The Chicamocha Canyon, is perhaps the best known and one of the largest canyons in Colombia, with 227 kilometers. Unique species grow there, such as the Chestnut Bellied Hummingbird (Amazilia castaneiventris), the Colombian Baobab (Cavanillesia chicamochae), and a spiny cactus, with a common name that reflects the care with which it should be explored: they call it Mother-in-law’s cushion (or Turk’s cap cactus) (Melocactus sp.).
The Chicamocha Canyon, in northeastern Colombia, attracts tons of tourists wanting to experience adventure and nature combined. Visiting the Chicamocha canyon in the department of Santander will not only leave you amazed by its majestic landscapes but will also leave you breathless for all the adrenaline you will feel practicing adventure sports along with it.
In this post, you will find all the information you need to know before visiting the Chicamocha Canyon. How to get there, what to do there, where to stay, the best time to visit and also some recommendations for you to make the most of your trip.
Discovering the Chicamocha Canyon
The department of Santander is blessed with the presence of a grand geographical accident turned into a great tourist attraction for locals and foreigners. The Chicamocha Canyon is located between Bucaramanga – the capital city, and San Gil, it specifically passes by the villages of Aratoca, Cepitá, Los Santos, and Jordán.
With a length of 227 km (141 mi), an area of 108,000 hectares (270,000 acres) and a maximum depth of 2,000 m (6,600 ft), the Chicamocha Canyon is the largest in Colombia and the second-largest in the world. The elevation of the terrain goes from 900 to 1900 MASL (2950 to 6200 ft), with temperatures ranging from 11°C to 32°C.
Reportedly, it started forming in the Early Oligocene, over 30 million years ago. The vegetation in the canyon is characteristic of tropical dry forests and premontane forests.
Because of its majesty, Chicamocha was even nominated to be part of the 7 world’s natural wonders in 2009. Additionally, the canyon keeps cultural importance since its lands were inhabited by the Guane indigenous, who left a trace in their rock art. Pictographs can still be found in the region.
In 2006, Parque Nacional del Chicamocha -PANACHI- was inaugurated and opened to the public. It sits on one of the slopes, on the road from San Gil to Bucaramanga.
Today, this national park is a favorite destination among Colombians since it allows visitors to enjoy the incredible landscape of the canyon in several fun ways. The activities offered in the park include paragliding over the canyon, riding the zipline that crosses from one side to the other, or canoeing along the river.
Your starting point should be Bogotá, Bucaramanga or San Gil.
Bogotá is around 330 km (205 mi) from Chicamocha National Park, which means a 7-hour drive towards the northeast of the capital along Route 45A. Otherwise, there are direct flights that take about 1 hour offered by Avianca and Viva Air.
Whether for Bucaramanga or San Gil, you can take a bus from the transport terminals Norte or Salitre, which leave approximately every hour.
Bucaramanga is 54 km (33 mi) north of the Chicamocha National Park which translates into a 1-hour 20 minutes road trip. If you prefer to get first to Bucaramanga from Bogota, that will be 390 km (240 mi) – an 8.5-hour road trip.
From San Gil
San Gil is 41 km (26 mi) from the Chicamocha National Park, so it is a shorter trip of about an hour. But if you opt to arrive in San Gil from Bogota first, the trip duration goes down to 6 hours.
What to do in the Chicamocha National Park
Chicamocha National Park has a 360° viewpoint on a hill which you can get to by walking or taking the Chiva – a traditional colorful bus used for transport or parties in Colombia. This is the perfect spot to capture amazing pictures to take home as a souvenir.
You can choose to ride one of the 3 ziplines in the park. The first zipline is 450 meters long and crosses the Chicamocha canyon and river, offering stunning views. The second one (Vuelo mirador) is shorter but more extreme – you will feel more vertigo. The last one is specially designed for children.
Paragliding, one of the most popular activities in Chicamocha
You can do it in nearby villages or over the park. This, of course, will affect the price, along with the duration of the flight (usually 20-30 minutes). It is up to you.
Paragliding over adjacent villages allows you to overlook tobacco and coffee plantations in differently colored parcels of land, seeing the gorge far away. On the other hand, paragliding over the Chicamocha canyon is an unrivaled experience, from the flight height to the views – you can even see the Nevado de Cocuy. The adrenaline shot in both cases is great.
Another way to enjoy the landscapes of Chicamocha is by riding the cable car, which travels 6.3 km across the canyon. The tour takes between 20 to 30 minutes and each cabin has a capacity for 8 people. The journey through the canyon is one of the major attractions of tourism in Santander.
Riding on a 15-meter swing, swinging over the immense Chicamocha canyon is one of the attractions of the park with the most adrenaline.
The Chicamocha National Aquapark is an aquatic complex full of pools, slides, and sun. It has a capacity of up to 4,000 people.
You can experience a kilometer of excitement by riding a track full of ups and downs in off-road carts for one or two people.
On the 360° viewpoint, you can descend by a rope a 40-meter high waterfall, but you have the option to do rappel. Everyone – from children, young and adults, can enjoy this experience that requires agility and motivation.
Chicamocha Canyon Race
There is a trail running competition every year since 2013 held in the canyon and the surrounding villages. The Chicamocha Canyon Race is a 4-day/2-night/52-hour non–stop competition where over 800 runners of 29 nationalities participate. It starts in San Gil and passes by other 7 municipalities.
The race consists of walking or running through the mountains, along royal paths, secondary roads, crossing streams, old bridges, etc., with technical ascents and descents. Each runner decides where to walk, run and rest, but following an established route.
There are different distance categories (from half marathon to 100 miles). This is definitely an extreme experience only for the most daring – and fit, travelers.
As if that weren’t enough, Chicamocha has an ice-skating rink, 4D cinema, virtual reality, ostrich, and goat farms, where you can be with the animals and feed them.
How much it costs?
- Only the entrance fee to the park is 25,000 COP for adults and 18,000 for children.
- Park entrance fee and the cable car is 50,000 COP for adults and 32,000 COP for children.
- The entrance fee to the park and the aquapark is 38,000 COP for adults and 32,000 COP for children.
- All the attractions in the park + cable car + aquapark is 58,000 COP for adults and 43,000 COP for children.
- *Children under 2 years old and adults over 60 years old don’t pay. The child fee applies up to 1.40 meters tall.
Where to stay in Chicamocha National Park
There is no accommodation in the Chicamocha park, so you need to look for hotels in Bucaramanga or San Gil. There is one for every taste and budget.
Best time to travel to the Chicamocha National Park
A general recommendation is to plan your Colombian trips avoiding the high seasons, which usually go from June to early August and from November to February, also during Holy Week and long weekends. This way the park will not be as packed and the prices will be more reasonable.
What you should consider when visiting the Chicamocha National Park
- The park opens Wednesday to Friday from 10 am to 6 pm and weekends and holidays from 9 am to 7 pm *in the low season.
- The cable car operates in specific hours until 1 hour before the park closes.
- Wear light clothes and sneakers so you are comfortable. Also, always use sunscreen and a cap/hat.
- Bring enough water for the day. Anyway, there are restaurants and small shops to buy snacks and drinks.
- Bring your swimsuit and a change of clothes if you plan to enter the aquapark.
- Follow strictly the safety recommendations of the adventure sports operators to avoid any injuries or incidents.
- Support local agencies, hotels, and tour operators. This way you contribute to sustainable development in the communities.
This was the essential information for visiting the Chicamocha canyon in Colombia. We hope this was useful and encouraged you to visit this beautiful country!
- Parque Nacional del Chicamocha
- El cañón del Chicamocha fue preseleccionado en el concurso de maravillas naturales del planeta
- Chicamocha Canyon Race
About the authors
Ana María Parra
Current content writer for Sula. Modern Languages professional with an emphasis on business translation. Interested in the cultural adaptation of written and audiovisual content. Passionate about knowing new cultures and languages, tourism, and sustainable living.