The South of Colombia, Colombia

Km 16 318

We are so happy to be in Colombia and especially to have arrived by land. To celebrate this, we end this first day with a visit to Lajas, a religious sanctuary only a few km from the border. We cycle down the side of a small steep valley. At the bottom, the church is built on a brick bridge. There are lots of little decorations, paths with different views and even a small waterfall. The church is built directly against the rock. Inside, there is an image of the Virgin Mary painted on the rock, which is the object of veneration for the faithful. As the weather is nice, we get some beers and sit on a low wall overlooking the church. At nightfall, the sanctuary is illuminated with many colours, it looks more like a Disneyland castle than a church. We retire to our tent, which we set up a few steps away at the side of the cable car departure point.

The next day we arrive in Pasto, the first big city in Colombia. We quickly leave it behind and head for Mocoa, a small town at the entrance to the Amazon forest. On the way, we pass by the Laguna La Cocha and its charming harbour village on stilts. We go up and down through the increasingly dense vegetation, and then we see the Amazon plain stretching out before us. After a bivouac at the edge of a crystal clear river where the locals wash their motorbikes, their clothes or just their hair, we continue our road towards the north. We still have a small mountain range to cross, then we descend into a wide and very low valley until Pitalito. It is hot (even very hot), we have definitely left the altiplano behind us. In Pitalito, we take a rest day at Darío’s and his very friendly family we met on Warmshowers. We also take the opportunity to go to the archeological site of San Agustin to observe the enigmatic statues carved in volcanic rocks. The culture that carved them disappeared before the arrival of the Spanish and left no written trace. Archaeologists therefore know almost nothing about these statues except that they date from around 2500 years ago.

After leaving Pitalito, we head to the next major archaeological site: Tierradentro. It consists of several tombs dug into the mountains and accessible via steep staircases. We walk the several km circuit to discover tombs of various sizes, some decorated with faces engraved in the pillars and/or paintings of geometric shapes in red, black and white on the walls and ceiling. Between these small cemeteries, we pass along small mountain paths, with beautiful views or between coffee plantations where the harvest has begun.

Back in the valley, we have one last visit before arriving in Bogotá, the desert of La Tatacoa. Being used to big deserts like Atacama in Chile and Séchura in Peru, we were expecting a big dry area. But La Tatacoa is not very big, we can still see the green on the horizon and on the sides. It is the red colour and the rock formations that make it famous. After a night in our tent directly on the edge of the desert, we spend a morning walking in these small red valleys dug by the water during centuries. We almost feel like we are in a cowboy movie set. Then we go back to civilization and on the way to Bogotá which is punctuated by beautiful encounters, notably a family who invites us first to beers on the terrace of a bar, then to spend the night in their finca. This gives us the last bit of energy we need for the climb up the mountain range to Bogotá. When we arrive at Claudio’s, our host, we are exhausted. Luckily, we can rest now for 2 weeks because Matthieu has to work in the Colombian capital. This will do us good before discovering the north of the country!

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The South of Colombia

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