Brief Guide to Discover the 5 Deserts of Colombia

Colombia has 5 deserts throughout its territory, which have very different characteristics due to their location. Besides, the deserts present in Colombia are arid and dry during most of the year, generating amazing landscapes, experiences that will leave you happy with your visit.

In this guide you will learn everything to enjoy exploring the deserts you can find in Colombia to the fullest.

La Guajira Desert

Located in the north of the country, in the department of Guajira. It is one of the most striking deserts thanks to the combination of the magical environment of the desert and the Caribbean Sea. The desert is divided into 3 sub-regions:

  • Alta Guajira: where its enormous dunes, cliffs, its enigmatic rock formations and its beaches of romantic and quiet atmosphere stand out; besides you can visit the Macuira National Natural Park.
  • Media Guajira: in this sub-region what stands out the most is the red sand that contrasts with the blue Caribbean sea. It is also very close to the Flamingo Flora and Fauna Sanctuary in the Boca de Camarones area and the Musichi Natural Reserve.
  • Baja Guajira: it is characterized for being the most humid area of the desert, located very close to the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. It is the birthplace of several sources of fresh water, such as the Ranchería River.

In your tour in this desert you will be able to know the wisdom of the Wayú, one of the most important indigenous communities in the country.

How to get to La Guajira Desert

Take a 1-hour flight from El Dorado International Airport (BOG) Bogotá to Almirante Padilla International Airport (RCH) at Riohacha city. Once at the airport, take an approximately 1,5- hours ride to Uribia. Once at Uribia you should take an extra 2-hours ride to Desierto de la Guajira.

Where to stay in La Guajira Desert

La Guajira desert does not currently offer accommodation for travelers. Therefore we recommend you to stay at Cabo de la Vela or at Riohacha:

If you want to know more about activities you can do near the Guajira Desert check out our blog Travel Guide to Los Flamencos Fauna & Flora Sanctuary in Colombia, Travel Guide to Macuira: The Cloud Forest Oasis in La Guajira Desert.

La Candelaria Desert (between Raquira and Villa de Leyva towns)

It is located in the department of Boyacá, 7 km from the municipality of Ráquira and 32 km from the municipality of Villa de Leyva; also known under the name of “the desert of souls”, because it is away from all noise and offers an atmosphere of tranquility.

One of the most important characteristics is that its winds are very cold, since it is located in an area of moorland; however it has the geological conditions to be considered as a desert even has areas of fertile land where there is abundant vegetation making a wonderful contrast.

In this area of the department of Boyacá important archaeological findings have been made, so it is possible to find valuable cave paintings during your tour.

 How to get to La Candelaria Desert

 To get to the sanctuary you must take a 3.5 -hour road trip from the city of Bogotá to the town of Ráquira, total distance of 183 km.

When you are in Ráquira you must take a 10-minutes road trip of 7 km to Desierto de La Candelaria.

Where to stay in La Candelaria Desert

 Due to the proximity of the desert to the town of Ráquira we recommend you to stay there:

  • Casona 1865
  • Between Rocks and Crystals
  • Mirkeland Cabana Balcony
  • Duir House – Vintage House
  • Gran Sirius Hotel

If you want to know more about activities you can do near the Candelaria Desert check out our blogs Discover the Natural Attractions of Villa de Leyva, Colombia, The Paleontologist’s Perfect Fossil Trip in Villa de Leyva and The Muisca Legend of the Origin of Life at Iguaque Flora and Fauna Sanctuary.

La Tatacoa Desert

This beautiful desert is located in the department of Huila near the municipality of Villa Vieja, being one of the most visited natural attractions in Colombia. It is also known as “The Valley of Sorrows” named this way thanks to the conquistador Gonzalo Jimenez de Quesada.

In addition the Tatacoa desert is a place of great importance for astronomy lovers because it has an ideal geographical location thanks to its low light pollution which facilitates the observation in detail of the stars and other phenomena of the universe such as meteor showers. Find out more about stargazing in our blog best places for stargazing in Colombia.

If you want to stay until night you can easily observe the stars and take beautiful pictures or if you want you can go to the astronomical observatory that the desert has.

By the way, the desert has 2 colors in different sectors; ocher in the Cuzco sector and gray in the Los Hoyos sector. When you are doing your tour in the Cuzco sector you will be able to reach an oasis in the middle of the desert where you will be able to take a refreshing bath.

How to get to La Tatacoa Desert

Take a 40-minutes flight from El Dorado (BOG) in Bogotá City to Benito Salas Airport (NVA) at Neiva city. Once at the airport, take an approximately 1-hour ride to Villa Vieja Town. At Villa Vieja take an extra 20- minutes boat ride to Desierto de la Tatacoa.

Where to stay in La Tatacoa Desert

Inside the desert there is a hotel where you can stay if you prefer instead of going to Villa Vieja: Bethel Bio Luxury Hotel.

La Tatacoita Desert in Nemocón.

Very close to the capital of the country, Bogota, is the Tatacoita desert, also known as “Checua”, which has a great geographic variety that you will discover when you get there.

The desert has gullies, sinkholes, estoraques and a canyon; in addition the colors that are presented in the strata mark the labyrinths present in the desert.

It is possible to make the tour of this desert in a couple of hours since its extension is small and reaches a maximum altitude of 2,000 meters above sea level. We recommend that you do the tour in the morning hours so you can see the change in color of the rocks when they come in contact with the sun’s rays.

How to get to La Tatacoita Desert

To get to the sanctuary you must take a 1 -hour road trip from the city of Bogotá to the town of Nemocón, total distance of 59 km.

When you are in Nemocón you must take a 35-minutes road trip of 11 km to Desierto de La Tatacoita.

 Where to stay in La Tatacoita Desert

 Due to the proximity of Bogotá to the town of Nemocón we recommend you to stay in Bogotá.

Occidente Desert, Santa Fe de Antioquia

Located in the department of Antioquia very close to the municipality of Santa Fe de Antioquia, being the most extensive arid area of the department.

It is possible that if you make the desert tour at midday you can experience temperatures above 35º C (95 ºF), also its heights are between 430 to 1300 meters above sea level.

How to get to Occidente Desert

Take a 1,5-hours flight from El Dorado (BOG) in Bogotá to José María Córdoba International Airport (MDE) at Rio Negro city.

Once at in Rio Negro you take an approximately 3,5-hours ride (56 Km) to Santa Fe de Antioquia. Antioquia. When you are in Santa Fe de Antioquia you must take a 10-minutes road trip of 11 km to Desierto de Occidente.

Where to stay in Occidente Desert

Due to the proximity of the desert to the municipality of Santa Fe de Antioquia we recommend you to stay there:

Know more about activities that you can do near the Occidente Desert visit our blog about Tourism in Santa fe de Antioquia.

If you want to know more about Colombia, or wants to book your trip, please contact us.

  • Colombia Travel.
About the author

Luisa Martin

Engineer, world traveler, amateur photographer, traveling blogger, and foody.

Top 18 Natural Breathtaking Landscapes in Colombia

What do we take into account for choosing our next holiday destination? Usually landscapes. According to the sight and the look of a place, we consider it among our travel destinations, or not. In Colombia, you can find it all. It has thousands of different breathtaking landscapes you would never expect to find there and this is due to its geographic conditions.

The Reason of Colombia’s Landscape Diversity

Colombia stands out for having variety of landforms and consequently several altitudinal ranges with a characteristic weather and ecosystem, called thermal floors. Thermal floors are the underlying cause of the country’s megadiversity and each one boasts unique landscapes and sights that you cannot miss when visiting Colombia. There are 5 thermal floors: hot, warm, cold, páramo and perpetual snow and they depend on the altitude of the territory above the sea level. Each 1,000 increase in elevation has a huge impact on the life conditions of the region.


Now that you know the variety of environments in Colombia, read on to discover some of the most breathtaking landscapes in this wonderful country.

Seven Colors Sea in San Andrés Islands

San Andrés & Providencia

The second largest coral reef in the Caribbean is located in Providencia island, which belongs to the San Andrés Archipelago in the Colombian territory in the Caribbean Sea.

The array of colors from turquoise to aquamarine in the sea around these islands is the reason it is called the seven color sea.

It is a landscape worth seeing. Actually, the marine territory of the Archipelago, called Seaflower, was declared a Biosphere Reserve in 2000 by the UNESCO and shelters strategic ecosystems with high endemism.

Seaflower belongs to the Western Caribbean coral reef hotspot and hosts over 2,300 marine species.

The Most Beautiful River in the World

Caño Cristales, the Rainbow river, La Macarena, Colombia

Caño Cristales is a place that is being visited not only by backpackers but but tourists in general for its stunning landscape.

It has several nicknames, including the 5 color river and the most beautiful river in the world, and this is because it reflects red, green, yellow, blue and black hues due to aquatic plants, sand and rocky formations.

The red hues are caused by Macarenia clavigera plants, which are endemic. Before travelling to this awesome destination in Meta, you should know that the river is not open to the public all year round.

The appropriate season to visit Caño Cristales is from early June to December; during the other 6 months, the aquatic plants have their reproductive period and, although you can still visit the Serranía de La Macarena (where the river originates), entrance to the river is not allowed.

Cabo de la Vela – La Guajira

Sunset at Cabo de la Vela

In the northern tip of Colombia, La Guajira department, Cabo de la Vela is an unrivaled geographical feature with several tourist attractions. This region has the lowest level of rainfall in the country, which causes it to have desert conditions.

At 47 meters above sea level, you can enjoy gorgeous beaches such as Playa Dorada and Ojo de Agua, which have the perfect conditions for kite surfing. Pilón de Azúcar is a hill which you can climb in 15 minutes and appreciate the Caribbean landscape from the top.

The full experience of visiting La Guajira implies staying in a Wayuu farm or ranchería, in colorful hammocks woven by these indigenous.

From Cabo de la Vela, it is possible to get to Punta Gallinas, a magical place with golden dunes and rocky cliffs. Sights in La Guajira definitely will leave you speechless.

Tatacoa Desert

Night at the Tatacoa Desert ©Bernardo Solano

To the north of the capital Neiva, many tourists get to this tropical dry forest for hiking, camping and doing astronomical observation, but specially for enjoying an unparalleled Mars-like sight. There are three distinctive landscapes.

One with reddish/ochre natural sculptures caused by soil erosion in the sector called Cuzco, which keeps vestiges of ancient fossil deposits. Another one is Hoyos, a zone of differently-shaped mounds of gray tones that also has a pool of mineralized water built by locals.

Finally, El Cardón sector offers nice landscapes of sub xerophytic vegetation, including cactus, and possibilities for wildlife and bird observation.

Other attraction of Tatacoa is the uber-clear night sky with thousands of stars that light up the way.

The Coffee Cultural Landscape

Tinamu Birding Nature Reserve, notice it is a refuge in the middle of a highly fragmented landscape.

In the central and western foothills of the Andes, 563,000 families from 18 municipalities in Caldas, Risaralda, Quindío and Valle del Cauca form a sustainable coffee farming model that is declared a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO.

The Arabic coffee grain grown in Colombia is known as one of the best in the world. It encompasses 6 farming landscape that preserve the tradition of coffee growing in the challenging high mountain forests.

If you visit the coffee growing axis, or Eje cafetero, you will witness incredible sights such as coffee plantations in steep slopes of over 55 degrees and colorful towns with colonial architecture.

The Lost City

Lost City – Tayrona Park, Santa Marta

Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta boasts wonderful landscapes everywhere you look. The world’s highest coastal mountain is a biodiversity hotspot and a fascinating place to be at.

One of the best sights you can enjoy is the Lost City (or Teyuna) in the national natural park Tayrona. This city is the archaeological record of  an ancient indigenous civilization built around 650 AD that is currently considered the greatest archaeological finding in Colombia.

What remained of the stone roads and buildings is now claimed as a sacred territory of the Kogui, Arhuaco, Wiwa and Kankuamo indigenous communities and also is an archaeological park.

In the park there is no mobile phone signal nor communication devices, but who needs technology when one witnesses such natural and historical beauty?

Toche – Tolima

Machín Volcano, Toche, Tolima, COlombia

A village formerly under control of guerrilla groups and quite inaccessible and abandoned by the government has become a tourist destination for nature lovers.

Usually, travelers who come from Salento and want to know the Cerro Machín volcano pass by this little town that is developing tourist infrastructure. However, few people know that Toche boasts the largest wax palm forest in the world.

Between this village and Cajamarca, you can find agglomerations of at least 1,000 palms that add up to 600,000 individuals and many other new plants that take 50 years to get to their maximum growth level.

This is an awesome sight of the beaten path that is strengthened by waterfalls, ancient tunnels, hot springs and a wealthy avifauna.

You can find 3 species of toucans, including the emerald toucanet and the rainbow-billed toucan, 5 species of parrots, including the yellow-eared and the blue-headed parrots, and the rufous-fronted parakeet, also you can spot eagles from there.

Chicamocha Canyon

Chicamocha Canyon

With 227 km long and a maximum depth of 2,000 m, the Chicamocha Canyon, located in Santander, is the largest in Colombia.

The Chicamocha river carved this current tourist attraction that never stops impressing its witnesses. Chicamocha is so marvelous that it was nominated as one of the 7 natural wonders in 2009.

In the heart of the canyon, the Chicamocha National Park allows visitors to enjoy the incredible landscape in several fun ways: you can either go paragliding over it, take one of the 3 cable cars or do canoeing along the river.

Los Estoraques Unique Natural Area

Alejandra_Garcia los Estoraques PNN

In Norte de Santander, to the western Cordillera, a green grass plain with white stone roads leads you to a incredible sight: Los Estoraques.

Rain and wind produced severe erosion, forming huge columns, pedestals and caves of different shapes and color that garnish the dry forest. Gullies, hills and valleys with refreshing ponds can also be found here.

These formations resemble the ruins of medieval buildings! Although Estoraques offers a sight one of its kind, its ecosystem has been damaged by human activities such as agriculture, hunting and logging.

Nariño Lagoons

Laguna de la cocha, picture by Sebastian David Martinez Canchala

Nariño department, southwest of Colombia, boasts several natural wonders. Its lagoons are famous among nature lovers.

Laguna de la Cocha is a beautiful lagoon full of legends that give it spiritual value. In the middle of the water, the Corota island is a biodiversity reserve considered a sacred place for indigenous descendants.

In addition, Laguna Verde (or Green Lagoon) is a must-visit water body in the region. On the top of the Azufral volcano, at almost 4,000 MASL, tourists’ jaws drop when seeing this emerald green lagoon with warm water due to  sulfur concentrations and steam that make it one of the prettiest in the world.

Ocetá Páramo

Páramo de Ocetá

One of the prettiest moorlands of Colombia is still unknown territory for many locals and tourists. In the municipality of Mongui, Boyacá, the Ocetá páramo dazzles with its wealth of silver, yellow and white frailejones, yellow senecios, violet lupins and tons of liquens and moss.

Luckily you will find rabbits, frogs, eagles, white-tailed deer and the national bird, the Andean condor. However, what makes Ocetá stand out from the other moorlands is its Stone City, a rocky zone with alleys enclosed by 15-meter high stone walls!

The peaks also exhibit well-defined rock strata and from there, you can see its water sources and the Pisba páramo to the north. This place makes you want to pay a second visit.

Salt Cathedral – Zipaquirá

Colombia’s First Wonder since 2007 is on the outskirts of Bogotá, in Zipaquirá. This great work of art was built within the region’s salt mines, and the miners had to extract 250 thousand tons of rock salt 180 meters underground.

This Catholic cathedral has three naves representing different stages of Jesus’ life, each one with an altar and great salt sculptures carved by miners and artists.

Religious visitors can follow the Stations of the Cross and get to the dome where a huge cross stands out thanks to the blue and purplish lightning that completes the design of the building.

This place is a must even for non-religious tourists, the underground landscape marvels anyone who visits.

Chingaza National Natural Park

Lakes of Chingaza National Natural Park

If you visit Bogotá, you should probably come know the place that provides 80% of its drinking water. Chingaza páramo is on the Eastern range of the Andes, between the departments of Cundinamarca and Meta, and is protected as a national natural park.

A cloudy horizon that hides the blue sky, which reflects on the lakes with mythological value surrounded by frailejones. This is the breathtaking sight you can experience here. Hiking in this place to have an overview of this amazing natural reserve is highly recommended.

Wildlife in Chingaza includes the spectacled bear, deer, pumas, páramo tapirs, Andean condors and the Andean Cock-of-the-rock Besides frailejones, different species of swamp moss absorb up to 40 times their weight in water! They keep the land humid and alive.

Cocuy National Natural Park

EL Cocuy

Sierra Nevada of Guicán, El Cocuy and Chita is the largest glacier mass in Colombia: within two mountain ranges it has over 25 snow peaks from 4,800 to 5,330 MASL.

The area within the National park is sacred to the Uwa indigenous community, so it should be treated with respect. Plus, if you go there and contemplate the landscape around you, you will not want to harm it.

Waterfalls, lagoons, páramo vegetation and fauna embelish the calm environment of the park located between the departments of Arauca and Boyacá. Similarly to Chingaza, here you can see spectacled bears, tapirs, deer, Andean condors and eagles, as well as frailejones.

The white peaks of El Cocuy are on the list of challenges of professional mountain climbers from all over the world, but getting at least to its slopes and admiring the view is a dream for every adventurous nature lover.

El Tuparro National Natural Park

El Tuparro

This park located in the east of Colombia is simply amazing. A vast savanna crossed by rivers with powerful streams, crystalline water, golden beaches and huge rock formations shaped like rounded hills is what you can contemplate in Tuparro.

One of its attractions, the Maypures stream was named “the eight wonder of the world” by Alexander von Humboldt. Now you can imagine why you should visit this place.

Mavecure Hills

Mavecure Hills – Picture courtesy by Andrés Rodríguez, local indigenous guide.

These majestic rock hills that are part of the Guiana Shield are not a common landscape for most tourists. El Mono, El Pajaro and Mavecure are in the Amazon region of Colombia and were believed to be the home of deities for indigenous communities.

Out of the three majestic black rounded hills that rise in the middle of a jungle, you can only climb Mavecure. The speedboat trip from Puerto Inirida will allow you enjoy unforgettable sights.

Bahía Solano

Bahía Solano, Chocó

Humpback whales arriving to the Colombian beaches of the Pacific Ocean in front of you and an unspoiled biodiverse rainforest behind you is what you will face in Bahia Solano, Choco. Simply unforgettable.

Do not miss your chance to live this and travel with us look here! This natural show can be experienced from July to October each year, but if you travel there at a different time, its jungle is a wonderful ecosystem to explore.

Nevado del Tolima

Nevado del Tolima from the Ukuku Lodge.

This ancient volcano at over 5,000  MASL boasts a green-coated land and a glacier of 2.8 square kilometers.

Enjoy a challenging trekking trail with the possibility of bathing in hot springs and contemplating the nice scenery of Tolima department. You can start the trip from Ibagué until El Silencio, from there, you can take several paths to climb.

Check our tour to this awesome snowy mountain here!

Are you now feeling like traveling to Colombia? You can discover many of these marvelous landscapes and more with us. Check our sample tours here!

About the author

Ana María Parra

Modern Languages professional with emphasis on business translation. Interested in cultural adaptation of written and audiovisual content.  Passionate about knowing new cultures and languages, tourism and sustainable living.