Tatacoa Desert: A landscape carved by the Nature

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Location: Colombia

Villaviaja, 1 hour trip from Neiva, Huila Department.

How to get there, best time and cost

This semiarid region is located on the north part of Huila Department, 38 km away from the city of Neiva. Minibuses or shared Jeeps leave the transport terminal of Neiva. The trip lasts 1 hour and costs 5,000 COP. There’s no point to stay in Villavieja though. Just stay in the minibus and go straight into the desert. The driver should drop you off directly at your hostel.

The collectivos from Neiva to Villavieja charge 6,000 COP per person and 15,000 if they bring you directly to the desert (more for a single person, less for a group). A single traveler might get off at Villavieja and find a mototaxi (motorbike) to the desert for 10,000 COP or less.

The best time to explore the desert is early morning before the heat becomes intolerable (temperatures frequently reach 43°C).

My Experience

The first time I saw a picture of the Tatacoa Desert on google I thought I was seeing a place located somewhere in USA or Australia. Tatacoa Desert is another kind of landscape to add to Colombia’s already impressive list. Actually the 330-square-kilometer area is technically not a “desert,” but a tropical dry forest. Tatacoa is a unique and incredible place, renowned for its majestic landscapes and crystal clear sky.

This beautiful spot is often overlooked by travelers rushing by on their way to the glitz of the big cities of Cali and Medellín, or hustling to make it to the nearby archeological ruins of San Agustín, but it’s much more than just a scenic stop for a photo op.

You need to spend a couple of days minimun to explore the best parts of the desert. This arid zone is made up of about half a dozen different regions. The two most distinct and popular ones are the Los Hoyos section, characterized by its dark gray clay; and the Cuzco area, with reddish-orange dirt and striking erosion formations that are a bit reminiscent of the Turkish region of Cappadocia.

The second day we spent there it was probably 40/42 degrees outside. We spent 2/3 hours in a natural swimming pool in Los Hojos area, admiring the beautiful landscape and relishing in the comfort of the relatively cool water.

What’s the best part of Tatacoa Desert?!?! Its unrivalled view of the night sky, people can see dozens of different constellations, depending on the time of year, as well as planets and sections of the Milky Way. Near the entrance of the desert, in the Cuzco section, there is a small observatory open to the public. During the day, visitors can look at the basic selection of astronomical artifacts and equipment in the main room and climb up to see the telescope and observation deck. However, the best time to visit the observatory is after sunset.

Find out a guide and talk with him where you want to go, or visit in bicycle / car and you will see easily the best location in the desert. People can get lost and you might miss excellent hidden paths if you do not go with someone who knows the place.

uTips

  • It is very very hot here, best to come for a walk around 4 pm as it starts to cool off a bit.
  • The observatory was packed at 7 pm and we couldn’t get in, so get here and queue early if you want to go up and look up the stars.
  • There really are not many places to eat either, just a really small restaurant near the observatory. Almost all the hostel serve all meals during the day.
  • My last tip: Don’t get stuck with the thing that ruins your day, life is too short to be wasted in your crap. Smile and be positive because there are so many beautiful reasons to be happy, one of those is travelling.

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