Boyaca & Santander, the perfect places for outdoor lovers!
Visiting Boyacá, one of the departments located in the eastern center of Colombia, adjacent to the capital of the country; is walking through lands full of adventures, beautiful landscapes, culture, and delicious cuisine. Located in the Andean region, it consists of 123 municipalities full of the most varied places and climates with colonial and ecological attractions that are a center of attraction for travelers looking for something more than sun and beach.
Boyacá is full of small and beautiful villages and in each one a different experience is lived. Variety is the main attribute of Santander. Climates, landscapes, and ecosystems are combined in this northern area of the Eastern Cordillera, it is an ideal destination for all those who travel in search of natural and ecological scenarios. Boyaca and Santander are ideal areas in Colombia for travellers who enjoy adventure sports, mountainous terrain and tranquil colonial towns.
Villa de Leyva is one of those colonial towns in Boyaca where you should spend at least a night because of its natural charm and sprawling landscapes. While Villa de Leyva offers a calm environment, San Gil in Santander caters to adrenaline junkies looking to go paragliding, rock climbing, white-water rafting and more. Be sure to hike the historic Camino Real while visiting picturesque Barichara in Santander.
Best places to visit in Boyaca and Santander
Villa de Leyva: Located about 3 hours by car from Bogota, Villa de Leyva is a Spanish colonial town surrounded by stunning hills and terrain. This city is well known for its whitewashed colonial houses, cobbled streets and terracotta roofs remarkably well-preserved. Wander the colonial streets, go horseback riding outside the city or visit the Terracotta House, an impressive architectural gem made from terracotta.
Tunja: Tunja is the first destination to visit when arriving in Boyacá. It is the capital of the district, founded in 1539 and being the capital center, offers architectural sites that are of great interest. Religious tourism also becomes important with buildings such as the Santa Clara de la Real Convent or the baroque-style church Iglesia de Santo Domingo, where murals dating from the sixteenth century are exhibited.
San Gil: If you love extreme sports, you must visit this town located about 25 km from Barichara. The list of things to do in San Gil includes parasailing, white-water rafting, hiking to the Curití Waterfall and riding rented bikes. San Gil isn’t a small town but still conserves a colonial town atmosphere.
Pueblito Boyacence: The town of Duitama is famous for its local neighbourhood called "Pueblito Boyacence" (little Boyaca village). This neighbourhood was built to represent seven of the most beautiful towns of the Boyaca Department: Villa de Leyva, Tibasosa, Tenza, El Cocuy, Sachica, Monguí and Raquira. When short on time, visit Pueblito Boyacence to get an understanding of this Colombian region in one afternoon.
Paipa: A spa town built near Lake Sochagota, Paipa allows visitors to enjoy hot springs, aquatic sports and charming hotels. Visit one of the most essential Colombian monuments, the Vargas Swamp Battle memorial, about 5 km outside of Paipa. It commemorates one of the most decisive battles for Colombia's independence, fought on July 25th 1819.
Raquira: This picturesque town has always been a place where artisans produce pieces of pottery and wool. Its name means "city of pots" in the Native American Chibcha language. The houses, streets and central square are splashed with colour and adorned with an infinite variety of clay pieces. Spend an afternoon appreciating the exquisite handicrafts in this little town.
Barichara: Deemed the “prettiest town in Colombia,” Barichara is located about 2.5 hours outside the Santanderian city of Bucaramanga. It offers a unique charming, colonial, and romantic atmosphere – complete with cobblestone streets and historic churches. Visit local artisan shops and try regional specialty hormigas culonas, giant edible ants.
San Juan de Girón: Recognized as ‘National Monument of Colombia’ thanks to the colonial architecture that is identified in its houses with white facades, cobbled streets and Alicanto bridges. This municipality is located 9 kilometers from Bucaramanga and is known for pilgrimages during Holy Week and the gypsies of the Main Park, who practice the art of chiromancy.
Top things to do in Boyaca & Santander
- Visit the Iguaque Sanctuary: Located near Villa de Leyva the sanctuary is famous for its sacred lake. According to the Muisca Mythology, a pilgrimage here cleanses the soul and purifies the spirit. At worth, you will walk through amazing ecosystems of moors, wetlands, high Andean forest, and oak.
- Hike in the Sierra Nevada del Cocuy: The Sierra Nevada del Cocuy is formed by a chain of more than 25 snow-capped peaks, in an area of thirty kilometres. Also known as Guican and Chita, it is one of the most important glacial masses in Colombia, which can be walked on foot. This mountain range is part of the El Cocuy National Natural Park, in which there are Andean forests and basal jungle. The perfect location to spot a large amount of fauna such as danta, morrocoy, maiceros and araguato.
- Look for the monster of the Lake Tota: The legends say that the "devil whale" is the Colombian version of the Loch Ness Monster and can be found in the Lake Tota. If you're not scared (especially by the cold) you can take a dip in this icy cold lake and then relax on the white sandy beach. This place is so peaceful and is perfect if you like water, sports and fishing.
- Walk on the Camino Real: This 10 km trail hike connects Barichara and Guane. The path is mostly downhill, perfect for novice hikers. Enjoy sprawling green farmland and mountain views while walking along Camino Real. And if you're too tired to walk back, you can always take cheap public buses back to your starting point in Barichara.
- Connect with the nature in The Chicamocha national park: Established in 2006, this national park is home to the Chicamocha River, which flows through the majestic Chicamocha Canyon. Take in the incredible panoramic beauty of this natural wonder by riding a cable car or zip-lining across the canyon. Visitors can also enjoy views from a giant swing or by riding in a dune buggy.
- Contemplate the landscapes from the Cerro del Santísimo Ecopark: Located on the ‘El Helechales’ sidewalk, Floridablanca is the Cerro del Santísimo Ecopark, one of Santander's main tourist destinations. You can contemplate the landscapes, the nature that surrounds the Bucaramanga and its metropolitan area while enjoying the weather. In ‘El Santísimo’ stands a sculpture of Jesus of Nazareth that measures 33 m high, making it a pilgrimage site during Holy Week.
- Be amazed by the Santurbán: The Santurbán Páramo Complex is located in the northwest of the Andes Mountains, integrating Santander and North Santander territories. Within its area, the following stand out: the Santurbán Regional Natural Park and the lagoon complex, which includes a high richness in flora, fauna and microbiota. This sanctuary is perfect for ecological walks.
- Climb The Mesa de los Santos: The perfect place for climbers, lovers of nautical activities and walkers. Usually visited as an alternative to live experiences with the natural wealth of Santander. From this place you can see the imposing Chicamocha Canyon.
Boyaca & Santander
Zapatoca: Known as ‘The Silk Climate City’, Zapatoca is 60 kilometers from Bucaramanga and is famous for its colonial architecture from the 19th century. In addition to this, tourists can enjoy natural wonders like La Cueva del Nitro.
Las Gachas: : If you're looking for a small piece of paradise off the beaten path, Las Gachas is the perfect place for you. With its clear water and red rocks, this red river looks like the famous Caño Cristales without the crowd of tourists.
Chiquinquirá: Religious tourism is done in Chiquinquirá, a town where the Virgin of the Rosary is worshiped in all its expression.
Tinjacá: Tinjacá, in the indigenous word means "royal mansion of a sovereign." It is the ideal destination if you want to get out of the dynamics that cities offer and take a moment to receive energy from nature and be calm.
Boyaca & Santander Travel Information
When is the best time to visit Boyaca and Santander?
The temperatures, which range between 14 ° C and 18 ° C in the central region of Boyaca, force the use of well-protected garments that mitigate the effects of the cold. But there are also warmer territories, which demand the use of sunscreen and dark glasses.
In Santander are all thermal floors, from the warm to the moor. In the Magdalena Valley, for example, the average climate is 29 ° C; in the Chicamocha canyon, the temperature reaches 32 ° C; and in the moors, on the contrary, the temperature can drop to 7 ° C. The majority of urban settlements are located in warm thermal floors, with temperatures around 24 ° C.
- The Astronomy Festival (February): If you're a nerdy space lover, this festival is perfect for you. Every February in Villa de Leyva, thousands of international space enthusiasts congregate to admire the Colombian sky with telescopes and participate in different conferences, games and exhibitions. During the event, they turn off the lights of the city to give you the best show possible.
- Holy Week in Boyacá (March): One of the most traditional in the country, along with those of Mompox, Popayán or Pamplona, originated ten years after the city was founded. Locals and visitors follow in procession the figures that commemorate the passion and death of Jesus Christ. Penitents, villagers who carry these pieces, wear dark suits and masks that cover their faces. The tour is accompanied by solemn music bands and people wearing Roman Guard costumes.
- The International Culture Festival (August): Presents nearly 3,000 artists, gathered in more than 300 events, which bring together expressions such as theater, music, cinema, and photography, painting and sculpture exhibitions. This festival, attended by artists of various nationalities, annually chooses a country and a department as guests of honor.
- The Wind and Kite Festival (August): During this month, the wind is very strong, so for three days, hundreds of people are filling the sky with their coloured kites. You can have fun and watch professionals but also participate in one of the different kite-flying competitions.
- The Aguinaldo Boyacense (December): This “Fiesta Grande, from Boyacá for Colombia,” as it has been called by its inhabitants, presents cultural exhibitions and nightly musical events that celebrate the December holidays for seven days.
- The Festival of Lights (December): In Villa de Leyva, residents decorate their balconies, houses and businesses with lights and candles to celebrate the Immaculate Conception. You can expect fireworks, concerts and activities for kids during this festive time.
- Fiestas and Carnivals of San Jerónimo (January): from January 2 to 6, the streets of Malaga become the epicenter of rumba and fun. Parade of floats, comparsas, pelayeros groups, gastronomic exhibitions and bullfighting runs encourage the local celebration.
- Festival of the Guabina and the Tiple (August): Created in 1940, it brings together interpreters of the guabina and the whirlwind, among other typical rhythms of the region. Annually, every August 7, floats, the flower parade and musical concerts are taken by the municipality of Vélez, in the south of the department.
- Cattle Fair of Bucaramanga (September): It's the most recognized livestock exhibition in the capital of Santander. Music, party, species of zebu, dairy, sheep and goats are combined in this local holiday.
- Feast of the Lord of Miracles (September): the feast that, according to historians, dates from 1870, date on which Pope Pius IX granted indulgence for the celebration, congregates thousands of faithful, among settlers and members of the national Catholic community. It takes place in Girón on September 14.
- National Song Contest Unpublished ‘José A. Morales’ (September): This event, which is celebrated in honor of the ‘Cantor de la Patria’, brings together performers and composers of the traditional music of the Andean Region. It takes place in the town of Socorro.
- Luis A. Calvo Festival: it takes place in Bucaramanga during October and November. Exponents of the traditional rhythms of this region participate in it, including the whirlwind, the guabina and the bambuco.
What are the best transports in Boyaca and Santander?
How do I travel to Boyaca and Santander?
- By plane: To reach the municipalities of Boyacá, users have three main airports:
Gustavo Rojas Pinilla Airport in the town of Tunja, the capital of the district
Alberto Lleras Camargo Airport, in the town of Sogamoso and
Juan José Rondón Airport, In the town of Paipa
The airports are enabled only for charter flights.
- By boat: The district, because of the amount of rivers it has, also has river transport, the most important being the one that develops around the Port of Boyacá.
- By land: By the south, Tunja communicates with the Colombian capital through the Pan-American Highway. The double-lane route covers a distance of 137 km and can take, on average, 1 hour and 45 minutes. To the north, the section that covers the road to Bucaramanga is 290 km and takes approximately four hours. Towards the northeast, the North highway and the Cusiana road connect the capital of Boyacense with Yopal, on a route of 297 km and four hours long.
Santander has a road network that allows the connection of its populations with the capital of the Republic, and from there, with the rest of the national territory.
- By air: It has the Palonegro International Airport, 20 km from Bucaramanga. It receives national flights, coming from Bogotá, Cúcuta, Cartagena, Barranquilla, Cali and Medellín. The airlines that provide passenger transport are: Avianca, Aires, Copa Airlines Colombia, Easy Fly and Satena. Flights last approximately 30 to 45 minutes.
- By land: Two routes, from the center of the country, allow access to Santander territory: one, via the Zipaquirá route, crossing Chiquinquirá until reaching Barbosa, the gateway to the south of the department. The second option, from the Colombian capital, is through Tunja, through Arcabuco and with a final destination in Barbosa.
How do I move around?
The roads that communicate to the municipalities of Boyaca are paved and in good condition. The double road that leaves from Bogotá and crosses the towns of Tunja, Paipa, Duitama and Sogamoso is the backbone of the department in interconnection. From this route other road arteries communicate to the municipalities of the center and the towns of the north end of Boyacá, among them the snowy mountain range of El Cocuy, Güicán or Chita.
Additionally, the tourist rings have roads in good condition, which facilitate the tour of local towns and attractions.
Daily, the transport companies depart from Tunja towards the other locations of the department and some neighboring capitals. Comfort, security and 24-hour service are the elements that identify the Boyacense offer in terms of intermunicipal mobilization.
The roads that connect the provinces and municipalities of the department of Santander are in good condition. Although some roads are not paved, traffic is guaranteed smoothly through the routes of Santander. The provinces of Guanentá, Soto and Mares have paved roads. On the other hand, if the destination is the municipalities that make up the Province of García Rovira, among them, Malaga or Capitanejo, the use of double traction trucks or camperos is recommended. If the option is to get to Bucaramanga, Socorro, San Gil, Barichara, Curití, Barrancabermeja, Barbosa or Vélez, you can do it by car.
Is it safe to travel to Boyaca and Santander?
Many people are worried about safety in Colombia because of the country’s dark past. There is no denying Colombia used to be one of the most dangerous countries in the world because of drug trafficking, kidnappings and an internal conflict that raged for more than 50 years. Fortunately, the safety situation has improved drastically in Colombia over the past decade, resulting in more international visitors discovering the beauty of Colombia that has been hidden from the world for so long. People no longer have to be afraid to visit Colombia and can enjoy everything this fascinating country has to offer in peace.
These are some simple tips that should keep you out of trouble:
- Don’t flash large amounts of money in public
- Look out for pickpockets on public transportation
- Call or use a smartphone app to arrange for a taxi instead of hailing it on the street
- Be aware of your surroundings
- Keep your phones and cameras out of sight
- Don’t wear flashy jewellery
- Avoid taking cards or passports out with you
Santander and Boyaca are both well known for their rich and highly traditional cuisine. With all their cultivated lands and farms they never run out of fresh produce to introduce to their recipes. Their knowledge is a perfect blend between Hispanic, Indian and African cultures and is passed down from one generation to the next.
Oreada Meat: It's a thinly sliced beef steak marinated in spices and herbs, then sun-dried. The texture is unusual and quite similar to beef jerky. It's usually served with rice and boiled yuccas with an almond-based cream sauce.
Petitoria: Santandereana cuisine is not aimed at vegetarians, as this other traditional dish of Santander cuisine is made with the viscera and blood of the goat as the main ingredient. It is an omelet-shaped mixture, which also has egg, cheese, breadcrumbs, rice and other spices and is usually used to accompany the main dishes; in other regions of Colombia there is a similar dish prepared with Lamb, called chanfaina, both of Spanish origin.
Mute: This soup is one of the most traditional dishes of the Andean Region. It's a mixture of pork, beef, vegetables, corn and spices. In some restaurants, they still make it in the woodstove. It's the perfect comfort food for cool evenings.
Culonas ants: Hormigas Culonas are big ants that are popular in the departments of Santander and North Santander. They are crispy and salty and rumoured to strengthen virility and vitality. These giant ants have been cultivated and eaten since pre-Columbian times.
Little Mazamorra: This dish is made with cooked cornmeal that is mixed with onion, peas, potatoes, peas, coriander, garlic, beans and beef. It is a soup of indigenous origin, since the Muisca natives who lived in this region consumed a similar thick soup that they spiced with an herb called guasca, to give it the spicy flavor.
Puchero: It is considered as the main course of this region. In this, several types of meat are mixed delicately with vegetables and other foods produced in the Colombian highlands. The ingredients of the stew are chicken meat and pork loin, with green banana and corn cob.
Cuchuco de trigo con espinazo: This is the typical dish of Runta, one of the rural paths located on the outskirts of the city of Tunja. Cuchuco is a very cheap and popular soup made with peeled wheat, which gives it a very thick consistency.
Boyacense stew: It is another main dish of Boyacense cuisine that is served as lunch. It is made with ingredients such as turnips, beans, cubes, hibias and tender green peas cooked together with chicken, pork and beef ribs. It is accompanied with coriander and pennyroyal.
Corn Patties or Regañonas: Santander is known for its grilled corn patties made with cornmeal, cassava and pork. Crispy outside and soft inside these arepas are completely different from the ones you may have tried before and are perfect as a snack.
Bocadillo veleño: This sweet jam or paste is made from guava pulp and panela mixed together and shaped into red squares. They are often wrapped in bijou leaves and accompanied with a piece of cottage cheese. They make a delightful treat for any time of the day.
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