The Gateway to the Colombian Amazon: Putumayo

Putumayo is one of the most beautiful and promising post-conflict scenarios to enjoy nature tourism.  has a perfect harmony between the rainforest and the Andes mountain range. In the south of the department is the city of Villagarzon where rivers begin to take the shape of a snake along with flat green landscapes; in the west of the capital, Mocoa, is the Sibundoy Valley.

Putumayo has an incredibly high biodiversity, it offers you the opportunity to meet species such as parrots, toucans, monkeys, tapirs, capivaras, tigers, panthers, spectacled bear and a great variety of birds. This is because its territory occupies a Andean – Amazon Piedmont, and numerous rivers.

Mocoa

Mocoa is Putumayo’s Capital City. It is a city that offers a combination of jungle walks, waterfalls, ecotourism, adventure sports, ancestral wellness, bird watching and Amazonian fauna.

What to visit staying in Mocoa?

Fin del Mundo Waterfall

It is one of the main tourist attractions in Mocoa. The waterfall is located in the Dantayaco stream and has a drop height of 70 meters forming two beautiful natural pools.

To get there you must hike up the mountain for 1.5 – hours, and when you are at this point apart from taking beautiful pictures you can do water activities such as canyoning.

Mandiyaco Cañon

Located at km 25 of the road that leads from Mocoa to Pitalito very close to the Caqueta river. This natural wonder is a rock formation of volcanic origin, called “Mandiyaco” in the Inga language.

The rock formations that can be observed are possible to see different faces like the lion, the tiger’s claws, the nose of the bear, among other figures, in this wonderful place full of positive energy where you can take a boat ride.

Suruma Park

This reserve and preservation center of the Amazonian flora and fauna is located 8.3 km from Mocoa, has an area of 131.6 hectares of which 90% is forest.

There you will be able to take tours to learn more about the flora and fauna found in the Amazon as well as gain knowledge of the species that are endangered and those that are already in recovery.

Paway Butterfly Farm

If you want to learn about the evolutionary process of butterflies, this place is ideal for you. It is located 7.7 km from Mocoa; there you will be surrounded by nature and many species of butterflies.

In addition the butterfly farm offers you the opportunity to stay in a cabin built in a Ceiba “sacred tree”, you can spend a night surrounded by nature and wake up with the original sounds of the Amazon rainforest.

Hornoyaco Waterfall

To get to this beautiful waterfall of 55 m of fall you must make a 2 hour walk from the center of Mocoa. It is known because its inhabitants say that the guardian of this waterfall is the rainbow, since most of the time when the rainbow appears you can see how it surrounds the waterfall. It is a place of tranquility and peace where you can spend a wonderful afternoon.

Licamancha Caves

In Putumayo it is also possible to do caving activities, in the limits between the departments of Putumayo and Cauca on the banks of the Caqueta River is the access point to the caverns; it is advisable not to visit in rainy seasons due to the risks that can be run by the increase of the current of the river.

During the one hour tour it is possible to appreciate paleontological vestiges of more than millions of years old, besides walking through internal halls inside the cavern of 15 meters high.

At the moment it is an area that is in constant investigation for the discovery of more caverns or internal tours inside the already known ones.

El Salto del Indio

In the Kuriyaku ravine (in the indigenous language of the sector means “golden water”) just 19 km from Mocoa it is possible to find this natural wonder. It is formed by 2 waterfalls where a natural pool of emerald green water is generated.

Thanks to the fact that the inhabitants of the cabildo Tigre Playa offer the service of canoe to cross the river, the hiking time was reduced from 1 hour to 20 minutes, so now you will have more time to enjoy this natural wonder.

Donde se Oculta el Sol waterfalls (where the sun hides)

Located 22 km from Mocoa, when you arrive at the indicated point you will hike 2 km to reach the waterfalls that are formed in the Sardinas Creek; the waterfall “Mohano” (in indigenous language “Jaguar Man”) has 18 m of fall and the waterfall “Wakana” (in indigenous language “Llanto de la Mona”) has 17 m of fall.

Between the two waterfalls it is necessary to cross a stone bridge and a stone tunnel that connects the two waterfalls.

There you will be able to go bird watching, there is a camping area or if you prefer rural lodging.

How to arrive to Mocoa?

Take a 1,5-hours flight from El Dorado (BOG) in Bogotá to Villa Garzón Airport (VGZ) at Mocoa city.

Where to stay in Mocoa?

In Mocoa you will find a great diversity of accommodation options depending on your budget and personal taste. Our recommendations as follows:

  • Posada Turistica Dantayaco

Orito

It is located in the Amazonian foothills, there you will be able to meet and have contact with the Kofan indigenous community, you can acquire knowledge of the ancestral wisdom of the hand of them, also you will be able to know the Pijili River, noted for its emerald green waters.

What to visit in Orito?

Isla Escondida Nature Reserve

There are about 25 kms of walking trails in and around the reserve. Apart from the trails there are many tracks for walking and exploring!

The reserve has more than 350 bird species, with many range-restricted species. Among the main targets are the  Nocturnal Curassow (Nothocrax urumutum), Salvin’s Curassow, Chestnut-headed Crake, Grey-winged Trumpeter, Napo Screech-owl, Buff-tailed Sicklebill, Pavonine Quetzal, Collared Puffbird, Spot-winged and Scarlet-shouldered Parrotlet, Fulvous Antshrike, Hairy-crested Antbird, Spectacled Bristle-tyrant, Foothill Elaenia, Black-&-white and Golden-winged Tody-flycatcher, Grey-tailed Piha, Fiery-throated Fruiteater, Foothill Schiffornis, Musician Wren and Fulvous Shrike-Tanager.

There are registers of  jaguar, margay, trumpeters, deer, opossums, nocturnal curassows, kinkajous (Potus flavus), olingos (Bassaricyon alleni), pacas (Cuniculus paca), night monkeys (Aotus), band-bellied Owls (Pulsatrix melanota), etc.

Maloka Oso Kofan

It is a meeting center of the Kofan indigenous community, the name of this Maloka is due to the fact that the Taita Oso Kofan is located there; also if you visit the department in January you can have the opportunity to participate in the annual camp where the indigenous community offers visitors the Amazonian ancestral knowledge along with the Yage ceremony supervised by members of the indigenous community.

Ma&Ju Ecotourism Center

In Ma&Ju you will learn about the agricultural processes of planting and harvesting of pepper and cocoa that takes place in the department. You can also do activities such as Canopy and walk on Tibetan bridges over the jungle.

If you wish to spend the night in this center there is a camping area or private cabins in the middle of the jungle.

Corunta Ecotourism Center

In the center you will be able to enjoy a private waterfall, La Silvania, you can also go horseback riding in the middle of the jungle, enjoy a natural pool and take tours in rural areas and have contact with the farmers of the sector.

Pijili Stone

It is a huge stone located in the flow of the Pijili River, is one of the most visited resorts for the majesty of the stone along with the tranquility and beautiful scenery offered by this river.

How to get to Orito?

Take a 1,5-hours flight from El Dorado (BOG) in Bogotá to Villa Garzón Airport (VGZ) at Mocoa city.

Once at in Mocoa you take an approximately 3-hours ride (118 Km) to Orito.

Puerto Asis

It is the municipality with the largest population of the department, besides being known as the commercial capital of Putumayo due to the development of commercial activities of great importance for the economic development of the department.

Moreover, Puerto Asis was the national center in the development of the Colombian-Peruvian war or known as “the conflict of Leticia” between 1932-1933.

What to visit in Puerto Isis?

La Esmeralda Pier

This important dock is the place where all the boats connect with Puerto Leguizamo, being one of the most important fluvial connection points of the department. You can also take a tour through the Putumayo River where you will be able to appreciate the immensity and enjoy the scenery during the tour.

Playa Rica Village

During your journey through the Putumayo River you can enter this magical trail where you can do bird watching, appreciate various species of the jungle in this part of the country and learn about Amazonian fruits.

How to get to Puerto Asis?

Bogota – Mocoa – Puerto Asis

Take a 1,5-hours flight from El Dorado (BOG) in Bogotá to Villa Garzón Airport (VGZ) at Mocoa city. Once at in Mocoa you take an approximately 2-hours ride (87 Km) to Puerto Asís.

Bogotá- Puerto Asís

Take a 1,5-hours flight from El Dorado (BOG) in Bogotá to Tres de Mayo Airport (PUU) at Puerto Asís city. Keep in mind that the airlines that fly to Puerto Asis are: EasyFly (Monday, Wednesday and Friday) and Satena (Sunday through Friday).

Puerto Leguizamo

It is called the exotic garden of the universe, as it is surrounded by the Amazon jungle, the Putumayo River and has borders with Ecuador and Peru. Formerly known as Caucayá, since it was the name it received when it was founded in 1920 and in 1950 it received its current name.

What to visit in Puerto Leguizamo?

El Guardian de la Selva (The Guardian of the Forest)

A magical ceiba tree 60 meters high and 40 centimeters in diameter. The inhabitants of the sector consider it to be the grandfather tree, being the sacred tree that is full of positive energy and is raising requests to heaven.

Caucayá River

It is located at the entrance to the Amazon, from here you will be able to observe the pink dolphin, river otters, different species of birds and Amazonian monkeys.

Laguna Azul

It is a body of water located in the deepest point of Puerto Leguizamo, it is said that its waters are healing, also rituals of cleansing and purification of the body and spirit are performed there.

La Argelia Fish Farming Station

In this station you will meet and feed the Amazonian fish Pirarocu, one of the largest freshwater fish and can measure up to 3 meters, this experience is possible with the support of the inhabitants of the sector.

How to get to Puerto Leguizamo?

Take a 1,5-hours flight from El Dorado (BOG) in Bogotá to Caucayá Airport (LQM) at Puerto Leguizamo city.

Keep in mind that the only airline that operates to this airport is Satena on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

Villagarzon

It is part of the Amazonian Piedemonte region, surrounded by the rivers San Juan, Conejo, San Vicente and Guineo, is 15 minutes from Mocoa; it is also known as the heart of Putumayo for being one of the most diverse areas of the department.

What to visit in Villagarzon?

El Escondite Natural Reserve

It is a Private Natural Reserve, which has a protected area of approximately 124 hectares, of which 70% is in natural regeneration or in a state of conservation located in the village of La Joya. Here you can go bird watching, as it has a record of 299 species of birds, you can also observe frogs and insects and primates.

Kayaking on the Guineo River

You can do this activity surrounded by a landscape of Amazon jungle and pure waters that invite us to have fun and connect with mother earth.

Rio Vides Archaeological Park

In the park you can observe stones with petroglyphs that show motifs of stars, plants and animals and other classified carved by indigenous ancestors.

How to get to Villagarzon?

Bogota – Mocoa – Villagarzon

Take a 1,5-hours flight from El Dorado (BOG) in Bogotá to Villa Garzón Airport (VGZ) at Mocoa city. Once at in Mocoa you take an approximately 30 – minutes ride (17 Km) to Villagarzón.

Where to stay in Villagarzon?

In Villagarzón you will find a great diversity of accommodation options depending on your budget and personal taste. Our recommendations as follows:

  • El Escondite.

Sibundoy Valley

It is one of the cultural epicenters of Putumayo, with the presence of the indigenous cultures Kamentsá (men from here) and Ingas (close), unique in the world.

The inhabitants of the sector say that the missionaries arrived there during the colonial period, leaving numerous educational centers of great importance for the region.

What to visit in Sibundoy Valley?

The Interculturality Park

Known as the meeting point for the inhabitants of the municipality, it is adorned with eight sculptures made of wood by the indigenous communities, being an ideal place to spend the afternoon and visit the headquarters of the Municipal Administration.

Ambiaku Tourist Center / Colón Hot Springs Center

Termas Colón is a place where you can visit during the day or at night; you can experience shock therapies between hot and cold water, you can also have an outdoor mud therapy.

Ayen Botanical Garden

The place is ideal to learn about medicinal plants; you can also participate in harmonization or cleansing activities through the taita Juan, you can also participate in a yage ceremony with a previous reservation.

Villa Beatriz Viewpoint

From this wonderful viewpoint you will be able to watch birds and hummingbirds, besides having a panoramic view of the immense and magical valley of Sibundoy.

How to get to Sibundoy?

Bogota – Mocoa – Sibundoy

Take a 1,5-hours flight from El Dorado (BOG) in Bogotá to Villa Garzón Airport (VGZ) at Mocoa city.

Once at in Mocoa you take an approximately 3,5-hours ride (81 Km) to Sibunday.

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

References
About the author

Luisa Martin

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

Why You Should Visit Uramba Bahía Málaga National Natural Park in Colombia?

The answer is simple! If you like nature and also like to support community-based tourism activities, Uramba Bahía Málaga is a destination for you: It is a worldwide recognized biodiversity hotspot, you can see humpback whales there, and you will be helping an Afro-descendant community that bet on ecotourism as a new way for the development of its territory.

Uramba Bahía Málaga is the 56th National Natural Park declared in Colombia and is located in one of the most biodiverse places on the planet: the Biogeographic Choco, in the Pacific Region.

This wonderful and highly pristine place is considered a hot spot for nature conservation worldwide. The calm waters of Uramba Bahía Málaga National Natural Park are the preferred place for the birth and breeding of humpback whales, making this place even more special.

You can’t miss the chance to visit Bahia Malaga in Colombia. This 100% marine area contributes to increasing the representativeness of marine ecosystems in the National System of Protected Areas – SINAP- and also strengthens the socio-cultural dynamics of the afro communities living in the area through community-based ecotourism.

Discovering Uramba Bahía Málaga National Natural Park

This protected area is located in the Pacific Coastal Region in the southwest of Colombia. The park has an extension of approximately 479.94 km² of the marine surface.

The marine waters near Bahia Malaga are considered the migratory route of humpback whales, or yubartas, (Megaptera novaeangliae). This place of calm and deep waters is annually visited by more than 500 yubarta whales from Antarctica, that come to mate and raise their calves between the months of July to October.

The Socio-Cultural Importance in the Uramba Bahía Málaga Territory

Uramba Bahia Malaga is a name of African origin, which means Minga, or group. This name arose due to the particular way in which this protected area was created.

This National Natural Park born as a joint effort between the local communities that live there and the government, the latter through the National Park System. Additionally, the park is under the surveillance of the Colombian Navy.

The afro-community councils present in Bahia Malaga are:

  • Juanchaco,
  • Ladrilleros,
  • La Barra,
  • La Plata – Bahía Málaga, and
  • Puerto España – Miramar.

This important conservation unit seeks to conserve the marine and coastal ecosystems of Bahia Malaga and to strengthen the cultural dynamics and social organization for the management of the territory based on the knowledge and ancestral wisdom of the black communities that live there.

La Barra Beach, Ladrilleros, Colombia

Commercial Port or Natural Park?

But, despite the enormous natural and cultural wealth of the region, there was also the intention to turn this bay into a huge multifunctional commercial port.

Fortunately, the local community was convinced to apply alternative economic development options such as nature and cultural tourism; as well as their own conscious and responsible relationship with the territory, as their cultural practices have contributed substantially to the conservation of the area.

Thus, this reserve is the first in Colombia where community-based tourism plays a central role, and it is administered by the Afro-descendant community councils that exist in the region and the national park system. It is the first joint administration proposal in Colombia.

Thus, after much debate and argumentation from both sides, in August 2010, this area was officially declared as protected.

According to WWF:

The communities settled in Bahía Málaga affirm that the area is not only important for its biodiversity but also for its cultural richness. Black communities and indigenous peoples present in the area have achieved an important degree of social organization in their ancestral relationship with the territory, and their cultural practices have contributed substantially to the conservation of their ecosystems. In this sense, declaring Malaga a protected area serves a dual environmental and sociocultural purpose.

Uramba Bahía Málaga Biodiversity

The Uramba Bahia Malaga Park is home to an immense diversity of continental and marine flora and fauna species and has been identified as one of the priority conservation sites in the Colombian Pacific.

The humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae)

The marine and coastal ecosystems of Bahía Málaga represent the Colombian Pacific and are a fundamental scenario for the reproduction and breeding of the Humpback Whale and the perpetuation of wild species of seabirds and shorebirds, sea turtles, estuarine and marine fish, and crustaceans.

The annual arrival of humpback whales is its main attraction. However, the beauty and diversity of the landscapes of Bahía Málaga and its area of influence are also ideal to enjoy nature.

The park has diverse ecosystems such as very humid tropical forests, beaches, cliffs, islands, estuaries, and bodies of water with soft and rocky seabeds.

How to get to Uramba Bahía Málaga National Natural Park

Uramba Bahía Málaga National Natural Park is in the middle portion of the Colombian Pacific coast, in the District of Buenaventura, in the department of Valle del Cauca. There are two options to access the Park from Bogota:

Bogota – Buenaventura

First you make a Bogota-Buenaventura trip by air, with 1h 15m duration. There are 2 flights per week with Satena airlines. Then you must make the transfer Buenaventura-Juanchaco by sea, which takes 1 hour and is done in a speedboat.

Bogota – Cali

Travel from Bogota to Cali by air or land. Once in Cali, you have to travel to Buenaventura by land. Finally, take the maritime route from Buenaventura to Juanchaco, which takes 1 hour and is done by speedboat.

What to do in Uramba Bahía Málaga National Natural Park

We recommend you plan your visit to stay for at least 3 days and 4 nights. Especially because of the long trip by road and then by boat. This is not a one-day stay destination.

Unfortunately, the visit to the Uramba Bahía Málaga National Natural Park has been suspended due to the health emergency that the country is facing because of covid-19.

Hiking, Canoeing, and Kayaking

Enjoying the beautiful Pacific landscape by doing hiking is a great experience. In the park’s area of influence, there are hiking and canoeing activities through the mangroves.

Although there are no defined aquatic trails in the bay area, it is suggested to follow the internal circuits to visit the route of the piangua, ostional, the waterfall of La Sierpe and Tres Marías in the sector of La Plata, Playa Chucheros, Juán de Dios, the beaches of La Barra sector, Juanchaco and Ladrilleros cliffs and their natural pools.

Kayaking through mangroves is highly recommended, also canoeing to Isla Plata, which is not the most exciting but still worth the try.

Birdwatching

Bird watching is a potential ecotourism activity in the park, but it is not well-developed. The park has a record of 107 species of birds, being an important point in the reproduction of marine birds.

Wildlife

Despite the huge marine and terrestrial diversity in the park, the main attraction is humpback whale watching. Thus, activities such as diving or snorkeling are not offered.

Humpback whale watching is an activity addressed by young natives from the local communities, who act as environmental interpreters.

During the whale season, the highest density of whales is between the months of September and October.

If you visit the Uramba Bahia Malaga park for a whale watching tour you should keep in mind that:

  • You will receive a 10-minute induction on the importance of the area and the significance of the role it plays in ecological processes such as reproduction, calving, breeding, nursing, socialization.
  • You must take a boat that carries a flag or a sighting authorization badge. The first trips leave at 8 am.
  • All boats must be accompanied by a community environmental interpreter.
  • The defined whale watching period is between July 15 and October 15.
  • Whale watching time for each group should be in the range of 15 to 30 minutes.
  • The approach to the whales should be slow, parallel, and always from behind.
  • The boat should maintain 200 meters from the individuals, so do not ask to get too close.
  • Avoid following the females with their calves.
  • You must be patient as only up to 5 small boats are allowed per group of whales. Also, you cannot be in a hurry, as the motors will always be neutral.

Where to stay in Uramba Bahía Málaga National Natural Park

The park does not offer accommodation, therefore our recommended options for you to stay are:

Lodging at La Barra Beach

Coco House Hotel; Casa Majagua and Vista al Mar Hotel.

Lodging at Ladrilleros Beach

Hotel Zully, Hotel Villa Cindy, and Hotel Reserva Agua Marina.

Best time to visit Uramba Bahía Málaga National Natural Park

The park can be visited all year round. The dry season starts at the beginning of June until late September and from the beginning of December until late February. In addition, whale season starts from July to October.

Uramba Bahía Málaga National Natural Park Entrance fees

Currently, no fees apply.

What to consider before visiting Uramba Bahía Málaga National Natural Park

  • To take any of the tours inside the park you must hire an authorized and certified guide.
  • Consider wearing personal protective items (sunscreen, sunglasses, towel, insect repellent, and hat).
  • We recommend the use of binoculars to admire animals’ behavior and beauty in their natural habitat.
  • Carry valid identity documents and health insurance.
  • Be vaccinated against yellow fever and tetanus.
  • If you take specific medications, take them with you in a personal first aid kit.

Some prohibitions

Feeding, bothering, or hunting animals, alcoholic drinks and drugs, littering, burning garbage, felling, and capturing wildlife.

References
  • Colparques
  • National Parks Systems
  • bahiamalaga.org
About the authors

Luisa Martin

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

Sara Colmenares

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.

Travel Guide to El Rosario and San Bernardo Corals National Natural Park

Meet the most iconic marine life paradise in Colombia, the El Rosario, and San Bernardo Corals National Natural Park. On the Caribbean coast of Colombia close to the coastal areas of the provinces of Bolívar and Sucre, and part of the jurisdiction of Cartagena, you will find the archipelago of El Rosario and San Bernardo Corals National Natural Park.

This archipelago is formed by 40 small islands, and it was declared a National Natural Park to protect the population of coral reefs and mangroves that are found in this area.

The crystal-clear waters and white beaches welcome those who visit the park to experience a large variety of flora and fauna. At the Rosario and San Bernardo islands, water activities such as canoeing, snorkeling, and diving are all must-do activities.

Discovering El Rosario and San Bernardo Corals National Natural Park

With an area of 1,200 square kilometers, the park has an underwater set of ecosystems that give life to the largest coral platform in the Colombian Caribbean. Thus, the park is host to the largest coral reef formations in Colombia. The three ecosystems you can find in the park are:

Coral reefs

These are the essential ecosystem that provides food and shelter for approximately 25% of the marine fauna present in the area.

Coral reefs, as in the rest of the world, are very vulnerable and need crystal waters, light, and stable substrates that do not affect their composition. The ideal temperature should be between 25º C (77º F) and 31º C (86ºF).

At San Bernardo, they take an area of 191.68 square kilometers, approximately 72% of the total amount of coral reefs in Colombia.

Mangroves

This marine-coastal ecosystem, formed by trees of different sizes with roots that protrude from the mud, is a powerful filter of salty water. Mangroves are by far the most productive ecosystem in these areas and an important source of flora and fauna resources.

More than 60% of the world’s tropical fish depend on this ecosystem for their survival. The park has four species of mangrove worth preserving:

  • Red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle),
  • White mangrove (Laguncularia racemosa),
  • Buttonwood or button mangrove (Conocarpus erectus); and
  • Black mangrove (Avicennia germinans).

Coral reefs and mangroves are also a powerful natural barrier to tsunamis and hurricanes.

Seagrass

The park has 30.35 square kilometers of sea pastures, serving as a food provider and shelter for several marine species.

Pastures depend on calm waters between 20 and 30 meters deep for their survival. This allows the circulation of nutrients that benefit them as well as the species that depend on them.

In the park, the most common seagrass species is the Turtle grass (Thalassia testudinum), providing firmness to the bottom of the ground where they live.

How to get to El Rosario and San Bernardo Corals National Natural Park

From Cartagena

When you arrive at Rafael Nuñez International Airport (CTG) take approximately 15 minutes to ride to the “La Bodeguita” dock (8 km). In “La Bodeguita” is necessary to take a boat trip of 2 hours to reach the facilities of the park in the archipelago of Our Lady of the Rosary (Nuestra Senora del Rosario).

From Santiago de Tolú

Take a 50 minutes flight from Bogotá to Las Brujas Airport (CTG) at Sincelejo city. From Sincelejo take an approximately 45 minutes ride to Santiago de Tolú (40 km).

Once at Santiago de Tolú is necessary to take a 1-hour boat trip to reach the facilities of the park in the archipelago of San Bernardo.

What to do in El Rosario and San Bernardo Corals National Natural Park

Diving and snorkeling

The underwater trails of Punta Brava and Luis Guerra in Isla Grande and Isla Tintipan are perfect for sea diving or snorkeling. A supervised company by authorized instructors is highly recommended.

We recommend staying within delimited marked areas.

Diving tours in the Rosario Islands, Cartagena ©https://divingplanet.org/

Sailing in the mangroves

The natural aquatic-terrestrial path of Isla Grande, the Lagoon of Silence, an ideal place to take photos and videos.

Help support Cangrejos Azules, the entity in charge of organizing ecotourism in the area with the help of local communities at Islas del Rosario.

Wildlife Observation

In the protected area it is possible to see 62 species of corals, including the blade fire coral (Millepora complanata), the thin leaf lettuce coral (Agaricia tenuifolia), and the massive starlet coral or round starlet coral (Siderastrea siderea).

In the case of decapod crustaceans, there are 153 species; mollusks with 244 species. No less than 153 species of echinoderms; 199 species of sponges and 513 species of fish.

Coral Reef Fishes at natural national park Corales del Rosario y de San Bernardo. Ph. ©Parques Nacionales

Finally, it is possible to find sea turtles such as the loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta), the green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas), and the critically endangered hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata).

Bird Watching

Within the park, it is possible to identify more than 60 species of birds. 31 of which are seabirds, including cormorants, gulls, frigates, and pelicans. There are also colonies of herons and ibis.

Where to stay in El Rosario and San Bernardo Corals National Natural Park

It is possible to find different accommodations. Suggested choices are:

  • Hotel Las Islas, a luxury ecolodge in Baru.
  • Coralina island is the perfect place to relax, in Isla Grande.
  • Gente de Mar Resort, Location, and service are exceptional, in Isla Grande.
  • Hotel San Pedro de Majagua, the staff is wonderful, and the rooms excellent, in Isla Grande.
Las Islas Hotel – Barú, Cartagena

Best time to visit El Rosario and San Bernardo Corals National Natural Park

The dry season that starts December until late March is the best to visit El Rosario and San Bernardo islands. It is also the peak season for national tourists, so be aware the place must be crowded.

Entrance fees

The entrance fee varies depending on the nationality and age of the visitors. These are the entrance fees for 2021:

  • Colombians, foreigners holding a valid residence permit, and tourists from Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru (ages 5 to 25): COP 9,500
  • Colombians, foreigners holding a valid residence permit, and tourists from Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru (over 25 years old): COP 9,500
  • Children under 5 and Colombians over 65 years old have free entrance provided they present their identification cards.

What to consider before visiting El Rosario and San Bernardo Corals National Natural Park

  • Guided tours must be taken with authorized and certified tourist guides
  • Consider wearing personal protective items (sun blocker, sunglasses, towel, insect repellent, and hat).
  • The use of flash when taking photographs is prohibited.
  • use of binoculars to admire animal behavior and beauty in their natural habitat is recommended
  • Carry valid identity documents and health insurance.
  • It is recommended to be vaccinated against yellow fever and tetanus.
  • If you take specific medications, take them with you. It’s never enough to carry a personal medicine kit.

Some prohibitions

Feeding, bothering, or hunting animals, alcoholic drinks and drugs, throwing cigarette butts, burning garbage, felling, and capturing wildlife.

References
  • Colparques Website
  • Parques Nacionales Website
About the authors

Luisa Martin

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

Best Amazon River Dolphin Spots in Colombia ( A.k.a. Pink River Dolphin)

Dolphins are undoubtedly wonderful creatures, worthy of our affection and wonder. That is why many of us want to meet them in person. Moreover, true river dolphins, commonly known as the Amazon River Dolphin, the Pink River Dolphin, Tonina, or Boto, are much more attractive, mysterious, and charismatic. They are among the rarest and most endangered of all vertebrates in the world.

In this post, we will present you where to see the Amazon River Dolphins (Inia geoffrensis) or as many people call them, the pink dolphins, in Colombia.

Pink dolphin – Inia geoffrensis, picture by Fundacion Omacha

Amazon River Dolphin Facts

  1. The Amazon River Dolphin is the largest freshwater cetacean in the world, it manages to reach lengths of up to 2.80 meters long and a maximum weight of 200 kilograms.
  2. Its color varies depending on age, young dolphins and females show grayish colors while adults, and principally the males, turn pink, which gives them their characteristic name.
  3. There are many theories to explain its color, but many agree it is a result of the wear and tear of their skin, and some scars.
  4. Scientists discovered that river dolphins come from a very ancient lineage that inhabited the seas.
  5. Its behavior is very different from sea dolphins. They use to have a solitary life, sometimes in small groups composed of a maximum of four members.
  6. Their food consists of crabs, river turtles, piranhas, and other river fish.
  7. The pink dolphin is part of the folklore of the inhabitants of the Amazon and there are many legends and myths around this animal.

Myths and Legends around the Pink Dolphin

These legends generally attribute supernatural powers to the dolphins. One of the most famous legends tells that the pink dolphin was a young and very handsome indigenous warrior who awoke the envy of one of the gods for his masculine attributes.

This god decided to transform the warrior into a dolphin, condemning him to live in the rivers and lakes of the Amazon. It is said that the attractive dolphin dances perfectly and no woman can flee before his charms.

Pink Dolphins are Endangered Species

According to the classification of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Amazon river dolphin is endangered, with only one category below the risk of extinction.

People kill them on behalf of their cultural traditions, or because they are competitors for fish. Other threats faced by the pink dolphin include accidental fishing, habitat loss, being killed for fish bait, and contamination.

With scientific research and responsible tourism, many people became aware of the importance of the conservation of these animals. In Colombia, NGOs as OMACHA and ECONARE are doing a great job to protect and conserve these animals.

Where You Can Find the Pink River Dolphin

These dolphins are widely distributed in South America and can be found in Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Colombia.

Scientists have not agreed on how many subspecies of pink dolphin exist, but certainly, they are not similar among the different regions. The IUCN recognizes three subspecies:

  • I. g. geoffrensis (Amazon river dolphin)
  • I. g. boliviensis (Bolivian river dolphin)
  • I. g. humboldtiana (Orinoco river dolphin)

While the Committee on Taxonomy of the Society for Marine Mammalogy only recognizes the first two of these.

Distribution map of all known species and subspecies of Inia. Black outline denotes the limit of the Amazon basin. Question marks denote uncertainty as to which species occurs in the Tocantins River downstream of the Tucuruí dam which potentially delimits the distributions of I. geoffrensis and I. araguaiaensis sp. nov. Bars on the Madeira River represent a series of rapids that delimit the distribution of I. geoffrensis and I. boliviensis. The single bar on the northern limit of the Amazon basin represents the Casiquiare canal which connects the Amazon and Orinoco basins, and is thought to delimit the I. g. humboldtiana subspecies from I. g. geoffrensis.
https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0083623.g001

To see how little is known about the pink dolphin, a relatively recent scientific study proposes a new species living in southeastern Brazil, the Inia araguaiaensis. They even propose the Bolivian subspecies should be recognized as a separate species, I. boliviensis. Take a look at the map above.

Where to See Pink River Dolphins in Colombia

Many people who contact us wanting to plan their trip to see the pink dolphin believe that it is only possible to see it in Leticia, the capital of the department of Amazonas in Colombia.

However, the Amazon as a region encompasses many more departments, not only the Amazon but also Vaupes, Guainia, Guaviare, Caqueta, and Putumayo.

On the other hand, all these departments are connected by a dense network of rivers and canals that run not only through Colombia, but all neighboring countries. And this is how the pink river dolphin manages to expand throughout the region.

Map of distribution of Inia geoffrensis in Colombia. ©Trujillo, F., Crespo, E., Van Damme, P.A. & J.S. Usma (Editors). 2010. The Action Plan for South American River Dolphins 2010 – 2020. WWF, Fundación Omacha, WDS, WDCS, Solamac. Bogotá, D.C., Colombia. 249 pp.

Thus, the pink river dolphin is not only distributed throughout the Colombian Amazon region but also reaches the eastern plains and the Guyanese shield, in the departments of  Amazonas, Putumayo, Caqueta, Vaupes, Guaviare, Guainia, Vichada, Meta, Casanare, and Arauca. Take a look at the map above to find your way around.

Despite its wide distribution, you can only visit a few places to meet the pink dolphin in Colombia.

Amazon river dolphin (Inia geoffrensis), also known as the boto, bufeo or pink river dolphin, Puerto Nariño

Amazonas

You can visit Leticia and Puerto Nariño on short boat trips along the Amazon river. However, we recommend you go to Puerto Nariño.

Puerto Nariño

The city of Puerto Nariño is the destination to see the river pink dolphins in the department of Amazonas. Here you have to navigate the Correo and Tarapoto lakes to see the wonderful pink dolphins up close.

Zacambu and the Three Frontiers

You can also depart from Leticia on a river tour on the majestic Amazon River. It is a tour towards the Zacambu village and the three frontiers region.

During the navigation through the river, you will be able to appreciate the flooded jungle. Arriving at the border with Peru, you will find Islandia (Peru), known as the Venice of the Amazon. This is a town that floods periodically, and that is why its houses are elevated as well as its streets. Once in the lakes of Zacambu, it will be possible to see river dolphins.

Where to Stay

Waira Suites Hotel – Leticia

Vichada

The department of Vichada is a known destination for sportfishing. However, it is also possible to go there and see the pink river dolphin. There the Meta, Bita, and Orinoco rivers converge, and there are tours in a boat to watch the pink dolphin departing from Puerto Carreno, the main city of Vichada.

Where to Stay

Carreño Plaza Hotel – Puerto Carreno

Meta

The “Ruta del Amanecer llanero” is the best way to see the pink dolphins in Meta. Visit our entry #1 Llanos Experience near Bogotá: The Llanero Dawn Route in Meta, to know more about this route.

The city of Puerto Gaitán, located 194 km south of Villavicencio, is bathed by the waters of the Manacacías river. Boat tours to watch the dolphins are an almost every day offer.

Puerto Gaitan is the most recommended destination if you do not have enough time to travel to far destinations such as Leticia, or Puerto Carreno. It is also the nearest to Bogota, the capital city of Colombia.

Where to Stay

Lagos de Menegua Hotel and Bioreserve

Mururito Natural Reserve

Guaviare

In the Nare Lagoon, very close to the city of San Jose del Guaviare, pink dolphins live and you will have the opportunity to swim with them.

There, with the help of local guides, you will learn the story of how they got there. You can also observe different species of fauna and flora throughout the tour.

With this trip, you will be directly helping the families that are part of ECONARE. Econare is a local association of community-based tourism in charge of preserving the nature of the area and the safety of the dolphins that inhabit the lagoon. You will also help all those people who make it possible for you to live these experiences.

Where to Stay

Quinto Nivel Hotel

How is a Pink Dolphin Tour?

Dolphins can only be observed from a certain distance on wooden platforms or in boats. Sportfishing adjacent to their hunting areas is prohibited and along with this, feeding them is forbidden as it would cause human dependence.

Best Time to Visit the Pink Dolphin

All year round in Colombia, especially in Guaviare and Meta.

Recommendations for your visit

  • Take yellow fever and tetanus vaccines before arrival.
  • Do not forget the mosquito repellent, it is highly recommended.
  • Rubber boots, raincoat, long-sleeved shirts, sunscreen.
  • Leave no trace.

If you want to plan your trip to Colombia do not hesitate to contact us, visit our Plan your trip page!

References
  • OMACHA Foundation.
  • Hrbek T, da Silva VMF, Dutra N, Gravena W, Martin AR, Farias IP (2014) A New Species of River Dolphin from Brazil or: How Little Do We Know Our Biodiversity. PLoS ONE 9(1): e83623.
  • Trujillo, F., Crespo, E., Van Damme, P.A. & J.S. Usma (Editors). 2010. The Action Plan for South American River Dolphins 2010 – 2020. WWF, Fundación Omacha, WDS, WDCS, Solamac. Bogotá, D.C., Colombia. 249 pp.
  • Status and conservation of river dolphins Inia geoffrensis and Sotalia fluviatilis in Colombia. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/ [accessed Apr 15 2021].
About the author

Sara Colmenares

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.

Tolima, a Little Known Destination in Colombia with a Lot to Offer!

Tolima is a department in Colombia where music is its distinctive expression… until now. In recent times, nature tourism has drawn the attention as a new attraction.

Birdwatching and nature tourism are new there, and emerged after the signing of the peace process. With it, people began to see bird watching and nature tourism as an economic opportunity.

Where is Tolima?

Tolima is located in the center-west of Colombia, in the Andean region. Its capital city is Ibagué, and it locates on the eastern flank of the Central Andes, in the center of the department. It is known as the Musical Capital of Colombia.

Tolima department borders to the north with Caldas, to the east with Cundinamarca, to the south with Huila and to the west with Valle del Cauca, Quindío and Risaralda departments.

So, if you are in the coffee region, or in Bogota or Cali, it will be very easy for you to visit this region by car, or by plane.

Perales National Airport is located in the east of the city of Ibagué and is the main airport in Tolima. It is in the process of becoming an international airport.

Rare food alert: One of the most famous meals in Colombia is the lechona. The lechona borned in Tolima. This is a dish based on pork meat, stuffed with peas and rice, and mixed inside the pork itself.

Lechona dish served in a Bijao leaf, with lemon and arepa.

It is baked in the oven, leaving the pork skin browned and toasted. It is served with a portion of the skin, in a Bijao leaf, previously passed through the fire, as a plate. This leaf is similar to the banana leaf, but it is not edible.

What does it mean Tolima?

The are several stories about the name Tolima. One of them tells that the word comes from the Panche term tolima, tulima or dulima, which means river of snow or cloud.

Another story refers to an indigenous woman called Tulima, or Yulima. Yulima was an indigenous queen and priestess who protected a religious sanctuary. This place was very rich in gold deposits, near Machín Volcano and Nevado del Tolima.

The Spaniards assaulted her and took her as a prisoner. They led her in chains to Ibagué, in whose main square the conquerors burned her alive.

While she was dying she received blessings from Father Cobos to help her soul elevates to heaven. The department preserved her legendary name as a perennial tribute to her martyrdom.

Tolima as a Nature Destination

Tolima covers an area of 149,800 hectares. It extends from the upper Magdalena valley in the east to the Tolima snow-capped mountain in the northwest.

Thus, the department of Tolima has a huge variety of ecosystems and life zones. There you will find tropical dry forests at 2800 meters above sea level, to the paramo life zone, at approximately 5280 meters above sea level.

Machín Volcano, Toche, Tolima, COlombia

This broad altitudinal variation arises into a great variety of climates and topographic aspects. This variation, in turn, results in a high number of habitats for a wide diversity of species, birds among them.

Additionally, the mountainous landscapes of Tolima makes it a very good region to visit for hiking.

Los Nevados Natural National Park in Tolima.

Also, the Magdalena River, the most important river of Colombia, crosses Tolima from south to north enriching the landscape. The city of Honda was one of its main ports in the colonial past (watch the video below).

The natural wealth of Tolima has allowed the development of several important tourist activities. Furthermore, several national natural parks belong to the department of Tolima and are reserves of water, flora and fauna: Los Nevados National Natural Park, Las Hermosas National Natural Park, and Nevado del Huila National Natural Park.

Aquatic Tourism

There are several aquatic parks in the lowland areas of Tolima you can visit with your family.  Also, you can do rafting on the Sumapaz river in Melgar, Carmen de Apicalá, Coello, Flandes and Suárez.

 

In the north, at Mariquita, Honda, Ambalema and Falan towns, you can combine historical colonial tourism with water parks.

Sport Fishing and Water Sports

To the south is the Prado reservoir focused on sport fishing and water sports. This region also has a lot of indigenous history. There you will find Amerindian expressions in ceramics made by the Pijao communities.

Prado reservoir, Tolima, Colombia

The area also has incredible landscapes such as the Pacandé Mountain and the northern side of the Tatacoa Desert.

Hiking and Trekking

In the center of the department, Ibagué, Murillo and Líbano towns are close to Los Nevados National Park. There, mountaineering is the main attraction.

Snow-capped mountain of Tolima

Check our tour to Nevado del Tolima here.

Birdwatching in Tolima

More and more people is discovering the biodiversity of birdlife in Tolima. Today, Tolima is 14 in the eBird’ species list of departments of Colombia, with 809 bird species reported.

Besides this, it is 8th in the Top 10 departments with more checklists, with around 14300.

5th Tolima Bird Festival – La Rivera Route ©Cortolima

In Tolima, a Bird Festival is also held every year. The most recent version was in 2019, being the fifth one. This festival features cultural and academic activities, as well as bird watching tours.

Tolima Birdwatching Routes

Private and public entities work together to protect and conserve the birds biodiversity of Tolima. Thus, since 2018, the Chamber of Commerce, the Ornithological Association Anthocephala, and Cortolima developed a total of 33 birdwatching routes in Tolima.

13 of these birding routes are near to Ibagué and the Río Viejo wetland in San Luis.

The main routes established in Tolima include:

  • Toche Canyon,
  • Combeima Canyon,
  • The northern route (Honda, Mariquita, Fresno and Falán),
  • Las Hermosas in Chaparral,
  • San Antonio,
  • Planadas,
  • Galilea forest,
  • Murillo – Armero route,
  • Roncesvalles,
  • Falán – Mariquita,
  • Clarita Botero en Ibagué
  • “Raúl Echeverry” Botanical Garden in Líbano, and
  • San Jorge Botanical Garden, among others.

One of the most important routes that you should not miss is the Toche Canyon Route. The Toche Canyon locates between the cities of Cajamarca and Ibagué.

Wax Palm at Toche, Tolima

There there are ten species of parrots, among them the Indigo-winged Parrot, the Yellow-eared Parrot and the Golden-plumed Parakeet. These species live in the ecosystem offered by the most conserved forest of wax palm in the country.

Top Birds of Tolima

Here’s a taste of what’s to come in a future post. The most representative bird species in Tolima are:

  1. Tolima Blossomcrown – Anthocephala berlepschi 
  2. Tolima Dove – Leptotila conoveri
  3. Indigo-winged Parrot – Hapalopsittaca fuertesi
  4. Yellow-eared Parrot – Ognorhynchus icterotis
  5. Velvet-fronted Euphonia – Euphonia concinna
  6. Crested Ant-Tanager – Habia cristata
  7. Yellow-headed Brushfinch – Atlapetes flaviceps
  8. Rufous-fronted Parakeet – Bolborhynchus ferrugineifrons
  9. Indigo-capped Hummingbird – Amazilia cyanifrons
  10. Apical Flycatcher – Myiarchus apicalis
  11. Brown-banded Antpitta – Grallaria milleri
  12. Buffy Helmetcrest – Oxypogon stuebelii
Tolima Blossomcrown – Anthocephala berlepschi at Ukuku Lodge, Tolima

Find the Tolima birding routes and highlights in our entry Tolima Birding Routes: from the Andean Snows to the Magdalena Valley.

So, don’t miss the opportunity to visit Tolima! In future posts we will tell you how we did during our visit.

For more information about birding trips to Colombia and the birds of Colombia, visit our entry The Complete Colombia Birdwatching Guide: Tourism & Conservation.

If you want to know more about the most incredible natural destinations in Colombia, plan your trip with us!

References
  • Tolima Regional Autonomous Corporation – cortolima.gov.co
  • Anthocephala, Ornithology Association of Tolima.
About the author

Sara Colmenares

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.

Why should you Visit Guaviare in Colombia? Remnants of a Remote Past

Guaviare is one of the least populated departments of Colombia, and one of the most pristine nature destinations in the country.  

Additionally, this department is located in the Colombian Amazon region, although part of its territory is also in the Orinoquia. Its capital is San José del Guaviare. 

Brief history of Guaviare

In the past, the colonization of Guaviare was mainly due to the enormous natural riches of its soil and the exploitation derived from these.

People came there to cultivate balata and rubber. Moreover, trade of wild animal skins, native plants and ornamental fish was also common.

Finally, the illicit cultivation of coca attracted many people, bringing also war and chaos to the region.

Today, tourism is opening as a new possibility for the economic development of the region, and it works as a good strategy for the protection and conservation of natural and archaeological areas.

Weather and Landscape

The dry season happens from December to February, and the rainy season during the rest of the year (especially April-July and October-November). Annual rainfall ranges from 2,000 to 3,500 mm. The temperature during the day reaches 25° to 30 °C, dropping at night to 12 °C between July and August.

Its soils are bathed by numerous rivers and a network of streams, divided mainly into two basins: Orinoco River Basin and Amazon River Basin.

Tourism in Guaviare 

Tourism is making its way in this destination dedicated to adventure and sustainability. It is an opportunity for sustainable development in he region. The natural environments for swimming, the sunsets, and its ecosystems make it a unique destination.

Archaeological places, and the fauna and flora that make up an abundant biodiversity, are the greatest attraction of Guaviare.

The Most Featured Destinations in Guaviare 

Serrania de La Lindosa and Cerro Azul

Serranía de la Lindosa @Parques Naturales

This place is one of the eight archaeological zones declared as a protected area by the Ministry of Culture of Colombia.

Here you will find the famous cave paintings, among others those of the Guayabero River and the Caño Dorado, with vivid colors. In the Cerro Azul in the Serranía La Lindosa, you can observe paintings that are twelve thousand years old.

The summit of Cerro Azul can be reached by a medium level hike of approximately 40 minutes. In Cerro Azul, there are a series of cave paintings painted with reddish pigment by indigenous people who inhabited the La Lindosa mountain range 7,250 years ago.

It is a two-hundred-meter-high peak to explore and walk. During the walk you can find giant trees and native species of flora and fauna. From the top you can see numerous streams of crystalline water and the jungle.

Raudal of the Guayabero

Raudal del Guayabero @ Juan Pablo Rozo – Wikiloc

This spectacular spot is one hour by river, and one hour and thirty minutes by land, from San José del Guaviare.

The Guayabero River, before its encounter with the Ariari, is framed in a canyon formed by walls of rocks of Pre-Cambrian origin.

From there, a current is unleashed that reaches half a kilometer in length. Although it is navigable throughout the year, the summer season is the best time to cross it.

Throughout the tour you can see the gray freshwater dolphin or Tonina (Sotalia fluviatilis), as it is called by the inhabitants of the region.

Natural Bridges

Rocky Bridges Pic. by Parques Nacionales

These natural bridges are high and have been shaped and polished by water over time. They stand on a ravine to which it is possible to descend with certified guides.

The City of Stone

Serranía de la Lindosa ©Parques Naturales

The Stone City of San Jose, is an enigmatic place that consists of ancestral rocks distributed with an impressive and mysterious symmetry.

In the company of guides, you can tour this site that has labyrinths, caves, and monoliths with very old petroglyphs. A special place for hiking and caving.

Natural Baths of Agua Bonita, Villa Luz and Tranquilandia.

Tranquilandia Bath

They are located only five miles from the city, in Caño Sabana. The ancient rock formations form pools of crystalline waters of different colors. The rich plant and mineral environment is the one that colors these waters, so it is very similar to the rainbow river in La Macarena. You can go there and enjoy a good swim and landscape.

Puerta de Orión

Puerta de Orión Pic. by Parques Nacionales

Orion’s Gate is a rock formation emblematic of the city, found 9 kilometers from San José del Guaviare. It is twelve meters high and 20 meters wide. It has two natural holes, one on top of the other.

To get to Puerta de Orión you must pass through cavities and cornices that make it an enigmatic scenery.

The particularity of this natural wonder is that in the summer solstice you can observe Orion’s Belt through the upper window, creating a unique spectacle.

Sport fishing and Kayaking at Laguna Negra 

Sunsent at Laguna Negra ©El Tiempo

Laguna Negra is located 11 kilometers from San José del Guaviare. The black color that the water projects is because at the bottom there are decomposed leaves from the surrounding forests.

Its name is due to the dark tone of its waters seen from the air. Once on land, you can see a scenario of crystalline water, according to experts, because of the thick vegetation that surrounds it.

This natural reserve, 11 km from San José del Guaviare, constitutes the ideal scenario for the practice of artisan fishing and snorkel. You can find “cachazas” and “payaras”.

Kayaking and sailing, among other practices, are part of the new offer.

Chiribiquete National Park

Jaguar Petroglyph Chirbiquete ©Parques Nacionales Naturales

Because it is a complete planetary treasure, in 2018 it has been declared a mixed heritage of humanity.

It is located in the departments of Caquetá and Guaviare, and preserves the largest sample of rock art in the world.

In Chiribiquete there are approximately 70,000 paintings and 50 panels of an average height of 7 meters.

These have served to distinguish a cultural tradition of roots, apparently very old, of the Paleo-Indian. Therefore, they have been associated with groups of hunter-gatherers of the Tropical Rainforest and semi-dry enclaves of the Guianas and the Amazon.

Other Attractions

Guayabero Pic. by Juan Pablo Rozo – Wikiloc
  • Rural and community tourism: Finca Chontaduro, Finca Diamante, replacement of coca for fruit.
  • The “Flor del Guaviare” (Paepalanthus formosus Moldenke) is one of the emblems of the department.
Guaviare Flower, ©Gabriel Arroyo – iNaturalist
  • Thermal waters, unique in the Orinoco and Amazon;
  • The Inírida River;
  • The natural National Parks of Chiribiquete and Nukak; and
  • An endless number of lakes and lagoons where pink dolphins and fishing abound.
Nukak ©Nathaly Londoño – Parques Nacionales

How to get to Guaviare

The trip Bogotá – Guaviare by plane takes about 1.20 hour. The tourist sites are easily accessible by 4X4 vehicles. The capital, San José del Guaviare, has become a center of operation with a wide range of lodging facilities: three stars hotels, hostels, and camping.

Where to stay in San José del Guaviare

We recomend you the following hotels in San José del Guaviare:

  • Hotel Quinto Nivel
  • Hotel Aeropuerto

If you want to know more about the most incredible natural destinations in Colombia, plan your trip with us!


References

About the author

Sara Colmenares

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.

The Most Awesome Nature Destinations to Visit in Cartagena

Cartagena de Indias has more than 5 island complexes around it which provide more than 20 beaches to visit and enjoy. But let me tell you that Cartagena is not only about beaches and the Walled City.

Besides this, the most extensive, diverse, and developed coral reef in the entire Colombian Caribbean continental coastline is placed near to Cartagena, in the Corales del Rosario y de San Bernardo National Natural Park.

Coral Reef at Islas del Rosario

Only 30 minutes from Cartagena you will discover the islands full of natural charms, where the calm and warm turquoise waters and white sand beaches make this island area a paradise on earth, and a refugee for marine life.

On the other hand, towards the north side of the city, you will find the Ciénaga de la Virgen, a special place for birdwatching and where you can walk through the mangroves of the fishing village of La Boquilla.

Totumo Volcano. Ph. ©fabulousfabs – Flickr

A few kilometers further on is the Totumo Volcano, which instead of lava is composed of mud, and is considered a natural spa. The mud is attributed with healing, exfoliating and moisturizing properties for the skin. It is also a fun place for young and old, where taking a mud bath will undoubtedly become an unforgettable memory.

Additionally, approximately one hour from the city is the Botanical Garden of Cartagena “Guillermo Piñeres”, a place where visitors can learn about the Colombian Caribbean flora and fauna.

Let’s continue with this nature trip around Cartagena!

Ecotourism destinations in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia

Rosario, Barú and San Bernardo Islands

The Rosario Islands (or Corales del Rosario or Islas del Rosario) is a small archipelago of about 28 islands, which is part of the insular area of Cartagena de Indias, with a land area of 20 hectares (0.20 km²). The main and best beaches in the Cartagena area are located in there.

The islands consist of a small platform composed of successive coral formations at different depths. There are also beautiful white-sand beaches, mangrove coastal forests, and extensive seagrass prairies around the islands.

Coral Reef formation at Rosario Islands Archipelago

Islas del Rosario is the perfect place to snorkel and dive. Its marine biodiversity will leave you amazed. Diving or snorkeling is the way to know at its depth one of the most visited national natural parks of Colombia. Here you will see multicolored fish and all the flora and fauna of the Caribbean Sea.

Corales del Rosario y de San Bernardo Natural National Park

The Natural National Park Corales del Rosario y de San Bernardo was created in the Rosario Islands archipelago to protect the coral reefs, which are the most important on the Colombian Caribbean coast. The park has an extension of 120,000 hectares.

Coral Reef Fishes at natural national park Corales del Rosario y de San Bernardo. Ph. ©Parques Nacionales

The identity and importance of this protected area at the local, regional, national, and global levels are based on its ecosystem functions and essential ecological processes.

The coral reef buffers natural disturbances and functions as a barrier that mitigates the impact of coastal erosion. It is also the habitat of commercially valuable fish and invertebrates, and has beautiful and attractive landscapes.

Unhealthy reefs cannot protect the shore from erosion or extreme weather. Ph. ©The Nature Conservancy
Ecotourism as a Sustainable Activity

Ecotourism allows for the socio-cultural development of the communities settled in the area of influence of the park. It also enables environmental education and awareness, and provides the opportunity for research in marine sciences.

In the park, you can do bird watching, since it has more than 60 species of birds, 31 of which are sea birds including cormorants, gulls, frigates and pelicans. There are also colonies of herons and ibis.

It also is a perfect place to observe marine fauna and flora. There, 53 species of reef-building corals have been identified, which constitute 83% of the coral barriers in the Colombian Caribbean.

There is also a great wealth of invertebrates and 167 species of fish, of which 18 are threatened.

Marine invertebrates. Ph. ©Parques Nacionales

Finally, the marine vegetation is of great importance too, and many species find in this ecosystem breeding and protection.

If you are not very fond of going underwater, other activities you can do are: take a canoe ride through the mangroves, or walk or bike in the tropical dry forest. You can also visit the Oceanarium of San Martin de Pajarales Island, a sanctuary for marine life.

Isla Grande

Isla Grande is part of the Rosario Islands, and it is the largest in the Colombian archipelago of Corales del Rosario. You can get to Isla Grande by public boat, or you can rent a boat just for you and your family or friends.

Isla Grande, Rosario Islands, Cartagena. Ph. ©Emmanuel Rivera – Google Maps

The main activity at Isla Grande is to relax, but you can also go snorkeling and meet with the beautiful reef fishes.

Another attraction at Isla Grande is to visit the Enchanted Lagoon. This place is recommended to visit at night, and preferably with no moon. Why? Because there is a spectacular activity of bioluminescence produced by the plankton and phytoplankton in its waters. You will feel like swimming inside a melted starry sky. It is an absolutely mesmerizing experience!

Spectacular activity of bioluminescence. Ph. ©Islas del Rosario

Cholón, a beach of Barú, is another place where you can also see the natural spectacle of marine bioluminescence.

Diving tours

It is possible to practice diving and snorkeling in Isla Grande and in Isla Tintipán.

Diving tours in the Rosario Islands, Cartagena ©https://divingplanet.org/

For divers who already have their certificate, there is the possibility of doing recreational dives in the natural reserve of corals. On the contrary, if you are not a diver, you can do mini-courses as well, and then take a one-day or multi-day dive tour.

Barú Peninsula (known as Barú Island)

Barú is a peninsula bounded by the Bay of Cartagena, the Canal del Dique and the Caribbean Sea.

This wonderful place is located south of Cartagena, 2 hours by land or 2 and a half hours if you decide to go by boat.

You can rent boats of different capacity, depending on the size of your group of travelers. So, with total freedom, you will be able to choose the places to visit.

A day without laughter is a loss!

Nearby, there are mangrove swamps, water mirrors, and underwater gardens that you can visit. You can also go and meet the Canal del Dique, a work made by the Spanish in the 16th century to facilitate navigation between the Magdalena River and the city of Cartagena de Indias.

At the Canal del Dique you will find an estuarine environment worthy of admiration since the encounter of the river with the sea creates a strange and difficult-to-imagine landscape.

Mangrove ecosystems in Barú

Barú also has several beaches, but the most outstanding are Playa Blanca, Cholón, Agua Azul, and Agua Tranquila.

Playa Blanca

Playa Blanca is a beautiful white-sand beach that contrasts with its crystalline waters, a beautiful place to rest, relax and connect with nature.

Typical meals in the popular Playa Blanca in Barú

Playa Blanca is located on the island of Barú, 45 minutes from Cartagena de Indias. According to El Universal, Cartagena’s main newspaper, this place offers dreamy postcards, with its crystalline blue and green waters.

This place is internationally compared with paradisiacal places like Koh Samui in Thailand, Negril in Jamaica, or Boulders in South Africa.

National Aviary of Colombia

Colombia’s national aviary is on the way to Playa Blanca, one hour from Cartagena, in Barú.

The aviary is a foundation that seeks to conserve and promote knowledge about the richness of birds in Colombia and the Caribbean.

Harpy Eagle (Harpia harpyja) Symbol of the Colombian Air Force. Ph ©Colin Hepburn – Flickr

The aviary is a very special place because it has birds in open and spacious habitats, and the visitor can observe them very closely and safely for both. There you can easily see emblematic species of the Caribbean coast like the endemic and critically endangered Blue-billed Curassow (Crax alberti).

If you are a soft birder or a birder traveling with family, this is a very good place to visit.

Ciénaga de la Virgen and La Boquilla

The Ciénaga de La Virgen is a wetland at risk of extinction. It is a coastal lagoon, approximately 7 km long, which connects to the Caribbean Sea. This marsh is estuarine in nature, as it owes its balance to the mixture of salt and fresh water.

Ciénaga de La Virgen and southern sector of Cartagena seen from Salto del Cabrón. Creative Commons Licence.

Despite the strong environmental pressure, its resilience has allowed fishes, crabs, chipichipis (Donax denticulatus) and shrimps to still sustain some families in the surrounding communities. Also its mangroves are a refuge for several species of resident and migratory birds.

Ecotourism appears as a strategy for the conservation of the Ciénaga de La Virgen, and for the sustenance of the local communities. Its potential as an ecotourism destination is being increasingly exploited by community businesses in the region that are betting on initiatives like this one that contribute to the preservation of mangrove ecosystems.

La Boquilla

In 2019 a viaduct was inaugurated over the Ciénaga de la Virgen. The elevated highway above the body of water shortens the route between Cartagena and Barranquilla. This has affected tourism in La Boquilla, a fishing village famous for its beautiful beaches and traditions.

Fishermen Museum at La Boquilla. Ph. ©El Tiempo

However, you can still visit the town to meet the Afro community that lives there, learn the secrets of traditional fishing: how to catch fish and crabs and how to use the nets in the sea.

The experience is even more interesting when you go into the kitchen to learn how to cook fish and crab with coconut rice.

Fishermen Museum at La Boquilla. Ph. ©El Tiempo

You can also visit the Casa Museo de Pescadores Ancestrales del Corregimiento de la Boquilla. This is an initiative to recover the traditions and customs that identify the population, especially those associated with the work of fishing.

Botanical Garden of Cartagena “Guillermo Piñeres”

The Botanical Garden has 9 hectares, and is divided into 5 hectares of plant collections and 4 hectares of natural forest. You can walk along paths, which are rather steep, so be sure to wear good, comfortable shoes on your visit. It is a wonderful place to get into close contact with the Caribbean Dry Forest.

Macondo (Cavanillesia platanifolia) Ph. ©Botanical Garden of Cartagena

The Botanical Garden has several collections, among the most developed are:

  • Arboretum: with more than 100 native and exotic tree species.
  • Orchard: with unusual fruiting trees of the Caribbean and beyond.
  • Palmetum: with a collection of Caribbean and exotic palm trees.
  • Drug and Fragrance Garden: a collection of perfumed, medicinal and psychoactive plants.
  • Xerophytic Garden: with a collection of cacti and succulents from the Americas, Africa, Asia and Madagascar.

Totumo Volcano

The Totumo Volcano is a volcanic cone full of mud, which is located in the rural area of the municipality of Santa Catalina (Bolívar). The formation presents a scarce elevation of twenty meters. To enter and exit the crater it is necessary to ascend by a rustic wooden staircase, and then descend by another one.

Once at the bottom of the crater, you can take a mud bath! The mud is composed of water, silica, aluminum, magnesium, sodium chloride, calcium, sulfur, iron, and phosphate. It is supposed to have healing properties due to its composition.

Mud Bath at the Totumo Volcano. Ph. ©Adrian Rodney-Edwards – Flickr

This destination is not supported by the public administration, so its physical infrastructure is not the most adequate, and it is managed by the local community.

It is an interesting place to visit, if you do not mind sharing a small pool with strangers. You can also get a massage while you are there.

The Pink Sea of Galerazamba

The pink beach of Galerazamba is a must-see in Colombia. The sea takes on a beautiful pink coloration thanks to the concentration of salt in its waters and the action of an algae found in them.

The Pink Sea of Galerazamba. Ph. ©Carlos Bustamante R. – Flickr

The best time to visit Galerazamba is from December to April. After that, the pink color begins to decrease until it becomes crystalline.

In addition to this impressive landscape, you can learn about the process of salt production, as well as its history, crystallization process, use, and commercialization.

Where to Stay

There are several accommodation options. For a nature experience we recommend you to stay at Hotel Las Islas, in Barú. For more information read our Complete Guide to the Best Eco lodges in Colombia.

Las Islas Hotel – Barú, Cartagena

But if you prefer to enjoy a little bit of the city we recommend you to stay at sustainable Hotel Boutiques as the Condé Nast Traveller Readers’ Choice Awards 2020 winner Sofitel Legend Santa Clara; the widely acclaimed and recognized Casa San Agustín Hotel; and, the charming hotel of the world by the Paris Magazine Hotel & Lodge and Prize FIABCI of Architecture to the best restoration Casa Pestagua Hotel Boutique.

Recommendations

  • Please use coral-friendly sunscreen. If you need help on this subject I recommend you read the article Reef-Safe Sunscreen: What You Need to Know by Chasing Coral.
  • Be vaccinated against yellow fever 10 days before the planned date of your trip and carry your immunization records.
  • Today, it is no longer necessary to stop in Bogotá to get to Cartagena. If you come from abroad, you can take a cruise or a plane.
  • Airlines such as American Airlines, JetBlue, Interjet, KLM, Delta, and Copa fly directly to the Rafael Nuñez International Airport in Cartagena.
  • The best time or season to travel to Cartagena varies little throughout the year.
  • Being a coastal city, its climate is tropical humid and dry with a relative humidity of 84%.
  • The temperature in Cartagena is warm almost all year round and generally ranges between 23 and 30º C.
  • However, the best time to visit the beautiful beaches and landscapes of Cartagena is between the end of November and the end of April, when the climate is drier.
  • The distances between the tourist areas are not very long. However, private transportation is somewhat expensive compared to public transportation and cabs. We recommend that you check the prices in advance.

With these simple recommendations, you will be able to dedicate yourself to enjoying your ecotrip in Cartagena “La Heróica” to the fullest. It’s an experience not to be missed! In case of any doubt, do not hesitate to contact us!


References


About the author

Sara Colmenares

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.

Top 11 Lakes of Colombia: From the Andes to the Amazon

The lakes of Colombia are not lakes proper. Due to its extension, the water deposits of the Andean mountains are only lagoons. The largest are: Lake Tota, located at 3,115 meters above sea level in Boyacá, and Lake La Cocha, at 2,660 meters above sea level in Nariño. In Cundinamarca there is the Lake Fúquene and others of great importance Like the Suesca and Guatavita lagoons.

But don’t get confused! In Spanish lago (lake) and laguna (lagoon) definitions are not the same as in English.

In Spanish, a lake refers to a body of water that has an entrance and an outlet of rainwater, groundwater, and/or rivers, for example, the Lake Michigan or the Lake Superior in the USA, or the Lake Tota in Colombia. A lagoon, on the other hand, is a body of standing water that has an inlet from rivers or streams, but no outlet, for example the Great Salt Lake in the USA, the Caspian Sea in Asia, the Lake Corangamite in Australia, the Laacher See in Germany, and Lake Titicaca in Bolivia.

Now, in English, the difference between a lake and a lagoon, as well as its definition, is quite different. Lagoon is defined as a type of saltwater lake that is formed by the waves of the ocean. Also, lagoon is close to the ocean, whereas lakes are far away from oceans. Lagoon is saltwater body, whereas lakes are mostly freshwater bodies. Lagoons are generally shallow compared to lakes. And so on…

For an equal understanding, this is what you may call an exorheic and an endorheic basins, i.e. open and closed lakes respectively. And, translating to Spanish, lakes are exorheic and lagoons are endorheic basins.  If you arrived here because of a homework about lakes visit National Geographic Encyclopedia about lakes. So… what is this post about?

Lagoon. In Spanish, a lagoon is a body of standing water that has an inlet from rivers or streams, but no outlet.
Lake. In Spanish it means a body of water that has an entrance and an outlet of rainwater, groundwater, and/or rivers.

Ok. This post is about the lakes of Colombia you can visit for fun and enjoy nature. Lakes of Colombia are also known, and called, as “lagunas” (lagoons), but they are not like the lagoons you are used to know. So, don’t get confused, when you visit a “lagoon” in Colombia, it will be, for sure, very far from the coastal zone, and it will be a freshwater lagoon, as you may have already noticed. And it can be lake… or not… geez!

In parentheses you will find the real type of water body that each lake or lagoon belongs to, according to the definition in Spanish.

Laguna de Tota

(Lake Tota, exorheic)

Playa Blanca at Lake Tota. © Creative Commons

Location

Characteristics

Exorheic Basin. With an area of nearly 55 km², it is the largest lake in Colombia and, after Titicaca, the second highest navigable lake in South America at 3,015 meters above sea level (9891.7 Ft.).

In the southwestern part of the lake, there is a natural bay called Bahía Blanca. It is frequented by bathers and water sports enthusiasts despite the low temperature that usually does not exceed 12 °C.

What to do

Despite the stories about the Tota Lagoon monster (Diabloballena), as terrifying as the Loch Ness monster (Nessie) in Scotland, today you can practice water sports, sportfishing, navigate the lake, walk through the forest, camp and enjoy Playa Blanca, the only cold-weather beach in Colombia.

When sailing you can visit the islands of the lagoon: El Sagrario de los Milagros, San Pedro, Cerro Chino, Santo Domingo, Isla del Amor and La Ballena.

Laguna de La Cocha

(La Cocha Lagoon, exorheic)

 

Location

Characteristics

Lake La Cocha, also called Lake Guamués, is a natural lagoon of glacial origin, located in El Encano, a village in the municipality of Pasto, in the department of Nariño. With an area of nearly 40,5 km², it is the second largest natural body of water in Colombia, after the Laguna de Tota. It is located at 2680 meters above sea level (8792.6 ft.)

In 2000, Colombia registered the La Cocha lagoon, or Guamués lake, as a wetland of national and international importance within the Ramsar Convention, being the first with this qualification in the Colombian Andean region.

What to do

In this place it is possible to take boat trips, do sport fishing and bird watching.

Inside the lagoon there is the smallest flora sanctuary of Colombia, the Isla de la Corota Flora Sanctuary, with 15.2 hectares. It is located in the north of the Laguna de la Cocha. It is considered as a source of sacred energy for the indigenous and traditional doctors of the region. Likewise, it has a chapel that is an important pilgrimage site for Catholics, especially during the Virgen de Lourdes Festival. There you can walk trails designed to observe the forest.

Laguna de Guatavita

(Guatavita Lagoon, endorheic)

Location

Characteristics

This is the most famous sacred lake among our pre-Hispanic ancestors. The legend of El Dorado derives from it, a story that brought many people crazy about its relentless thirst for gold and wealth. The lake has suffered failed drainage attempts, made by these crazy treasure hunters.

It is located in the eastern mountain range of Colombia, at an altitude of 3,100 meters above sea level (10170.6 ft.) and has a temperature of 5 to 11℃. the lagoon has a maximum width of 0.7 km, a surface area of 19.8 hectares and an average depth of 125 m. It is supplied mainly by groundwater.  It was formed in a perfectly circular mountain depression, surrounded by native forests. There are several hypotheses about its formation: by a meteorite, by a collapse caused by the dissolution of saline strata,  or by glacial action and erosion. Today it has reached a stage of sedimentation.

What to do

Its environmental recovery has allowed that, after many years, activities can be carried out such as hiking, and landscaping.

Laguna de Fúquene

(Lake Fúquene, exorheic)

Laguna de Fúquene. Picture by Francy Ramírez

Location

Characteristics

With an area of 30 km² and located at an altitude of 2540 meters above sea level (8333.3 ft.), the Fúquene lake has numerous islands, one of which was a sanctuary for the Muiscas. According to the legend, hidden under the waters and ready to defend his domains in the valley of Ubaté and Chiquinquirá, remains Fu, a god-demon with the head and tail of a fox and human body. His name in Chibcha is decomposed from “Fu” which means fox, and “quene” which means bed, which would be translated as the bed of the fox.

The local community depends directly on the lagoon, since it is a source of water for domestic, agricultural and industrial activities. It is also the habitat of several migratory and endemic species.

What to do

Its environmental recovery has allowed that, after 40 years, nautical activities can be carried out with small boats such as sailboats, kayaks and rowing surf.

Laguna de Otún

(Lake Otún, exorheic)

Lake Otún, Parque Nacional los Nevados, Colombia. © Creative Commons

Location

Characteristics

The Otún lagoon is one of the highlights of the Los Nevados National Natural Park. This lake measures about 1.5square kilometers and is located at 3,950 meters above sea level (12959.32 ft.) in páramo ecosystem, being perhaps one of the highest that you can visit. Formed by volcanic and glacial action, it is fed mainly by the snowmelt of the Nevado de Santa Isabel. It is one of the most beautiful ecological hiking destinations in Colombia. It is located in the department of Risaralda, Colombia. Its waters seep under caverns formed by volcanic flows and give rise, together with Laguna La Leona, to the Otún River, which is the source for the aqueduct of the city of Pereira.

What to do

This lake is a great tourist attraction in Risaralda for its great beauty and for trout fishing. The trout is a species introduced to the lake. In the lake you can see the Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis), owls and hummingbirds, while the landscape is dominated by frailejones (Espeletia sp.) and typical páramo grasslands. Besides fishing, you can also camp there.

Laguna de Iguaque

(Iguaque Lagoon, endorheic)

Laguna de Iguaque, Sanctuary of Fauna and Flora Iguaque, department of Boyacá, Colombia. © Creative Commons

Location

Characteristics

The Iguaque lagoon is located near the municipality of Villa de Leyva in the department of Boyacá, Colombia. It has an area of 6.75 km² and an average depth of 105 m. It is located at 3,800 meters above sea level (12467.19 ft.) in the páramo ecosystem, with a temperature from 4 to 12ºC on average.

According to the Muisca legend, the goddess Bachué came out of the lagoon with a child, giving rise to the entire human race. Bachue is the “Good Woman” mother goddess of the Muiscas.

What to do

Visiting this sacred lagoon is believed to cleanse the soul and purify the spirit. The lagoon is protected as part of the Iguaque Fauna and Flora Sanctuary. There you can go hiking, go on scientific and research tours, observe fauna and flora, observe the cultural heritage, and enjoy the landscape.

Laguna de Sonso

(Lake Sonso, exorheic)

Location

Characteristics

The Laguna de Sonso or del Chircal, was decreed as a Natural Reserve since 1978 and regulated for the use of land, water and airspace in 1979.

It is located on the right bank of the Cauca River, between the municipalities of Buga, Yotoco and Guacarí, in the department of Valle dal Cauca. It has an area of ​​2,045 hectares, (covering 14 square kilometers of these municipalities), of which 745 correspond to the lagoon zone and 1,300 to the buffer zone. It is located 936 meters above sea level, with an average temperature of 23ºC, and a relative humidity of 75%, being an attractive space for various species.

What to do

The Lake Sonso is part of the RAMSAR international agreement signed on February 2, 2017. It has a perfect combination of aquatic birds and dry forest. In addition, it is a refuge for migratory and endemic bird species, totaling more than 300 species. For this reason the main tourist activity in the Sonso lagoon is bird watching and bird photography.

Lagoons at Natural National Park Chingaza

(Lakes of Chingaza, exorheic)

Lakes of Chingaza National Natural Park

Location

Characteristics

The beautiful Chingaza National Natural Park is located in the eastern Andean mountain range of Colombia, between 3,050 and 3,950 meter above sea level (9858.924 – 12959.32 ft.). It has a great water richness constituted by the upper basin of several rivers, as well as by a lagoon system which has been declared a Ramsar site.

The Lacustrine system of Chingaza is formed by 20 lagoons and wetlands that supply water to the capital city, Bogotá. It is also of great importance for migratory birds.

Among all the lagoons, the largest is the Chingaza lagoon, with an area of ​​88 hectares, which contributes a high percentage to feeding the aqueduct that provides water to the city of Bogotá.

What to do

Four of the 6 trails enabled for ecotourism in the Chingaza park are to visit different lagoons:

You can do guided mountaineering in the modality of “hiking without camping” towards the lagoons. You can also contemplate the landscapes of lagoons, wetlands and streams, as well as observe the flora and fauna of the páramo.

Lakes of Tarapoto

(Lakes of Tarapoto, exorheic)

Amazon river dolphin (Inia geoffrensis), at Puerto Nariño, Amazonas department, Colombia.

Location

Characteristics

It is located in the municipalities of Puerto Nariño and Leticia, department of Amazonas. The lakes of Tarapoto are a strategic ecosystem made up of more than 30 interconnected lakes, which reach an approximate area of ​​11,424 m2 in periods of low water. According to Ramsar.org, this ecosystem:

“provides important functions such as flood and erosion control, waterways for transportation, recreation and tourism.”

Besides being one of the greatest ecotourism attractions in the region, this biome is the means of subsistence and food for 22 indigenous communities, Cocama, Ticuna and Yagua, which are part of the Ticoya reservation in the Amazon.

It has been declared a Ramsar area in 2018, thanks to the joint work between the inhabitants of Puerto Nariño, the indigenous people of the Ticoya reservation, the Omacha Foundation, the Colombian government, Corpoamazonía, the Sinchi Institute and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

What to do

There you can arrive by boat and wait in silence for the appearance of pink dolphins, while contemplating the majesty of the Amazon jungle.

Lagoons at Natural National Park Sumapaz

(Lakes of Sumapaz, exorheic)

Páramo of Sumapaz

Location

Characteristics

Bogotá has the largest and most beautiful páramo in the world, the Páramo of Sumapaz. This ancestral place was considered by the Muiscas as the habitat of the gods.

Here you can enjoy unique landscapes, unique animals and the particular vegetation of an ecosystem that is dedicated to safeguarding water: the páramo.

What to do

In the Sumapaz páramo you can visit the following lagoons:

Alar Pasquilla Lagoon

According to the District Tourism Institute of Bogotá, the Alar Pasquilla lagoon is one of the seven wonders of the city. This sanctuary full of frailejones, imposing cliffs and a 3,200-meter-high viewpoint is a unique plan.

Negra lagoon

This body of water has been the object of legends, which is why it can be considered the most mysterious lagoon in the páramo of Sumapaz. In pre-Columbian times, when the Zaque de Hunza (Tunja) and the Zipa de Bacatá (Bogotá) were at war, it was known as the Saguanmachica lagoon, because a zipa with that name was crowned there.

Los Colorados Lagoon

Also known as the enchanted lagoon, this paradise is a place that few know because of its difficult access.

Los Tunjos

They are the best known bodies of water in Sumapaz because it is easy to get to them. This area has a forbidden route, where you can see lagoons and cliffs as high as the Colpatria building.

Larga Lagoon

In this lagoon of the Sumapaz National Natural Park it is common to see fish, wild ducks and other types of birds. Access is very easy, because it is close to the Los Tunjos complex.

Laguna Cajitas lagoon

This body of water at 3,850 meters high is famous because the Black-chested Buzzard-eagel can be seen frequently. The best panoramic view of the lagoon is on Cerro La Carolina, a difficult place to access because you have to climb for about an hour.

Laguna de Cumbal

(Lake Cumbal, exorheic)

Location

Characteristics

The Cumbal lagoon, also called La Bolsa lagoon, is located at the foot of the Cumbal volcano, at 3440 meters above sea level (11286.09 ft), in the department of Nariño, south of Colombia.

This lagoon is characterized by the gray color of its waters, the very low temperature and the absence of waves. The Cumbal lagoon basin is small in size (9.8 km²) and is located in a very sensitive aquifer recharge zone.

It is a sacred place for the indigenous people of the region, who belong to the grasslands ethnic group, and according to them, humanity originated there. For this you infer this place is of feminine energy, and it recalls the uterus of a woman, that is why it is called the bag.

What to do

You will be able to enjoy a majestic landscape of mountains, valleys, nearby volcanoes and see the snow-capped mountains of the Republic of Ecuador.

You can also do sport fishing activities, since the rainbow trout abounds in its waters. You can also meet the indigenous inhabitants of the area, their culture, traditions and gastronomy.

Recommendations

To enjoy it to the fullest, we recommend you take comfortable, warm and waterproof clothing. You should also wear mountaineering boots that are waterproof. In some places you may be short of breath due to the altitude, in that case, breathe deeply and slowly, and walk at your own pace. There will always be people watching over you and taking care of you so that you get the best experience.

If you want to know more about Colombian nature tours, or want to visit any Lake of Colombia, follow us, write us comments, or just contact us.


References


About the author

Sara Colmenares

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.

Wetland Destinations in Colombia: Ramsar Areas of Colombia

What is a Wetland?

Wetlands are low-lying areas of land where water settles, gathers, and stays at or near the surface of the soil. They are kind of an “in-between” place for water. According to NOAA, there are five general types of wetlands: marine (ocean), estuarine (estuary), riverine (river), lacustrine (lake), and palustrine (marsh). Among them we can find those that we know and name as “marshes, estuaries, mangroves, mudflats, mires, ponds, fens, swamps, deltas, coral reefs, billabongs, lagoons, shallow seas, bogs, lakes, floodplains…” It depends on soil, topography, climate, water chemistry, and vegetation. But know the difference: if water runs off, then it’s just regular old land, but if the water is too deep then it might be a pond or a lake, or the sea, although many wetlands are associated with the latter.

Benefits of Wetlands

Wetlands come with some really great benefits: they collect flood water, help stem its flow, and it slowly releases it, so it doesn’t do so much damage, providing flood and erosion control. In fact, for this very reason, people who convert wetlands for human use are now required to offset their impact with water retention systems, at least in the USA.

Wetlands are also a great nursery for wildlife. Many of the threatened and endangered species depend on wetlands for survival in the early stages of their life, or during migration in the case of birds. Wetlands also play a huge role as filters of water. Within wetlands live lots of bacteria and other microorganisms that are continually breaking down matter. In addition to organic matter, wetlands absorb oil, nitrogen, phosphorus, sewage, sediments, and other pollutants before they reach rivers, lakes, and other water bodies.

Wetlands also offer several recreational activities like boating, hiking, sport fishing, nature photography, birdwatching, contemplation, among others.

Tourism in Wetlands

Wetlands, on a global scale, have offered significant opportunities for tourism and recreation, providing economic benefits to the governments, the tourism industry, the local communities, and the wetlands conservation itself (Ramsar and UNWTO, 2012).

It is estimated that half of all international tourists travel to wetlands, especially to the coast, and many wetlands are not just holiday destinations but are also tourist attractions themselves. Thus, tourism is an important and visible value provided by wetlands.

The integration of tourism in wetland conservation can be found globally. Examples are the Camargue Wetland in France, an epicenter for birdwatching in Europe, the Nabugabo Wetland in Uganda, the London Wetland Centre in the UK, the Danube Delta in Romania, or the Esteros de Iberá in Argentina with luxury accommodations such as the Rincón del Socorro reserve, among others.

The increased demands for tourism expansion have risen the alarm on the potential negative impacts on the health of wetlands. Although tourism in wetlands offers positive opportunities, it represents many challenges as well. Avoiding the direct impact of tourists on wetland ecosystems resulting from garbage accumulation, noise pollution, excessive trampling, disturbance of wild species, amongst others, is one of them. So, the necessity of a formally addressed wetland tourism with sustainable management is of huge importance. Wetlands bear recreational values and, if conserved and managed properly, they motivate visitors and generate resources needed for the development of local communities.

Wetlands in Danger

People who drain and fill wetlands have in mind they are rescuing land for more “useful purposes” like cropland, pastures, roads, homes, businesses, waterways, canals, and reservoirs. This thinking made the wetlands decrease in more than half of their territories in the last two centuries, becoming an endangered ecosystem.

Wetlands provide directly or indirectly almost all of the world’s freshwater consumption, and currently cover more than 12.1 million square kilometers, an area larger than Greenland. But only about 13-18% of them are included in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance and are protected.

Ramsar, or the International Convention on Wetlands, is the oldest international treaty on environmental protection. It was signed in 1971 in the Iranian city of Ramsar and came into force in 1975. It was ratified by 170 countries. Ramsar’s philosophy revolves around the concept of “wise use”, in which the conservation of wetlands, as well as their sustainable use and that of their resources, are at the heart of “wise use” for the benefit of humanity.

A Ramsar Site, or Wetland of International Importance, is a wetland area designated under the Ramsar Convention by the national government of a Member State. Currently, there are over 2,000 such sites covering over 192 million hectares: an impressive global network of wetlands that meet criteria related to their biodiversity and uniqueness.

Wetlands of Colombia

Colombia has about 31,702 wetlands, which are important as a source of fresh water, but only 13 have been declared as Ramsar sites. These are:

Map of Ramsar Places of Colombia. Orange dots represent their location. From https://rsis.ramsar.org/

According to the Bogotá Botanical Garden, it is estimated that about 87% of the Colombian population inhabits wetland areas. The relevance of wetlands, and water systems, in Colombia is so vast that there is even a book dedicated to it, Amphibian Colombia. A country of wetlands “which seeks to promote an acknowledgment and understanding of Colombia as an amphibian territory in which a great part of its geography and culture are directly associated with water”, says Humboldt Institute of Colombia.

Wetland tourism in Colombia

In Colombia, such natural areas are often taken for granted, and wetland tourism is not fully developed. We still need more projects that not only provide social and economic benefits to the communities but also support effective approaches to restore and conserve wetland ecosystems. Degradation of wetland areas is associated with their use for extraction of building materials, over-extraction of water, contamination by inappropriate waste disposal, and so on. The main threats to wetlands in Colombia are the expansion of the agricultural and livestock frontier, as well as illegal urbanization.

Ecotourism may play an important role in the conservation of these wetlands in Colombia, since by receiving an economic benefit through the provision of tourism services, local communities are motivated to care for these ecosystems. If you value wetlands make it a point to visit them and get involved in protecting them. Your visit adds economic value to these special places and helps to protect them for future generations.

In Colombia, you can visit any of the Ramsar places mentioned above. However, the most recommended places, due to their infrastructure and ease of visit, are:

  • Laguna de la Cocha (Nariño).
Laguna de la Cocha, picture by Sebastian David Martinez Canchala
  • Chingaza system (Cundinamarca).
Wetland System Chingaza National Park
  • Otún Lagoon (Risaralda).
Laguna del Otún Wetland
  • Sonso Lagoon (Valle del Cauca)

    Snail Kite – Rostrhamus sociabilis, juvenile., Gota de leche wetland, Valle del Cauca

  • Bita River Wetland Complex (Vichada)
Bita River Wetland Complex, picture by Jorge Garcia
Bogotá Wetland picture by Bogotá City Hall 

We’ll tell you more about these places in our next posts! Stay tuned!

If you want to know more about traveling to Colombia write us, leave us a comment, and visit our YouTube channel.

About the author

Sara Colmenares

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.

Top 11 Best Thermal Destinations and Hot Springs in Colombia

Sometimes traveling can be stressful. There are so many plans you have to make and some activities may be physically demanding. But if you visit Colombia, there is no need to worry.

Thanks to its several volcanoes, Colombia boasts beautiful hot springs for tourists to relax after long, exhausting days of exploring the amazing nature destinations in the country.

Below are the hot springs in Colombia that you should visit.

Main hot springs around Colombia

Santa Rosa de Cabal Hot Springs

Santa Rosa de Cabal is a town part of the Coffee Cultural Landscape known for two things: its chorizos santarrosanos and its hot springs. 1 hour from Pereira and 1.5 hours from Manizales, you can have the best wellness experience in the country.

Termales Santa Rosa de Cabal are the most recognized hot springs in Colombia since they are tasteless and odorless! You may be awe-struck to see the 95-meter high waterfall with 5 streams of cold water and enjoy the pools with therapeutic thermal waters.

This place has stunning landscapes full of life where tourists can experience rest, relaxation and fun in a mountainous natural environment – also suitable for birdwatching.

Those looking for soothing stress can be well-served at the spa, which offers a facial and body ritual for every taste. Also, those who love hiking can join the .

In this tour you will know the thermal water springs, the spectacular natural waterfall of thermal and cold water, a natural Turkish bath and different species of flora and fauna unique in the world.

There are different accommodation options for you to spend the night in the spa resort.

San Vicente Hot Springs 

Also in Santa Rosa de Cabal, San Vicente Thermal Reserve exists for more rustic travelers. ‘The most natural hot springs in Colombia’ is what these are known for.

Enjoy different thermal pools amidst the mountains of the Coffee Region, fed by geysers and algae, the Turkish bath and the unique thermal river surrounded by lush vegetation and singing birds.

You can visit the San Vicente Spa to have sand and mud therapy along with relaxing massages. Hosts have access to restricted hot springs and pools, for a more private wellness experience.

Whether you stay at the hotel or not, you cannot miss hiking along the ecological trails to discover the riverbanks of the Campoalegrito river, some cold water cascades, wooden bridges and much more.

Paipa Hot Springs

Paipa is a pretty town in Boyacá, about 1 hour from its capital Tunja and almost 2 hours from the famous colonial city of Villa de Leyva. Apart from the Sochagota lake, Paipa boasts several hot springs that attract hundreds of national and international tourists.

There are various resorts offering thermal baths, spas and aquatic sports, of which Parque Termal de Paipa stands out.

Pozo Azul is the source of the several thermal pools of the resort, with an average temperature of 75°C. Mineral salts, mud and algae are the components of the hot springs with medicinal powers, used in all kinds of treatments.

Parque Termal de Paipa offers its visitors a complete well-being circuit including a hydrotherapy center, massage therapy, spa and an aquatic park for the family. Your cravings will be catered at the park’s restaurant and cafe.

Termales del Ruiz Hot Springs

En route to Nevado del Ruiz, in Los Nevados National Natural Park’s buffer zone, Termales del Ruiz Hotel excels as one of the best spa resorts in Colombia. A luxurious hotel at 3,500 meters above sa level in the middle of a natural environment welcomes visitors looking for a relaxing stay in the Coffee Region.

The resort was built in 1937 and has hot springs at 39°C, which help you treat pain, respiratory and skin conditions and other types of health issues.

You can either have an amazing day trip if you are visiting Manizales and enjoy other activities such as ecologic hiking trails and birdwatching or spend one night in a comfortable room overviewing the forest.

Approximately 197 bird species get to the Caldas department, including the shining sunbeam (Aglaeactis cupripennis), the Greybreasted Mountain Toucan (Andigena hypoglauca), the Rainbow-bearded Thornbill (Chalcostigma herrani), the Buff-winged Starfronlet (Coeligena lutetiae), the Blackthighed Puffleg (Eriocnemis derbyi), and the Golden-fronted Whitestart (Myioborus ornatus).

Hacienda Termales la Quinta

La Quinta is located 25 kilometers from Villamaría, Caldas on the road to Nevado Santa Isabel. The main house has 6 rooms with their respective bathrooms and maximum capacity up to 16 people.

A comfortable social area, heated with a tube coil, through which the thermal water also passes, making this area warmer. Also from its corridors and social area, we can observe the waterfall “Las Nereidas” with a spectacular beauty.

As it is such an old house for riders, with stairs to access some of its rooms and because its arrival is on foot or on horseback, it is not advisable for people with some physical disability, children under 7 years old and adults over 70 years old.

The logistic team will be in charge of mounting the luggage on mules and guiding them on a horse ride through the horseshoe paths to the main house.

Popayán Hot Springs

The Pacific region in Colombia offers great hot springs too. Near the capital of Cauca, Popayán -‘the white city’, you can find the Coconuco hot springs. From Popayan, a 1-hour drive will take you to Agua Tibia and Agua Hirviendo thermals, which are popular destinations for day trips.

Termales Agua Tibia is a private spa resort that offers accommodation (whether an apartment or a camping zone), a thermal lake with option to have canoe rides and practice sport fishing, 6 non-sulfur hot spring pools with crystal clear waters ranging from 27°C to 40°C, and a medicinal mud Jacuzzi.

For a more fun experience, there is even a 53-meter long slide with thermal waters, a 300- meter zip line and a playground for children.

Termales Agua Hirviendo belongs to the Kokonuko indigenous reserve, an important native community in the region.

The entrance to the spa resort is just COP$10,000 for adults and COP$7,000 for children up to 8 years old. You can taste typical dishes at the restaurant and spend one night in one of the cabins, having more time to connect with nature in this harmonious place deemed as sacred.

Jurubirá Hot Springs

The Colombian Pacific coastal department of Choco is a remote nature destination, recently gaining prestige among travelers interested in nature tourism and ecotourism.

Jurubira is the second most populated village of Nuqui, one of the places where you get to see humpback whales up close. Apart from the jungle-fringed beach, the hot springs are a renowned tourist spot in Jurubira.

The tourism is managed by the Jagua indigenous community, which provides tourists a cultural insight of the region. Bathing in a hot spring in the middle of a rainforest is something everyone should experience.

Las Termales de Rivera, Huila

A more luxurious offer exists in the department of Huila, in the warm municipality of Rivera, 30 km from Neiva.

Las Termales de Rivera spa resort is a great option for a relaxation experience in connection with nature. Its waters spring from the ground at a temperature of 70ºC and descend through the waterfalls until they reach the thermal pool at 50ºC.

There is another pool with heated water and a 10-meter slide that ends in a lukewarm pool. Of course there is no complete experience without regional delicacies offered at the restaurant and the option to spend the night in a comfortable room.

Hot Springs near Bogotá

There are different destinations to head to if you feel like having a relaxed day in hot springs near Colombia’s capital.

Termales Santa Mónica, Choachí

On the foothills of the Eastern cordillera, just one hour east of Bogotá, this spa resort offers thermal waters that provide its pools, Jacuzzi, sauna and Turkish bath rooms with medicinal powers.

Termales Santa Monica is 10 minutes from the village of Choachi, formerly inhabited by Muisca peoples, which is surrounded by marvelous nature destinations such as La Chorrera waterfall -the highest in the country- and the Cruz Verde paramo.

You can have a quite relaxing day trip to this place where you can enjoy the Fuente de Piedra Spa, a resting space surrounded by native vegetation that offers massages and therapies with essential oils for your peace of mind, and the hot springs that help you stimulate your blood circulation, relax your muscles, detox your skin and relieve bone and muscle pains. Not bad!

Have a typical Colombian lunch at the restaurant and if you don’t want to rush back to Bogota, you can stay at the 3-building hotel with 48 rooms that have a view of the mountain or the resort. There is a bar where you can have a drink while dancing.

Chocontá and Machetá Hot Springs

The village of Macheta is located over 80 km from the north of Bogotá. There you can find spa resorts such as Los Volcanes and Nápoles.

Termales Los Volcanes is a sustainability committed resort that offers 4 thermal pools, a steam bath, a spa, accommodation and restaurant, all in a peaceful and natural environment.

Termales Nápoles is perfect for family recreational and ecotourism plans. It is in a paramo ecosystem that surrounds the Valle de Tenza region, so you can find many flora and fauna species. Its hot spring allows visitors to have a medicinal therapy and the lodge offers a calm stay.

Gachetá and Guasca Hot Springs

Other towns near Bogotá are Guasca and Gacheta, 54 and 100 kilometers from the city respectively, belonging to El Guavio province. In this zone you can find natural hot springs for reinvigorating your body and mind.

References
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.

Sara Colmenares

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.