Bucaramanga to Barichara: The back way? Er, maybe not…

October 17, 2015

It’s a few minutes after 8am when I hear someone call “Patricio” from the kitchen. Is someone calling me? “Patricio!” she says louder. I walk out of my room, and sure enough, Mom is calling me to the breakfast table with a big smile. My breakfast is ready and she doesn’t want it to get cold. The Colombian warmth is still catching me by surprise.

At breakfast I meet yet another Swiss traveler who has been here for six weeks, learning to paraglide. She says she had no intent to do this, but circumstances fell into place, and she has fallen in love with the sport. Now she is struggling with the reality that her visa will expire next month and she must return home. I suppose there are worse places to return to than Switzerland if your first love is paragliding.

I’ve been looking forward to today’s ride for quite a while. There is a back road from Giron, on the edge of Bucaramanga, along the mountains through Zapatoca and eventually down across the Rio Suarez then back up and into Barichara. The whole thing is only about 120 kilometers, and it should take about 4 hours. Last night I looked at Google Maps, and at my Maps With Me app, and I found that the road in front of the hostel is a shortcut across to the road to Zapatoca. So I don’t have to go back down the mountain and through Bucaramanga to Giron.

I head further up the hill to Ruitoque and beyond. The road turns to dirt. Then it gets narrow. It passes through a small village, down a hill, and along a farm, where it dead ends into someone’s house. I check the GPS. It says turn around. Huh, no kidding. I check Maps With Me. It says the road continues through the guy’s house. I think I’ll skip that attempt.

Having started a bit late, I decide to head back down the mountain and just follow Highway 45A south towards San Gil. Chicamocha National Park and Canyon are on this road, and are supposed to be worth the stop. About 10 miles further south I spot a sign that says “Chicamocha Mirador” pointing up a road to the right. I turn off and start climbing. It’s a good road, and fun. In about eight miles I’m at what seems to be the top, but I haven’t seen the Mirador yet. I keep going. For fun I put Zapatoca back in the GPS. Incredibly, it says this road goes there. Okay, here’s my second shortcut attempt.

Highway 45A runs along a ridge, between two canyons. This one on the east side is fairly brown but the colors are nice when the sun hits it.


The other side is much more green.

Twenty miles in, I arrive at Los Santos, a very small village in the canyon. And the end of the road. Again, both GPS and Maps With Me are now telling me to turn around and go back. Like I have a choice?? At this point I decide to just head back to the highway and stick to it all the way to San Gil and then head to Barichara. I will try again in a day or two to find the elusive back road. (Of course, had I started in Giron, like I was supposed to, I’m sure it wouldn’t be elusive.)

Highway 45A isn’t a bad road itself. The scenery is beautiful for much of the ride, and the road is twisty and climbs through the mountains. Aside from having to pass a number of large trucks that are straining to climb the hills, it’s a relaxing ride.

At one point as I’m running along at my usual 50mph (80kph), a car in front of me kicks up a black plastic bag. It flies towards me, and in an odd moment, it hooks on the GoPro mount on top of my helmet. Suddenly my head is attached to an open parachute at 50mph. It takes several seconds struggling with the bag to get it untangled from atop my helmet. That’s a new experience. Shortly after, I get stung by another wasp, in the same spot as a few weeks ago (on my collarbone). It stings, but it’s the annoyance of knowing it’s going to itch for several days that really bugs me. I suppose the wasps and unintentional helmet parachutes just add to the adventure. At least that’s my take on it.

Most of the main highways are toll roads, but motorcycles are exempt from the tolls. If you look to the right of the truck, there is a small lane for motos. No, that is not a sidewalk.


You see some really strange things while riding through other countries. This might be one of the strangest. This is sitting in somebody’s front yard.

I finally arrive at Barichara mid-afternoon. It’s hard to describe the feel of this town; both beautiful and somewhat creepy at the same time. It’s Saturday afternoon and the town feels deserted. The wide stone streets are laid out in a perfect square pattern, and the entire town is painted entirely white, with a bit of green and a few blue doors here and there.




Cathedral of Barichara


Capilla de Jesus.

The cemetery is actually quite beautiful.

I’m staying at the Tinto Hostel, which came with good recommendations from other travelers. I’m not as impressed, but overall for the price it’s nice enough. And as always, it has secure parking.

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