Colombia has its tourist spots, but many destinations in the country are way off the trail. Alexandra Alden guides us through three of them.
This small town is known mainly for the very unique form of transportation you have to take to get there. It’s unreachable by any road, and the rail lines that used to connect it with the rest of the world have fallen into disrepair. The locals decided to take matters into their own hands and created a whole new type of transportation.
They connected dirt bikes to wooden platforms with wheels, then removed the back tire of the bike and attached the whole contraption to the railroad tracks. The result is a motorbike rail cart known as a brujita.
The novelty of the ride was enough to draw me to San Cipriano, but on arrival there were plenty of activities to keep me occupied.
Things to do
Hikes: Hire a local guide (guide being a surly teenager wielding a machete) and visit an untouched waterfall hidden about a 1.5-hour walk into the jungle. Price of a guide varies by the size of your group.
Tubing the Rio San Cipriano: Rent a tube in town ($2-$3 per day), then hike up until you decide on a good launching point. From there float down over mini-rapids and stop on sandbars to sunbathe and swim.
From Calí take any bus towards Buenaventura. Ask for San Cipriano (it’s about a 2.5-hour ride) and they’ll drop you off at a Temple of Doom-esque bridge. Cross the bridge and on the other side your brujita awaits.
Where to stay
Casa David is decently priced at around $5/night with a friendly local staff.
San Augustín is famous for its tombs; neighboring Tierradentro possesses the same tombs without the hordes of tourists. The area is hard to reach, so the landscape and warm people haven’t been spoilt by tourism.
The tombs were constructed between 1200 and 1400 AD by the Tierradentro people. They’re modeled after the homes of the time and vary from simplistic to intricately decorated depending on the social class of the deceased.
Things to do
Hike to the tombs: The 78 open tombs are spread out over the surrounding hills. Some are easily reached by a light hike — others, like the Aguacate (Avocado), require a more uphill effort, but the tomb at the top is worth it and the hike itself is gorgeous.
When you enter the park they will provide you with a map.
From Popayán take one of the 5 daily buses toward Inzá. My bus was dilapidated and my journey harrowing. The accepted transit time is 3-4 hours but it might take up to 6.
Ask for Tierradentro and you’ll be dropped off at a crossroads. Walk 15 minutes up the road to the tiny town of El Parque, which has accommodation. You can continue another 15 minutes (uphill) to San Andrés, which has more amenities.
Where to stay
Hospedaje Lucerna: Located right next to the park. The rooms cost about $5/night and are pretty basic but clean. The slightly senile owner is warm and friendly and will repeatedly ask you the same questions.
Hospedaje la Portada: A more upscale option in San Andrés. Has private bathrooms and is adjacent to the excellent restaurant of the same name.
Sapzurro, just minutes from the border with Panama, has deserted white-sand beaches.
Up until recently the place was a “no go” due to guerrilla activity. Things have calmed down, but it’s still pretty unknown due to the epic, but worthwhile, journey to get there.
Things to do
Lie on the beach: The town has an amazing beach on its little harbor, or you can hike over the border to Panama (about 15 minutes and no border crossing) and test out the sea there.
Visit the waterfall: Ask a local and they will direct you to the path. About 10 minutes into the jungle there’s a small waterfall good for a dip.
Hike to neighboring Capurgana: The next town over has more facilities, so you’ll probably have to go at some point. The hike (about 1 hour) takes you through jungle with panoramic views of Sapzurro Bay.
The easiest way is from Medellín but, as aforementioned, it’s a trek. First you take a 12-hour bus to the port city of Turbo. Take only day buses because the road is unsafe at night.
You’ll then have to spend the night in Turbo because the boats to Sapzurro leave at 8 AM. Queue up early to buy your ticket as they will sell out. The boat ride is along beautiful coastline and takes an hour and a half.
Places to stay
Los Chilenos: THE place to stay in Sapzurro. The owner, “Chile,” is one of the friendliest and most unique people I’ve met on my travels, and his staff is made up of colorful characters as well. The cook is amazing and you can easily eat there every night.
It’s across a dirt path from the sea and has a chill-out hammock area. The rooms are basic bungalows with mosquito nets over the beds. The price is about $7.50 but can vary if you have a big group and good haggling skills.
Learn more about the country at Matador’s Colombia Focus Page.