Located in the southeast of Colombia, San Agustin is a place not to be missed by anyone interested in pre-Columbian archaeology. Strange statues from a still unknown pre-Columbian civilization line the site. This makes it one of the most mysterious historical sites in Colombia. As a bonus: breathtaking mountainous landscapes!
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San Agustin in Few Words
Perched in the heart of the Andes, in the department of Huila, at nearly 1650 m of altitude, is discovered the region of San Agustin, a site essentially famous for its mysterious statues discovered during the 20th century, heritage of a disappeared civilization. Some argue that they are the oldest remains of the South American continent.
These impressive statues would have been carved between the 1rst and the 8th century after JC. But for the moment, it is impossible to give an exact dating.
On the program: imposing stone statues, funerary dolmens or other petroglyphs. It is not for nothing that the archaeological site of San Agustin was declared World Heritage by UNESCO in 1995.
These archaeological remains are grouped in three different sites: the Archaeological Park of San Agustin (the most famous), the Alto de los Idolos and the Alto de Las Piedras. In all, there are nearly 116 hectares.
But San Agustin, located near the source of the Magdalena River (the longest river in Colombia), is also a place of exceptional landscapes. Steep canyons, winding valleys, intrepid rivers, impressive waterfalls, … You won’t be disappointed with the tour!
The Sculptures of San Agustin
Nearly 600 sculptures have already been discovered to date on the site of San Agustin. And it is not finished! A part of the territory was still not excavated. Statues with human or animal faces, posed here and there in the mountain.
Some were found vertically, isolated, others rather in group, which was certainly used as a tomb. But who could have sculpted these statues? The mystery remains whole. One speaks about an unknown and mysteriously disappeared civilization, which would have inhabited the territory from the year 200 BC, that is to say well before the presence of the Incas.
According to the experts, the sculptures of San Agustin could represent deities, in witness of their completely deformed bodies, characteristics of the pre-Columbian tribes.
Things to do in San Agustin
San Agustín Archaeological Park
This archaeological complex represents the largest collection of pre-Columbian megalithic funerary monuments and statuary.
It includes several sites:
“Las Mesitas”: artificial esplanades containing crypts, figurines and funerary dolmens.
” El Bosque de la Estatuas ” : populated by about thirty statues representing mostly anthropomorphic male figures, sometimes with feline features.
“El Fuente de Lavapatas”: a religious monument carved into the rocky bed of a stream and considered a sacred site for religious ceremonies.
“Alto de Lavapatas”: the oldest site of San Agustin, guarded by impressive statues (referring to the Double Self), with a unique view over the whole valley and the different archaeological sites.
The museum at the entrance of the Park is also very informative and didactic.
Note: closed on Tuesdays.
Archaeological sites of La Chaquira and El Tablon and Cerro de La Pelota
From San Agustin Park, ride up the hill of “la boule” (La Pelota), towards the site of La Chaquira or towards El Tablon, all three of which are home to various archaeological remains.
Note: Allow 3 hours of horseback riding (beginner’s level).
Alto de los Ídolos archaeological site
Located near the village of San José de Isnos, this site is characterized by the presence of numerous funerary complexes with dolmens, sarcophagi and statues guarding the access to the tombs.
Archaeological site Alto de Las Piedras
Among the statues of this site are the most emblematic of the region, such as the “double me” or the Indian woman.
El Estrecho del Rio Magdalena
Combine your cultural visits to the archaeological parks with a variety of other activities:
Hiking between orchids, waterfalls (Mortiño waterfall, 180 meters high, or the Salto Bordones, the highest waterfall in Colombia) and rocky gorges (El Estrecho del Rio Magdalena, where the longest river in Colombia is powerfully cutting its way through).
Rafting on the Magdalena River
Jeep tour through the hilly landscape and traditional villages of the region
Visit of farms and agricultural plantations: sugar cane, coffee…
Between Neiva and San Agustin, a stopover in the Tatacoa allows a stroll between dunes and cactus.
The sites of El Cuzco (all in red clothing), El Hoyo (grey colours) or El Penon (natural swimming pool) are a spectacle in their own right.
This colourful desert area is of rare beauty, with its varied geological formations.
Enjoy a starry evening at the astronomical observatory to contemplate the Milky Way as you have never seen it before.
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The village of San Agustin
Renowned for being a stopover to visit the Archaeological Park, the village of San Agustin does not lack charm. Special mention for the local market, very rich in fruits and vegetables of all kinds. It is even possible to have lunch there for cheap. Among the local specialties, let’s mention the famous achrias, small typical salted cookies.
Visit the Archaeological Park of San Agustin
Nearly a third of the 600 statues discovered in the region of San Agustin in Colombia are gathered in the Archaeological Park, divided into 4 distinct sites: El Bosque de las Estatuas, Las Mesitas (A, B, C and D), El Fuente de Lavapatas and Alto de Lavapatas. Not to mention the Park Museum, which is very informative and didactic.
→ In all, it takes a good 3-4 hours to tour the Archaeological Park.
El Bosque de las Estatuas
Not far from the entrance of the Park is the Bosque de las Estatuas, literally, the Forest of Statues. A pleasant walk in the middle of the jungle of about 800 m which will make you discover about forty stone statues arranged here and there. The arrangement is not original, all these sculptures were discovered a little everywhere in the area and were gathered on the site for more facility.
The “Mesitas” take the form of esplanades artificially flattened during the creation of the statues. There is a series of tumuli (heaps of earth covering a tomb) surrounded by statues. There are 4 Mesitas scattered throughout the site: Mesitas A, B, C and D. In all, more than 100 statues occupy this portion of the park, and it is here that we find the oldest and largest burial sites (especially in Mesitas A and B).
El Fuente de Lavapatas
After a pleasant walk along a wooded path, we come to a set of mini waterfalls carved into a practically flat rock formation. If you look closely, you will notice that the rocky bed of the stream is entirely sculpted. Geometrical forms, human and animal representations, … The spectacle is fascinating! We suppose that this space was once the setting for religious ceremonies.
Alto de Lavapatas
At 200 m from El Fuente de Lavapatas, a little higher, you will find the site of Alto de Lavapatas, the highlight of the show! It is the oldest site of San Agustin, located at the top of a flattened hill. Numerous statues, of all sizes, protect the place. In addition to its archaeological treasures, the site offers a unique view of the entire valley and the surrounding vegetation.
The Museum of the Archaeological Park of San Agustin
At the entrance to the Archaeological Park, stop by the small ethnographic museum of the site. You will learn more about the process of discovering these ancestral statues as well as the daily life of the region’s inhabitants in recent centuries. The museum also displays a series of pottery and jewelry from the period.
Practical information about the Archaeological Park
- Hours: The Park is open every day except Tuesday, from 8 am to 5 pm.
- Price: to have access to all the sites of San Agustin, you will have to buy a “passport”, either at the entrance of the Park, or at the sites of the Alto de los Idolos and the Alto de las Piedras (see below). This passport will cost you 50.000 COP, or 14 EUR. It is valid for two days.
- Guide or no guide : The park can be visited without a guide. However, if you want a guide, you can easily find one at the entrance of the park.
El Alto de los Idolos and the San Agustin waterfalls
A tour exists to discover the most remote sites of San Agustin as well as splendid waterfalls. During a whole day, you will board a Jeep with other tourists. This tour will cost you between 25.000 and 45.000 COP (between 7 and 13 EUR) excluding passport, depending on your negotiation skills. If you are interested in this tour, you can contact us, we can book it for you.
El Aldo de Los Idolos is the second most important archaeological site around San Agustin after the Archaeological Park. This is where the largest statue in the area rests, measuring almost 7 meters (3 meters buried in the ground). You will also have the opportunity to admire several waterfalls of which the famous Salto de Bordones waterfall, the highest waterfall in Colombia, culminating at nearly 400 m. Let’s also mention the splendid Salto del Mortiño waterfall, a magnificent waterfall of 170 m.
Located 30 km from the village of San Agustin, a few kilometers from Alto de Los Idolos, the site of El Aldo de Las Piedras, although quite small, is worth a visit for its famous statues “el Doble Yo” (Double Me), a three-dimensional statue referring to the concept of the human and the divine.
The surroundings of the Archaeological Park of San Agustin
In addition to the Archaeological Park and the two sites of El Aldo de Las Piedras and Los Idolos, it is possible to explore other parts of the San Agustin area that are also known to contain numerous archaeological ruins. 4 sites are proposed to the visit: El Purutal, La Pelota, La Chaquira and El Tablon. You can either discover them on foot, alone. It will take you a day or more depending on your walking pace. Or you can opt for a horseback ride (beginner level), very famous in the area, which will make you discover all the sites in about 4 hours. The price varies between 20 and 30 EUR depending on your negotiations.
The site of El Tablon gathers a series of 5 stations measuring more than 2 m in height and presenting a certain number of particularly well preserved details (bracelets, necklace, …).
It’s time to take out your camera! La Chaquira is known for its magnificent viewpoint on the Rio Magdalena gorges. The site also has some engravings carved directly in the rock.
El Purutal and La Pelota
Located at the top of a mountain, the sites of El Purutal and La Pelota also offer a beautiful panorama of the surrounding countryside. You can find again thousand-year-old sculptures. Their particularity? They have kept their original color! For these two sites, you will have to pay an additional amount: 4000 COP per person, or about 1 EUR.
How to get to San Agustin
Generally, there are two ways to get to San Agustin from Colombia: from the south, Popayan, or from the north, Neiva.
There are several buses at the Popayan terminal that will take you directly to San Agustin. For example, the company Coomotor (you can book online), which offers direct buses at 31,000 Pesos, or 8.5 EUR per person. The journey takes about 4 hours.
Direct buses are also available from Neiva to San Agustin. [The bus company Coomotor (https://www.coomotor.com.co/) also offers several buses per day, ranging from 33.000 COP (9,10 EUR) to 48.000 COP (13,25 EUR). The trip takes about 5-6 hours.
How to get to the Archaeological Park
Every 15 minutes, a bus leaves from the village of San Agustin to the Archaeological Park located 3 km away. The trip costs approximately 1200 COP (0,30 EUR).
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