Colombia off the beaten track: Charalá

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. 

The Pozo Negro, one of Charalá’s hidden waterfalls with natural swimming pools.

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.

This small town is full of history and surrounded by beautiful nature.

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.

This house with blue doors is a local museum, art gallery and coffee bar. As cool as the works of art might be, the main reason for visiting this cultural highlight are the owners: an extremely friendly couple who really enjoy guiding tourists. They are from Medellín and can tell about Colombia’s difficult past and present.
Like everywhere else in this huge country, you meet salesman in the streets. They enjoy small (and big) talks with tourists.

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.

This is a statue of José Antonio Galán, one of the activists against the Spanish occupation, sentenced to death because of that. Despite his untimely death, almost whole Latin America became independent a few years later. Local historians consider Charalá as the cradle of the South American liberty.
I found this statue for the rights of Colombian women, behind the Casa de la Cultura. Apparently, Charalá also played an important role in this story during the sixties. Nowadays Colombia is considered to be on of the worlds most equal countries in job distribution to men and women (note: explanations can vary).

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.

Las Cascadas de Juan Curí are the most reachable, they’re halfway on the main road between San Gil and Charalá. Here you can meet some foreign tourists. The waterfalls are huge and really impressing. Extreme sports are available (but not for me, I was to scared).

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.

This town looks a little bit like the famous town Barichara, which is just two hours away from here.
Around Charalá are just a couple of other villages and hamlets. The next bigger town, Bucaramanga, is 4 hours away by bus or car.

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!

3 thoughts on “Colombia off the beaten track: Charalá

  1. Oh la la la Charala! Man this place looks awesome. Much respect for getting off the beaten track and finding another awesome, under-touristed town. Next time I’m in Colombia I’m putting this town atop my list. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hi CBLACHUT,
      Thanks for your comment! Yes, this place is really awesome. I prefer travelling off the beaten track, but that needs some preparation in Colombia 🙂
      See you maybe in Charalá!

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