El Camino Real is a fantastic road surrounded by nature and breathtaking landscapes. While walking on this road, you don't only walk through beautiful nature, but also through history.
Years before colonial times, this beautiful 5,5 kilometers hiking road between the two towns of Guane and Barichara was the route that our Colombian natives, mainly Guanes who inhabited the region, used to commute everyday between cities to trade goods, to work and to visit relatives, amongst other activities. It is believed that the whole road came all the way from Bogotá to Barrancabermeja, passing the towns of Socorro, Barichara, Guane, and Zapatoca, and it was transited as well by other native groups way before paved roads were even a thing in Colombia.
Locals, especially farmers, who lived in the region around the 1900s and walked the route every day used to do it barefoot. There is some traditional footwear that people back then used to wear; some still do. They were called ‘chocatos’, and they're similar to what we know now as espadrilles. Farmers from all ages would walk barefoot on these roads carrying with them water and their shoes. Once they would get to the town, they would wash their feet with water and put on the shoes and then proceed to do the same process for the way back. This was so their shoes wouldn't get damaged since the road was still a bit rustic.
This route is called "El Camino Real," a name chosen by the Spanish who were living in Colombia at the time. In 1986 Geo Von Lengerke, a German engineer who came to live in Colombia around the 1850s was hired to rebuild those roads and make it easier to transit with horses and mules. Nowadays, you can see his work: a road built with huge pieces of stones over the trace that the natives left after walking there so many times.
Nowadays this route is used daily by some kids from Guane who go to school in Barichara. If you are thinking about embarking on this fantastic adventure of walking in the steps of the Guanes, it is advisable to do it early in the morning, to avoid the sun and high temperatures later in the day. Of course, you can do it later too, but you will have to be prepared for the intense heat and to wear extra UV protection.
The route starts in the upper-western part of Barichara in the Simon Bolivar roundabout, next to the San Antonio chapel. You will see the sign at the beginning, and then it is downhill. You will barely see any other people along the road, but you can find plenty of biodiversity and animals, including goats. You must bring your own bottle of water since you’ll probably won’t find a place to buy some until you make it to Guane.
With a population of less than 1000, Guane is a tiny town so it will be easy for you to find your way around. Once you get there, if you are in the mood for it, you can grab some homemade breakfast at one of the local’s houses that serve as charming little restaurants. They have some of the best typical breakfast in the region. The main ingredient used is the ‘arepa de maíz pelao,’ which is made out of grounded yellow corn and has a flat-rounded shape. You can choose to have it with eggs on the side or with ‘caldo de huevo’ which is like a broth cooked with some potatoes, onion, coriander, milk, and an egg that boils in it. It comes with coffee and fresh fruit juice.
You can also visit the Guane Museum, taste some local sweets and drinks, and walk through some of the streets. If you walk a bit further outside the central area, you’ll find some lovely views of the mountains. To get back to Barichara, you can walk the same path or take a bus on the corner of the main square that takes around 30 minutes and costs around a dollar. The reasons to do this hike may vary depending on the person. Some might do it to exercise, to experience some history and tradition, to explore the place, to get to Guane, or even to meditate along the way since it is a really peaceful area. No matter the reason, this is without a doubt, a must-do that anyone who gets the chance should experience, you will be glad you did.
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