We were enchanted by Santa Fe as soon as we drove into the bowl shaped valley it’s nestled in. With a modest population of just over 3000 and no two storey homes, every single street offers a perfect view of the surrounding hills. The small town has a dozen restaurants, half as many hotels or hostels, a couple of pool halls, one large community cooperative that sells everything, a bus terminal and a perfectly tranquil atmosphere. Our hostel, La Qhia (“moon” in an indigenous dialect from southern Mexico), had a huge part in making our stay in Sante Fe just as adventurous and relaxing as we wanted it to be.
La Qhia is some sort of heaven on earth. As soon as you walk through the gates you can feel the subtle energy calming your nerves and taking away any of the days stress or anxiety. The first things we noticed were the mandala drawings, the dream catchers and the crescent moon shaped garden. Looking more closely, we noticed that every inch of the property and it’s buildings have been meticulously created in a very intentional way. The details are subtle if you aren’t looking for them. The custom made tables with the crescent moon emblem, the walls that are painted in the perfect colours with flowing rock artistry. Rooms with fresh mountain breeze, an open air kitchen, plenty of hammocks and a balcony with a phenomenal view. It is easily one of the best hostels we have ever stayed at.
The owner Stephanie is a wealth of knowledge; she has prepared folders of accessible information about Sante Fe, nearby restaurants, and things to do around town.
We definitely wanted to get some hiking in and chose to do a 5-6 hour hike that took us up to Piedra waterfall (Alto de Piedra) and the best views of the area. The first hour or so was a very strenuous walk up steeply paved roads. We were in no hurry and stopped a number of times to catch our breath, drink some water and take in our surroundings. Stephanie’s directions were prefect; after the uphill climb, we passed a school, a pond and finally came to a green house with a rusty roof marking the start of the trail directly across the street. Once we got into the thick forest it was a steep muddy downhill climb to the waterfall. While it wasn’t the biggest or most impressive waterfall we have seen it was certainly a beautiful spot. The waterfall was set back in an overgrown section of the jungle. Plants of every size, shape and shade of green framed it’s constant flow of water.
After snacking on some grapes we climbed back to the paved road and per Stephanie’s directions found a dirt road taking us through the forest. This path was longer than we expected but we were prepared for the muddy parts and loved the sights and sounds. There were plenty of birds and a few small homes, but mostly just jungle. The highlight was the toucans we saw! That’s right, more than one, and one tiny one with a beak half the size of the others – baby toucan…. an unexpected surprise for sure!
When the dirt path ended at a “T” intersection we were rewarded with the best view of the area. The beauty that surrounded us was more than just a sight, it invoked feelings; we were speechless. These are the moments we live for. It’s places like this that we travel for, and we do our best to share these experiences whole-heartedly so that the readers who come across this blog can enjoy this adventure with us. (Have you ever been somewhere that made your heart skip a beat? Take a moment to close your eyes and go back there right now. Beautiful, right? If you’re open to sharing, we would love to hear about it in the comments below.)
Once we had taken it all in, we snuck under a fence and enjoyed our lunch in a field with this inspiring view. The hike down was again quite steep and a bit muddy, but with full hearts and full bellies, it was no problem at all.
We spent a day lounging around La Qhia chatting with other travellers and then wanted to see another part of Santa Fe. Floating down a tube in the river for a couple hours was very enticing however it involved a bit more planning than we wanted. Another hike, another waterfall and another view of Santa Fe sounded good so off we went.
While the Piedra waterfall hike had taken us north west of town, the Bermejo waterfall hike took us more east.
We sauntered down some steep roads, across a bridge, along a trail and another small section of road before we found the path leading to the waterfall. Well actually we walked passed it, then some children were kind enough to point it out to us and when we started taking the wrong path they clarified things by pointing out the sign hanging from a tree. How we don’t lose our head sometimes is a mystery to us.
This path was rocky and muddy for the first section, then took us across a couple of small creeks through an open field and finally to the slippery rocks of the river. We had acquired a friendly dog companion by this point and he was happy enough to lead the way. At the advice of Stephanie we took our shoes off and carefully walked along the rocks and into the river with our socks on, they helped us from slipping A LOT.
To be honest it was quite scary trusting ourselves on those rocks. Some of the narrow passages we took on our way to the waterfall looked as if they could fall from beneath us at any moment; but we carried on cautiously.
The waterfall was amazing. It was much bigger than the Piedra waterfall and was surrounded by big boulders with many different pools of water. We found a deep section to the left of the waterfall that we could jump into for a refreshing swim (and to wipe off all the moss and dirt that covered us from our climb).
Our furry friend became a nuisance at this point. He didn’t want to follow us into the water so he barked and barked until we returned to his side. Then we had to backtrack climbing over and between the boulders. The dog was really scared at one point where he had to jump down a couple of feet to some jagged rocks. It took us 20 minutes to help him through that section but then it was pretty smooth sailing. We found a nice spot to have a snack and enjoy the scenery and then proceeded back to the trusty paths.
After lunch in a field we continued back to La Qhia. Again this hike offered beautiful views of the mountains; some of them appear to be rolling waves while others reach to a perfect peak. It’s quite an interesting place, one unlike any we have ever seen.
Getting to Santa Fe: From Santiago there are buses every 20 or 30 minutes, the ride will take anywhere from 1 to 2 hours depending on the driver and number of stops.
Leaving Santa Fe: Buses leave the terminal and stop by the centre of town (cathedral) every half hour or so. The downhill ride back to Santiago can be a bit shorter.
Getting around Santa Fe: It’s a small town with lots of hills so the streets aren’t always going where you expect them to go. Pick up a map from your hotel or hostel or download a map onto your phone. We use the Maps.me app, it’s been a lifesaver.
Accommodation: La Qhia is obviously our biggest recommendation, however there are a couple of other hotels and hospedaje (homestays) around town. You probably don’t have to book in advance as it isn’t part of the typical “backpacker trail”, but it may be a good idea during high season.
Eating and drinking: We cook a lot of our own meals to save money but there are some decent restaurants around with reasonably priced food. There is a pizza place owned by Italians; everyone we met said it was the absolute best pizza.