From Bogotá to San Agustín is the most obvious via the Tatacoa Desert. But there is much more to see and do on this route. You will travel through several departments, including Huila. A beautiful part of Colombia where nature is interspersed with pretty villages and history. This beautiful route in Colombia is very doable by car, but can also be done perfectly by bus. Discover Huila Colombia: from Bogotá to San Agustín.
From Bogotá to San Agustín
If you travel by road from capital Bogotá to archeology mecca San Agustín, you will pass through three departments, namely Cundinamarca, Tolima and Huila. The total travel time is about 10 hours over 550 kilometers, but you never know in advance if that’s going to work out: there are often roadblocks or accidents that can easily add hours of extra travel time.
By bus, there are direct buses from Bogotá to Neiva, where you can transfer to Tatacoa or continue on to San Agustín. To travel the route below, always book a bus ticket to each separate village. It will then take you about 7 to 10 days.
Are you doing this itinerary by car? You will drive on a toll road so keep in mind additional costs. By the way, the road is very good and the hairpin turns are not too bad. Only from Neiva to San Agustín there are some tough stretches. There are plenty of gas stations to fill up and restaurants to eat. In addition, you will pass by beautiful nature and villages and towns along the way that are worth a stop. Staying overnight in beautiful places? Find your hotel in Huila here.
Stops and sights along the way
The first part of the route is the most challenging: getting out of Bogotá. After all, you have to go through Soacha, and that is by no means a pleasure. Lots of traffic jams and chaos, and it takes a long time. But once you get through that, you can start enjoying beautiful Colombia! Below are many tips for sightseeing and other fun stops, but of course there is much more to see along this route.
Piscilago, Girardot and Melgar
On the border between Cundinamarca and Tolima, you will find these towns surrounded by greenery and many pools. With the largest swimming paradise in Colombia being Piscilago. High and fast slides, a zoo, swimming pools and much more. A great stopover on this route! Its warm climate makes it a popular vacation destination for Bogotans, and you too can enjoy a day of relaxation along the way. Melgar, by the way, is the nightclub hotspot of this region where many Colombians come on weekends. Check here for hotels in and around Girardot.
The alternative route to Tatacoa
Normally, from Girardot you drive on to Neiva, and from there visit the Tatacoa. However, there is another route. This one you can only do by car, not by bus. Get off the beaten path a bit and drive along a beautiful road past mini villages to the Tatacoa Desert. A fantastic route that gives you a different view of the country. It is an adventurous route and best suited for cars with 4x4s. The route begins in Tolima, just before the border with Huila. Once you cross the Río Magdalena you are in Huila. Read all about this wonderful route + tips here.
The Tatacoa Desert
Colombia’s most famous desert is, of course, a must-see if you drive this road trip. You can get there via the road described above or via Neiva. You get the most out of your visit by spending at least one night there. Go off-season and you’ll have the red desert all to yourself! Here you will find all the information and tips for visiting the Tatacoa Desert.
The capital of the department of Huila is ideal for dining out or seeking the conviviality of a town. We stayed just south of Neiva in a roadside hotel and had delicious meals in Neiva itself. The town itself is not a place to stay for a week, but a day or as a base for the area certainly nice.
Embalse de Betania
About 30 kilometers after Neiva, near the village of Hobo, you pass the magical natural landscape of Lake Betania. I had never heard of this place, but when you drive by it you never forget it. There are several stops along the way where you can enjoy this fantastic piece of natural beauty. The lake is 7400 acres and 76 meters deep, surrounded by rugged nature. Definitely not to be missed!
A little further on, you drive through the village of Gigante, or “gigantic”. Here you will find a number of sights worth seeing. Like the giant tree in the central square, the cute and well known cafe “La Mitaca” and the church “San Antonio de Padua” from 1771. In addition, Gigante is known as the cocoa capital of Huila. So ideal for a stop.
In a traffic jam at Pericongo
On the way there, we ran into traffic jams (several times). Stones that have fallen down and are blocking the road, an accident, road works: in Colombia there is often a reason for traffic jams. Now of course that delay is not so nice, but sometimes you just see quite beautiful things because of it. We were in a traffic jam exactly at Pericongo, and let that be a beautiful viewpoint over the Río Magdalena. That made the half-hour idle time a lot less annoying.
Along the way, sometimes you want to eat something and we chose the village of Timaná, among others, for that purpose. This village is one of the oldest populations in Colombia: it was colonized by the Spanish as early as 1538. Consequently, you will find a beautiful church. In 2005, the village suffered from the arrival of huge numbers of displaced people from Putumayo and Caquetá, which did not improve security. In a short time, the population increased from a few thousand to over 25,000.
San Agustín: the end point
After 10 hours of driving or a trip with several overnight stays, you will finally arrive in San Agustín. Here you can spend at least three days enjoying archaeological finds, ancient statues, delicious food, horseback rides, beautiful waterfalls and other natural beauty and enjoy a special stay. A must-see in Colombia if you are in the area. Read all about visiting San Agustín here!
After San Agustín: how to proceed?
From San Agustín, we went back to Bogotá again, via the same route. On a Sunday, when there are fewer trucks on the road and therefore driving is a lot faster. However, if you want to continue after San Agustín, the most logical route is to Popayan through Puracé National Park. From Popayan, you can then drive up towards the coffee area and from there continue to Medellín or back to Bogotá to complete the round trip. Keep in mind that the route to Popayan and Cali will take you into orange territory, so there may be potential safety risks. Ask locals or police in advance if the route is safe at that time. More on safety in Colombia here.
Another option is to return the car in San Agustín (if possible) and continue traveling by bus.
More fun car routes through Colombia coming soon! Also off the beaten track and complete road trips. Don’t miss anything? Follow BESABINE on Facebook or via email!
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