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Posted on January 22, 2019
In June 2017 Abbie from In The Saddle set off on a trip to Colombia to test drive the Barichara Ride. Here is the report from her trip.
So what is Colombia famous for? If you’d asked me this prior to my visit, my response would probably have been along the lines of “coffee, emeralds and Shakira”!
I’m glad to say that this trip certainly opened my eyes to the true highlights of this incredible place. If you too decide to plan a visit to Colombia, then be prepared to be surprised by its beauty, enthralled by its history and astounded by its diversity.
Getting there was really easy from the UK as I flew on the direct Avianca flight from Heathrow.
From Bogotá we travelled north, through the departments of Cundinamarca and Boyacá to Oiba in Santander, the starting point of the ride. After a long day of road travel, an early night was in order ready for the adventure ahead.
Next day we were up early eager to meet our horses and to set off on the trail. Our guide Julio gave a ride safety briefing and allocated horses over a breakfast of eggs, arepas (corn pancakes), fruit and coffee. The horses were very keen to set off, with plenty of jogging and snorting to begin with. We followed rural tracks and climbed up into forests of eucalyptus, with fabulous views of Oiba behind us.
After about four hours of riding, we stopped for a picnic lunch at a rural store. It started to pour with rain, so we took shelter and Julio taught us how to play the national game of ‘Tejo’. This involves aiming metal weights at small packets of gun powder lodged into a clay surface – great fun & we all became quite competitive!
Once the rain eased, we re-mounted and prepared to continue our ride. Before we set off I peaked into my saddlebags to see how much rain had collected there – they were full to the brim with rainwater – a reminder we are in the Tropics! The going was slippery after all the rain and so we made quite steady progress, reaching Charalá just before it got dark. We had enough time to head into Charalá, the birthplace of Colombia’s independence, to see the cathedral and town square before dinner. There is a beautiful Arabian Saman tree in the main square, which was planted in 1910 to honour the martyrs of independence.
Next day we set off on a route along the banks of the Fonce River and beside sugarcane plantations. It was amazing how the temperature changed as we went from humid rainforest to more open forest which was far cooler. There are a couple of rivers to cross today, and after yesterday’s rain the water is quite deep in place so we must take care. Our lunch stop today is below Juan Curi Falls and we have time to hike to the waterfall and cool off before lunch. Lunch is a choice of picada (a platter of different meats, served with plantain and arepas), chicken, pork or fish – all delicious.
After relaxing for a while in the shade, it is time to set off again. We ride a short distance along the main road before heading off on a rural track to begin our ascent. It is really, really steep going, with boulders, narrow crevices and bare rock to negotiate, but the horses tackle the climb admirably.
The following day begins with a long trot along a paved road, before being rewarded with lovely riding along rural paths beside coffee plantations which lead us towards the Suárez River. Later, we cross a suspension bridge and approach the town of El Palmar.
The back-up crew are on hand to control the traffic as we cross the busy roads around the main square. It is great fun to ride past the market and little shops and the horses are very bold. Our lunch spot today is beside a swimming pool and we all relish the chance to have a dip and cool off.
In the afternoon we pass by a small rural store and Julio offers us a beer or soft drink. A small crowd of children approach, drawn first by the horses but they are soon agog at the riders too. Translating, Julio tells us they have not met foreigners before. Our riding group come from a number of different countries – the US, England, Holland and Germany – so we introduce ourselves in our own languages, which the children seem to love (if the amount of giggling is anything to go by!).
Our overnight stop is at Casa de Hacienda, a gorgeous hacienda set in lush green gardens. There are only four guest rooms so we sleep three to a room, but this is my favourite guesthouse on the whole ride.
There are traditional wooden shutters on the windows and colourful hammocks line the veranda.
The next day is jam-packed full of Colombian colour. We set off from the pretty gardens of Casa de Hacienda and follow rural tracks to the village of Cabrera, where there is plenty of colonial architecture to enjoy.
After a picnic lunch we follow royal roads and head out across a plateau in the direction of Barichara.
The route continues through pastures of long grass, along cobbled roads and eventually we clatter over the royal bridge and in to Barichara.
Even from our first glimpses from horseback, it is clear why Barichara is hailed as Colombia’s prettiest town. From the cobbled streets, colourful houses and main square, there is lots to see.
On our final ride we head away from Barichara to a local coffee plantation, where we learn about growing and producing the country’s national drink. There’s the chance to buy coffee and locally-made coffee cups, which make ideal presents for loved ones at home.
Then it is onwards towards the dramatic Chicamocha Canyon. It is warm and quite humid today, so we stop at a local shop for a cold drink and to water the horses.
Our lunch stop overlooks the Chicamocha Canyon, with incredible far-reaching views. We return to Barichara by a slightly different route and there’s just enough time to say goodbye to our horses before dinner.
The following day is set aside to explore Barichara. After breakfast we have a guided tour, learning about the town’s history as we wander along the cobbled streets. We see Templo de la Inmaculada Concepción in the main square, the Capilla de San Antonio church and the Capilla Santa Bárbara. At the end of the tour we had the chance to prepare and try a local delicacy called “hormigas culonas” (big-bottomed ants). The wings are removed, then the ants are fried in butter and served with arepas.
The afternoon was spent at leisure, taking a swim in the pool and exploring some of Barichara’s many shops. Later, we gather for a farewell meal at one of the town’s restaurants.
The following morning we set off on the journey back to Bogotá, where we say goodbye to our guide Julio. On our final night in Colombia we have a delicious meal at our hotel (although there are plenty of other restaurants within walking distance) and reminisce about our adventures.
Since we leave on an evening flight, there is plenty of time to see a little of Bogotá before heading to the airport.
I’ve had great fun on the Barichara Ride. There have been long days of riding, there has been plenty of sunshine and a bit of rain. I’ve seen beautiful towns, pretty architecture and bustling rural villages. We’ve ridden through coffee plantations and beside sugar cane fields, we’ve crossed rivers and climbed mountains. But what will stay with me is the hard-working, enthusiastic horses and the energy and friendliness of the people we’ve met along the way. This isn’t a luxury riding holiday where you are shielded from the reality of the country you are visiting; on this ride you get to see, smell, hear and experience the real Colombia along the way. My advice is to go now; book the Barichara Ride before things change too much.