Colombia offers a wide variety of landscapes full of unexpected beauty including the Tatacoa Desert, a place that could be Colombia’s next UNESCO World Heritage site.
Landscapes and logistics in the Tatacoa Desert
Spanish conquistadors called this 128 square mile (330 square km) area “The Valley of Sorrows,” which seems unnecessarily harsh. The Tatacoa Desert isn’t really a desert at all but a dry tropical forest just a few miles from Colombia’s mighty Magdalena River. The area actually gets measurable rainfall. In fact, water is what sculpted many of the area’s most beautiful landscapes and gullies.
Experts say the area is full of fossils too, left over from an era when this land was lush and filled with life. The area also delivers world-class stargazing and is home to an observatory that you can visit. In 2012 the Tatacoa Desert was submitted for consideration as a UNESCO World Heritage site and it’s currently on the “tentative” list.
You will be as surprised as we were that there is no entry booth, entry fee, or visible sign of any type of management of the land. We just drove in and began exploring the area via the decent dirt road that runs through it.
We drove past a few basic eateries and camping areas, and locals are allowed to live in the desert so you’ll see their herds of goats eking out a living in the arid landscape like only goats can. Mostly we saw cactus, dramatic gullies, quite a few falcon-like birds (which turned out to be American kestrels, we believe), and towers of eroded land that reminded us of hoodoos in the US southwest.
Whatever you do, get an early start. In the morning we enjoyed cloud cover and moderate temperatures around 70 degrees (21 C) but the afternoon was sweltering.
Where to sleep and eat at the Tatacoa Desert
Unless you intend to camp in the desert (which is totally possible and allegedly awesome), the closest accommodations are in Villavieja about 2.5 miles (4km) from the desert. We stayed at Hotel Oasis de la Tatacoa where doubles are 120,000 COP (about US$40). We later walked past Yararaka Boutique Hotel which looked like a great option for anyone able to splurge a little more.
Eating was a bleak proposition. Avoid a place called Monterrey unless you like flies and terrible service. We got passable fare at Sol, Sombre y Sabor.
Here’s more about travel in Colombia