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[For a YouTube version of this blog entry, click here.]
After having visited over 50 of Colombia’s Andean towns, in particular in the Boyacá, Cundinamarca and Santander departments, I do feel I’m in a strong position to evaluate the region.
Yes, I’m well aware that what’s important for me may not be too critical for another. Then there’s the fact that I’m quite the minimalist and have rather modest wants when I explore a new place.
Those looking for close-to-high-income-nation standards in terms of accommodation, food and general tourism infrastructure will be disappointed in the vast majority of Andean towns. The exceptions are the likes of Barichara, Girardot, San Gil and Villa de Leyva, places with a now-established reputation, having been popular with international tourists for years.
Most other towns are either only beginning to discover their tourism potential or remain seemingly indifferent to it.
That pretty much every one of them, no matter how small, has some sort of accommodation available for visitors usually has less to do with tourism and more to do with business e.g. emerald mining or some major construction project that had/has been going on for years. Indeed, from my travels, only Saboyá fails on the hotel front.
Nonetheless, if it’s simply just a bit of bucolic bliss in a majestic mountain setting you’re after and you’re not terribly fussy, then a case could be made for any Andean town. Even more so if you like to wander around hilly countryside without the need for a guide.
Those looking for warmer climes — warmer than Bogotá that is — should seek out places below an altitude of 2,000 metres. It’s generally short sleeves with shorts day and night, all year round, in such places, save for the need to cover up from tropical downpours.
The Boyacá town of Pauna, at 1,215 masl, firmly fits into that category. With an unusually dull and rainy early January in Bogotá, the feeling that I was being unfairly denied some sun sent me in Pauna’s direction. Well, that and the fact that the brothers who own my preferred panadería “office” are from there, so on hearing this, I thought it would be as good as any place for an unplanned escape.
Weather-wise, it wasn’t quite the sun-drenched spot I was hoping for — the whole Andean region is enduring a protracted rainy season. It was, though, still quite warm, with afternoon highs around 25 degrees Celsius.
The main tourist attractions appear to be the various swimming pool “resorts” on the town’s outskirts. Seeing as how my visit coincided with high season, I gave these pools a wide berth. Surrounded by screaming, water-splashing children together with tipsy adults blaring out music is not my idea of relaxation.
‘In a land of plenty when it comes to tourist attractions and natural beauty, a place does have to offer something different to entice potential visitors.’
Architecturally, Pauna has little going for it. Its main square and church certainly won’t win awards for beauty. In contrast, in nearby, smaller Briceño, 12 kilometres away via undulating, largely dirt-track, traffic-free roads — yes, I did walk there and back — the main square and church are quite picturesque.
Pauna’s prettiest side is from a high. There are a few hilltops around from which to view it, although the best one is from a private residence that’s used as a holiday home. Thankfully its temporary occupiers allowed me in for the obligatory photo and a YouTube Shorts video. Cheers, Horacio! The two Aguila beers he gifted me were also well received.
Pauna’s people power
The biggest draw for nature lovers is surely Cascada la Tunera. This impressive, somewhat hidden waterfall — it can be heard well before it’s seen — is about five kilometres from the town. An internet search tells me that the fall is about 50 metres — I would have said more.
There’s also a far gentler tributary waterfall next to it that is quite alluring thanks to the golden-brown soil over which it flows.
Back in Pauna, another area where it won’t be winning awards is for its coffee. Yes, this is a coffee-growing region but the townsfolk don’t make a good brew. Unsweetened, strong coffee is hard to find. There is an exception, though. Páramo, the fancy ice cream shop on the main square, makes a panela/sugar-free, tasty tinto for an agreeable 1,500 pesos.
Coffee concerns assuaged, with all the wandering I did, it would have been nice to refresh with my preferred Poker beer offering i.e. a litre bottle. Or at least the 750 ml serving. Alas, similar to some other small towns I’ve visited, only the 330 ml bottles are available at 2,500 pesos a pop (in my Bogotá barrio, one can still get a litre bottle for 4,000 pesos). On the plus side, sticking to my not-too-strict beer budget, it meant my alcohol consumption was kept in check.
Considering there are easier towns to reach from Bogotá — Pauna is over a 160 km drive away and the windy road after Chiquinquirá is, well, rustic to put it mildly — it’s unlikely to attract the masses.
Having said that, my trip coincided with an annual five-a-side football tournament. With a not-to-be-sniffed-at winners’ prize of 12 million pesos, the competition attracts teams from far and wide. Thus, the town was heaving for my last couple of days there.
In a land of plenty when it comes to tourist attractions and natural beauty, a place does have to offer something different to entice potential visitors. So credit to Pauna on the football fest.
It gets less credit for its slogan of being the ‘green gate to Colombia’. No doubt many other municipalities would contest that one.
For me, alongside the setting, Pauna’s big pull factor is its people.
Hospedaje El Mirador has quite spacious, bright rooms available for 25,000 pesos per person with good WiFi.
I also had a night at Hospedaje Doña Evita for 30,000 pesos (this was forced on me as El Mirador was booked out for the football tournament and I had no reservation). Doña Evita, ran by an affable elderly couple, is more like a house than a hostel/hotel. No WiFi is a drawback, though.
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