Norcasia is a quiet, relaxing town emersed between the rivers of La Miel, Rio Manso and the Amani dam (Embalse Amani). Located in the department of Caldas between Bogota and Medellin, the town has been gaining a name for itself as a river adventure tourist destination with 75 waterfalls to explore in the area.
People from Medellin and Bogota have been flooding the town on the weekends and holidays enjoying the river tours offered by various local groups. And even if they have been trying to keep this spot a secret, foreign travelers have started discovering Norcasia, taking the tours and finding out what this stunning rural landscape has to offer.
This is the new future of an exciting, eco-adventure tourism developing in Colombia. Small towns and groups of young, local, enterprising people organizing and leading tours to share the best rivers, waterfalls, canyons, hikes, swimming holes and overlooks previously only known to them.
And by making a living as tour guides they create even more local employment putting tourists in the town’s hotels, taking them to eat at the local restaurants, to the shops and hiring jeep drivers and river boat captains.
I just happened to stumble on the town while I was in Honda and on my way to Medellin. Looking for an alternative route to Medellin, I asked about Norcasia. They told it was a nice pueblo with a beautiful river. After an internet search, I contacted Amani Travel in Norcasia ( Amanitravel.com /+573116385231). They put me in with a group that same weekend to explore the rivers around Norcasia for a junket of 3 days and 2 nights including hotel, meals, transportation and guide for just 450,000 COP ($100). (2 days and one night is $380 COP ($90).
What to See and Do
Day 1: They put us in the Hotel Pantagorenos. A cozy, quiet, clean hotel in town. Rooms go for 35,000 COP ($8 a night). That afternoon we loaded into jeeps and they took us down the mountain to River Pavas. After a 1 hour hike along the river we came to the waterfall Salto las Pavas. It was a beautiful waterfall emersed in green vegetation with deep pools of cool, crystal clear waters. We swam up the deep rivers, dove off the cliffs and relaxed on the rocks.
That night we went to the impressive lookout Mirador Embalse Amani. There’s a bar on a mountain overlooking the Amani dam and the River La Miel which is backed up by the dam forming a lake. At the bar we enjoyed some cold beverages and watched the sunset over the mountains followed by a short walk down the road to a restaurant to enjoy a meal of asado – various cuts of grilled meat.
Day 2: Jeeps picked us up at the hotel. After a breakfast at a restaurant in town there was an hour drive through the countryside to River Amani. Everyone put on life jackets, jumped in the river and a started a float downriver. The water was cool and the river current swift.
Body rafting is a thing in Colombia. People float down rivers with just a life jacket. The float lasted more than 2 hours and free floating in deep water for a long period of time can lead to some discomforting cramping. The group is followed by boats that one can climb in at any time.
At the intersection with the Manso river everyone gets back in the boat for a short trip up the Manso to a sandy beach. A picnic lunch of fish, rice and plantains wrapped in banana leaves is enjoyed sitting on the beach in the shade. That night there was a dinner at a restaurant on the main square of Norcasia.
Norcasia is small, attractive, sleepy, agricultural mountain town (pop. 6,374). At an altitude of 2,300 meters it’s warm during the day but cool at night. It’s a quaint, quiet, town one can safely explore day or night and in an hour stroll, one can explore most of it.
Like other mountain villages in Colombia, Norcasia was built on mountain ridge with Main street on the flat and the rest of the roads going up or downhill. There are enough hotels, restaurants and tours to accommodate the weekend crowds. But the town fills up during the Colombian holidays. Tours are available, though limited, during the weekdays. There are also a number of eco-hotels located just outside of town.
Day 3: The jeeps took us to the River Amani where everyone climbed in boats for a tour of the Patangoras dam. It’s the second largest dam in Colombia built between 1997 and 2002. The dam created a lake called the Embalse Amani which is fed by the Amani and several other rivers creating a lake encompassing 1,220 hectares (3,014 acres). Patangoras is a gravity fed hydroelectric dam 188 meters high (617 ft.), 363 meters wide (1,190 feet) and 175 meters deep (574 feet). The Miel Hydroelectric Power Plant receives water from the dam via a 6.5 meter (21 ft) diameter tunnel powering turbines and transformers generating 8% of Colombia’s total electrical needs. Afterwards the water continues its flow down to the Magdalena river.
The tour of the Embalse was followed by a trip to the Clara waterfall for a swim and lunch.
How To Get There
Norcasia is located in a rather isolated mountainous area of Caldas, northeast of Manizales and is not very easy to reach. The area, once occupied by the FARC a decade ago, now has a presence of 5 military bases.
From Bogota one could travel to Guaduas and onto La Dorada in a 4-5 hour trip. Then it’s an hour trip by bus from La Dorada to Norcasia.
From Medellin to Norcasia it’s a long day trip. One must take a bus from the North Terminal of Medellin through winding roads to the village of Sonson. Probably would make sense to spend the night in the paisa city of Sonson. It’s a coffee and avocado producing city with a cool climate, called the ‘culture capital of Andean Antioquia’. From Sonson one must catch a chiva bus in the town square to Norcasia. There are several departing during the day. The chivas go through the town of Narino, Florencia and onto Norcasia. The roads are narrow, dirt roads but the rural landscape along the way is spectacular.
There’s an easier way from Medellin. Buses go through Rio Negro, Puerto Triunfo and La Dorada and then to Norcasia – at least a 7 hour trip but all paved roads. It’s just not as adventurous as the route through Sonson and Narino.