After freezing in the mountains, it was time for a little bit of desert. Tatacoa Desert is an area between Bogota and San Agustin where the elements sculpted a fantastic landscape of pinnacles and small canyons. Scientists believe that maaaany years ago it was a garden with thousands of flowers and trees that little by little dried up until becoming a desert. Actually, technically speaking, Tatacoa Desert is not a desert but a “semi arid dry tropical forest” but well, when you are there, the word which comes to your mind is “desert”, especially because temperatures can reach 50 C.
The entrance gate to Tatacoa Desert is the smiling village of Villavieja, an excellent spot for a little bit of local life. We were lucky to arrive for the Fiesta Mayor so we could assist to the preparations for the “event of the year” in Villavieja. Although that year there was not much money to spend, people was as thrilled as always.
The transition from the village to the desert is gradual which is perfect for getting used to the dry and hot conditions. Once you are in the desert there are two main areas : the “red area”, basically an area of red clay, and the “grey area”, dominated by gray sands.
The red area, also known as the “Cuzco labyrinths”, has spectacular formations in the shape of towers, labyrinths and canyons. There are also many kinds of cactus. In this area there is an astronomical observatory. Because of lack of light pollution and its location respect the ecuador, Tatacoa is a great place for stars watching and some night excursions for star-watching are organized from Villavieja.
The grey area is less spectacular but it is nice to see both areas and the difference of vegetation. We found by chance a more or less natural swimming pool in the middle of the desert which looked to us like the perfect plan for the next hour.
Unfortunately the fantastic bath in the wilderness of the desert lasted only 10 minutes because a gang of savages (=children and teenagers without control) came from nowhere ready to assault our swimming pool. Thanks to our quick reflex we could leave the water before that merciless invasion. It was a coward surrender, I know, but I did not want to bathe between splash and splash.
On the way back to Villavieja, we tried to recover from defeat with a super burger and a Aguila (a local beer).
- At Tatacoa, cover your head and shoulders and bring plenty of water, you are in the desert!
- There is some accommodation at Tatacoa so you can sleep in the desert. Try to organise your desert accommodation from Villavieja;
- Star-watching excursions can be organised from Villavieja. If the sky is cloudy, excursions will be cancelled;
- As soon as you arrive at Tatacoa, locals will try to drive you to the main hotels in the town, the ones which appear on Lonely Planet and which also happen to be the most expensive. We were very happy with our own choice, Hotel Villa Paraíso, where we were treated like part of the family and at a better price.