Glance at a map of Colombia and you'll see a enormous area to the
East of Bogota without a city in sight. This huge region of Eastern
Colombia consists of huge, sprawling, seasonally flooded plains or
savannahs and has for years been ignored by tourists due to security
concerns. However the situation has improved greatly recently and the
area around Villavicencio is safe once more. Los Llanos Orientales
of Colombia makes up over a quarter of Colombia's landmass yet has just
a tiny proportion of the population. To travel to Los Llanos is, above
all, to experience the folkloric lifestyle of Los Llaneros "cowboys".
The Gaucho and the Pampas are to Argentina, what the Llaneros and Los Llanos
are to Colombia. The culture, music and food of the Llaneros is unique
and distinct, and their cowboy lifestyle is a hard, traditional one.
Colombians drool at the thought of eating huge slabs of meat from Los
Llanos and the whole Llanero lifestyle is somewhat romanticised in
As the plains of Los Llanos are seasonally
flooded, there's a huge variety of wildlife to be found in the region.
Birdwatching and wildlife watching tours are other popular activities
Known as the Gate to the Plains ("La Puerta al Llano"),
Villavicencio, which is capital of Meta department, is two hours South
East of Bogota and is commonly used as a base for visiting Los Llanos.
Fifty years ago Villavicencio was a small hamlet. Now it's the
commercial hub of the cattle ranches of Los Llanos, and is a city of
350,000 people that's hot, muggy and not especially attractive. It
does, however, make an ideal base to explore the region. You can party
with the local cowboys at the renowned Los Capachos nightclub, which draws visitors from as far afield as Bogota.
Los Llanos & Around Villavicencio
a range of fincas (farms/ranches) around Villavicencio that can
accommodate tourists. Activities typically on offer are as diverse as
mountain biking, caving, rafting, horseriding, fishing and hiking.
Independent, Spanish speaking travellers could try contacting fincasyeventos.com which offers a huge variety of options. Otherwise, you'd be best off contacting a tour operator - see the recommended Colombia travel agencies page for some suggestions.
alternative to that suggested above is to go off and explore if you
have your own transport. There's next to no buses or public
transportation in the region so you would need your own transport.
You'll be going way off the beaten track going to any of these places.
Consider visiting Medina, a typical small town about 100km from
Villavicencio. It's a scenic walk to the spectacular Devils Canyon
nearby. Additionally, Puerto Lopez is a small town 100km East of
Villavicencio. This is a good spot to get some typical Llanero food,
and the Alto Menegua Obelisk that marks the geographic centre of
Colombia offers some beautiful views over the plains. Nearby is Lagos de Menegua Hotel & Resort
(Spanish only website) - activites possible from here include hiking,
kayaking, fishing, wildlife watching and plenty more. It's a
beautifully located resort and one of the more upmarket ones in the
region (I believe). A couple of hours beyond Puerto Lopez is Puerto
Gaiman and the Rio Manacacias, where boat trips to see pink river
dolphins can be arranged locally. The Manacacias river has various
pretty sandy beaches that can be enjoyed.
Sumapaz National Park,
which is South West from Villavicencio, can be visited using Cubarral
on the Rio Ariari as bases. Adventure activities such as white water
rafting, paragliding and balsa rafting (bamboo style rafts) as possible
in this beautiful National Park. You should check the local security
situation before visiting this National Park.
trips (up to a week long) along a variety of rivers such as Rio Orinoco
and Rio Meta can also be arranged through tour operators.
Villavicencio is also the staging point for visits to Caño Cristales, widely regarded as being one of the most beautiful rivers in the world.
Hotels in Villavicencio
All of the hotels in Villavicencio listed below have websites in Spanish only.
Hotel Palo Verde - a good looking hotel with 18 rooms and villas and a swimming pool. The villas have private swimming pools.
Hotel del Llano
- one of the smartest hotels in Villavicencio, Hotel del Llano has a
nice swimming pool as well as a spa, sauna and attached tour agency.
Don Lolo - expensive hotel with a swimming pool.
Maria Gloria Hotel - another large hotel, this one claims to be 5 stars. While the hotel looks good, five stars seems to be pushing it.
Hacienda San Jose - is just outside of town.
There's a variety of mid range and budget hotels in central Villavicencio in addition.
There's also a variety of hotels (usually referred to as Hotel Campestres) in the countryside surrounding Villavicencio - whether any of the following are any good I really don't know - Luna Roja, La Potra, Costa del Llanero or try googling Hotel Arboretto Villavicencio, or you could try hiring a villa/farm/finca in the area.
Further Afield into remote Eastern & Amazonian Colombia
than the area immediately around Villavicencio, Eastern Colombia is
amost totally unexplored by tourists (except the Amazon region of Leticia, which has been categorised as South Colombia for the purposes of this travel guide).
As the security situation improves, Eastern Colombia will
undoubtedly slowly open up to tourists. Tour operators are starting to
scope out the area and some of the more adventurous ones are beginning
to offer packages (see the page on recommended Colombia travel agencies for some details).
Tuparro National Park
is the only National Park in Los Llanos region (the other Parks
mentioned below are in the Amazon). Tuparro can be visited only through
a tour operator, or by advising the National Parks office in advance of
your visit (apparently). The scenery is beautiful, and activities
possible include hiking, kayaking, fishing, birdwatching and visits to
indigenous communities. To travel to Tuparro National Park you'll
need to either catch a fight to Puerto Carreno and travel onwards
by boat (via Venezuela), or travel overland via Puerto Gaitan (a very
long journey) and then by boat. Tour operators such as De Una can
mentioned below are almost never visited by tourists as of 2011 - in
increasingly more remote order I will mention them for those
adventurous travellers so inclined:
Sumapaz National Park
- this National Park is the largest paramo in the world. Just 2
hours drive from Bogota, Sumpaz doesn't have any facilities and there
is no official way to visit it just yet.
Cahuinari National Park & Rio Pure National Parks
- take the Sunday flight (book online with Satena airlines) from
Leticia to La Pedrera and then travel up the Caqueta River to the
adjoining National Parks of Cahuinari and Rio Pure. The official Colombia National Parks website suggests it would cost $3500 to reach these National Parks (but looking at a map I find that hard to believe).
Chiribiquete National Park
- a spectacularly remote part of the Amazon with tabletop mountains
simlar to those found at the more famous Roraimi in Venezuela.
Catch a Satena flight to Araracuara then somehow make your way
120km upriver to the scientific research station Fundacion Puerto
Rastrojo. Apparently, the locals are currently developing an
ecotourism plan to open up the region to visitors. This is
traditionally not a very safe part of Colombia.
Puinawai National Reserve & Nukak Tunahi National Reserve
- these two national Reserves are very remote parts of Colombia's
Amazon. They have been created to protect local indigenous tribes, many
of whom are hunter gatherers and have little if any contact with the
outside world. It's almost impossible to visit these National Reserves
and probably will be (should be) for many years to come.