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Buga, Colombia: Celebrating the Lord and holly water beer

Marla Martin |
If you wonder what's the connection between holy water, beer, and a miracle figure that a bishop set on fire, you must visit Buga. An old colorful town in Colombia is one of South America's places still not overcrowded with tourists.

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A small wooden crucifix that was discovered more than 500 year ago in the Guadalajara River started something that grew up to be a source of amazement to Catholics and tourist Mecca in Colombia. A phenomenon nobody can explain - a crucifix that grew daily - brings million of tourists every year, some religious, some not, to see this colorful Colombian town founded back in 1555. The town’s basilica from 1907 and the whole city is faithful devotees, especially on the Day of the Lord of Miracles, September 14.

Guadalajara de Buga, or Buga as locals call it, is a city in western Colombia. Established under two names, Buga la Real (the Royal Buga) or La Ciudad Señora (the Lady City), it was the home of wealthy families from Spain back in the days. After the dissolution of then Gran Colombia in 1830, representatives from then new country Ecuador didn't show at the meeting with their neighbors, so it was decided: Buga is Colombian. That "small" error gave Colombia one of the best tourist destinations in South America.

Of course, the heart of Buga is its historic center with buildings from the 17th and the 18th century. Proud to be visited - twice! - by Simon Bolivar, locals are happy to see a number of tourists coming to see the Basilica which is Buga’s main attraction. The figure, once set on fire by a bishop, turned black, began to perspire miracle oil, and became the Black Christ of Buga or the Lord of Miracles. But there is much more to it than the famous basilica. Buga is an architecturally diverse with unique, well-preserved buildings from New Granada times to recent republica.

To take a bird’s eye view of the town, its 15 churches and other landmarks, you'll have too take the 134 steps of the Monumento El Faro. Interesting by itself - this is the only lighthouse without a sea - this building dedicated to Alejandro Cabal Pombo will show you a great look on what's beneath you. Or, you can climb El Derrumbado hill for not just a great Buga view but also a spectacular view toward Western Cordillera.

Back down, one of the best ways to get the soul of the city is Parque Cabal where local sit while time is standing still and where huge iguanas hide between leaves - some reach a meter and a half and weigh eight kilos! But don't take coffee, opt for some locally brewed beer instead. But, since this is a religious city, beer follows that: the micro-brewery Holy Water Ale Cafe is using holy water to create different beer tastes. We are not sure that's the original intention of the holy water creator but here it works very well.

Realizing what tourists mean for the town today, the city created the Buga, A Spiral of Time tour. While listening to the guide in English or Spanish, you can enjoy the history tour around the city and see locations immersed in stories that locals carry through generations. Local actors who portray famous local Buguen?os make the experience complete. Thanks to its position, Buga is ideal as a starting point for outdoor adventures. And you may start with Alaska.

This is a village where the holy crucifix was found and from there a smooth walk leads you to a stunning waterfall Cascada de los Milagros. A really stunning experience is Los Chorros, the place where huge rocks have created natural swimming pools. Southwest of the city there's a reserve of 2,045 hectares called the Laguna de Sonso, a marshland with more birds, mammals, fish and reptiles that you ever heard of. Just be sure that you go with a guide because this is a rough terrain, still mainly undiscovered and without beaten paths.

After all those excitements, it's time to return to the city and search for some refreshment. On the city's outskirts, visit Restaurante Maria Mulata Campestre. The meals is prepared as you order it, and in the fresh air their coconut sauce is a must. You definitively should start with the local chicken soup (sancocho) for which locals say it's the best in the region. Atollado rice, a creamy dish prepared with sausage, pork, and yellow potatoes, is a symbol of the Colombia's cuisine, and it must be followed with pandebono, bread made from cassava flour and cheese.