“You know you’re in Colombia when your jungle guide is 15 years old and he tells you to walk faster so that he can have more time to play at the waterfall with his younger cousin and brother,” said my mom, as we laughed and reflected on the incredible day we had just spent exploring around San Cipriano, Colombia.
The adventure began with a ride on the “brujitas”, which are essentially wooden bench-carts on train tracks, being pushed from behind by motorcycles.
We piled onto the benches with about 15 other people, and before we knew it we were speeding down the tracks with nothing to hold on to and nothing to hold us in.
As we sat there with the wind whipping our faces and the scenery rushing past us we couldn’t help but laugh with excitement. It was unlike anything we had ever experienced!
Up until about 12 years ago people were actually powering these carts with man-power, pumping a stick lever to move them along the train tracks. As the need for speed grew, motorcycles were incorporated and now locals and tourists alike fly through the lush jungle.
To catch the brujitas you start in a town called Córdoba and for 10,000 Colombian Pesos each way you can pile onto the brujitas to be pushed over rivers and across bridges deep into the jungle to find the town of San Cipriano.
A fresh, crystal clear river flows through San Cipriano and many people come to swim and refresh in the deep river water. People climb up the rocks and trees on the banks and jump into the depths of the river with a crowd observing and cheering them on. It is also possible to rent inner tubes and walk up the road in order to float back down the river.
The town of San Cipriano has a lot of Afro-Colombian influence and the food is distinct and delicious, with fish from the river as a main option on all menus.
While there we enjoyed flavorful “sancocho” fish soup served in mix-matching bowls, with big chunks of sweet plantain and potato, and a fried fish lunch, as well as “torta de coco”, which are sweet coconut muffins served in half the shell of a coconut.
As you walk the streets you will also see many locals selling a creamy white liquid in whatever recycled plastic container they happen to have. This is supposedly an aphrodisiac, but then again the Colombians seem to call everything an aphrodisiac, from goats milk with honey to various fruits and vegetables.
As we were enjoying our lunch, a warm afternoon rain shower passed through and we watched several local boys start a game of soccer in the field across from the restaurant. It was a mix of splashing in puddles and chasing each other around the field in pursuit of the ball, but it was so cute to observe.
We happened to be in San Cipriano during a national holiday, so there were many visitors and all the children were free from school. Apparently the town is usually quite quiet during the week, but because of this holiday it was extra alive and festive.
After lunch we decided to search out some waterfalls, and this is when we were connected with our local 15 year old guide, Jhonny. As we walked down the street we got to know about him, and even met his younger cousin and brother, who joined us on our hike to the waterfalls. They had very limited English, and kept trying to engage my mom in a rapid-fire Spanish conversation, in between searching for river shrimp. They were amusing to say the least.
Just as we were about to cross the river an old local man asked us if we were going to the waterfalls. When we told him yes he laughed at our sandals and told us we needed boots… All three of our little guides had them, but we decided to continue on, hoping for the best.
As we hiked the muddy, root-ridden path, climbing up steep waist-high step wells we realized what kind of trek we were in for. Several groups of people passed us, going the other way, and they were caked with mud from their hands to the toes. It was around this time that Jhonny told me that we needed to hike faster, to make it to the waterfall and avoid nightfall in the jungle. It was only 3pm, but the shade of the thick vegetation foreshadowed just how dark the place would be come sunset.
We started to get worried, but Jhonny assured us it was just “dos bajadas más” or about 15 minutes more, down two more steep declines, and we really wanted to swim in the waterfall so we persevered. In the end it was worth it. After another short walk up a river, we could hear the thundering of the water from the falls, and soon we walked up on a solid green wall, with mist hitting us before we were even to the swimming pool.
There was another family there, celebrating the free day together, and we all decided to head back to the main area at the same time. Somehow the walk back only took us 30 minutes in comparison to the walk there, and by the end, the mother of this family of strangers was inviting me to stay at their home and get to know her kids. The Colombian people are truly some of the kindest and most hospitable people I have met in all my travels.
After some final relaxation in the river it came time to catch the final 6pm brujitas to leave San Cipriano. Once back to the drop off point, we found a mob of people waiting to leave the jungle village. We came to understand that we needed to get a number which would give us our order for boarding the brujitas and when they finally called “80” we climbed up to the train tracks, selected our seats and prepared for takeoff.
We rode back with the sun setting behind the lush jungle, creating gorgeous palm tree silhouettes on the horizon. By the time we got back to the station, I had made yet another friendly Colombian host-friend, and as we said our goodbyes I was simply in awe at the incredible adventure we had experienced in San Cipriano, Colombia that day.
Have you ever experienced San Cipriano or anywhere like it? I am pretty sure it is a one-of-a-kind place. If you ever make it to Colombia, definitely take a day and check it out. You will never forget it!