Tatacoa Desert is one of the most amazing deserts in Colombia and second largest arid zone in the country after La Guajira. Paradoxically, the Tatacoa Desert is not a desert per say; it is actually a tropical dry forest that, according to researchers, was an area rich in fauna and flora a long time ago, but eventually dried out until becoming the desert it is today.
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Visiting the Tatacoa Desert is with out a doubt a destination that you must visit at least once during your time in Colombia. This desert contains a unique set rock formations and a wide contrast of colors; one side made up of red soil and one side made up of gray soil, making this desert an unforgettable experience and a spectacle for one's eyes.
It is for these reasons that we have prepared this guide, filled with all the information, activities, and prices and how to get to the Tatacoa Desert, what to do there, where to sleep, and where to eat.
How to get to Tatacoa Desert?
The Tatacoa desert is located in the department of Huila, so the first stop or starting point to get to the Tatacoa Desert should be Neiva, which can be reached by bus from Bogotá in about four or five hours for 30.000 COP. The trip can also be taken from Medellín for 80.000 COP in a trip that lasts between eleven and twelve hours. If you are in another city, there are cheap flights you can take to Neiva.
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Once in Neiva, head to the bus terminal and choose one of the following options: Take a direct bus to the Tatacoa Desert from Neiva's Bus Terminal; the bus ticket costs around 15.000 COP and the trip lasts around 2 hours. The other option is to take a bus to the municipality of Villa Vieja for 7.000 COP and then take a motorcycle from this municipality to the desert for approximately 20.000 COP.
What to do in the Tatacoa Desert?
There are many things to do in the Tatacoa Desert. You can start with an ecological hike along the trails of Cuzco. You can then, visit the gray area of the Tatacoa Desert., known as Los Hoyos, where visitors can end the fascinating walk in an immense natural pool located in the middle of the desert and take a refreshing dip for only 5.000 COP.
You can either explore by yourself or get a tour guide service, which will take you to all the above mentioned places and many more, such as the Mirador de las Ventanas and the Valle de los Deseos while simultaneously learning about Tatacoa Desert and all of its history. However, if you do not want to take the tour, you can visit all the places by yourself either on a horse, renting a motorbike or a bike, or by walking. We recommend last option the least, as walking can be exhausting, the distances from one place to another are fairly large, and the heat of the desert can be draining.
The Tatacoa Desert is the perfect place for looking at the stars in Colombia. The lack of light pollution allows the sky to fully open up to you at night, so you are able to watch millions of thousands of stars directly above you. This is a plan that we absolutely think should be on the top of your itinerary. One way to watch the stars consists of going to one of the two astronomical observersatories and, for a price between 5.000 COP and 10.000 COP, you will be able to attend talks given by experts explaining data about the constellations and having the opportunity to take a closer look to the stars.
Where to sleep in the Tatacoa Desert?
There are many accommodation options, in the Tatacoa Desert, mostly consisting of camping. You can go to Villa de Vieja or to the surrounding areas where the price for one night starts from 8.000 COP if you bring your own tent, or from 20.000 COP if you rent one. Clearly you can also camp in the Tatacoa Desert: which in our opinion, is the best option, but if you're not that adventurous, you can go for hostels with private or mixed rooms, or luxury cabins in the middle of the desert.
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Where to eat in the Tatacoa Desert?
Well, it is a desert, right? For this reason, it is not very easy to find restaurants, and the restaurants you do find are not normally very diverse. The restaurants you are able to find are usually located in the hostels or where you spend the night.
The dish you definitely are going to find in all of the restaurants in the Tatacoa Desert, as well as everywhere else in Huila, is the famous chivo (goat) in all its different presentations: stew, fried, roasted, boiled, etc., which is a good opportunity to taste the typical local food and learn more about the varied Colombian gastronomy.
If you are going to camp, the best option is to bring your own food. You can buy it at any supermarket in Neiva o Villa Vieja.
Tips when visiting the Tatacoa Desert
Keep in mind that it is a desert, so it means that temperatures can be very high during the day and you will be covering long distances. It is essential to be well covered and hydrated. A couple more recommendations when visiting the Tatacoa Desert would be to bring plenty of water, sunglasses, sunscreen, and a hat or a cap as well as light clothing. In addition, do not forget to bring you bathing suit for the natural pool or the volcanic mud baths.
While the temperature during the day is very hot, at night the temperatures drop dramatically,. For this reason, it is important to be prepared for cold temperatures and wear clothes that will keep you warm, especially at night.
Traveling during the week and the low season will help you save some money, since the prices go down considerably during these times. Another piece of advice that you must apply during your time in Colombia is to always be willing to bargain - you can always get things a little cheaper.
And our last and most important tip: enjoy every minute of the trip. Enjoy the hidden magic within the Tatacoa Desert and let yourself be amazed by the landscapes and views that nature has prepared for you. Feel lucky for visiting this place cause not everybody has the opportunity of going.
Budget to travel to the Tatacoa Desert
You can make your own budget with the above-mentioned prices. However, if you are looking to take a short break from the city on a weekend, you will spend around 300.000 COP, including tickets if you are in north coast, for example. If you go from any inland city, this trip can be a lot cheaper, around 100.000 COP to 150.000 COP.
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The San Agustín Archaeological Park is very close to you, so take this opportunity to visit it. Reserva Natural Río Claro is located between Bogotá and Medellin; the Cocora Valey is located in the Eje Cafetero (Coffee Axis), another wonderful destination home of the highest wax palms in the world. You can also visit Chiribiquete; the new World Heritage Site and venture to Caño Cristales, the most beautiful five-color river in the world. In the north of the country you cannot miss the Tayrona Park, the Lost City, Cabo de la Vela and Punta Gallinas. Now, if you want you can visit this blog and check all the information we have prepared for you.