Why you should visit San Agustin and Tierradentro Uncover Colombia
San Agustin Archeological Park


April 16, 2024, 4:47 pm

The towns of San Agustin and Tierradentro are renowned in Colombia for being the home of the most well preserved and important remnants of pre-Columbia life. If you are particularly interested in the history and culture of South America, you will find that visits to the archaeological parks of San Agustin and Tierradentro shed a lot of light on parts of a culture where much of its past remains unknown. Both archaeological parks are UNESCO World Heritage Sites and are located in the beautiful Colombian Andes which enables you to admire the panoramic surroundings while educating yourself on the history of Colombia.

The archaeological haven of San Agustin 

Located in the Western part of Colombia and surrounded by the Andes Mountains, San Agustin is a small town famed for hosting the San Agustin Archaeological Park. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the archaeological park contains the largest group of religious monuments and megalithic sculptures in South America. It is also considered to be the largest necropolis in the world. Visitors to the park will find hundreds of statues and burial mounds scattered across the park that date back between the 1st and 8th centuries. The statues which are carved to resemble people as well as different types of animals such as jaguars, crocodiles and bats are thought to be funeral statues meant to protect the dead during their afterlife. In addition to San Agustin Archaeological park, there are two other parks, Alto de las Piedras and Alto de los Idolos, both of which contain similar funeral statues though in smaller numbers. 

This region of Colombia is also home to the famed Magdalena Strait which is part of the Magdalena River, the biggest river in Colombia. The river, which stretches across the western part of the country from South to North for over 1,528km gets its name from the biblical figure of Mary Magdalena. Known by the locals as Estrecho del Magadalena, the Magdalena Strait is the narrowest point in the river coming at a distance of 3 metres. It is an impressive sight to witness as the river squeezes through the small canyon made of rock. You will be pleased to know that it is possible to visit the source of the mighty river with a journey to Laguna del Magdalena, the birthplace of the Magdalena River situated just 60km outside the town of San Agustin. A trip there can be done via horseback and is a wonderful way to discover the area and its surrounding landscape. 

Another important part of the park is La Chaquira, which features depictions of human figures carved into the rock some of which have remnants of the colourful paint that were used to adorn these carvings. Accessed via horseback down a narrow ridge, La Chaquira is also a viewpoint for the Magdalena River and the rest of the park. 

Lastly, on the outskirts of San Agustin you will find the Bordones Waterfall. The highest waterfall in Colombia is surrounded by a lush jungle and tumbles down a 490m drop into a canyon. It is a stunning sight to witness and the viewpoint across the mountain offers a prime location to take pictures of this majestic natural wonder. 

Visit colombia’s hypogea at Tierradentro

Located in the heart of the Andean mountain range of Cauca, Tierradentro which means ‘’inside earth’’ or “underground” in Spanish is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the largest hypogea in the world. Consisting of 162 ancient burial chambers, Tierradentro’s hypogea were kept hidden from the world due to the many civil wars that took place in the country. These huge underground tombs that range in size from a small cupboard to upwards of 12m wide are painted with bright red, black and grey colours depicting geometric shapes while monolithic faces are carved into the pillar in the centre of the rooms. Dating back from the 6th to the 9th century, the painting and carvings are similar to those found at the San Agustin Archaeological Park although it is believed that these tombs were built for the elite population of the time compared to those buried at San Agustin Archaeological Park. 

Tierradentro, Colombia

The Parque Tierradentro is spread across a 14km loop and includes a variety of important and unique sites to visit as well as two museums that can be found at the entrance. The Museo Etnográfico and the Museo Arqueológico provide deep insight into the Paez culture which is an indigenous group that is believed to be behind the creation of the tombs. Both museums provide an extraordinary insight into the life and culture of the period and provide helpful background on the tombs for a more informative visit to the park. 

Tierradentro is divided into five main sights with the most important and well preserved being Segovia. Here, you will find the highest concentration of tombs as well as be able to admire the ornate paintings and carvings that decorated the walls. The sites of El Duente and Alto de San Andres hold a smaller number of tombs in variant degrees of preservation while El Tablon is home to funeral statues similar to those in San Agustin. 

It takes around an hour and a half to walk the loop around the Parque and witness all the different sites. A restaurant is found in the town and is the perfect place to break up the hike and enjoy an authentic meal. It is an enjoyable hike across the Tierradentro as the surrounding valleys and landscapes are verdant and offer stunning views of the land. 

Uncover Colombia and the secrets of San Agustin and Tierradentro   

Uncover Colombia have created bespoke tours that will take you through a specially curated tour of the magnificent UNESCO World Heritage sites of San Agustin and Tierradentro. These tours are specifically created to give you an in-depth introduction to the ancient Pre-Colombian cultures as well as discovering the beautiful landscapes that make Colombia a stunning country.

Our San Agustin and Tierradentro tour start with a visit to San Agustin Archaeological Park where you will learn all about the pre-Hispanic people that inhabited the region and created these impressive religious monuments. This is then followed by a trip to Tierradentro where you will be able to explore the burial chambers that were carved into the volcanic soil of the mountainside. A solemn moment for all. During this tour, you will also be able to learn new skills and explore different parts of the country.

  • A visit to a coffee plantation is a must-do in a country whose main export are coffee grounds. You will be able to learn everything there is to know about this magical red bean. From its harvesting to its drying and brewing, this exotic plant will no longer hold any secrets for you.
  • The tour will also take you to the Tatacoa Desert, the second largest arid area in Colombia and a stunning landscape to witness. The beautiful ochres mix with the green cactus to create a surreal landscape. However, the best time to visit the desert is at night as it offers uninterrupted views of the stars. There is even an astronomical observatory in the heart of the desert for optimum stargazing.

Tatacoa Desert, Colombia

At Uncover Colombia, we also place a lot of importance on learning about the culture and history of Colombia as we are passionate about introducing you to its incredible offerings. Our Colombian Cultural tours are a great introduction to the local and historical traditions of the country. Alongside visits to San Agustin and Tierradentro, you will also:

  • Explore Bogota, the capital of Colombia and the neighbourhood of La Candelaria which is home to the museums, churches and government buildings where many of the important historical events of the country took place. 
  • Visit the Gold Museum which houses the largest display of gold pieces as well as artefacts that date back to the pre-Hispanic era. There are more than 55,000 pieces here from coins, to masks and statuettes. 
  • Discover Tayrona Natural Park which is named after one of the main indigenous civilizations of the area. It is a haven for flora and fauna with many animals endemic to the area. Surrounded by the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and with crystal blue waters lapping the shore, it is the perfect place to relax after a day spent exploring the cultural sights. 

Tayrona Park, Colombia

San Agustin and Tierradentro hold much of Colombia’s history within its parks making them both treasured areas full of history and religious importance. Visits to these places allow you to see a different side of Colombia, one that is not often mentioned but is of deep relevance to its people and provides an insight into this richly diverse country. History buffs and archaeology lovers will particularly love this area of Colombia. However, anyone wanting to learn more about the history of this country will come back with a newfound knowledge of the country and its incredible culture. 

Get in touch with us to speak about including San Agustin and Tierradentro in your next tour to Colombia. 

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Alexandra Coeln

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