San Agustín Archaeological Park is home to some fascinating religious sculptures made by primitive cultures between the 1st and 14th centuries. This UNESCO World Heritage site is the largest collection of religious monuments and megalithic sculptures in South America. It’s also considered by many to be the world’s largest necropolis.
Nothing is know about the people who lived there, why the statues were carved, or their true purpose. Depicting gods, animals, and other figures, they were found “guarding” the many tombs and burial mounds. Archaeologists and locals can only speculate what the figures and symbols mean, but everyone living in the area considers the land sacred.
The area was abandoned around 1350 but the sculptures were rediscovered in the 18th and 19th centuries. Over 500 of these stone statues have been unearthed, scattered throughout the landscape in several different locations. Most of them are located within the archaeological park.
San Agustín Archaeological Park
The park gives visitors a great overview of the culture, allowing about three to four hours to have a complete visit and enjoy everything it has to offer. It’s very nicely laid out and organized, with all panels written in both Spanish and English. There is also food available at a few points.
To get to San Agustín Archaeological Park, a local bus from the town of San Agustín costs COP$1,600 per person (as of January 2016). A taxi is COP$5,000. It’s only about 3km away, so if you have more time, a slight uphill walk isn’t out of the question.
Once at the gates of the park, visitors will pay COP$20,000 each for a passport. It will get stamped as you enter the archaeological site and museum. The passport is good for two days and for visiting another site, Alto de los Ídolos, which is further away and can be done on a truck tour. It explains the importance of each site (in Spanish), travel time, and has space for writing your own notes.
The first place to visit is the museum. It contains many of the statues with explanations on the excavation process and theories about why they were made. Pottery and other items are also on display.
Bosque de las Estatuas
Just outside of the museum is the Bosque de las Estatuas (Forest of the Statues). Here, 39 statues that were found throughout the town of San Agustín have been placed along an 800m path in the forest. They were moved here for preservation. Some of the statues are in very good condition and others are a bit worn.
The Main Part of the Park
A longer road leads you to the main part of the park where the funerary mounds are located. They are broken down into five parts: Mesita A, B, and C, Fuente de Lavapatas, and Alto de Lavapatas. After walking down a dirt road, your passport will be stamped at a gate. A well-organized and beautiful path will lead you to each Mesita and the other parts of the park. Follow the signs to Mesita A and C first.
Mesita A and Mesita C
At Mesitas A and C, there are several statues and tombs. They aren’t much different from each other and not as interesting as Mesita B, which is visited later.
Fuente de Lavapatas
From Mesita C, walk downhill to Fuente de Lavapatas. This is one of the more incredible things to see in the entire area. It’s a natural stream with animal and human figures carved into the rock bed. Many of them have faded away but some figures can be spotted easily. Canals were carved into the rock to guide the flow of water. The fountain is now covered and visitors can cross a beautiful bamboo bridge to get a closer look.
Walking uphill, we passed a small restaurant serving guarapo (sugar cane juice), empanadas, and some meat dishes at very low prices. It cost us just COP$10,000 for smoked beef, four empanadas, and two guarapos.
Alto de Lavapatas
Continuing uphill, we arrived at Alto de Lavapatas, the oldest archaeological site in the area. This section isn’t interesting as far as the few statues and tombs go, but the views are breathtaking. It’s a great place to just sit on the grass and enjoy yourself for a while.
We walked back down past the fountain and back uphill, this time heading towards Mesita B. This is the most interesting of the Mesitas.
Here we found one of San Agustín’s signature statues, a bird with a worm in it’s mouth. There was also one of the tallest statues made.
We could also see several tombs, both primitive and more elaborate. A few had a sarcophagus inside.
Mesita B concluded our visit to the archaeological park. For those short on time and less interested in archaeology, it’s enough to visit the park only. A few days or more are necessary to see everything in the area, which is what we chose to do. It’s spread out over 50 km². Read my other entries about our day trip in a camioneta and a day on horseback.