Monguí, Villa de Leyva, and Honda – four of Colombia’s most beautiful and well-known Pueblos Patrimonios (officially designated heritage towns).
So many other picturesque Colombian towns and villages caught our attention, even if we were just driving through or making a lunch stop. Here are just a few.
USUAL NOTE: Most of our photos are in galleries. Just click on the first one to click through larger versions of each.
Zapatoca: The Quintessential Colombian Town
Heading south from Bucaramanga, we reached Zapatoca after a morning drive through a northern reach of the dazzling Chicamocha Canyon. (We visited the Canyon again later during our stay in Barichara.) This turned out to be one of the most beautiful drives on the entire trip.
As Colombian towns go, Zapatoca is a gem – a small-ish, high-altitude village that draws a sizable crowd of weekenders from Bucaramanga, but is otherwise off the tourist radar. Like just about every colonial town in this region, Zapatoca traces its European roots back to the early 1600s and boasts a lovely main plaza/church and many other historic buildings.
Although we only spent a few hours in Zapatoca, we enjoyed our visit to this colorful and art-filled town. While wandering the streets, we stumbled upon the quirky Museo La Casa del Quijote, a gallery/museum created by artist Rodrigo Espíndola Chaparro that is (mostly) dedicated to the story of Don Quixote by Cervantes. This turned out to be a BIG highlight – Sr. Chaparro gave us a personal tour, and we were blown away by his imagination, talent, and vision. Over a couple of decades, he’s assembled a huge body of work that he proudly displays in a beautiful old colonial villa.
We also toured the Cueva del Nitro, an interesting attraction just south of town. The guided tour of the cave takes about an hour.
Socorro: A Heritage Town That “Breathes” History
After our week-long stay in Barichara, we continued south – stopping for lunch in Socorro before reaching our next overnight destination, Guadalupe. The bustling town of Socorro has been designated a Pueblo Patrimonio primarily for the key role citizens played in Colombia’s struggle to become an independent republic. The first big uprising against Spanish rule took place here in 1781, centered around excessive taxation and other oppressions (think Boston Tea Party with a Spanish accent). Socorro was also briefly the capital of the new republic and was the location of one of Colombia’s first democratic elections.
In Socorro, we learned about two important heroines of Colombia’s war for independence. Manuela Beltran helped ignite the 1781 uprising by tearing up and stomping on the Spanish tax edict. Antonio Santos played a huge role in several important battles against the Spanish a couple of decades later. Together withPolicarpa Salavarrieta (see Guaduas below), these women paid for their patriotism with their lives – and collectively they’re referred to as the mothers of Colombian independence.
Guadalupe and the Rio Las Gachas: A Natural Wonder
After our lunch stop in Socorro, we arrived in Guadalupe for two nights. Our objective was to visit the Rio Las Gachas, one of Colombia’s most interesting and beautiful natural attractions. But the town itself is also pretty charming in its own right.
Guaduas: Another Beautiful and Historic Heritage Town
The Pueblo Patrimonio of Guaduas was another lunch stop as we made our way from Zipaquirá (and its fabulous Salt Cathedral) to Honda near the end of our trip. Guaduas is best known as the hometown of Policarpa Salavarrieta, a local heroine who gave her life for Colombia’s independence. To this day, the Day of Colombian Women is celebrated on the anniversary of her death.
The Road to Lago Totá
After visiting Monguí, we decided to take a small overnight detour to visit Lago Totá, Colombia’s largest and highest-elevation lake at 3,000 meters. (Side note: Totá is also the second-highest navigable lake in all of South America, the first being Peru’s Titicaca – which we visited in 2018.)
Driving south from the gritty mining city of Sogamosa, the road was studded with one pretty little Colombian town after the other: Firavitoba, Tibasosa, Iza, Cuitivá, Totá.