Las Gachas, are a series of swimming holes along a shallow river in Colombia’s mountainous province of Santander. This destination is yet another Colombian gem. The algae covering the river bed adds a beautiful red/purple hue to the river. Las Gachas are called the Cano Cristales of Santander. But unlike Cano Cristales they are free, relatively easy to get to and remain red all year long.
The reason people come to Quebradas Las Gachas are for the hundreds of natural plunge pools carved into the river bed rock. Some pools are shallow and some deep. The deeper pools are clear and cool while the shallower pools are warmer due to the heat from the sun and rocks. Whole families can fit in the larger pools while the smaller pools are just right for one or two people. People say the flow of the river and the circulation in the pools gently massages them like a natural jacuzzi.
Located 200 km north of Bogota and 100 km south of Bucaramanga, Las Gachas can be reached from the town of Oiba (south of Socorro). Oiba is a quaint little village on the highway from Bucaramanga to Tunja. I got there late and spent the night in a little hotel just off the plaza. Church bells start ringing at 5 a.m. so I got up early and went back to the bus terminal. From there small buses and collective jeeps leave for the town of Guadalupe.
An hour ride up the mountain one comes to Guadalupe, another sleepy little village of 1,600 people, with a beautiful main square and church. I booked a room on the edge of the village at Portal Don Louis – 120,000 cop a night with breakfast and a nice outdoor terrace overlooking the countryside.
Las Gachas is just a 2.5 km walk from the town. Mostly uphill, you have to cross a over a ridge to get down to the river. The trip back is easier. Walk the road back down towards Oiba until you come to a gas station on the edge of town. Here you’ll find a well marked and paved foot path down to the river. It’s about an hour walk. When you come to the river turn left and go upstream to find the swim holes.
They tell you to walk on the river bed wearing socks as you’ll slip on the slippery algae if you’re barefoot or sporting flip flops. There are wandering vendors along the river selling everything from beer and cold drinks to lunch. Get a cold beverage, slide into one of the pools and chill. Be careful of the sun. Trees along the river provide plenty of good shade.
Further down the river there are the waterfalls, the Cascadas del Caballero, but it is recommended going down the river with a guide to see them.
Plan on visiting? Try to come during a week day if you want to commune with nature with as few people around as possible. The weekends and holidays bring more visitors.
So is Las Gachas really worth visiting?
If you have the time and are passing through the area, then yes. It’s a delightful excursion especially if you’re including a visit to a couple of nice villages in Santander. Enjoy the countryside, the hike, a discover some unique swimming holes. Take some time to relax. You won’t regret it.
(See article: Villages of Santander)