Nov 08

FROM THE ARCHIVES: Tatacoa Desert, A Weekend Under the Stars

Unless you’ve been to Mars, Tatacoa Desert is like nothing you’ve seen before. Marcela had the chance to do it last year during a vacation to Colombia, and wrote about it on her original Blogger Colombia Travel Blog . Because it does rain from time to time, Tatacoa isn’t technically a desert. It’s considered a semi arid zone (and, FYI, is also located in the municipality of Villavieja just north of Huila, about 38 km from Neiva and  between the eastern andean mountain range and the Magdalena river).

The first thing most people have to do when heading to Tatacoa Desert is to get the overnight bus from Bogotá to Neiva. Neiva is a small city that’s famous for the San Pedro festival; one of the many Colombian festivals that takes place throughout the year. It’s quite a bumpy journey by bus, but if you’re like me you’ll have no trouble getting to sleep, and you can arrive early in the morning ready for your weekend. From here you get on the bus for the short drive towards Tello; the first stop on the journey to Tatacoa. It’s here that Marcela’s story begins…

Bike to Tatacoa
On yer bike!

At Tello, which is basically a crossroad, we got off the bus, got our bikes ready and started a 35k bike ride through a beautiful, wavy road towards Villavieja. 4 hours  later we were  there, in Villavieja, ready to start our final trip to Tatacoa.

Villavieja is a tiny town in the middle of no where with colonial houses and a beautiful square with a church, police station and alcaldia (the mayors office). We stoped there for about 40 mins to catch our breath and  to visit the archaeological museum, and buy some local wine and sweets.  It was a great feeling to know that the town is so safe and tranquil that you can just leave your bikes outside the front door.

After the break, we decided it was time to start heading towards the desert so we took the only road that leaves Villavieja and croses the desert. At 330 square km, the Tatacoa desert has two very special types of scenery: the first is a dry and very red soil with cool erosion formations full of cacti that has been named El Cuzco. The second is known as Los Hoyos, consisting of dry greyish soil canyons that have been made fertile by the strong currents formed during the rainy season.

The observatory at Tatacoa
The observatory at Tatacoa

After about an hour we entered the Cuzco area and headed to the observatory. From there and after a light lunch and loads of water we did a short walk through the arid red soil formations.

I have no words to describe the scenery; you can get the most amazing contrast between the blue sky and the vibrant red rock formations. There are enourmous arches and small paths… It’s exactly like being a character of Disney’s movie Bug’s Life! Anyhow, after taking the most amazing photos (it really is a photographer’s dream) it was time to head to our next destination and campsite, Los Hoyos.

The scenery at Tatacoa
The scenery at Tatacoa

So we got to Los Hoyos set camp had a shower and ate the most wonderful sancocho (local chiken soup) with rice and a cold beer. After a nice chat with everybody and a brief about the next day’s activities we retired to our tents and turn our lanterns off. I expected stars but, honestly, I have never seen so many stars in my life. Since there is no electricity in 300 kms around us  you can really see the night at its clearest. It’s just a beautiful feeling being able to see the inmensity of the world, and to listen to the night and fall asleep in such a magic an unpoluted place.

Next day, our second day of the trip, we got up at 7 am had breakfast and got together with the group. Our guide divided the group in two: those that wanted to ride 17k to the river Cabrera or those who wanted a nice 9k trek to the same river and back. My friend and I decided we wanted to walk. So after filling our bottles with as much water as we could carry we started to walk. We crossed the desert through an area called Los Hoyos.

Tatacoa desert
Tatacoa desert

It has such a diferent atmosphere, as opposed to Cuzco where the soil is red, this area is made of greyish and black stones. It was just like walking on the moon (I imagine, since I’ve never walked on the moon). After a 6 hour walk we bumped into paradise – the whole scenery changed dramatically into a beautiful green garden. That could only mean that there was water around and that meant that we were close to the river! We walked a further half an hour and finally reached our destination, the River Cabrera. We sat by the river bank had a couple of sandwiches and then jumped into the water where we cool down and we even had a spa mud treatment for free!

When we got back to camp our guide had a well deserved treat for us: sunset in a pool in the middle of the desert. We couldn’t belive that there actually was a pool in the middle of nowhere, but there it was: it was completely natural, fresh water with no chemicals. So, we watched the sunset, had a beer and relaxed in the pool for a couple of hours.

Natural pool near Tatacoa
Natural pool near Tatacoa

The next and final day of our travel in the Tatacoa desert, we packed and load everything onto the bus and headed to Pacande ready to travel to Bogota.

Tatacoa is an amazing place. It’s full of 12 million year old bird, fish and reptile fossils -some are as big as elephants. The experts say that originally Tatacoa must have been a very green area with lush vegetation and a huge diversity of species, but today it’s a refuge for owls, bats, foxes, snails and spiders. It gets its name from the Tatacoa, a local snake. During the day it gets so hot and dry that you can almost fry and egg on a rock but when the night falls you can feel the cool breeze that comes down from the mountains whilst looking at the infinity of the milky way, drinking a local beer and counting shooting stars.

And that’s it! I hope you enjoyed seeing Tatacoa through my eyes, and as always, if you have any question on how to get there, etc… just e-mail me! Or get in touch with us over at See Colombia Travel.


If you’re interested in taking a tour, check out SCT’s Tatacoa Desert Tour.


Thanks for visiting our Colombia Travel Blog. If you want to learn more about coming to Colombia please check out our Colombia tours.

Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter, and be sure to ‘Like’ us on Facebook.



One thought on “FROM THE ARCHIVES: Tatacoa Desert, A Weekend Under the Stars

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *