There are many weekend break options to be taken from Bogotá: to the hot country in Girardot, to the spas in Paipa or the farms of Anapoima. Socorro might not be such an obvious choice, but it certainly offers a great deal of activity for a weekend away.
Today, Socorro may be small town in the state of Santander, less well-known than Bucaramanga or San Gil, but it has a big place in Colombia’s history. Two hundred years ago, on the eve of Colombia’s Independence, the country’s three main cities were Bogotá, Cartagena… and Socorro. In fact the city was the capital of Colombia – for a day – and played a key part in the Independence movement.
Socorro owed its size and importance to its role as one of the main economic centers during the colonial period. In the 18th century it was known as “the Manchester of the Nueva Granada” (as Colombia was called under Spanish rule). One of the Spanish colony’s principal sources of income – tobacco – was grown around Socorro, and the city became a key financial and administrative centre, where taxes were collected for the Spanish rulers. It was a sharp increase in these taxes, which led to the 1781 rebellion – known as the “comuneros”- El Socorro.
This local uprising – the first time Spanish rule had been seriously challenged in more than two centuries – soon grew into an angry group of more than 20,000 who marched towards Bogotá. This force could have defeated the Spanish, who at the time had a tiny army in the capital, if their leaders had not bottled instead of battled. They were tricked into accepting some empty promises given by the Spanish Viceroy; the group disbanded, and its leaders were captured and executed. Their heads and limbs were distributed and displayed around the country to “discourage the others,” but their legacy lives on in the statues and stories that can be found throughout the streets of Socorro. And names such as Manuel Beltrán and José Antonio Galán have since been celebrated throughout Colombia, not just in Socorro.
Socorro in recent years has become an attractive tourist centre, just four hours from Bogotá on a safe and picturesque road. As well as its rich history, the visitor can enjoy walking tours around the city, where the 19th century cathedral – the largest stone cathedral in Colombia and one of the biggest in South America – is a highlight.
On a three or four day trip, El Socorro can be the ideal base to enjoy the best of the Santander department: from the adrenaline of rafting the Suarez river – one of the best in the country for water sports – to the dreamy tranquility of Barichara, a colonial village of picture postcard perfection and now national monument. From Barichara you can walk the “Royal Road” (Camino Real) to the neighboring village of Guane, and just an hour away from El Socorro is the Chicamocha canyon. Deeper than the more famous Grand Canyon in the U.S. – it boasts spectacular views from the Chicamocha park.
Those brave enough can try “ziplining” or paragliding over the canyon, while a less stressful option is the 6 km journey by cable car across the abyss of the Chicamocha to the windswept Mesa de los Santos plateau.
Drinking good coffee is another of delight of touring Santander. Some of the first coffee plantations sprouted up in these hills, arriving from Africa via nearby Venezuela. Many of Santander’s plantations and coffee farms are known for their organically grown beans.
In Socorro and other Santander towns and villages, you can enjoy the local cuisine, which includes the mute (corn soup) and oven-cooked chivo (goat). Don’t miss the chance when in season to dig your teeth into toasted large-bottom leaf cutting ants: the hormiga culona. Said to be an aphrodisiac, they are one of Santander’s most famous exports and a good way to add some “spice” to a weekend.