Colombia (Republic of Colombia)

Languages: Spanish

Currencies: COP · Colombian peso ($)

Capitol: Bogotá

Continents: South America

Borders: Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, Panama

More useful information

Area: 1,141,748km2

Population: 50,882,884

Traffic/driving side: right

Landlocked country: No

Independent country: Yes

United Nations member: Yes

IDD Prefix: +57

Timezones: UTC-05:00

Last updated on October 21, 2023

Tatacoa desert is one of the most surreal places I’ve seen around the world. The area consists of two bordering deserts: Desierto Rojo – the Red Desert and Los Hoyos Desierto Gris – the Gray Desert. 

Tatacoa was a nice destination after cold  altitudes of Colombian Mountains. 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. It’s also a noise free area, which covers 330 square kilometres. Tatacoa red and even more magic grey desert is a paradise for stargazing, hiking and wildlife. It’s an absolute must to visit in your Colombian itinerary.

How to get to Tatacoa desert?

Getting to Tatacoa desert is very easy with local transport. You have few options:

  • You can take a small bus from Neiva to Villavieja and then take a tuk tuk to your hostal (if you’re staying out of town).
  • Morning truck from Neiva station, which will drive you directly to Hostal de Saturno for only 15 000 COP!! Maybe it wasn’t too comfortable but the van is cheap and direct. I would just recommend having a scarf/or a hat, as it gets really windy on the truck. The drive is an incredible fun!

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 the exits! 😉 So don’t worry you won’t miss the bus! You don’t even have to ask for the bus 😉 The drive from takes about 2 hours and the mountain views on the way are stunning. 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 – it’s absolutely the best option and very convenient location for exploring the area. A colourful parrot will greet you at the entrance – no wirries, the bird is free, not in a cage.

Also the Astronomical Observatory Tatacoa is located only 600 m from the hostel – which you also can’t miss to visit! 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 9 km further but you would not find any hostels there. Ask in your hotel how to get a transportation for the grey desert they surely have such option. 

Here are all hotel/hostel options in Tatacoa Desert – lovely places can be book for $30/per night for a double room. 

The Red desert of Tatacoa.

Hiking the Red Desert is easy, it goes along a visible trail, which can be accomplished in 2 hours. Starting point for the red desert is located just on the other side of the road from Hostal Novhes de Saturno. 

Well, we met an amazing French guy two days before getting to the desert. We were all so madly fascinated by the surrounding landscape that have decided to walk toward the grey desert – 9km! This was a very bad idea in such heat. After 15 min walking toward the grey desert, a van stopped and asked us are we trying to get to the grey desert??? We said yes! and the driver quickly said in Spanish: ‘Jump in, I’m going to give you a lift, I’m driving same direction.’ Learn some Spanish for South Amrica, as nobody speaks English there.. I’d say the guy saved our lives that day! If we walked those 9 km in 40 Celsius degrees, I would be dead .. Main road to the Grey Desert. 

How to get to Tatacoa grey desert?

The surreal landscape of Tatacoa Desert in Colombia

The pick-up truck dropped us at the main road, near a small bar (on the picture) 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 hours but it’s up to you how deep you want to explore the desert. The place is so surreal that we have spent 3 hours wandering, leaving the main trails to explore every corner of these fascinating formations.

The grey canyons start from the beginning of the hike. Everything seems  fascinating – colourful birds sitting on cactuses, condors flying above your heads. It’s a noise free area, just silence and nature. Honestly, I’ve never seen anything like grey desert – it’s a true hidden treasure of Colombia. 

Walking back to our hostel took us around 3 hours, as we didn’t get any lift. I was exhausted after all day hiking mainly due to being exposed on the sun for so long. It 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. Tatacoa Observatory is a great attraction and a fabulous 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! The red desert is very easy to explore, it’s a marked loop. It’s still amazing but it’s not that wild as the Grey Desert. It’s so untouristic, so unique, pure natural treasure. 

Tatacoa Observatory - stargazing.

Tatacoa Observatory – entrance 10 000 COP . Sessions start every day at 7 pm (check the hours, as they depend on a season). It’s an incredible stargazing opportunity you probably don’t 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 lecturer is very friendly and with a great sense of humour. Take a mosquito repellent, otherwise they eat you alive!!!

Things not to miss in Tatacoa Desert:

  1. Boatch tatacoa – red and grey deserts!
  2. Tatacoa Observatory for stargazing,
  3. Take a bike tour, there’s lots of bike rentals around the area.
  4. If you want to take a guided tour to the grey desert it’s around 30 000 COP/per person.
  5. Visit Villavieja – the small charming town near Tatacoa desert. There’s plenty of hostels in the town.
  6. 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 hiking shoes.
  • Take plenty of water (2-3 litres) if you plan walking toward the grey desert and do some trekking (the loop takes at least 2h). There are two small bars near the main road just at the starting point for the grey desert.
  • Sun lotion – I had filter 50.
  • Cover your head, the sun can be very aggresive,
  • Take insect repellent.
  • Sun glasses.
  • Flashlight (if you plan to get to the desert for the sunrise or sunset).
  • Always a camera 🙂
green parrot at Grey Desert
Sassari Sardinia

Hey - I'm Eva!

Hiker, adventurous traveler and the author of this blog. My biggest joy is mountaineering and writing reportage travel stories here on this blog, to help you create a unique travel experience. Traveling is freedom, allows you seeing the world truly, meet communities, grow. Taste it!

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