The Sunflower (Helianthus annuus, the common sunflower) is worldwide known for its beauty and Vincent van Gogh paintings. The blooming of this beautiful flowers everywhere attracts many people to the so-called sunflower tourism.
Although they are treated as weeds, they fulfill an important function: their ability to grow in all types of environments and their resistance to drought allows them to invade degraded sites, where they detain the soil. Also, because they produce a lot of nectar, they attract numerous pollinators, such as bees.
Origin of Sunflowers
Sunflowers were domesticated by Mesoamerican Indian tribes, and are traditionally associated with pre-Columbian Mexican cultures. They were cultivated more for their usefulness than for their beauty.
However, the sunflower was used as a symbol representing the sun deity, primarily by the Aztecs and Otomies in Mexico and the Incas in Peru.
In 1532, Francisco Pizarro entered Peru, where he found a gigantic sunflower that the indigenous people of the Inca empire worshipped as a sacred image of the sun god. Then, gold figures of this flower, as well as seeds, were taken to Europe at the beginning of the 16th century.
Crops and Sunflower Tourism
Nowadays, their cultivation for oil extraction has been widespread in Spain since about 1980, thanks to subsidies from the European Economic Community. The same happens in the United Stated.
However, this is not the only appeal of sunflowers; the beauty of their fields attracts millions of tourists around the world.
The most beautiful sunflower fields in Spain are those found in the regions of La Bureba in Burgos, Cardejón in Soria, Carmona in Seville and Antequera in Malaga.
On the other hand, the most famous sunflower field in Italy is in the Tuscany region.
Every day, sunflowers move towards the sun, following it on its east-west route. At night they move in the opposite direction, as if waiting for the sun to rise the next morning.
But one day they stop doing so, since when they reach maturity they stop their dance, do not turn again and remain oriented indefinitely towards the east until they die.
And the truth is, it is not the flower that turns, it is the uneven growth of its stems that causes the turning. And when they stop growing, they stop turning.
That they stop is not entirely sad, since when they reach maturity, the plant is ready to be pollinated. The flowers release additional heat, which makes them more attractive to pollinating insects.
Find out more in the Science Report Circadian regulation of sunflower heliotropism, floral orientation, and pollinator visits: Sun-tracking when young, east-facing when mature, warmer sunflowers attract more pollinators.
Sunflower Tourism in Colombia
Research on sunflower cultivation in Colombia has been carried out since the late 1950s. But it was not until 1985 that the first sunflower field was planted for commercial production. The first crops were planted in Valle del Cauca, Tolima and Cesar.
In general, sunflower grows well in Colombia, from sea level to 2600 meter above sea level, so much so that today there are crops in Bogota. However, it was not until 2020 that some fields began to be used for tourism.
Today, there are several destinations where you can visit sunflower fields in Colombia, bu today I am goiong to talk about the most suitable for visit: San Martin, in the department of Meta, in the eastern plains of Colombia, Montes de Maria in the department of Bolivar, in the Colombian Caribbean region, and Valledupar in the department of Cesar, also part of the Caribbean region.
Sunflower Tourism in San Martin, Meta
The municipality of San Martin de los Llanos is located one hour from Villavicencio, capital of Meta. The annual sowing of sunflowers in a private plot of land in San Martín de los Llanos is the place that delights the visitor’s eyes with a minefield of this plant.
For more than five years, between the months of October and November, the sunflower crop blooms, and every year tourists are treated to the experience of walking among a crop of large and impressive sunflowers.
The tour starts at 10:00 in the morning or at 3:00 in the afternoon, from the municipality of San Martin with the indications of the authorized guides.
To get there you have to cross a 3-kilometer dirt road from San Martin; since it is private land, it is not permitted to indicate the exact location of the place.
Sunflower Tourism in Montes de María (or Serranía de San Jacinto), Bolívar
Between the departments of Bolívar and Sucre, in the Colombian Caribbean, is located the sub-region of Montes de María, a vast territory of agricultural and livestock tradition whose geographical location consolidated it as a corridor that connects a large part of the country with the Caribbean region and some of its main ports.
The Montes de María (also known as Serranía de San Jacinto) length does not exceed 110 km and its altitudes are less than 1,200 meters above sea level.
Montes de María, a Post-conflict Destination
The Montes de María area suffered from conflict for years, being a zone of FARC-EP guerrilla activity and paramilitary groups including the AUC. A particularly difficult period was in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
For years, this territory was forgotten, but now it is reappearing to conquer Colombians and foreigners with its beauty. In addition to the handicrafts, bagpipes and natural landscapes, there is a sunflower field, which has become another tourist attraction.
Tourism, entrepreneurship and sustainability
In the Sibar farm there is fish farming, chicken breeding and now, beekeeping that began to be generated thanks to the planting of these sunflowers.
It is an eco-efficient farm, where nothing is thrown away. The chicken feces (chicken manure) are used as fertilizer for the sunflowers. The flour from the sunflowers is fed to fish and chickens.
Sibar Farm and its Sunflower Fields
The idea arose as a result of the pandemic. Originally, it was a soy-based poultry feed manufacturing company. Due to the covid-19 pandemic, they came up with the idea of using sunflower meal as raw material for concentrate plants for cattle, sheep, swine, fish and poultry feed.
The company AgroFrance sold the sunflower seeds to the farm owners, and gave them technical assistance for planting, which is how the three-hectare sunflower field was born.
This sunflower variety produces grains with high protein, vitamin and fiber content, which have different uses for human consumption. These characteristics make this field even more special for tourists.
The field is located on the Sibar farm, on the outskirts of the municipality of San Jacinto, and very close to the Troncal de Occidente highway in the Montes de María.
Entering to contemplate the 180 thousand sunflowers has no cost. The only recommendation of the owner Alfredo Villadiego is that the visit is made with all the biosecurity protocols and without making noise because they can scare the bees!
Sunflower Tourism in Valledupar, Cesar
The cultivation of sunflower in the department of Cesar arose thanks to the union of several farmers. As in Bolivar, AgroFrance International distributed the seed to the local agricultural farmers.
The crops are located on the road that leads to the village of El Jabo, five minutes from Valledupar, at Finca La Esmeralda, and there are other fields distributed in the village of Los Venados, and in the municipality of Urumita in La Guajira.
Sunflower as an Alternative Crop
Sunflower cultivation in Cesar has become a planting alternative due to the scarce markets for rice, corn, cotton, sorghum, and other products, and it is a plant that does not require abundant water. Farmers in the area hope to harvest the grain to take it to agribusiness as oil or flour.
Bee sanctuary, therapeutic and tourist attractiveness
The harmonious and constant buzzing of bees accompanies this yellow feast, making it a sanctuary for bees. Thousands of bees arrive in swarms from the mountains to give life to the crops and help the pollination of this plant.
Some countries such as Germany, Austria, Denmark, Spain, Belgium, France and Greece must implant bee hives, artificially, due to the scarcity of this insect in these countries.
One of the owners of the crops has witnessed how hundreds of people come to appreciate these flowers, and for the landscape impact of 200 thousand sunflower plants framed under the silhouette of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, which for some resembles Swiss landscapes.
The fields have even been visited by several people with health problems to enjoy the beauty of the crop. In this way, they are contributing to the community.
Important Precautions When Visiting a Sunflower Field
- You should wear appropriate footwear for the tour and the mud.
- Avoid wearing strong perfumes before visiting, as they attract bees.
- In addition, it is recommended not to run inside the field and it is forbidden to cut the sunflowers.
Remember, these places are especially for those who wish to enjoy nature.
If you want to know more about nature and agro-tourism destinations in Colombia do not hesitate in contact us or visit our Plan your trip page.
About the authors
The current director of Sula. Doctor in Biological Sciences. Her main interests are to explore and understand the organism-environment interactions, taking advantage of emerging knowledge for the management and conservation of species and ecosystem services. She is currently working as a consultant in functional ecology, ecosystem services, and conservation projects in Colombia related to ecotourism and birdwatching.