Visiting San Cipriano is definitely one of the most unique adventures of my life. Although there were moments when I thought I might not live to write this post, there was definitely something extremely invigorating about travelling through the jungle by Brujita.
Let me set the scene…
San Cipriano is a tiny Afro-Colombian town of around 500 inhabitants close to Buenaventura in Western Colombia. I had read wonderful things about this little community, including: beautiful wildlife, stunning waterfalls, toucans, monkeys and subtropical birds. Sounds amazing, right? This was not exactly how it turned out for me…
One Little Tip: Check the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website prior to venturing into the unknown. As you can see on this map, the only area that they advise against all travel to is the port of Buenaventura in the department of Valle de Cauca, which is extremely close to San Cipriano. They also advise against all but essential travel to rural areas in northern Antioquia, southern Cordoba, southern Valle de Cauca, and southern Bolivar. Hmmmm…I didn’t see this map until after I had been.
I was made aware of this destination in the Lonely Planet guide book. It sounded incredible, however what it failed to mention was the best time of year to visit. I feel that this is only one of the many ways in which I went wrong on this adventure. I’m not sure what time of year is best to visit, however I know now that it’s definitely not November!
My friend and I seemed to be the only people daring enough to visit during this time. We did not see any other backpackers throughout our entire trip.
One little Tip: Round up a group of people from the hostel in Cali and all go together! Not only will this make the adventure safer, but also a lot more fun.
How to get there?
To get there take a minibus from Cali to Buenaventura and ask to get dropped off at a place called Cordoba. When we arrived in Cordoba, it was pouring with rain and we were dumped on the side of the road by the minivan. This is when locals will approach you and they will not speak any English. I was terrified at this point as it can be quite intimidating. (Another reason, why you should try to learn Spanish before travelling to Colombia).
They will lead you down a road approximately 500 meters to a train track. You will need to negotiate the price of the trip at this point (locals pay COP $3,000, but as a tourist you will have to pay about COP $5,000 minimum). I’m not sure what experience others had, however not being able to speak Spanish and trying to negotiate with people who were pressuring me to pay the trip was confusing. Just make sure you know how much it should cost in advance and try not to let them grind you down.
The aspect that intrigued me most and ultimately was my main reason for wanting to visit San Cipriano, was the mode of arrival itself!
The only connection to this small town is by rail, however due to the lack of trains, locals have set up their own spectacular transportation system that includes: a motorbike, a wooden bench and runners on the track. Essentially, the back wheel of the motorbike propels the wooden bench down the train track and through the jungle!
Wow! It’s actually mental. I can’t explain it any better than that. I have never done or seen anything like this is my life, it is a truly unique experience.
One Little Tip: Make sure you hold on tight and you have an exit strategy just in case anything goes wrong. It’s not uncommon for the Brujita to come head to head with another one or in some cases even collide!
Things to do
From what I had heard, it would be filled with backpackers frolicking in the river and bobbing along in tubes. There was no one to be seen…
Apparently the most common tourist activity in the town is go tubing down the river. This was exactly my plan, however it was not an activity we actually ended up doing. As we had all our valuables with us and only a tiny padlock holding our door shut on our room, we did not feel like we would be able to float down the river in such a carefree way.
One Little Tip: Leave all your valuables and travel gadgets in a safe place back in Cali and only take the bare essentials to San Cipriano. This will help with transportation and also safety when visiting. If you have less for people to steal, the less danger you will be in…simple.
San Cipriano is full of little guesthouses/shacks to stay. When you arrive, a local will no doubt greet you and carry your things to their guesthouse. This rural town’s residents make money off tourism and therefore most locals will want you to stay with them. Don’t let them rush you, take your time to walk through the village and hunt out where you want to dump your bag, clothes and travel gadgets.. Most of them will cook dinner there for you and help to show you around.
I don’t wish to put you off visiting, like I say it could have been time of year that affected my experience. This was one of the most memorable and unique experiences of my life and travels.
Although I made a few mistakes, I will never regret visiting San Cipriano. Next time however, I will ensure that I have done my research.
I would definitely go back to experience San Cipriano in all it’s glory. Watch this space…