Tatacoa desert was a nice destination after cold mountain Colombian altitudes. The glowing air gave us an extremely nice feeling, just until the heat started to be exhausting. The desert is located 38 km from Neiva and it’s famous from it’s surreal landscape of the rocky canyons and labyrinths.
How to get to Tatacoa desert?
Getting to Tatacoa desert is very easy. You’ve got few options. You can take a small bus from Neiva to Villavieja and then a tuk tuk to your hostal (if you’re not staying in the town). We took a morning van from Neiva station, which drove us directly to Hostal de Saturno for only 15 000 COP!! Maybe it wasn’t too comfortable but cheap and direct. I would just recommend a scarf, as it was quite windy on the truck.
Getting to Salento from Armenia.
Buses Armenia – Salento run every 20 minutes. One of the most funniest situation once they see you in Armenia’s terminal with a backpack – everyone roars – Salento bus there!!! And points on of the exits. So don’t worry you won’t miss it ? The road takes about 2 hours and the mountain views are amazing. The road is going up and is formed into hairpin turns. It might get a little scary when the bus backs up few times to take a turn on a rocky road.
Where to stay in Tatacoa Desert?
We decided to stay in Hostal Noches de Saturno – that’s a very convenient location for exploring the area. And also the Astronomical Observatory Tatacoa is located only 600 m from the hostel. The red desert is easily accessible from the hostel – it’s just on the other side of the road. To get to the grey desert you need to drive further for 9 km but there are no hostels. It’s best to take a transport to get there – just ask what are the options in your hostel.
Well, we met an amazing French guy two days before getting to the desert. We were all fascinated by the landscape and decided to walk to the Grey desert, which was a terrible idea! After 15 min walking toward the desert a van stopped surprisingly asking are we on the way to the grey desert??? When the driver heard us he simply said: ‘Jump in, I’m going to give you a lift, I’m driving that direction.’ – of course in Spanish, as nobody speaks English there.. I’d say the guy saved our lives that day!
The red desert
It was 40 degrees (September 2018), the walk toward the Grey Desert is along the main road and it’s pretty boring. Just near a small bar on the main road you’ll see a sign on your left for the Grey desert. This is the starting point (not the only one I believe). The desert loop takes about 2 h (it’s possible to walk less but it’s an amazing place, so we did 3 h loop, leaving the main trail).
The grey canyons start from the beginning of the hike. The birds were amazing, condors flying above your heads. It’s a noise free area, truly just silence and nature. Honestly, I was amazed by the grey desert. I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s also a noise free area so we new from the beginning we’ll spend at least two days trekking.
Walking back to our hostel took us around 3 h. I was exhausted. I guess I uncovered a little too much surface of the body and the sun just knocked me out of my feet. But I managed to wake up for the evening observatory session. That’s another reason it’s great to stay in Hostal Noches de Saturno. On of the greatest attractions of the place is Tatacoa Observatory, a great opportunity for stars watching and planet lesson. See more description below.
Some people don’t even reach the grey desert. Personally, I found the Grey Desert phenomenal! We all did! Maybe it’s the fact you need more hustle to get there, it’s not maintained and unlimited – you can actually walk very far through this desert. The red desert is mainly a marked loop. It’s still amazing but it’s not that wild any more.
Things not to miss in Tatacoa Desert:
- Tatacoa Observatory – entrance is 10 000 COP . Every day at 7 pm (check the hours, as they depend on a season). It’s an opportunity you don’t probably have back home. The desert sky is flooded by stars. The observatory provides a lesson about stars and planets, also through a telescope – the Saturn looks unbelievably. The guy is very friendly and with a great sense of humour. Take a mosquito repellent, otherwise they eat you alive!!!
- Take a bike tour, there’s lots of bike rentals around the area.
- If you want to take a guided tour to the grey desert it’s around 30 000 COP/per person.
- Visit Villavieja – the small charming town near Tatacoa desert. There’s plenty of hostels in the town.
- Watch the desert sunrise or sunset.
Hints before you go:
- Wear trekking shoes for several reasons – it’s a desert, you might step on a spider, snake or scorpion and watch out for a cactus thorns when walking the desert!! It’s a canyon walk, it’s more convenient wearing full shoes.
- Take plenty of water (2 litres) if you plan walking toward the grey desert and do some trekking around it (the loop takes 2 h). There are two small bars near the main road and starting point for grey desert.
- Sun lotion – I had filter 50.
- Cover your head, the sun is very high.
- Take insect repellent.
- Sun glasses.
- Flashlight (if you plan to get to the desert for the sunrise or sunset).
- Always a camera 🙂