Often compared to the colorful Cano Cristales river, Las Gachas stream is a hidden gem in Colombia that is in danger due to increasing tourism.
Located behind the bushes a reddish stone riverbed dotted with more than 250 natural wells from all sizes attracts thousands of visitors each month. It is one of the most strange sceneries you can find in Colombia, a country predominantly known for its natural diversity and unusual landscapes. This is Las Gachas in Santander, a geological marvel I have not seen anywhere else in the world and that it might disappear soon if we don’t start treating it right.
A geological spectacle in the middle of the mountains
The magic of Las Gachas is undeniable. It is a crystal clear stream that emerges from a spring up in the countryside, running along a stone riverbed covered by a red algae and falling into jacuzzi-sized natural holes along the way. All of this, surrounded by the splendor of the Andes. What is not appealing in all of this?
But the popularity of Las Gachas was not always there. Las Gachas was not even on the tourist map, while I was living in Colombia ten years ago. In Addition, Santander was quite a dangerous area to visit and even though it is located only some hours away from the capital, Bogota, it was a no-go zone for my family and I.
Las Gachas was this hidden gem that only researchers and locals knew about. Something that changed rapidly once Colombia became a trending destination and the age of social media arrived.
Today, reaching Las Gachas is quite easy and the once high-risk area is now a very popular getaway for Colombians and foreigners. Buses from the nearby city of Bucaramanga depart several times a day and travelers arriving with their own vehicles drive all the way from Bogota or Medellin on a daytrip in order to marvel this colorful stream.
Accessibility to Las Gachas is another big plus. Unlike the famous Colombian rainbow river, Cano Cristales, you don’t need to take a charter flight, nor hike several days to get here. You simply reach the town or Guadalupe, organize a vehicle to get to the closest spot and hike for 30-40 minutes up and downhill.
Natural wonders under threat – conservation is on our hands
The easy access to the stream and social media hype for visiting Las Gachas is attracting over 700 visitors on weekends. Furthermore, blogs and websites write of how “untouched” and “undiscovered” Las Gachas is, while the reality is way far behind.
I understand these are common changes for a tourist destination and I’m happy that my home country is finally on bucket lists and travel itineraries. However, since there is no regulation or organization trying to protect the sustainability of the river, big changes had happened in the past 3 years.
The area surrounding the stream is full of trash and there has been substantial damages to the reddish algae that once was the reason to marvel the river. Since people are allowed to jump into these natural pools, it is very common to see travelers drinking beers and eating in one of these pools, while others set up BBQ pits and picnic blankets next to the riverbed.
I’m not here to tell you to not visit Las Gachas anymore, but simply understand the long term damage you might do each time you step on the algae with shoes, throw food or spill drinks into the river. There is not another place like Las Gachas in the world and if we don’t step up and do the minimum to protect it, the result will end up being a complete ban or an irreparable harm to the ecosystem.
Read more: Rappeling in Colombia’s secret waterfalls