The last of my trips around Colombia (at least for now) took place in Santander, a department located in Central Colombia. This department is one of the most important regions of the country from an economic point of view (4th biggest) and its capital city, Bucaramanga--commonly known as the “city of parks”--is the urban area with the lowest unemployment rate in the country (and yes, the lowest unemployment rate in Colombia is actually high for international standards: 8.8%!).
Santander is also home of Chicamocha National Park. This is one of the biggest endeavors ever undertaken by a Colombian region aimed to take advantage (with a sustainable approach) of one of the most stunning natural landscapes we have in the country, to the point that it has been nominated as one of the new seven natural wonders of the world.
You can get an idea of what it's like from this video:
Cable cars go across the canyon and then come back. The first station is located at the park itself, on the top of a mountain which is 1,600 meters above sea level, and then you start going down to the Chicamocha River, where the second station is (500 meters above sea level). As you start going up again to the other side of the canyon, you feel how the weather gets cooler and the breeze gets stronger, until you arrive at the third station called Mesa de los Santos, a very impressive plateau located at 1,800 meters above sea level.
View from the first station
View from the second station
View from the third station
From my personal experience I can say it’s simply breathtaking and also very interesting from a development point of view. The 45-minute cable car ride I took with a friend of mine and one of my cousins who lives in Bucaramanga was, I would say, 70% focused on how this system worked and what it meant to Santander and Colombia as a whole. The other 30% of the time we were just speechless. We surrendered to the amazing beauty our planet offers.
Historically, Santander used to be stronger from an economic point of view than what it is today. In the 18th century, coffee crops started there and afterwards moved to what is now called the Coffee Region (in other departments located more to the west). My cousin thinks that in Santander people are very entrepreneurial but there is a lack of teamwork abilities, so that’s why Santander always has businesses up and running but very few of them grow on a big scale. Also, industrialization has diminished in the region (similarly to the situation Christine mentions in her blog post …). I like to think that the economy is now more oriented to sustainable services like tourism and that youth are now more conscious about the need to work in teams.
Chicamocha Park is an enormous venture. This is creativity put to good use. Millions of people have traveled by this canyon for hundreds of years, but no one saw its true potential until now (maybe we haven’t seen it all yet). It’s up to the youth of Santander to make this park last and leverage the growth and development of the whole region, bringing thousands (or even millions!) of tourists who can appreciate this blessing of nature. It’s up to the youth to learn from past generation’s mistakes and build a stronger economy and society today and tomorrow.