Barichara: Our First Big Break
We arrived exhausted, overheated, sweaty, tired and just longing for a few comfortable, quiet nights in the van to make up for the previous few days.
We didn’t know much about Barichara but decided to pay a visit in hopes of chilly temperatures.
After a long day of slow driving over the steep mountain roads of Chicamocha Canyon, we were ready to just stop and take it easy. Our poor van was definitely feeling the altitude and steep climbs, which we learned after pulling over for a rest and trying to start it again. She let us know she wasn’t having it with a few wheezy idles. The original plan was to spend a couple of nights at an overlander’s campground which was located between San Gil and Barichara. We arrived to find locked gates and after making a quick phone call, learned that the road to the campground was too muddy to pass.
“Do you have 4WD?”
“No, we don’t, but—“
“No…no. I’m sorry but you cannot do it. I’m so sorry. There’s another campground you can go to not far from here but you will not be able to make it here. I’m really sorry.”
At this point in the day, it wasn’t long before sunset and we needed to settle down soon. We noticed a wild camping spot on the outskirts of Barichara with mention of a killer view. We decided to take the gamble and made our way into town to check it out. It was like a miniature version of Cartagena without all of the noise, traffic and heat. Amazing! Now lets find a place to rest. Of course, the original coordinates noted on iOverlander were wrong, which resulted in us driving out of town down a long, windy, downhill road with not many safe places to turn around.
“UGH. No no NO.” - Peter, as we sped further and further downhill until we finally came to a part of the road where a dirt road split off. It was going to be tight for turning around but we had no choice. Luckily no vehicles came speeding around the curve as we got our momentum to go back uphill again. As the van spitefully chugged its way back up the steep road, Shruthi found the correct coordinates noted on iOverlander. After manually typing them into Google Maps, we hoped we had the correct spot as we neared town again.
To our luck, the directions led us to a big, flat area covered in red dirt overlooking mountains and the valley below. We were covered in golden light as the sun started to make its way behind the mountains and the chilly breeze made its way over to say hello. It was heavenly. We nestled the van into a grassy corner with the sliding door facing the view and sat down to take it all in. Pretty soon, we heard two travelers making their way over to say hello and take in the sunset. One was Canadian, the other was German and both were very excited about the town. They couldn’t stop going on about how peaceful and relaxing their stay had been. Their excitement became our excitement as they talked about how much they had enjoyed exploring Barichara and Colombia in general.
“Oh, dude. Yeah. You guys will be totally fine. Colombians are super chill about wild camping and this town has been so tranquilo!”
MUSIC TO OUR EARS. They told us about their visit to Parque Nacional Natural El Cocuy, which we had been trying to decide if we would visit. Our new friends raved about the place and stressed the fact that it is a must-do. They offered to snap a photo of us, wished us luck and made their way off into dusk. We were in high spirits after that conversation and decided that the proper way to celebrate was with shots of aguardiente. Shruthi hadn’t had her aguardiente experience yet.
Barichara was peaceful, safe and the perfect place to decompress after the few eventful days we had. It’s a lovely laid back little town with cobblestone streets, colonial architecture and an adorable main square. We really enjoyed just strolling the streets and people watching in the plaza garden. It was generally pretty quiet with mostly locals around. Every once in a while there would be little bursts of activity as a small group of tourists made their way into town for an hour or two via bus. Even at its busiest, the amount of people around was never overwhelming. The point is: it certainly never felt overly touristy, despite it being mentioned in Lonely Planet. We found a temporary haven in this positively charming little town.
Things To Do:
Camino Real Hike to Guane:
Guane is nearby sleepy colonial town. The trailhead is noted on various maps located around the town. It's a 5 km hike and it took us about an hour and a half to get to Guane. Make sure you've got proper shoes on as there are parts of the trail that are uneven, rocky and go uphill. Once you get to Guane, you can take a bus back to Barichara for about $1 USD. Honestly, we enjoyed the actual hiking part more than the town itself. It was a hot day so we rewarded ourselves with some ice cream in the plaza park before hopping on a bus.
The Menu del Dia at Fundacion Escuela Taller Barichara:
When it comes to affordable and delicious set lunch or menu del dia, this place does not mess around. You’ll get a soup, entree, side salad, fresh juice and desert all for only $11,000 COP per person. We loved it so much that we went back twice. The first time the main course was plantain soup, steak in a savory tomato sauce, french fries, rice, patacones and side salad. The second time we had trout and it was just as delicious. If you need to take a little stroll to clear space in your belly, the restaurant is attached to a larger building which is houses looming and paper making workshops. NOTE: The name of the place was different than the one noted above when we were there (July 2017). We included the old name since that's what it's listed as on TripAdvisor.
Stroll Around Town:
Barichara may be small but it’s got enough charm to make your brain want to explode as you explore every street. There are multiple historical churches, buildings and shops to visit. You’ll also find plenty of little cafes, restaurants and bars to duck into.
We found the town cultural center one day which was a really nice surprise. Inside there are locally made arts and crafts on display and a beautiful courtyard if you keep walking through the building to the second door way. In the courtyard is a restaurant, a cafe, a music school, outdoor kitchen/cooking school, garden and more. On the way out we learned that the cultural center offers art, music and cooking classes to locals for free. We loved that Barichara seemed to be proud and encouraging of their art scene.
Try Hormigas Culonas:
Hormigas Culonas literally means 'big-bottomed ants.' You’ll see signs all over town for this treat exclusive to the Santander department. If you’re feeling gutsy, a jar of these can be purchased at pretty much every tienda in town. Locals rave about how delicious they are. You may even be eagerly prompted to try them on the spot as they all watch.
Eat & Drink:
7 Tigres: This place was absolutely delicious. It’s an intimate place with a fun, chill atmosphere. We went all the way to the outdoor seating on the back patio where the magic happens. There was an outdoor oven and two dudes busy making everything as it was ordered. The pizzas and pita plates are affordably priced and a fantastic value considering the quality and freshness of the food. Make sure you try their pita! Get one of everything! Go crazy!
We kept seeing signs for local craft beer and unfortunately, we didn’t find it. We learned that it actually wasn’t available anywhere in town at the moment. Bummer. Regardless, the bars matched the welcoming atmosphere of the rest of the town. We strolled into Parlatorium Café for some drinks to kick off Peter’s birthday dinner. It was a cozy place with a cute courtyard. It felt a little like we were just walking into a friend’s place for evening drinks. On a different night, we walked into a bar on Carrera 7 and Calle 6 for a drink after an evening stroll through town. We passed it on our way back to the van for dinner and decided to pop in.The bad thing is that we can't remember the name of the bar for the life of us. Look for loud music and strobe lights- you'll know it when you see and hear it. The vibe here was eclectic and, again, it felt like we were just walking into a friend’s place for drinks. We loved that kind of vibe.
If you need to hop on WIFI, go to Bari near the square. The coffee and juices were delicious. The staff is also super friendly and helpful if you need any information about the town. It’s more of an afternoon spot than a morning spot, as it didn’t open until around noon or so while we were there.
Above all, Barichara is a super laid back place to relax and get your chill on. We were a little glad that we didn't research it in depth after discovering what a charming little town it was. We'll never forget the few days of peace and quiet this hidden gem gave us.