San Agustín on Horseback

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 Tour on Horseback

We were picked up shortly after 8am and taken to Las Moyas to meet our horses and guide for the day. We were to visit four sites, La Pelota, El Purutal, La Chaquira, and El Tablón. The tour was scheduled to run about four hours but ended up taking over 6 hours.

Marisol on the horse in San Agustín Huila Colombia

Marisol and her horse

 

El Purutal

After nearly two hours riding through stunning scenery, past small fincas and homes, we finally arrived at our first stop, El Purutal. We each paid COP$3,000 to enter the site (it isn’t covered in the passport obtained at the Archaeological Park) and walked up a small hill where our guide pointed out the hill called La Pelota.

El Purutal in San Agustín Huila Colombia

El Purutal

We then walked to a part of the site where we were shown two of the most incredible finds in the entire area. These funerary mounds, excavated in 1984, yielded colorful figures that still had the original paint that was used to decorate them. The guide explained the significance of the find and theories about the statues. He also pointed out more mounds which the Colombian government forbid archaeologists to unearth.

El Purutal in San Agustín Huila Colombia

El Purutal

El Purutal in San Agustín Huila Colombia

El Purutal

 

Break Time

It was back on the horses for another long ride of about an hour. We broke it up by stopping at a small restaurant that seemed to pop up in the middle of nowhere. The owner served us delicious fresh fruit juice for just COP$3,000 per glass. We rested for a good half hour before jumping back on the horses.

 

La Chaquira

Next, we stopped at one of the more spectacular sites in the area, La Chaquira. We arrived and walked down a long path to what seemed to be a collection of fallen volcanic rocks. After a bit more inspection, it turned out to be one of the most sacred sites discovered, with a few animal and human figures carved into some of the rocks.

La Chaquíra in San Agustín Huila Colombia

La Chaquíra

Even more spectacular than the rocks was the breathtaking scenery. We had a view looking down the center of the canyon as it zigzagged into the distance. We also spotted several waterfalls emptying into the canyon.

La Chaquíra in San Agustín Huila Colombia

La Chaquíra

Waterfall at La Chaquíra in San Agustín Huila Colombia

A waterfall at La Chaquíra

 

El Tablón

Our final stop before heading back into town was El Tablón. This site was only about 15 minutes from La Chaquira. It was the least exciting site we visited, with a small collection of tall statues.

El Tablón in San Agustín Huila Colombia

El Tablón

A small ethnographic museum was located on the site, but we didn’t visit.

El Tablón in San Agustín Huila Colombia

El Tablón

 

Conclusion

The trip overall was interesting and our guide, a local archaeologist, was excellent. He gave us a very detailed explanation at each site along with his own personal theories. Riding the horse was, well, exactly what it’s like to ride a horse. It was great until I realized I wouldn’t be able to walk straight for a couple days. The sites were great to visit, but unless you’re an archaeology buff, they probably wouldn’t be meaningful. Each of the sites had a small selection food and drinks available as well as souvenirs and handicrafts for sale.

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