Colombia’s San Agustín is a surprising and popular destination in the south of the country. You have to take a detour for it on your itinerary through Colombia, but it is well worth it. San Agustín is known as the archeological destination in Colombia, but there is much more to do besides the extraordinary ancient statues. Think about horseback riding, visiting waterfalls, beautiful nature, the narrowest stretch of the famous Río Magdalena and overnight stays. Do you have the time in Colombia? Then definitely don’t skip this place. In this article you will find practical tips and information for a great stay!
A piece of history
Some 5,000 years ago, two indigenous peoples lived in the valleys of the Magdalena and Cauca rivers. Despite the high mountain ranges and rivers that separated the two cultures, they came together after a march of many days to trade, pray and bury their dead. As a result, some 500 sculptures have been found in the region of San Agustín, many of them anthropological figures. Some are realistic, some monsters and masks. Besides these and many other finds, little is known about the people who once lived in San Agustín. San Agustín is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is also one of Colombia’s most important archaeological sites, alongside Tierradentro and Ciudad Perdida. But even if you’re not a fan of history, San Agustín has much more to offer!
San Agustín: things to do and see
Parque Arqueológico Nacional San Agustín en Isnos
Perhaps the most famous archaeological activity in San Agustín and Isnos is the extensive museum and park filled with statues. About 130 to be exact. In addition, the park offers beautiful views of the region, a museum with other finds such as pots and jewelry and delightful walks. To see everything will take you about three hours, so take your time. | Location: 2.5 kilometers west of the village of San Agustín. | Cost: at the entrance you pay 25,000 pesos per person and receive a passport for entrance to both this museum and Alto de los Ídolos, which you can visit with the passport within two days. | Check opening hours carefully: the farthest statues can be reached via a scenic walk that closes earlier than the rest of the park. Website.
Horseback riding in San Agustín
San Agustín is the place to take long horseback rides. The most popular tour is the 4 to 5 hour one along the archaeological sites of La Pelota, El Purutal and Chaquira. Personally, I found these to be the most beautiful images and the nature through which you drive is fantastically beautiful. More information about this horseback riding tour can be found here. If you are looking for longer horseback rides, inquire about the three- to five-day trip to Laguna de Magdalena (see below for sources of information).
Day trip past statues, waterfalls and impressive nature
San Agustín is quite a vast area with a huge amount to see. Think archaeological statues, beautiful high waterfalls, the narrowest stretch of the Río Magdalena and impressive nature. You can see all this on a day trip by jeep or private car. Read all about this wonderful trip here!
Visit a coffee finca
Although I have had the opportunity to see the inside of many coffee fincas, none was as special as this one. In Coffee Mujer’s finca, only one woman does all the work that results in very delicious coffee. Many travelers skip this and visit a coffee farm in Salento, but really: this is worth it. If you have time to spare and also want to visit this coffee finca, read this article for all the information!
Besides the standard sights, there is more to see and to do in San Agustín. You can go rafting and paragliding, and if you have enough time you can visit sights further away. Consider the three waterfalls Los Tres Chorros (day trip), Quebradillas and La Parada (day trip) and waterfall El Cinco. The starting point of the Río Magdalena, Laguna de Magdalena, can also be visited on a multi-day trip. Information about rafting can be found hereand if you want to paraglide, take a look here.
We visited San Agustín on a five-day road trip through Huila. We started in the Tatacoa Desert and arrived in San Agustín around 3 p.m. the next day. Here we stayed 3 nights and thus 2 full days. To see all the most important and interesting places, this is the minimum time required. Our itinerary looked like this:
Day 1: Arrival at 3 p.m. Visit to Parque Arqueológico Nacional de San Agustín. Since we were quite late we went through it in about 2.5 hours, but we did see everything.
Day 2: Day trip to Isnos and the waterfalls around Isnos.
Day 3: in the morning the 4-hour horseback ride, in the afternoon a visit to the coffee finca.
Day 4: departure back to Sopó. We leave early and arrive at our finca about 8 hours later.
Hotels in San Agustín
Today, San Agustín is among the highlights of Colombia and there is a wide range of hotels and hostels in various price ranges. For example, a popular hostel among backpackers is Casa de Nelly, but there is so much choice in and around beautiful San Agustín that there is something for everyone.
We stayed in Eco-Hotel La Antigua, a hotel entirely environmentally sustainable. Think lots of wood and bamboo, nature in the bathroom and composting toilets. Perfect for travelers who want things a little different. Read all about this amazing stay in San Agustín here.
And, of course, there are many more good hotels and hostels in San Agustín:
Practical: information, how many days do you need, best travel months, how to get there, food and drink and is it a must-see?
Information for your visit to San Agustín can be found here:
- General Information: Lonely Planet Colombia
- Parque Arqueológico: Instituto Colombiano de Antropología y Historia
How many days do you need?
San Agustín is quite far from the usual route and if you do decide to include this beautiful destination in your itinerary , better do it right at once. To see the most important and famous places you will need at least 2 full days. If you want to see more, such as the coffee finca, waterfalls or archaeological sites further away, stay 1 to 3 more days.
Best travel months (climate and high season)
San Agustín is in an area where it rains often. Even during the dry season. So always bring a rain jacket and good walking shoes for wet grass or mud. Although the months of March through May tend to be wetter, the climate in Colombia cannot be predicted. However, it can be predicted that the high season and on holidays is enormously crowded with (Colombian) tourists. If you want to have the place more to yourself and be able to travel without planning, come outside that high season. If you go for more sun and less rain, book your stay in advance if you want to stay in the ho(s)tel of your choice. The average temperature in San Agustín is around 18 to 20 degrees.
We ourselves visited San Agustín in early January, about the busiest time of the year as far as tourism is concerned, and had the greatest difficulty in finding a nice hotel. Besides, last dry-season was not that dry at all, and we had quite a lot of rain. So better choose a quieter period outside the high season, if you have that freedom.
How to get to San Agustín + itinerary
There are several ways to get to San Agustín.
- By plane. There is no option to fly directly into San Agustín. The most obvious flight destinations are Neiva or Popayan. From either place, you can then take the bus to the village. Check here where to book domestic flights (No. 5). If you have the time, you can combine San Agustín well with Popayan and Tierradentro (if you fly into Cali or Popayan) or the Tatacoa Desert (if you fly into Neiva).
- By bus. By bus you can make nice round trips. If you are coming from the western side of Colombia, you can take a bus from Popayan or Cali. Coming from Bogotáor Tatacoa, travel via Pitalito to San Agustín (from Bogotá there are direct buses to Pitalito, this takes about 8 to 9 hours depending on traffic).
- By car. By car, you can take the same route as by bus. The advantage is that you can stop along the way and go more off the beaten path. You can rent a car at Rentalcars. Along the way, take, for example the adventurous route to the Tatacoa Desert before traveling on to San Agustín. If you travel by car through Colombia it is useful to take some things into account, you can find more information about that here. For certain routes in the San Agustín area, for example the waterfalls around Isnos, you will need a 4×4.
If you are coming from parts of Colombia other than Popayan, Cali, Bogotá or Tatacoa, check on Google Maps how to get to San Agustín by car or bus and approximately how long it will take. With us in the hotel was a family from Medellín who had traveled by car and arrived after two days. So that route is also possible, but because of the long distance it is better to make a stopover.
Food and drinks
San Agustín has many restaurants and cafes. In addition, many hotels and hostels located just outside the village have their own restaurant or facility to prepare their own food. We ate deliciously at our hotel, at Restaurante Italiano San Agustin da ugo, at the main square at Macizo Coffee and at Fonte Cafe. In the Lonely Planet Colombia you will find more restaurant tips.
Is San Agustín a must-see?
San Agustín is a very versatile destination where you can very well combine culture, history, nature and sports activities together. In addition, it is the archaeological destination of Colombia. These points definitely make San Agustín a must-see in Colombia. However, if you are only in Colombia for two or three weeks and your itinerary focuses mainly on the central and northern parts of the country, San Agustín is quite a detour. In that case, it is a logical choice to skip this Colombia highlight and save it for a possible next time. After all, you can’t see everything at once, and spending a lot of time traveling for just a few days’ stay in the south is just a waste of your time and money. So: San Agustín is definitely a must-see, but only if it fits your itinerary and travel time.
San Agustín: highly recommended in Colombia for nature, culture, horseback riding and history lovers!
This article contains affiliate links. Click here for more information.