Not many people that visit Colombia ever make it to Barichara. This really is a lesser known destination – at least compared to popular places such Cartagena, Medellin, and Tayrona National Park. Should you visit Barichara when in Colombia, then?
If you have a few extra days during your trip, I would definitely recommend checking it out. This is a charming town that’s often used as a backdrop to various romantic tales in a range of telenovelas. It also more recently shot to fame thanks to being the inspiration for the setting of the 2021 Disney hit, Encanto.
The streets, with their gleaming buildings, cobbled pavements and overflowing flowers, make for a wonderful place to wander around. In fact, Barichara hasn’t changed much since it was first established hundreds of years ago. In 1978 the whole town was declared a national monument so that it could be preserved from development and excessive construction.
Today not only is it a charming place to visit, but it also provides a picturesque base to explore the dramatic valley scenery and soaring canyon landscape of the region.
So should you go? Yes! It’s a peaceful place to enjoy a restful day trip from San Gil (that’s what I did when I visited), or even to spend a night or two, enjoying a slower pace of life among an unchanged townscape.
You should also read my post An Excellent Guide To San Gil, Colombia.
The Best Things To Do In Barichara, Colombia
Take a walk around Barichara
The romance of Barichara is hard to deny. Its paved cobbled streets, edged by white-washed buildings with red roofs, charm even the most weary traveler. Here spending time simply wandering around the streets offers up a chance to enjoy the picturesque townscape as you explore on foot.
Put simply, it’s a lovely place – especially when you compare it to the chaos of Colombia’s capital Bogotà, or the crowds of tourists of Cartagena.
You can spend time strolling past buildings overflowing with flowers, stopping off at cool coffee shops, and enjoy browsing for local crafts. One place to swing by is the Parque Para Las Artes. This pretty, local green space is decorated with statues that have been carved by local artists. Not only that, but the park itself is also dotted with a number of charming water features that help to bring down the temperature on a warm day.
Sometimes the outdoor amphitheater here plays host to energetic live performances — all enjoyed on the backdrop of the dramatic valley landscape.
If you want to learn more about the history of Barichara and its best kept secrets, you may want to join a guided tour. I visited as part of a mountain bike trip around the Chicamocha Canyon, and our guide spent some time to explain the main facts about this lovely small town.
If you are basing yourself in Barichara, you could consider this Walking The History, Architecture and Culture of Barichara: over the course of four hours you will learn a lot about it!
Alternatively, there’s this full day tour of Barichara that also includes the Camino Real to Guane.
Hang out in Barichara Parque Principal
Barichara Parque Principal (literally the “main square”) is the center of all the action in town. This colorful spot is shaded by palm trees and is home to a number of statues dedicated to various important figures.
Once the old market square, the park today is a chilled-out place where locals come together to sit and chat. There are a selection of eateries and handicraft stalls that edge the square. From here there are easy-to-reach sites like the cathedral (it’s literally on the square), while attractive houses with balconies that overhang with flowers surround the square.
The atmosphere of the square changes throughout the day. In the early mornings, you’ll find it home to colonies of birds and local people out exercising before the day gets too warm. In the late afternoon and early evening, it becomes a place where people come to escape the sun and enjoy the tranquility of the urban oasis.
Visit Barichara Cathedral
Built in the 18th century, the sandstone Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepción is one of the main sights in Barichara. It’s easy to find, being a large, handsome building that overlooks the leafy Parque Principal.
According to legend, this is the place where the Virgin Mary made its appearance on a limestone rock in 1702. The divine apparition saw the construction of a chapel close to the site of the alleged sighting, and the village of Barichara was established a few years later in 1705. However, the Catholic Church didn’t recognize this apparent miracle.
While the exterior is big and impressive, inside the church is even more wow-inducing. Here you’ll discover monolithic sandstone columns that lead your eyes to the gilded altar, which has been decorated with gold leaf.
The church itself is particularly interesting to glimpse as the sun sets; the sandstone is turned a burnt orange color while the sun goes down, standing in striking contrast against the pure white-washed buildings surrounding it.
Visit other churches in Barichara
There are other churches to discover in the charming town of Barichara besides the Cathedral. Also known as Iglesia di Santa Barbara, Capilla Santa Barbara is the oldest church in town and sits at the top of a hill in the northern portion of Barichara.
Although it’s not as towering or architecturally impressive as the cathedral, the humble church is nevertheless an attractive spot that calls to mind Romanesque churches of centuries earlier. Sadly, the church is mainly a reconstruction of the 1990s, with its facade the only original part remaining. Out the front of the church, there’s a Ceiba tree, which is claimed to be the oldest tree in town.
It’s a popular spot to get married, so if you’re lucky you might see a wedding take place there!
Elsewhere there’s the Capilla San Antonio. This small, simple chapel invites visitors in with its sandstone brick doorway and a whitewashed upper portion. Built in 1831, it may be the newest of the town’s churches, but it’s no less charming. Inside, you’ll find wooden beams and a rustic spot to sit for a while and cool off as you explore the town.
Check out the views from El Mirador
If you’re a fan of views then you won’t want to miss out on checking out the vista from El Mirador. Literally “The Viewpoint”, El Mirador — situated in the western part of town — allows you to lap up some beautiful panoramic views of the Suarez Canyon. In fact, this viewpoint offers up some of the best views in the whole region.
Luckily there’s also a bar, so you can sit for a while and sip on a beer while admiring those views on a warm day. It’s a particularly popular spot to come for sunset. There’s music playing in the background and friendly staff — the kind of place you shouldn’t skip.
And the views from the Mirador Salto del Mico
There are more views to enjoy in Barichara, namely those from the Mirador Salto del Mico. This rock juts out over the valley and boasts wide, sweeping views of the landscape. It’s a perfect spot for taking photos, especially if you’re a fan of natural scenery.
It would be a shame to miss out on this breathtaking viewpoint. To get there, simply follow the main road out of town (to the west). Make sure you bring plenty of water as even a short walk there can be quite hot in the sun.
Walk the Royal Trail (Camino Real) to Guane
Speaking of walking, the Camino Real (literally “Royal Trail”) is the reason that many people make the visit to Barichara in the first place. Following the route of an old road, this hike takes you along a paved trail through the cactus-strewn valley surrounded by mountains, all the way to the neighboring village of Guane.
In order to join the hike, you’ll need to walk uphill from the cathedral. Here you can take the main road left out of Barichara, which will put you on the right path to Guane.
The 9-kilometer (5.5 miles) hike is actually an ancient pathway that has been used by the indigenous (but now extinct) Guane people for generations; they traded with the people in the local region and others from what is now Bogota too.
To make the most of this hike, you will definitely be better off wearing good, comfortable hiking boots. You should also carry plenty of water, and snacks. There’s a bus that leaves five times a day from Guane back to Barichara (the last bus leaves at 6:00 pm).
This Barichara to Guane hike goes along the Camino Real and includes a stop at Juan Curi waterfall.
You could also consider this full day tour of Barichara that also includes the Camino Real to Guane.
Explore the Chicamocha Canyon
The Chicamocha Canyon is an impressive formation that sculpts the landscape in this region of Colombia. At some points, the canyon — carved out by the Chicamocha River — reaches depths of up to 2,000 meters (6,600 feet), and spans 227 kilometers (141 miles) in total. This makes it one of the world’s largest canyons.
The natural beauty that can be discovered here makes up part of the Chicamocha National Park. You can enjoy a whole range of activities at the canyon, from hiking in the valley, to kayaking, and even mountain climbing. I actually went rafting there and it was incredible! We made stops along the way to climb spots from where we could jump in the water.
There’s even an aerial tramway (it runs for over six kilometers!) through the park for some amazing vistas, and a number of viewpoints scattered around so you can see the incredible landform in all its glory.
For a guided hike along the Chicamocha Canyon, click here.
Enjoy some delicious food
One of the best things to do in Barichara by far is to while away an hour or so in one of the local restaurants tucked along its old streets. Locals love El Compa. This unfussy eatery serves up a selection of very local dishes — think oxtail, cabrito (roast kid goat), and carne oreada (sun-dried beef).
For something a bit more romantic there’s the Restaurante Las Cruces. Situated inside a spacious colonial mansion, dinner here is served in a sun-dappled patio garden, with tables dotted inside the porch too. The menu is made up of local specialties and is cooked up by young, talented chefs.
Then there’s Shambala. This welcoming cafe-restaurant features an enticing international menu of vegetarian dishes (and vegan options too), including pasta, curries, and Thai meals. It’s set in the center of town and features quirky-cool interiors adorned with intriguing artwork.
You should also read my post The Best Colombian Food To Try.
How to get to Barichara
The best starting point to travel to Barichara is San Gil. By road, it’s 22.4 kilometers (13.9 miles) away, which is around a 35-minute drive away. If you don’t have a car, then you can get the bus to Barichara from San Gil.
You can catch buses bound for Barichara from the Terminalito (“little terminal”) bus station. There are a few buses per hour, with the first leaving at 6:15 am. The bus takes around 45 minutes to get there. The last bus from Barichara back to San Gil, if you’re just making a day trip, is at 7:10 pm — make sure to arrive with plenty of time to spare to avoid getting stuck.
There are also cycling tours available from San Gil to Barichara. In fact, that’s what I did. I went on a guided tour with Colombian Bike Junkies which is located right in the center of San Gil.
From anywhere else it takes ages to get to Barichara; for example, from Bogota, it takes seven to eight hours! Don’t try this unless you’re really planning to spend at least a couple of nights in Barichara, otherwise, it may not be worth such a long trip.
Where to stay in Barichara, Colombia
As I have explained, Barichara can easily be visited on a day trip from San Gil, and many do choose to simply spend a few hours here before heading back, enjoying a taste of what the charming town has to offer.
But staying a little longer is rewarding – I actually regret not having spent more time there. It offers you the chance to really soak up the simple and picturesque town after the day-trippers (though don’t think there will be many!) have gone home.
There are also some really nice hotels scattered around, meaning you can spend maybe a few nights here unwinding among nature. Plus, with hiking opportunities and chances to see some astounding natural scenery nearby, it makes sense to stick around for a while.
Here are a few examples of places to stay in Barichara for different budgets.
Budget – Hotel Casa Blanca Barichara
Set inside a traditional home, this rustic, budget-friendly accommodation option really provides some great value for money. The simple and elegant building is decorated with terracotta tiles, old wood furniture, and high beamed ceilings.
Throughout there are plenty of comfortable places where you can sit back and relax, from the hammock swinging on the shaded porch, to the breezy terrace garden. Guest rooms here are basic but comfortable, with enough space to spread out and relax. Best of all: your day will start with a complimentary breakfast, adding to the budget credentials.
Mid-range – Serrania del Viento
For travelers who really want to enjoy the nature of Barichara and the valley, there’s Serrania del Viento — a glamping option. You can opt to stay in one of the various high-end rooms here, which run all the way from high-end, beautifully decked-out pods, to traditional stone huts with thatched roofs.
Everything here has been carefully put together and finished with tasteful design features. But despite the aesthetic credentials, the best thing about this place has got to be the sweeping views, which are best enjoyed from the outdoor swimming pool or while kicking back in the garden. Breakfast is also included in the price.
Luxury – Hotel Hicasua y Centro de Convenciones
Barichara isn’t overrun with high-end accommodation choices, but this hotel offers up a boutique stay in some seriously chic lodgings in town. Situated inside a charming colonial-era villa, guest rooms at Hotel Hicasua y Centro de Convenciones make full use of period features. They feature shuttered windows, wood-beamed ceilings, and large comfortable beds. You’ll definitely sleep like a baby here!
Elsewhere on the property, there’s an enticing outdoor swimming pool surrounded by sun loungers, as well as an onsite restaurant and bar. You will also have access to the spa and wellness center for a spot of pampering.
These other posts will help you plan your trip to Colombia:
- 19 Best Things To Know Before You Visit Colombia
- Is Colombia Safe?
- A Great 2 Weeks In Colombia Itinerary
- 29 Best Places To Visit In Colombia