San Agustín was a new area for me as it was sadly off limits for tourists during the guerrilla era, but all has changed now with the security situation having improved considerably. In fact, security across Colombia is excellent and most areas (including all tourist areas) can be explored safely.
To reach San Agustín, I flew to Neiva and spent a night in the Tatacoa desert region before continuing overland to San Agustín. The journey should have taken about four hours, but unfortunately there were some rocks which had fallen on the road, so we had to take a detour. Six hours later I arrived to San Agustín but, as I was to discover the next day, the long journey was worth the effort.
Forest of Statues
The UNESCO archaeological site at San Agustín is, in my opinion, the must-see of the region with its remarkable ‘Bosque de las Estatuas’ (Forest of Statues), consisting of a number of mysterious statues dating from 3,300BC. The site is extensive (500 square kilometres) and to see it properly you need a full day – there are a few steep walks but the views from the top of the surrounding scenery are as impressive as the statues themselves. The statues are of ‘common’ people (both male and female), shamans and animals, and range from realistic to abstract with the more abstract statues supposedly representing a state of shamanic trance in which the shamans can get closer to the Gods. Perhaps the most intriguing part of the site is that it appeared between the First and Eighth centuries but no one is completely sure when and who created the statues. This made it more mysterious and I found myself theorising what could have happened and also how, like with the statues on Easter Island, the huge statues were transported – some of them stand over 20 feet tall!
As well as the site at San Agustín, another interesting addition is a visit to La Chaquira, the huge rock face onto which deities have been carved. The walk down is fine but returning uphill was quite steep – it was worth it though for the views which stretch over the River Magdalena and are truly impressive. My guide told me that the position in which La Chaquira had been carved meant that at certain times of the year, as the sun rises over the mountains, a shard of light would land exactly on the forehead of the statue. This led to some discussion about the link between the position of the carved statue and the calendar year but, like San Agustín, it is just speculation as there is very little known about the site. I found La Chaquira different to the archaeological site at San Agustín and it somehow felt more spiritual.
Altos de los Idolos
I also visited the Altos de los Idolos site which is known for its impressive funerary sculptures. The guides really make the trip worthwhile and it’s essential to have one as they bring the history of the sites alive. When we arrived to the site, we were the only ones there which was incredible and one of the aspects I enjoyed most about Colombia – it really felt authentic and just like the Latin America I fell in love with all those years ago!
Visit San Agustín on our Off the beaten track Colombia: San Agustin and the Amazon or on our Undiscovered Colombia, Providencia and Panama City holidays.