“Welcome to Paradise!”
A guy shouted to me as I finally made it to the river that is Las Gachas. He was half-submerged in one of the ‘jacuzzi’, surrounded by friends.
I walked cautiously on the slippery river bed and noticed: on a Saturday afternoon, there were fewer than 30 people here.
This was how ‘undiscovered’ and ‘untouched’ Las Gachas was.
Quebrada Las Gachas is a series of natural plunge pools along a shallow river bed. The river is shallow because water naturally flows down into the pits, and you literally walk on the river bed.
Algae cover the river bed, making it slippery and adding a red/purplish layer, making this place seem magical. In fact, it has been called Santander’s Cano Cristales, the colourful river in Colombia.
Unlike the expensive and seasonal Cano Cristales, Las Gachas is free to visit and remains red all year round.
It isn’t straightforward to get to, and wasn’t part of my itinerary, but my flight to Leticia was cancelled and I had an additional week in Colombia. Perfect chance for me to check it out!
Las Gachas is located near the small town of Guadalupe in the Santander department. Most instructions found online tell you to take a bus from Bogota to Bucaramanga but get off early at Oiba.
I went from Medellin and it was a different route.
Medellin is in the Antioquia department. At the northern bus terminal (Terminal Norte), there is a service that brings you to Guadalupe. However, that Guadalupe is in the Antioquia department. Do NOT take this bus.
Instead, buy a ticket to Bucaramanga. The bus takes a different route as from Bogota, and doesn’t pass by Oiba. The journey should take 8-9 hours.
In the bus terminal at Bucaramanga, there’s a counter that sells bus tickets to Oiba. It isn’t the last stop, so take note that the bus wouldn’t have ‘Oiba’ as a destination.
The place you get off at Oiba is also the place to get a shared jeep to Guadalupe.
As usual, do not trust online bus schedules in South America. My plan was to take the overnight bus from Medellin, arrive at 530am, just in time for the 6am bus to Oiba. I arrived at Bucaramanga at 7+. Thankfully, there were more buses at the terminal than the schedule online.
I recorded down the prices of each leg of the journey, but my phone got water-damaged and everything is gone.
The 1 hour jeep ride is scenic and brings you through the countryside where you’ll find cows grazing on the grass. If you sit at the back, do note it gets really dusty as a sand cloud follows the jeep. Sunglasses are recommended.
Like the willy ride to Cocora Valley in Salento, it can get very crowded. My ride back to Oiba had 21 people and a puppy in the 14 pax jeep. 7 people were standing on the ledge.
Las Gachas is a 4km walk (1 hour) from Guadalupe. It is located along the road from Oiba to Guadalupe, and I couldn’t help but think if it would be faster to drive from Oiba instead. Or, get off the ride from Oiba and save an hour’s walk.
The walk from Guadalupe first brings you onto the dusty vehicle road, then a turn onto very well-paved pedestrian road, and finally onto natural gravel and rocks. Surely, with such a well-paved road, Las Gachas wouldn’t be so unknown after all, no?
I only saw 6 people on the hike to Las Gachas – a couple and a family of 4.
Although the route was not covered and directly under the sun if you go late, it was scenic. Countryside, farms, animals, rivers.
A similar red river presented itself and I got my hopes up that I was the only one. Turned out it’s not the real deal.
I walked past the fake river, then I heard it before I see it – groups of people, splashing, laughter. Crap, I’m not the only one.
Yet, it didn’t feel too crowded. The river was long enough to accommodate the 30 or so people (mainly locals). I walked up the river, slipped and fell a couple of times. The river bed is so slippery that online videos showed people belly-sliding into the pools.
“It’s better to walk in socks,” a lady told me.
I’ve heard that before but never actually tried it. I removed my shoes, and instantly felt more grip on my feet.
I walked steadily towards a pit. Most pits were filled to the brim, but there were a couple of empty ones. Water flowed in but drained out through other holes in these pits. It just felt… alien to be seeing holes in a river.
The filled pools looked deep. In fact, some people were using a stick to test the depth of the pools. I thought that was a great idea! I was afraid to jump into these pools without knowing the depth, and merely sat on the edge.
To be honest, the pools weren’t the cleanest. Some were filled with tadpoles and others, unimaginable objects. It’s best to only enter the ‘jacuzzi’s with running water.
Quebrada Las Gachas is an interesting sight; a personal natural jacuzzi facing the mountains and a canvass of red, blue, green, purple. Truly one of its kind.
After having enough fun, grab a beer from one of the opportunistic vendors that set up stall next to the river. The walk back to Guadalupe felt much shorter.
Guadalupe is a small (and rather empty) town. Men wear checkered shirts and cowboy hats, just like the gaucho era. Most restaurants were closed when I was there on a Saturday.
However, due to the recent boom in tourism due to Las Gachas, more hostels and guesthouses are being built. It’s interesting to me how a single natural attraction can bring a whole new industry to a town.
Despite being just a small town, the main plaza has free wifi and the church is rather magnificent. There are a few waterfalls nearby but I couldn’t find any information or photos on the internet and was ready to leave.