The Prettiest Town in Colombia

This is the oft-repeated marketing blurb that precedes a visit to Barichara; and without having visited the dozens of other small towns in Colombia that might lay claim to a similar boast, I would say that Barichara lives up to the hype.

Barichara was founded in 1705 and was declared a National Monument in 1978 for its colonial architecture and natural beauty. The town of 10,000 is small and walkable, although “walkable” is a relative term, since there are blessedly few flat areas. Reaching almost any destination is less of a stroll and more of a Butts and Guts class. I have still not found my lungs and while Stephen climbs the hills with ease, I am huffing and puffing.

The town is surrounded by lush tropical vegetation that creeps right up to its edges. Our apartment is on the very edge, with a view to the pool below and active bird life right in front of us.

Colombia is renowned for its incredible number and variety of bird species and we have a front-row seat, albeit to some rather “ordinary” birds. We look forward to taking a bird-watching tour when we are in the coffee region of Colombia, where many of the more exotic species live. For now we content ourselves with pointing out the “red birds” and “yellow birds” and “blue birds” that flit about the trees in front of us.

Although we are interested and curious to learn more, our bird knowledge is close to non-existent. Back home we readily identify eagles and robins and hummingbirds, but here we are at a loss. Birding enthusiasts would be aghast; perhaps our experiences in Colombia will set us on a new hobby, complete with bird books and better binoculars.

In the meantime, we saw this pretty bird on one of our walks. Maybe one of you can identify it.

Barichara is known for being a place to rest; a welcome respite from city life. That is shorthand for there not being a whole lot to do here, other than simply drink in the beauty and relax. That is just fine with us – we love to embrace all a big city has to offer and then bookend that with some peace and quiet.

It is also a nice break from having to be constantly mindful of our surroundings and belongings; we feel completely relaxed and comfortable here.

Some shots below of typical street scenes in Barichara:

Stephen heading down a street along one of the outer edges of town; an area of pretty detached homes with courtyards and gardens.

As in Villa De Leyva, all the houses are whitewashed, with red tiled roofs. but one notable difference is the doors and shutters are painted from what appears to be a stock of four main shades: bright green, bright blue, soft teal, robin’s egg blue.

We waved at the exuberant and untethered children piled in this big open-sided truck. No idea where they were all headed, perhaps an outing somewhere; this is their summer, after all. Once again, we are struck by how “Safety First” is not a notion here. Seat belts and observing speed limits are just a suggestion in Colombia.

Speaking of speed, Colombia has produced some of the world’s top pro cyclists. Their strength and endurance has been honed on these punishing hills. This particular hill just about did me in. You can’t really tell from the angle, but it is one of the steepest longest streets in Barichara; the prize is a church and garden at the very top.

As we approached the crest of the hill, I was encouraged by a cyclist who called out to the white-haired lady, “Keep going” – a kind but slightly embarrassing nod to my obvious lack of fitness.

Barichara has a beautiful central square, flanked by a prominent church.

It is also where you can grab a tuk-tuk – the reliable little three-wheeled mountain goat that easily navigates the cobblestoned hills, and the only available taxi service.

The Cemeterio Barichara is a fascinating stop, as many of the burial sites are adorned with very elaborate tombstones that have been carved to portray the trades and interests of the deceased.

I love visiting cemeteries when we travel as they present insights and stories about the population, both uplifting and in some cases tragic. We saw a family plot where father and infant daughter were buried. The young father had died on October 14, and his eight-month-old daughter, a day later. An accident perhaps?

This gentleman lived to a good age, and obviously had a fondness for his music and his cigar. I imagine him having lived a long happy life, surrounded by friends and family.

Another local attraction is the Camino Real, an ancient stone path that was created hundreds of years ago by the indigenous Chibca, Muisca and Guane communities to connect several towns.

This path was restored by German settler Geo Von Lengerke, who was prominent here in the 19th century, and who helped to determine various engineering projects in the region. Among his notable extra-curricular achievements were the conquest of dozens of local women, with the reputed outcome of over 100 offspring. Whether this is true or not, Barichara does have a small population of blond, blue-eyed inhabitants.

The path has since been fully restored, and runs between 6-7 km. from Barichara to the village of Guane; a stone path mercifully mostly downhill.

The path is described as “easy – perfect for families“, which is not inaccurate, but doesn’t paint the whole picture. Almost all the trek is comprised of stone, which means you have to watch your footing and a good part of the trek is in the open sun, which means you better remember to wear sunscreen and bring lots of water.

The views across the valley are beautiful and the sense of having trod where so many came before is inspiring.

We had the trail to ourselves for much of the time, but occasionally came across a local.

The small town of Guane was like a miniature version of Barichara, but with a tenth of the population – possibly a little too quiet.

The main square of Guane.

While beautiful Barichara is a big tourist draw, the nearby town of San Gil is all about extreme adventure sports. The town itself is much larger, and it has to be said, Barichara’s homely sister. With chaotic traffic, nondescript buildings and a slightly seedy downtown, San Gil would have little to offer a tourist but for its proximity to the outlying regions.

The town serves as a home base for the dozens of tour companies that offer whitewater rafting, canyoning, caving, mountain biking and paragliding. In fact, our host Alejandro has run a paragliding business for 20 years. Neither Stephen nor I were tempted to give it a try, but apparently while his dad keeps two feet on the ground, his mother has gone up with him a few times.

Most of these activities take place in the canyons and wild rivers just outside of town. Right in town, there is the far tamer attraction of the Jardin Botanico El Gallineral – a restored botanical garden that borders the river and is under constant upgrading. It is quite remarkable to step away from the dirt and the noise of San Gil’s downtown into the peace and beauty of the garden.

The garden is filled with somewhat garish wire and mesh cartoon figures and left-over Christmas decorations, but it also featured this quite beautiful tiled iguana.

The park frequently dips down to the Rio Fonce, which serves part of the whitewater rafting tours. At this junction, the water is still quite manageable.

We stopped to talk to a couple of gardeners who were in the process of attaching orchids with loose netting to the trees. The small roots attach to the tree and then require very little moisture, which is beneficial to both the plants and the trees.

This abuela was trying to interest her granddaughter in the red squirrel; an activity that seemed to be the biggest hit for the Colombian families.The little things are the big things.

We say good-bye to this peaceful part of the country tomorrow and head to Bucamaranga for a flight to Medellin, where we will be for a week. See you again soon.

29 thoughts on “The Prettiest Town in Colombia

    1. Gord! How nice to hear from you! I was thinking about you when I wrote this and thought, “Gord McPherson should be here – he would appreciate this so much.” I’ll keep you posted once we start seeing more red, yellow and blue birds.


    1. I think the Colombians are starting to be tourists in their own country, now that things are safer. We are almost always the only foreign tourists, and we seldom hear English. I hope once people start feeling more comfortable with the safety in Colombia, they will come – it is so beautiful and the people are really lovely.


  1. Always love your commentaries Ginny, a chuckle is in order every time! Beautiful scenery as well of course and Steve’s butt in the distance going the extra mile is noted!


  2. Spectacular! Everything there seems so relaxed…..and…!! that little squirrel is really, really red! Safe travels to your next stop. Cheers, Michelle


  3. you will be in super duper condition after walking on those cobblestone/rocks, yikes I feel it just reading about it lol. What beautiful places Columbia has for you to visit. Lots of history and such colour abounds in just about everywhere you’ve been. Thanks for keeping us up to date on your adventures, stay safe and will look forward to your next blog. Hugs


  4. You’ve been travelling in Spanish-speaking countries for a few years now, and studying the language a bit at home – are your efforts starting to pay off? Some of your comments and photos suggest that you’ve made a connection with the locals – do they help you find the right words?


    1. I’m kind of fascinated by the lack of progress I make with Spanish. Yes, we’ve travelled a lot in Spanish-speaking countries and I have an off-again, on-again relationship with Duolingo, but I tend to improve while we’re here, then forget much of what I’ve learned until the next time. This trip is putting me to the test, because there is so little English, and yet, somehow I make myself understood. The way a child of two with a limited vocabulary and a single tense does. I think I need total immersion.


      1. Well…you’ve only just got there. I bet by the time you’ve in Chile, you’ll have a flawless local accent and command of dialect. If not, a big smile goes a long way!


  5. Barichara looks like a lovely spot to spend a few days; but, those streets and trails look daunting! The two of you will be in great shape if you keep this up!


    1. I think we will, Heather. It has occurred to me that we’re travelling down the Andes the entire time we’re here, so I guess there is no escaping the climbing! You must get used to it eventually – the locals just march up and down without missing a beat.


  6. Hi Ginny: Looks lovely and so very peaceful. The whole world could use some of this peace right now. Thanks for taking me on a journey that I will never go on. It’s really fascinating and your storytelling is remarkable.


  7. Well, we cannot confirm whether or not your photo is a Topical Mockingbird.. However, we can endorse more bird photos. The reason is that recent research states that “seeing or hearing birds improved people’s mental wellbeing for up to eight hours.” So continue to improve your mental wellbeing !


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