Quebrada Las Gachas, Guadalupe: Colombia’s natural plunge pools
Honestly, when we first got to Guadalupe, Santander and the nearby natural plunge pools phenomenon of Quebrada Las Gachas in Colombia, we were in two minds as to whether to even mention it anywhere online. Then we remembered how low our readership is, and decided the loyal few deserve to know of this off-the-beaten-track Colombian gem. So why did we feel such an urge to protect the small town of Guadalupe, Colombia, and its natural plunge pools at Quebrada Las Gachas?
Well, unlike many places we’ve been to in Colombia, Guadalupe has a rare combination of being beautiful, accessible in a few hours from a major city and feeling safe, whilst also not being ruined by tourism. Those of Colombia’s pueblos with the first 3 boxes ticked are usually crammed in with tourist coaches, and tend to have you wondering exactly how much of what you see is authentic, and how much is put on to cash in on the trend. If you’re not yet convinced that this small town and Quebrada Las Gachas are worth visiting, check out the video of our time there:
In Santander’s Guadalupe, seeing a foreigner will still have the old men staring and the schoolgirls rolling around in fits of giggles, so suffice to say there haven’t been so many tourists in this area that it’s not still a novelty. As of the time of writing, there are no Las Gachas souvenirs, no tourist buses, and the tourism ‘agency’ here is just a bloke called José who shows you the way to various waterfalls. In our three days here, the only other international tourists we saw around Quebrada Las Gachas & Guadalupe were two French people who were staying at Portal de Don Luis with us.
Guadalupe – and in particular Quebrada Las Gachas, which put it on the map just a couple of years ago when a post went viral on Colombian social media – is currently much more popular with domestic tourists, which keeps any crowds limited to weekends (though we’ve yet to see any crowds on this sunny Saturday afternoon).
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What to do in Guadalupe, Santander
Other than Quebrada Las Gachas, Guadalupe doesn’t have a huge amount to do, other than mill around and soak up the local pavement culture. Quebrada las Gachas, the primary reason tourists tend to visit Guadalupe, and since it’s only been publicised online in the last few years, the natives still seem pretty unused to seeing foreigners in their town. Expect a few stares and perhaps some giggly school-kids, but no hassle at all. It’s a great place to chat with the locals as they’re super friendly, and barely any English is spoken there. At a bare minimum, be sure to give everyone a ‘buenos días’ or ‘buenas tardes’ as you walk by.
The lifestyle in Guadalupe, Colombia is chilled; how could it not be surrounded by all this natural beauty?! There are mountains and hills in every direction, giant palm trees in the square and just a few shops and restaurants to choose from. The peacefulness is unreal.
La Casa de la Cultura on the main square is said to provide interesting, free exhibitions exploring local Colombian life, but it was unfortunately closed the whole time we were in the town. Boo!
There are also a few nearby caves and waterfalls you can hike to (such as Cascada la Llanera) if you want to cram more in after the main event. Get in touch with José through the Bonzana Restaurant on the corner of the square if you’d like a guide during your time in Guadalupe.
Visiting Quebrada Las Gachas, Guadalupe’s natural plunge pools
Quebrada Las Gachas, Guadalupe’s main event, are a series of giant holes in the river, which are coloured by purple and red algae (but unlike the more famous Caño Cristales, Quebrada Las Gachas doesn’t lose its colour according to season). The holes create amazingly refreshing pools – Quebrada Las Gachas is known as natural jacuzzis, but the water is actually cool as it’s still a running river, so they’re more like natural plunge pools.
As with any tourist attraction in Colombia, try not to visit Quebrada Las Gachas de Guadalupe on a weekend. We went on a Friday, and only saw one other couple the entire trip, having the place mostly to ourselves. On Saturdays and Sundays, you can expect family and friend groups from Medellín, Bogotá and Bucaramanga to turn up, which would greatly affect the experience of this natural wonder. International tourism hasn’t really caught on at Las Gachas yet, but domestic tourism is very much on the rise. For now, Quebrada Las Gachas is completely free to visit, unless you drive there and need to leave your 4×4 in the car park which is right at the end of the drivable road.
How to get to Quebrada Las Gachas from Guadalupe
To get to Quebrada Las Gachas from Guadalupe town, it’s an hour walk from the main plaza (or you can arrange a 4×4 with a tourist agency on the square to take you until the road ends, which saves you about half the walk). Facing the plaza’s church, head down the road to the top right, past Bonanza restaurant. Following this road, you’ll have the other big yellow church on your right, and eventually you’ll come to a petrol station 5 minutes out of town. At the petrol station, take the road the veers off to the right; you should see a sign for Quebrada Las Gachas. From there, just keep heading up this path! After about 40mins of walking, you’ll go find yourself at Las Gachas. Note: 30 mins in, you’ll pass a river in your left, which is cordoned off by a fence. Keep going, this is not Quebrada Las Gachas!
The hike to Quebrada Las Gachas is not the world’s hardest, but also not for the seriously unfit. There are several hills to climb up and down, which might be hard on weak knees.
Tips for visiting Quebrada Las Gachas, Colombia
The depth of these natural plunge pools varies, so make sure you test them with a stick before jumping in! Also, the algae makes the river bed verrrrrry slippy, even in grippy trainers, but we found that walking around in socks gives you stability. And sex appeal. Lots and lots of sex appeal.
During dry season, the river doesn’t flow very high, so not all of the holes in Quebrada Las Gachas are receiving running water, and they go a little stagnant. It’ll be pretty obvious which are the icky ones, but the cleanest seem to be those further upstream. Locals in Guadalupe told us to only enter the ones that are upstream of the little house to the right. Needless to say, don’t piss in the pools, and take any rubbish back with you.
We recommend visiting in the morning, when the skies tend to be clear but the sun isn’t too hot.
Make sure you bring plenty of water to Las Gachas, Guadalupe – the petrol station is the last place to buy things on a weekday. Put on strong sunscreen before embarking on the journey, and don’t forget to top up after being in the water. The sun in Santander tends to be really strong, and shade is hard to find at some points of the hike. We got royally burnt, despite wearing factor 30.
Where to stay in Guadalupe, Santander
When we booked, there were 8 hostels and hospedajes listed in Guadalupe, Colombia. The one we chose was Portal de Don Luis, a small finca that offers 2 bedrooms and 3 tents-on-concrete with some pretty comfy looking mattresses inside, plus hot water showers and a pool. The owner, Rafael is an actual don, and he welcomed us heartily, proudly giving us a tour (there are baby horses!) and inviting us to help ourselves to coffee. He told us in detail all about how to get to Quebrada Las Gachas from Guadalupe.
The best part about this place though is the view of the pueblo of Guadalupe (below); it’s right on the edge in a prime spot to see the town and mountains backlit by sunset. It cost 70,000 COP / £18 per night for the 2 of us in a family room, with 8,000 extra for an excellent breakfast with locally-sourced produce.
Where to eat in Guadalupe, Santander
Omar’s Parrilla does some pretty banging meat dishes, and the fried yuca is excellent. They also do really good Juan Valdez coffee, just don’t expect service with a smile. For breakfast, check out Bonzana Restaurant on the corner of the plaza (or Portal de Don Luis if you’re staying there!), and for a simple but traditional and very cheap lunch, go to Restaurante Todo Rico. Excellent roast chicken and potato dinners can be found at El Dorado Super Pollo.
How to get to Guadalupe from Barichara or San Gil, Colombia
Step 1. Bus from Barichara to San Gil
From Barichara, head to the main plaza where you’ll probably already see a bus for San Gil waiting. If not, head to the Cootrasaravita office on the side of the plaza opposite the church and buy your ticket there. Buses leave every half an hour or so and take 35-40 mins.
Cost: 5,200 COP
Step 2. Bus from San Gil to Socorro
Though there are two bus terminals in San Gil, luckily the bus from Barichara takes you to El Terminalito, which is the correct one for your next leg. When you get there, head straight to the minibus under the sign for Socorro; you don’t need to buy a ticket at the office, just pay on the bus. This bus takes around 35 minutes. If you’re lucky, you may get there in time for a bus that goes direct to Oiba from San Gil, in which case you can skip step 3.
Cost: 4,500 COP.
Step 3. Bus from Socorro to Oiba
Ask your Socorro bus driver when you get off to direct you to the Oiba bus. There aren’t many bus routes there to choose from so if he doesn’t know, just ask around. In typical Santander fashion, people should be very happy to help. This will be a medium-sized bus and takes around 45 mins.
Cost: 6,000 COP.
Step 4. Jeep from Oiba to Guadalupe
Now the real fun begins. As soon as you get to Oiba, tell the people at the desk where you’re heading. Buy the ticket with them, and they’ll tell you when the 4×4 arrives. Yes, 4×4. Expect to be sitting with at least 6 other people crammed into the carriage at the back. If more people want to get on, you may have to stand on the back and hold on. Enjoy the views on this one, they’re incredible as the 4×4 takes you up into the dusty countryside with its lush green hills and smiling locals. This last leg takes 1 hour and 15, and drops you off in the plaza, unless you specify otherwise (but seriously, go to the plaza; it’s the best). The last 4×4 leaves at 5:30pm.
Cost: 7,000 COP.
We got very lucky with the bus changes when we went; we could’ve been waiting a lot longer than 10 mins for our 4×4 to Guadalupe from Oiba. We left Barichara at 10am and we arrived in Guadalupe at 2:30pm. Total cost per person: 22,700 COP (just under £6).
To return, just pick up the 4×4 from Guadalupe’s plaza. If going onwards to Bogotá, you can get a bus directly from Oiba or San Gil (which will likely have nicer buses). 4x4s leave Guadalupe plaza for Oiba at 4am, 5am, 6am, 10am, 11:30am, 12pm, 1:30pm, 4pm and 5:30pm.
How to get to Quebrada Las Gachas, Guadalupe from Bogotá
Guadalupe & Las Gachas can be done as a weekend trip from Bogotá. Take a day bus from Bogotá Salitre Terminal to Bucaramanga, but tell the driver you’re getting off at Oiba (4-5 hours into the journey). As above, as soon as you get to Oiba, tell the people at the desk where you’re heading. Buy the ticket with them, and they’ll tell you when the 4×4 arrives.
Where to go after visiting Las Gachas in Guadalupe, Colombia