Caving and Canyoning in San Gil

San Gil is known has Colombia’s adventure capital. So when we booked a caving and canyoning package at our hostel, I had no idea what I was signing up for. The next morning, our happy go lucky guide Rambo arrived at the hostel with a big smile on his face. He speaks few words of english and we speak few words of Spanish, so his cheerful demeanor made a great start to the day. That and Bob Marley’s tunes were somewhat enough to keep my nerves at bay during the exciting drive up to the entrance of the cave.

Our guide Rambo, an awesome guy with the patience of Job.

We had to walk downhill for about 20 minutes to the entrance of the cave:

At the entrance of La Cueva Antigua:

You see, I was extremely nervous and worried about the caving bit. I am afraid of dark, closed spaces and fast, deep water. We cant swim either. Swami said he wasn’t very comfortable with them too, but he didnt look the least bit worried, as is usually his wont. I was also worried about the rappelling, but I really didnt know what this canyoning involved. I know the vague definition of the word, but where were the canyons in San Gil?

As it turns out, Canyoning is basically crawling, hopping and skipping down the river on slippery rocks, boulders and however you can make a path to get to the end point where a taxi would pick us up.

We first entered La Cueva Antigua, which I think is one of the less intimidating caves in the area. Over the next hour and a half, we walked through pitch black darkness, and then crawled and slithered through narrow widths, fit our bodies into tiny little spaces and walked through an underground river. The river was flowing rather fast and inside a cave, its sound is amazingly amplified. My heart was thudding to its own rhythm as we followed Rambo with blind faith.

Swami here is gamely making his way down a really tiny ‘puerta’ or entrance, which I refused to go down into. Thankfully, there was an alternative way just nearby, which was a little less smaller. Still small, though.

Putting the flash to good use:

Yes, we slithered through that. It was just for a few feet though and totally doable. I had a lot of fun here.

So here is where you find all the wet mud, wet due to the streams underground. Apparently the mud has therapeutic benefits, so we splashed around deep down the cave with tiny flashlights a far cry from the REI headlamps we had back in the hostel. 

Finally we exit the cave. Here is where you exit and you need to your arms a bit to make it out of the cave.

When I finally saw daylight at a distance, I was happy beyond words.  But, we were not even half done. We walked down the river – more like crawled, navigated and jumped on slippery rocks. And then it was time to rappel down, which was quite fun.

Rambo watches while Swami rappels down the falls. You can bounce a coin off Rambo’s abs here, cant you?

I’d face the toughest part of the day a little while later where we climbed down a really steep side banking the river. It was a smooth surface and was at about a seventy degree angle to the river, where the water is quite deep. To say that I was terrified was an understatement.  You either free jump into the river and swim further, or you work your way down this devilishly steep edge. I clutched Rambo’s arm with an iron grip and realized how strong he was when he helped me get down the rock. Of course, we all made it safely back – but I was a little bruised and completely exhausted.

At the end of it all, it was a lot of fun but there were sections which I found all too adventurous for me. A lot of travelers sign up for such adventures without second thought and go ahead to enjoy it, but I came to the realization that its okay to opt out of something despite what appears to be peer pressure. In retrospect, I’d probably have signed up for a less intense activity by finding out more specific information about each.

Practical Information

There are many flavors of each activity. Talk to the folks at your hostel/hotel and sign up for one that you feel most comfortable with. Get detailed information about how long it takes, how much walking is required and what the weather is like.

  • Caving and Canyoning package includes Caving, two Rappels (one in a waterfall and one regular), and two free jumps for those who can do it. Find out how difficult the alternate path is if you cannot swim. In some cases, the alternate path might be too arduous in itself.
  • The package costs COP 80,000 per person. We tipped COP 10,000 per person.
  • Take closed toe shoes like Keen if possible.
  • Transportation to and from hostel, gear and refreshments are included in the price.
  • Take a small point and shoot camera. The guide will bring a waterproof bag and keep it dry when there is water involved. He’ll also take pictures of you.
Other adventure activities you can do in San Gil: paragliding, white water rafting, speed-boarding (?), more serious caving and far too many things at a very reasonable price. The town is a great place to stay and relax even if you dont care a whit about adventure activities.

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