Neiva is the hot and sweaty capital of the Huila department and sits along the Río Magdalena. The only real reason for a tourist to visit Neiva is to pass through on the way to Desierto de la Tatacoa.
If you find yourself stuck in Neiva, there isn’t much to see or do. The heart of the city is Parque Santander. This park is full of tall trees and street vendors but doesn’t provide many places to sit and relax. If you’re there around 5pm, hundreds of parrots flock to a tree near the cathedral and make plenty of noise. It’s quite a sight.
The beautiful cathedral and a colonial church are situated on Parque Santander.
Just east of Parque Santander is perhaps the most interesting building in Neiva, the Edificio Nacional. It’s a colorful structure built in the Mudéjar style, with beautiful arches and patterns. It was built in the 1920s and functioned as a tax office and post office.
The wide-open Parque Principal is the home of some government offices and a large monument. There are lots of monuments scattered around town and the citizens of Neiva are very proud of them.
The west end of Neiva borders the Río Magdalena, where a touristic malecón (esplanade) runs along it. Unfortunately it was dark and we couldn’t see the river, but there were a few points of interest as we made our way south.
Along the malecón, it’s impossible not to notice the monument La Gaitana. It tells the story of a Spaniard, Pedro de Añasco, who came to plunder gold from indigenous groups in Colombia. He ended up murdering a young indigenous boy. The boy’s mother, Gaitana, ordered a group to hunt Añasco down and bring him to her alive. They found him eating a meal next to a large pile of gold, captured him, and took him to Gaitana. She was waiting with a sharpened stone and cut out both of his eyes in revenge for her son’s death.
The steps under La Gaitana lead down to a small prehistoric museum with a fantastic name – Huilassik Park. Its plaster dinosaur and ancient animals are super cheesy, but it’s good fun. All of the interpretive panels are in Spanish and provide good information. It costs COP$5,000 to get in.