Discovering the Ancient Figures of San Agustin by Foot or Horseback
By ~ Eric-Sheets
Deep in southern Colombia is a mysterious destination that few visitors have ventured to discover in the last 30 years. This is because this region was once the stronghold of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, also known as FARC. Today, this small town with a population of about 30,000 is free from the risks of yesteryears and the San Agustin Archaeological Park is one of the most alluring reasons to visit Colombia.
Getting to San Agustin is not the easiest. About 140 miles from Neiva, the capital of the Huila department, and 85 miles from Popayan, the country’s white city known for its gastronomical flair, it is a long though breathtaking journey to the deep countryside. Coming from Neiva, the Tatacoa Desert makes for a grand stopover, while coming from Popayan, the Andean highlands and their endless fields of high altitude flora such as frailejón set the mood for what feels like traveling to the ends of the world.
The town itself is modest and unassuming, with few nods to targeted tourism besides the handful of crafts shops and signs pointing towards the archaeological park. A short 15-minute ride outside the city, you will have your first decisions to make. Should you visit the official San Agustin Archaeological Park with car park and well groomed trails, or take a more adventurous route and see some of the pre-Colombian statues still unearthed in the area?
If you choose to go horseback riding, then be sure to wear your active gear! This is a great option for those interested in archaeology as well as being amid nature. The horses will take you gracefully up and over mountain rides and through rarely used paths almost as if on autopilot. Your expert local guide will point out where to direct your eye, explaining the history and significance of the stone figures.
The government funded and volunteer supported San Agustin Archaeological Park, a recognized UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the most impressive historical sites in Colombia. Studies are still being conducted to fully understand the ancient burial sites which are prefaced with delicately carved stone figures in human and animal forms. A highlight is La Fuente de Lavapatas, an intricate network of carvings and canals in a stream’s bedrock that brings together earth and water. At the end of the marked walking path is an outlook that peers over the entire San Agustin valley. It is well worth bringing a picnic or snack to rest and soak up the prehistoric energies in this area of remote Colombia.