Charalá in the region of Santander in the Northeastern part of Colombia is mostly passed unnoticed by travelers. However, there are plenty of reasons why you should add this little untouched spot to your Colombia travel list.
In Charalá you find an authentic village atmosphere. Here nobody does as they do for the sake of tourism. We arrived to Charalá early in the morning on a Sunday. Only a few shops were opened. Their owners looked puzzled at us; two blond girls speaking English together. “What are they doing here?”, they seemed to be asking themselves as we passed by.
The main city of the region, San Gil, is branding itself as Colombia’s adventure and extreme sport capital. However, Charalá can both offer extreme sport and Colombian independence war So if your path goes towards San Gil, there are plenty of reasons to check out Charalá as well.
Keep on reading to find out more!
Independence fighters and village legends
… Colombian independence war, hu? You might think. What is she talking about? Well, let's start with a little history about Charalá to get things straight:
In 2013, Charalá was declared historical and cultural heritage of Colombia for the role it played in Colombia’s fight for independence from Spain in the 19th century. Something I was not aware of before going…
However, it seems to be a big part of the village's self-perception. From the old man at the town square who through a long monologue tried to explain us all the details of the fight to the big bill boards at the entrance at the villages declaring it an important national historical heritage.
So what was it that actually happened, you might think?
During the 19th century different independence movements all around Latin America were fighting against the Spanish empire. In the summer of 1819 near the Colombian city of Boyacá, north from the capital Bogotá, one of the main figures of the independence movement, Simón Bolívar, was fighting against the Spanish forces.
On the 4th of August 1819 a reinforcement was sent to help the Spanish forces in Boyacá. In Charalá the reinforcement was met by supports of the independence movement who wouldn’t let them pass on and opened fire against them. The fight is known as la Batalla del Pienta because it took place by the river Pienta in Charalá.
It is estimated that more than 300 persons were killed in the streets of Charalá during the fight. However, the effort played out. Only 3 days after the independence forces of Bolívar won the fight against the Spanish in Boyacá, and with that Colombia could declare itself independen from Spain.
This almost 200 years old fight certain still influences Charalá’s self-perception, and it declaration of national historical heritage was a great acceptance of the village's efforts.
What to do in Charalá
The church of Charalá
You cannot miss it! The beautiful white painted church can be seen from almost everywhere in the city. Apart from the beautiful outside it is also worth a visit.
Attending a Sunday mass made me understand better just how important and powerful the Catholic Church is in Colombia and especially in small communities as Charalá.
The production of cotton is a proud tradition in Charalá. Even though, it played an important role in the economic development and survival of the village, the tradition was about to disappear due to changing industries.
Then some women got the idea to start a museum which goal is to protect this tradition. Apart from that they help the women still working with weaving the cotton. Unfortunately, I found out too late about the museum, and therefore did not visit it.
The museum is located in Calle 23 No. 15 esquina, Charalá.
Sit back and relax at the main square or the park
The village is built up around two squares; a park in front of the church and the main square just a few blocks down where buses stop. At the main square there is a couple of cafés and supermarket, while the park is quieter.
The park in front of the Church is supposed to have free WIFI as many Colombian towns are beginning to have. However, we did not success in getting connected for more than a few seconds. So do not rely on that, just sit back.
Relax and enjoy the village life pass by in front of you.
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What to do outside Charalá
Pozo negro (the black pool)
Just outside Charalá you can find an amazing area with natural pools and small waterfalls. It is easy to enter to the pools for a refreshing swim. The pools are located just around 15 minutes’ walk from the center of the village or you can get a taxi to take you most of the way.
However, it is a nice and easy walk: Simply follow the road out of the village going north toward San Gil (the entrance of the Charalá if you come with the bus from San Gil). When you cross with bridge entering the city, you can see an unpaved road going upward. Follow that road until you can enter the fields surrounding the village by a small entrance.
Upon entering the fields keep on the path marked until you get to an exit of the fields. From there, go down a little slop towards a river. Cross the river, and follow it to the right for a few meters until you see the view as the picture below - or follow this trekking map.
Extreme sport tours in Charalá
It is not just in San Gil that has extreme sport tours to offer! In Charalá you can also come on tours. Just infront of the church on the other side of the park, you can find a small bar from where they also organize different extreme sport tours.
Las cascadas de Juan Curi (the waterfalls of Juan Curi)
The Waterfalls of Juan Curi is located a small 20 minutes’ drive with the local bus from Charalá going toward San Gil. Just ask the driver to drop you off at “Las Cascadas”.
When you get off the bus, the incredible sound of massive amounts of running water hits you. From the road side you have a beautiful panoramic view of the falls. Nevertheless, this is nothing compared to what it is like from inside the jungle.
There are two farms just right next to each other from where you enter to the trek to the falls:
- “Donde Efigenia” is a small family farm which for a small amount will let you use their private trek, and offer different meals for a small amount.
- “Parque Ecológico de Juan Curi” is a bit more modern and offers different kinds of activities on and around the falls such as rappelling/abseiling and horseback riding. Read more on their website (information on in Spanish, so maybe you rather want to contact them here).
How to do the Cascadas de Juan Curi-trek on your own
The trek is through jungle-like forest, and takes around 20 minutes to the lower part of the falls. You enter on a natural path between one of the two farms and just follow that path.
When you have enjoyed the lower part of the falls, return to the path leading up a bit steeper. There are ropes to help you get up it sides – otherwise, ask for directions before you enter.
The walk is nice but the paths are muddy and slippery. There have been placed ropes to guide and support you on the way. Anyway, watch out not to fall (that is coming from somebody who DID fall... Nothing serious).
When you have walked for a bit, you will arrive at a naturally formed pool which is great for swimming. In the very corner there are small stairs lead up to the next level. From here you can get a closer look at the Juan Curi waterfalls. It is very impressive to stand and watch the massive falls from below.
How to get to Charalá
From San Gil you can take one of the small buses going between the different villages in the region. It leaves from the terminalito in the center of San Gil or from the main road just below the shopping center El Puente. If the bus doesn't have a sign saying Charalá, ask one of the drivers which one is going there.
When I visited there was a lot of construction work along the main road between San Gil and Charalá, and the bus ride might therefore take longer than usual. However, expect around one hours ride if the traffic is decent.