Tierradentro is hard to get to. It’s well off the beaten tourist trail and all roads that lead to it are horrible. I was second-guessing my decision to visit while driving there. It was easily the worst road I had ever driven on with some terrifying stretches. Once we arrived and settled in, however, I was sure our time spent there would be a spectacular few days.
Tierradentro is an archaeological park containing the largest collection of underground tombs in the Americas and the second most important archaeological site in Colombia. The tombs had been documented since the Spaniards arrived in the 1500s, but nobody knew their significance until archaeologists began to study them in 1936. Many date back to the 6th century. The area is a UNESCO World Heritage site but is also endangered due to landslides and human factors.
San Andrés de Pisimbalá
The nearest town to the park is San Andrés de Pisimbalá, which is located about a 20 minute walk uphill from the park entrance. It’s a small settlement of friendly and welcoming people. There’s absolutely nothing to do in the town or near the park, so come prepared with your own forms of entertainment.
The only point of interest in San Andrés is the church made of adobe dating back to the 17th century.
We stayed at La Portada, a small hotel and restaurant run by Leonardo and Eva, a sweet couple who have been welcoming tourists for over 40 years. Leonardo started by selling breakfast to tourists in the 1970s and eventually built a lovely bamboo hotel with spacious rooms.
The rooms have hot water and rooms are clean and have beds that are perfect for resting in after a long hike. We paid COP$60,000 per night for a double room and stayed three nights. Breakfast was included in the rate.
There are other hotels and simple guesthouses clustered around the entrance to the park, but we were very happy with our decision to stay at La Portada. The hosts are wonderful people who were extremely helpful in giving us information and making our stay as comfortable as possible.
Most of our meals were eaten at the restaurant across the street from the hotel. Doña Eva makes excellent home cooked meals, and there are usually two or three choices for lunch and dinner. Meals ranged from COP$10,000 to $17,000.
If you want to try some other places to eat, your choices are limited. La Portada has the best (and only) restaurant in San Andrés, but there are a few limited choices by the park entrance about a 20 minute walk downhill. They didn’t look appealing at all.
After one hike, there was a woman who set up a tent on the corner near La Portada. She was offering a local stew called mote. We decided to sit and try this meal, which is basically like traditional Colombian sancocho but with corn and beans instead of vegetables. Our meal cost COP$16,000 for two including drinks.
Getting to Tierradentro
To get to Tierradentro, the easiest way is through Popayán. The bus ride takes a good four hours or more and the road, as I mentioned, is rugged. There are a few departures daily.
Tierradentro lies to the south of some hostile territory. It’s located in the Cauca department, which has had its share of problems in the northern region, but the archaeological park is safe for tourism. Leonardo told us he has lived in San Andrés his entire life and there have never been any problems with militants, and no harm has ever come to tourists.