For me, more than anything else, the Tatacoa is proof that Colombia really does have everything: rain forests, huge sprawling cities, idyllic little towns, mountains, picture-perfect white sand beaches, tropical islands, plains, enormous national parks, even deserts, as I happily discovered a few months ago.
Back in April I went on a trip to the Huila department, in the south west of the country, with my good friend David. We got a bus to the capital of the department, Neiva, which took us about 6 hours from Bogota. It was fairly late by the time we got there, so our first night consisted of finding somewhere to sleep.
As already mentioned, the Tatacoa is a desert and the second largest one in the country, after the northern Guajira peninsula. It is an earthy, orange colour in some parts and much greyer in others. We travelled first to Villavieja and from there to the desert itself. In the desert there are several places to stay fairly close to the entrance, where you can pay for a cabin or a space to pitch a tent. We decided to do the latter. After everything was set up and a fairly odd lunch of chicken, plantain and strawberries (food is pretty expensive) we set off to explore!
It is possible to go horse riding, rent bikes or get someone to give you a lift on their motorbike. We went with the motorbike option and then carried on by foot. In reality, and as you would expect of a desert, the Tatacoa is essentially a vast expanse of nothingness, cacti and small canyon-like formations, coupled with a stifling, dry heat. But this in itself is the beauty of it. It is a land quite unlike any other I’ve seen in this country and one that lends itself to reflection and pondering. Here’s a more visual description of the above, together with me posing with the most impressive cactus in the vicinity.
Despite the breathtaking day-time panorama, for me the Tatacoa was at its most impressive at night time. Luckily for us, the night we stayed was relatively cloud-free and there is obviously no light pollution in the middle of a desert, so we could fully appreciate the brilliance of the night sky. We spent a few hours just looking at the stars and, whilst we didn’t see the promised meteor shower, it was nonetheless a unique experience and one that always serves to make any problems or issues pale into insignificance.
We left the desert the following morning and made our way back to Neiva. To make the most of the time before our bus back to Bogotá we decided to visit the nearby town of Rivera, home to many many hot springs.
Rivera is an idyllic and green place, very close to the capital. The way there was simply beautiful and the town itself didn’t disappoint! We got a mototaxi (essentially a golf buggy) to some hot springs high above the town, which we had been told were the best value for money out of the three options. As proof of the above, they were packed with people. Unfortunately, and rather ridiculously, they were too hot to actually get in (I made several attempts). I believe this only served to add to my foreignness, as exemplified by one local’s goading his daughter into jumping in with the encouragement that she not be so cowardly as “la gringa esta”… The situation became all the more comical when he thought it prudent to then confirm with my friend that I don’t speak Spanish (“ella no habla español, verdad?”). I like to think my knowing smile rather contradicted his assumption…
After a quick lunch we hopped back on the bus to Neiva, and then made our way back to wonderful Bogota.