South of Bogota is the beautiful Tatacoa desert. The colourful landscapes of the red Cuzco section and the interesting formation in Los Hoyos area are sure to impress all visitors.
Tatacoa is not actually a desert, but rather a dry tropical forest covering 330 sq km. It used to be a very tropical area, but over the centuries it has become very arid. Its history as a tropical forest means that there is a lot of vegetation, ranging from cacti to shrubs and even trees. Getting only 1 mm of rain a year, these plants have developed unique strategies to survive. They grow long roots both horizontally and vertically to capture as much water as possible.
Tatacao has two different faces. On one side is the red earth section called Cuzco. Here there are 20m tall red ridges, pillars and cliffs forming elaborate labyrinths. From the ridge-line above Cuzco you see these interesting features winding far into the distance. There are a few walking trails that take you up close to these interesting formations. Our guide showed us different layers of minerals that cause varying striations in the ridge walls and patterns on the ground.
Around every corner were breathtaking views. In some areas there were bright green plants growing in the red soil. The colours were amazing. Our guide said these areas are considered ‘tropical’.
There are also many different cacti in Cuzco. One type had pink blossoms on top of its round body. Our guide picked some buds and said we could eat them. They were delicious, tasting like the exotic dragon fruit. The area is also abundant with fossils as it used to be inhabited by a large amount of animals. We found three or four fossils during our short walk.
The other part of Tatacoa is the grey earth section called Los Hoyos. Where Cuzco’s earth is clay, Los Hoyos is a mix of large boulders and fine sand. At first Los Hoyos seemed less impressive because of the drab grey colour. Soon, however, you see its unique beauty in the different formations formed by erosion. There are interesting hoodoo-style pinnacles, long strands coming from bulbous bodies and flowing shapes that look like ghosts.
The ground was quite wet as we walked through this area. Surrounding mountains drain their water into the canyon, but the soil can’t retain it. The park collects the water into artificial pools which are a popular place for tourists to cool down from the hot desert sun.
On the drive back we saw many colourful birds as well as many churos (vultures) circling overhead.
We stayed in the village of Villavieja. It’s very small village with a slow pace. Its a place where the locals congregate in the town square for a coffee or beer or just to chat with friends.
How to visit Tatacoa
You don’t need a guide, but you need transportation as it’s a large area. You can hire tuk-tuks in Villavieja for four hours. They charge 80,000 COP for transportation and up to 130,000 COP for transportation and guiding services. We hired a tuk-tuk driver to guide us and found it was very beneficial. We would have missed a lot of hidden areas on our own, and it’s very easy to get lost.
Getting to Tatacoa
Buses leave Bogata’s Salitre Terminal (also stopping in Sud Terminal) several times a day for Neiva (6+ hours). From Neiva’s bus terminal, collectivos (shared mini-bus) leave every hour for Villavieja (1hr 15 min). If you’re staying in the desert there are tuk-tuks at the main square that will take you the last 6 km. Return is reverse of these directions.
Where to stay
There are three options for hotels when visiting Tatacoa. You can stay in the large city of Neiva where there are many hotels, restaurants and tour operators. You can stay, as we did in Villavieja, where there are also many budget hotels and restaurants. Here you can hire local guides to take you to the desert. There area also a few hotels and hostels in the desert, but you’ll be restricted to their restaurants. We’re glad we stayed in Villavieja as it was close to the desert and we had access to different restaurants and could explore the small village.
Coming Up Next: Las Lajas Sanctuary & The White City of Popayan
To read about more of our adventures go to Destinations.
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