Pretty Picture Time – Tatacoa desert in Colombia

I knew Colombia had a lot of different landscapes, but this one is new for me. An endless desert. Big birds are flying above the red colored rock formations. The Tatacoa desert seems surreal. In my mind I see quite similar pictures of the Grand Canyon and the Bryce Canyon in the United States. But after a while I’m back, with both feet on the dry ground of Tatacoa.

Desert… or not?

The Tatacoa desert in Colombia is not actually a desert. It rains ‘too much’ in this place to call it that. There it’s named a tropical dry forest. The plains are surrounded by a mountainous landscape. Most travelers skip this place or just visit it for a brief photo-moment, but for those who want to escape daily life in the cities should definitely stay here for the night!

After I’ve chosen a hammock (it was actually kinda useless, because there were no other travelers at that point), I rent a mountain bike. Big mistake. Moving through the Tatacoa desert at daytime is like being in hell. The temperature rises to more than forty degrees! I drunk already two liters of water during my brief, hopeless cycling tour of… four kilometers. I gave up and went back to chill out in my hammock in the shade to read my book.

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Paranoia and cactus fruits in the Tatacoa desert

Around four o’clock I decide to walk a bit. The temperature is much better around that time. It’s the golden hour (photographers will know what I mean), the perfect time for shooting great pictures. It was beautiful. A local boy named Camillo walks towards me and asks if he can join me. I’m a little bit suspicious, but I say it’s okay. What if he threatens me here, in the middle of nowhere? Or tries to get my camera and run away? Or maybe he wants to ask a commission at the end of our walk, for a ‘tour’ I didn’t signed up for? Camillo tells me all about the surroundings, the animals and the plants. He teaches me how to pick fruit out of a cactus, knows the names of a lot of birds and shows me the funniest rock formations. Apparently he’s now aware of my paranoia. So after I while I just enjoy the moment and the company.

We end our walk by watching one of the greatest sunsets I’ve ever seen. When we’re back after two hours he asks me why I was a bit uncomfortable at first. I tell him that in a lot of countries local people often have other intentions when they invite travelers. He answers, kinda surprised, that he just wanted me to enjoy his country, because Colombians are really happy people are finally willing to go to Colombia.

The route is a must-do! You won’t see a lot of other people and you have the place all for yourself. The route starts near the Tatacoa Observation Tower. Look for this sign:

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Stargazing in the Tatacoa desert in Colombia

Because there are barely any light sources the Tatacoa desert in Colombia is one of the best places for stargazing. You will see a lot of them! Every day at seven o’clock there will be a guy in the Tatacoa Observation Tower to explain everything about the stars and the galaxy. On the roof you’ll find huge telescopes. I saw the planet Jupiter for example, and something that looked like a black hole. And of course hundreds of stars. I’ve never seen the Milky Wat this clear. Breathtaking! The man explains everything in Spanish, but luckily there was a Colombian boy who could translate some things if I didn’t understand the sometimes difficult Spanish explanation.

Are you excited and do you want to go to the Tatacoa desert in Colombia?

The Tatacoa desert is located southwest of the capital Bogotá, on the route to Popayan and the border with Ecuador. To reach the desert you’ll have to first travel to Neiva. From Bogotá the bus ride will take about four to five hours. In Neiva you’ll have to take a bus to the small village Villavieja. It’s an one-hour drive. Here you will have two choices. You can ask someone to bring you to the desert (my bus driver did this for me).

It’s hard to negotiate. Everybody will always ask for 20,000 pesos (around 5 euros), no matter if the transportation is by car or motorbike. That’s quite expensive for a fifteen minute ride in my opinion. But I would do it anyway. It’s also possible to walk the six kilometers. I wouldn’t recommend this unless you start walking in the early morning or the evening. It’s really-really-really hot and on this road there are barely any places with shade. Moreover, there are no places where you can buy water. In the area near the Observation Tower you’ll find some places where you can sleep in a hammock, tent or sometimes even in a bed.

What do you think of this amazing place in Colombia? Would you go there?

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