The Adventure Capital Of This Popular South American Country Is A Thrill-Seeker's Heaven

Whitewater rafting, paragliding, bungee jumping, rock climbing, and canyoning — welcome to San Gil! A sleepy town located in the central department of Santander, San Gil is well-known as the "adventure capital of Colombia" — and it doesn't take the title lightly. Calling out to thrill-seeking travelers who want to get their hearts racing through an adrenaline-induced rush, the destination is all about climbing higher and going faster than ever before.

A relatively unexplored stop along most backpacker's route through Colombia, San Gil doesn't get as much mainstream praise as destinations like Bogotá, the country's capital, or tourist hotspots like the bustling city of Medellín, the coffee-fueled beauty of the country's Zona Cafetera, and the postcard-worthy Caribbean shores of Cartagena. However, it's precisely this low-key status — and its reputation for flying under the radar — that makes it so great, especially if you're looking to avoid big crowds during your visit to Colombia.

Plus, surrounded by the perfect landscape for outdoor activities and adventures — like the Chicamocha Canyon, plenty of rivers, as well as tucked-away waterfalls and hiking trails — San Gil does a great job when it comes to helping you find your groove.

The best activities for thrill-seekers

Small but mighty, there's no shortage of adventure in San Gil when it comes to extreme sports and activities. One of the most popular choices is whitewater rafting along one of the three rivers nearby: Río Fonce and Río Chicamocha with Class I-III rapids and Río Suárez, with challenging Class IV-V rapids for the more experienced bunch. As for actually booking the trip, one of the most popular options is Colombia Rafting Expeditions — which won TripAdvisor's 2023 Traveller's Choice Award — with prices starting at $55 per person.

For travelers looking to reach new heights, San Gil is also a premier destination for paragliding. And what better way to soak it all in than with a high-altitude experience flying over the Cañón del Chicamocha, aka the second-largest canyon in the world? Over 140 miles long and 6,600 feet deep, strapping in and jumping out into the open (with a certified guide there, of course) is the best way to take in the magnitude of this natural wonder. In terms of pricing, most local tour operators — like Parapente Chicamocha, a top choice — offer single 20 to 30-minute paragliding experiences starting from $76. Alternatively, if your budget is tight, Parepente Chicamocha also offers a cheaper flight tour along one of San Gil's smaller mountains, Curití, for just $43.

More ways to get your heart racing in San Gil

Believe it or not, the fun doesn't stop there. For an even more intense experience, travelers can also choose to go bungee jumping above Río Fonce, caving in Curití, mountain biking to nearby towns, or even abseiling down waterfalls. In terms of booking these experiences, you'll have a much better chance of finding a good deal once you're actually in town. Simply head over to the main square and you'll find plenty of tour offices along the main road, as well as local guides and tour company employees who are ready to point you in the right direction of their business.

As for travelers who have had their fill of adrenaline and high-energy activities, San Gil also offers more laid-back opportunities to help you wind down. From exploring the quiet charm of Parque El Gallineral — a natural reserve in the heart of town — to enjoying a classic local wafer dessert, oblea, with arequipe and cream in the town's 300-year-old square, not everything about San Gil needs to be done at high speed.