Flying Over a National Park – Chicamocha Canyon, Colombia

The Chicamocha Canyon, between the cities of San Gil and Bucaramanga in central Colombia, was formed more than 46 million years ago and covers more than 100,000 acres (404,685 hectares) and is up to 6,500 feet (2,000 meters) deep. In other words, it’s one of the largest canyons in the world. There are a number of ways to explore Chicamocha Canyon, including two that involve traveling through the air.

Chicmocha Canyon Bucamaranga

Colombia’s Chicamocha Canyon, one of the largest in the world.

 

Paragliding over Chicamocha Canyon in Colombia

You can hike it, raft it, kayak it or visit the theme-parky Chicamocha National Park and ride a cable car over it (more on that later). But perhaps the best way to explore the Chicamocha Canyon is to paraglide over it. It’s certainly the most dramatic way.

Paraglide-Chicmocha-canyon

Paragliding is a great way to see Chicamocha Canyon.

When Parapente Chicamocha (parapente is the Spanish word for paragliding) offered to take us up, up and away we said yes. And we said it quickly before “I hate heights” Karen could change her mind.

Karen Paraglide Chicamocha Canyon

Karen wondering how she got herself into this paragliding mess just moments before take off over the Chicamocha Canyon.

We arrived at the launch site with owner Sergio and a team of wing wranglers and pilots. Then we stood around and watched the birds, waiting for them to catch thermals so that we could too. When the pros saw enough birds catching thermals it was time for us to try it too.

This involved getting into the paragliding harness in front of the paragliding pilot (you didn’t think they’d send us up alone, did you?) and then running off the edge of the canyon. Truth be told, Karen dragged her feet a bit. But even she ended up in the air where the thermals, bless them, carried us up a few thousand feet above the canyon floor.

Parapente chicamocha Canyon

You have to run off the edge of the canyon to begin paragliding over Chicamocha.

We spent about half an hour rising, circling, dropping and rising again over the canyon as the pilots worked the wing to direct us. Eric says the view was great. Karen never had her eyes open long enough to really appreciate it and her forearms are still sore from the death grip she had on her harness.

See what Eric saw, in our video from our paragliding adventure over Chicamocha Canyon, below.

 

National park or theme park?

Parque Nacional de Chicmocha National Park

They call it the Chicamocha National Park, but it’s more like the Chicamocha Theme Park.

The Chicamocha National Park (15,000 COP/about US$5) protects a section of the Chicamocha Canyon, but instead of spotlighting its natural beauty in the typical peaceful, passive way of most parks, this one shows off its considerable natural attributes in a theme park environment. There are ice cream shops, a synthetic ice skating ring, a goat park, some really, really strange sculptures and monuments and some zip lines.

Chicamocha National Park

These imposing statues at the Chicamocha National Park have something to do with the history and traditions of the Santander province in Colombia.

Chicamocha National Park

This enormous, spiky, modern sculpture greets visitors to Chicamocha National Park and is a monument to local Santanderean culture. We don’t know why there are goats.

There’s even a theme park ride of sorts. In 2009 the park debuted a four mile (6.3 km) cable car system, one of the longest in the world, which takes visitors from one edge of the canyon to the other and back again (40,000 COP/about US$13.50).

Teleferico Chicamocha Cable Car

One of the world’s longest cable car systems takes passengers across Chicamocha Canyon.

Check out the cable car ride over Chicamocha Canyon in our video, below.

Travel tip

San Gil may be the self-proclaimed adventure capital of the region, but unless you like a noise, dirty town with a bunch of hostels, skip it. Instead, continue past San Gil about 30 minutes to the lovely town of Barichara where preserved Colonial architecture, historic stone streets, peace, quiet and a wide range of hotels and restaurants (including budget-minded ones) await.

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Where We’ve Been: April 2016 Road Trip Driving Route in Peru

In March we brought back our monthly “Where We’ve Been” feature after adding a Brinno TLC200Pro to our arsenal which makes creating time-lapse video fast and easy. Then, just one month later, we left everyone hanging. Sorry about that. Near the end of April we flew back to the Galapagos Islands to work on a few more stories there, however, it was impossible to upload our Brinno drive-lapse video for the month because internet in the Galapagos, when it exists, is painfully slow. The Enchanted Islands may have the most northerly penguins in the world, the only known aquatic iguanas and sea lions that act like pets but they do not have bandwidth.

Anyway…

We started the month of April in Trujillo, Peru then we headed south to Lima down the Pan American Highway which hugs the coast here through dramatic dunes-to-surf landscapes. After some time getting our feet wet in Lima we drove slightly further south to the beach town of Paracas to check out the desert-y Paracas National Reserve. Then we returned to Lima where we left our truck with the kind folks at Automayor, the GM dealer in Lima, before flying back to the Galapagos Islands via Guayaquil, Ecuador.

It’s not a lot of miles, but the Pacific coast scenery is some of the most breathtaking coastal driving we’ve done in a long time. Check it all out in our Brinno drive-lapse video for April 2016, below.

And here’s a map version of our road trip driving route in northern Peru during the month of April 2016.

 

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Photo Essay: How to Make Panela, Colombia’s Sweet Obsession

Travel in Colombia for more than 15 minutes and you will encounter panela, the country’s beloved brick of raw, unrefined sugar that’s used in all sorts of food including the ubiquitous aguapanela and guarapo beverages. One scary study estimated that Colombians consume more than 75 pounds (34.2 kg) of panela every year.  Residents of plenty of other countries love it too, though they call it by different names like chancaca in Chile, Peru, Argentina and Bolivia and gur or jaggery in India.

Colombia produces 1.4 million tons of panela a year. It’s a major part of the economy and the country even holds an annual National Panela Pageant. Much of the panela is made in big factories, but some is still made in small, semi-automated workshops called trapiches. We came across one on the side of the road and stopped to watch the process of making panela–from sugar cane to finished brick.

Here’s how to make panela

Sugar Cane press extracts sugar cane juice

Step 1: Fresh cut sugar cane is put through a press to extract as much  juice as possible.

Sugar Cane Juice boiled and evaporated

Step 2: The extracted sugar cane juice runs from the press  into deep bins over a big fire fueled by the dried husks of pressed cane.

Sugar cane juice boiled and evaporated until it becomes a semi-sold

Step 3: Workers stir and transfer the boiling cane juice as it thickens.

Semi-sold sugar cane juice poured into molds

Step 4: Thickened sugar cane juice is poured into wooden molds and left to set.

Semi-sold sugar cane juice cools and solidifies

Step 5: The molds are left to set and cool.

Solid panela is removed from wooden molds

Step 6: Once the molds have set the panela discs are carefully removed from the wooden molds.

Solid panela is removed from wooden molds

Step 7: Cool and solid panela discs are stacked in preparation for packing.

Panela is packaged for sale

Step 8: Carefully packed, the finished panela is ready to be taken to market.

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