Imagine an old tiny town with cobblestone roads, full of memories of fighting for South American independance and surrounded by 27 different waterfalls. Here, adolescents are still children and adults learn their children to swim in the rivers. At night people can sleep with their front doors open. This place is not the imaginary Shangri-La or Shambala, but Charalá in Colombia. Or Chalala, according to the Guane, a local pre-columbian culture.
Okay, why did I go to Charalá? Well, last year in the neighbouring town of San Gil, I met a fantastic family who run a very good restaurant. We became friends and they convinced me to discover their hometown Charalá.
During my two month stay in Colombia this year, my one week experience in this Andean Shangri-La was a serious highlight. Every day I walked the streets and talked with people. My friends invited me to stay at their place and we had a really good time together. The best method to practise my Spanish.
Charalá is literally travelling of the beaten track, since it’s mainly overlooked by its bigger neighbor San Gil, Colombia’s extreme sports hub, only local tourist head to Charalá’s main square and go directly back to San Gil.
So, when the local policemen see tourists, they welcome them in their town, give them explanations about the sights and guide them directly to a bar which is a tourist information point as well.
Today Charalá is for Colombian standards really safe. For example: my friends told me that I could walk through town until 1 AM without problems and that they could keep the front door open at night while sleeping. But how calm it now might be, so rebellious was it once was.
After so much art, culture, history, coffee, coffee and coffee I used the last days with my friends to discover local waterfalls and natural swimming pools. Charalá has at least 27 from them, so it was impossible to visit them all in one week. I just saw three of them.
Two pozos, or natural swimming pools near a waterfall, are at a walkable distance from the village: Pozo Negro (1 hour) and Pozo Gallo (a half an hour). Pozzo Gallo is really easy to reach, it’s near KM2 on the road from Charalá to Duitama. Pozo Negro is somewhat hidden between some mountains, but on Google you can find some good walking directions. The same for Pozo Lajas, but I didn’t go there.
The Cascadas de Juan Curí are even easier to reach: just take a bus between Charalá and San Gil and after a half an hour get of the bus at the entrance of the ecoparque. Pay an entrance fee and just walk 10 minutes uphill.
According to my friends there might be a natural slide as well (tobogan natural) and at the hamlet of Virolin, 20 km south from Charalá, you can find a colored river. It seems that their is just one bus per day for Virolin.
Okay, now you know why you should consider to go Charalá. If you’re a more adventurous person, you could opt for a stay in this town. It’s even possible to do all the activities from San Gil, when Charalá is your base. For example: San Gil is just a one hour drive from Charalá, the famous Chicamocha canyon just two hours. And yes, there are direct buses from a very good local bus company. They’re based in San Gil at the terminalito (regional bus station), and not at the interregional bus station. And in Charalá they have their own bus station in the city center where the drivers always have a lot of fun with each other. Charalá has several times a day a direct bus connection with Bucaramanga, as does goes San Gil with Bogotá.
The city center has some hotels: you can find them via Google. Most of them offer WiFi and hot showers (day temperature can be hot, at night it can be a little bit cold).
So, after one month staying in Envigado, a suburb of Medellín, I had a really welcoming stay in the nature. With a lot of thanks to my dear friends from Café Restaurante La Quimera, Colombia’s best restaurant ever!