The main archaeological site in San Agustín is the Archaeological Park, but there is much more to see in the UNESCO World Heritage listed area surrounding the town. Visitors who stay more than a day or two will be rewarded with incredible views and several smaller yet equally important archaeological sites.
There are two popular day trips that will take you to some more archaeological sites and a few areas of natural beauty. They are a trip on horseback and a ride in a camioneta (truck) and can be arranged by just about any hotel in San Agustín. At the time of our visit, tour companies and hotels offered group tours for about COP$40,000 each, but they can cost more if you want a more experienced and thorough guide or a guide in English. Private tours can run about COP$70,000 per person (as of January 2016). We booked both of the tours with Don Gerardo at Hotel Las Moyas and opted for the simple group tours.
Our Camioneta Trip
Our camioneta trip was to last all day, from 9am to 5pm. We were picked up from our hotel in town at around 9:20am and drove around to pick up the other guests. After some engine trouble, we were on our way at 10am.
El Estrecho del Río Magdalena
The first stop was 15 minutes at El Estrecho del Río Magdalena. The Río Magdalena is the main river in Colombia. It’s born in the mountains near San Agustín and reaches the Caribbean Sea at Barranquilla. Not too far from the town there’s a section of the river where it flows through a canyon at just 2.6 meters wide! We were able to walk down to the river banks to take a few photos before moving on.
Next we visited the small town of Obando to see the archaeological park and museum. The park contains original pre-Colombian tombs, one of which you are able to enter. There is also a small museum that tells the story of the tombs and why they were built as they are. Very knowledgable young children offered information for tips. Admission is COP$2,000 per person (as of January 2016).
Alto de los Ídolos
It was then off to Alto de los Ídolos. This section of the San Agustín Archaeological Park sits at the top of a tall hill and has several more sarcophagi and statues to see. It’s the second most important archaeological site in the area and hosts the tallest statue found. For me, it was the most beautiful of the sites. Admission to the site is COP$20,000 unless you have a valid “passport” from visiting the main archaeological park the day before.
Lunch at El Doble Yo
Before visiting Alto de los Ídolos, we put in a lunch order with one of the small restaurants across the street from the entrance, El Doble Yo. After 45 minutes wandering around the site, we made our way back down the hill to the restaurant and understandably had to wait another 15 minutes for our meals. The staff was swamped and doing their best to accommodate a very full restaurant. In the end it worked out and the food was very good.
Alto de las Piedras
We continued to Alto de las Piedras, another section of the Archaeological Park. It was much smaller than the Alto de los Ídolos and not as interesting. The one statue that sets it apart is El Doble Yo, which is a human figure with a smaller head at the top.
Next was a long and bumpy ride to the small village of Bordones, which is the home of Salto Bordones. This waterfall is the second tallest in South America and the tallest in Colombia. Children offer a short speech about the waterfall for tips, and they do a wonderful job with the information they give. There’s a small hotel at the edge of the cliff with a viewing platform of the waterfall. The whole area is stunning.
We drove through the town of Isnos, which is the nearest town to Alto de los Ídolos and Alto de las Piedras. There wasn’t much to see.
The final stop of the day was another waterfall, Salto Mortiño. This waterfall sits on private property and charges COP$1,000 for admission. It’s a beautiful waterfall and the viewing platform gets you much closer than you can get to Salto Bordones.
Overall, it was a very long and exhausting day on bumpy roads. Our guide wasn’t a guide, he was just a driver, and offered zero information. However, we were satisfied with the sites we saw and felt we could figure things out well enough for ourselves. It was a good mix of archaeology and nature and a nice tour to take.