Going Places: Colombia home to a rich heritage

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
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Colombia home to a rich heritage

There are several ways to reach either San Agustín or Tierradentro, including connections from the major cities of Cali or Bogota (passing through Nieva). Coming from Cali will allow you to spend some time in Popáyan, a colonial gem famous for its Semana Santa celebration the week preceding Easter. Connections from Popayán are described below.

Direct buses to San Andrés (de Pisimbalá) leave every morning at 8:00 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. with Sotracauca. Cost is $5.75 (8,000 pesos) for the five-hour trip. Other buses depart throughout the day, but will drop you at El Cruce de San Andrés, about an hour's walk uphill to town. Given the questionably security of walking the road at night it is better to catch one of the morning buses.

Service to San Agustín is more frequent. Entering the terminal with your backpack you will undoubtedly be approached by someone asking, “San Agustín?” Five buses run daily via Cocnuco and Isnos ($8/12,000 pesos). The journey takes between six and eight hours.

The route is spectacular for either destination, rising through the lush foothills and crossing the high plains of the paramo. To avoid any “missing luggage” it is advised to carry your bags with you on board.

It is possible, although complicated, to travel between San Andrés de Pisimbalé and San Agustín. From San Andrés inquire about the morning “bus” to La Plata. From La Plata a jeep will take you to Pitalito. From there, regular taxis run to San Agustán. The trip will take five hours and cost about $12 (16,000 pesos). It is also possible to do the trip in the reverse direction. The cramped jeeps and narrow roads may be adventurous for some, but after all, you did come to Colombia, didn’t you?

Like many equatorial countries, Colombia has wet and dry seasons. Known as invierno, the rainy season runs from April to early July. Verano, the dry season, is from November to March. Due to the rugged topography, weather patterns vary within short distances and rain can occur at any time. Bring a rain coat and sweater for cool nights.

Plan on a week to explore Popayán, San Agustín, and Tierradentro. Those with more time could explore the mountains, paramos, and hot springs of Puracá National Park on the road between San Agustán and Popayán. Further south is Las Lajas, a beautiful church and pilgrimage site in the gorge outside Ipiales near the Ecuadorian border.

In Colombia look for San Agustin y Tierradentro Archaeological Guide. This bilingual guide has a wealth of information on the sites as well as cultural and geographic overviews. If you can’t find it elsewhere, check the Asintur tourist office in San Agustín.

The South American Handbook 1998 has useful information including accomodations, transport, and background information.

Lonely Planet Travel Survival Kit: Colombia is the most comprehensive English-language guide for the country.

©2000, Mariah Media Inc.

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