I could not leave Colombia for the second time without visiting Tierradentro. This is the second most important archaeological site in Colombia, famous for its hypogea (underground tombs) unique in America. But Tierradentro was far from Bogotá so I did a technical stop at Villavieja, to visit again the Tatacoa Desert.
Technically speaking, Tatacoa Desert is not a desert but a “semi arid dry tropical forest” but in a place where temperatures can reach 50C the only word which comes to my mind is desert, lol
There is a nice hike which links the main sights of this desert in only a couple of hours (one way). Some people do it by bicycle or horse but I like to walk and take my time to appreciate the landscape and take some pictures so despite the high temperatures just took a pick up from Villavieja to the entrance of the desert.
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 there is no light pollution and it is located close to the Ecuador, Tatacoa is a great place for stars-watching and some night excursions are organized from Villavieja. However winter time does not seem to be the best time for star-watching because the sky was cloudy all the time.
The grey area is less spectacular but it is nice to see both areas and the difference of vegetation.
On the way back there was a small hostel with a nice swimming pool which could be used also by non guests. After all those hours hiking under the sun, could not resist the temptation to have a bath in the middle of the desert, it was very cool! 🙂
To reach Tierradentro from Villavieja I needed three hours more of shared taxi and two “difficult” hours on a small truck . . . no doubt why Spaniards gave this name to these mountainous knots and deep canyons, they felt they were closed in by the mountains (=between the mountains). But the landscape of Tierradentro was so beautiful that once I got rid of all the dust of the trip I quickly forgot the painful trip.
Very little is known of how the pre-Hispanic societies which inhabited the Tierradentro region organised their political, social and economic lives. The excessive humidity of the soils has meant that bone remains have not been preserved for dating. However, we can be sure that death played an important role in their society and apart from the hypogea, funerary urns are the most elaborate and highly decorated pottery objects to have been found.
Archaeologist have discovered about 100 hypogea and there is a fabulous hike that takes in all the major tomb sites amid gorgeous mountain scenery. Because in Tierradentro it rains hard quite often, the path is usually muddy and it was good to have my hiking boots. But well, as I said on some previous posts, there is a before and an after Chachapoyas so it was not that bad.
The typical hypogeum has an entry oriented towards the west, a spiral staircase and a main chamber, usually 5 to 8 meters below the surface, with several lesser chambers around, each one containing a corpse. The walls are painted with geometric, anthropomorphic and zoomorphic patterns in red, black and white. Some statues and remains of pottery and fabrics can be seen scarcely due to grave robbery before the hypogea were constituted as protected areas.
I wish I could stay longer but the money ran out soon and there were no ATMs in the town, being the closest one at two hours drive. A pity because Tierradentro had such a beautiful scenery that I would have spent one more day hiking.
Tierradentro was more or less the end of my Colombian trip. Two days after I was in Bogotá again to take a flight to Leticia, to the jungle 😀
My Tips :
Villavieja is an esasy week end destination for people of Bogotá to escape the winter time so if you plan to go on weekend it would be wise to book in advance;
Tierradentro is so remote that sees few tourists. There is no need to book accommodation in advance and maybe you can try to negotiate the price;
In Tierradentro there is no internet, no ATMs and it is not possible to pay by card so come with your pockets full of money. The entrance to the archaeological park is expensive for Colombian standards, 20.000COP and lasts for two days;
It is useful to have a torch with you to visit the archaeological site. Tombs have light but a torch helps to appreciate the details.