Going Places: Colombia home to a rich heritage (continued)

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

Green-roofed gazebos
scatter the valley.

The attractions are the friendly people and countryside itself.

The ambience of Tierradentro is pleasant and friendly

Children giggle in the streets ... and people still have time and interest to sit and talk.


Casting your eye over the landscape you’d be hard-pressed to locate the ruins of Tierradentro. In the distance a cluster of green-roofed gazebos hint at their presence. Hidden beneath the ground, the tombs descend a ring of carved steps opening into a cavern. Inside, geometric forms and haunting faces paint the walls of sculpted stone. On an opposite hillside more tombs lie hidden in the earth. Consisting of five distinct locations, the ruins comprise an open-air museum spread throughout the valley.

Situated primarily along the ridgetops, explorers discovered the tombs in the 1930s. Their existence was previously known by locals and some had suffered looting and associated damages. Still the paintings, made from plant extracts, remain remarkably intact. The tombs differ in size and complexity: the largest descend some 20 feet and contain niches and supporting columns. Additionally, discoverers encountered ceramic funeral urns containing cremated remains. Each tomb is believed to have been constructed for a family group; the more elaborate for royalty.

The main ruins of Tierradentro lie a 15-minute walk uphill from the museum entrace. Known collectively as Segovia, the site encompasses more than 20 tombs. Called hipogeos, they feature some of the best-conserved painting of the area and are the only ones provided with internal lighting.

San Andres de Pisimbalá is a quiet town tucked amidst rugged hills. Here, the sounds of clopping horses and singing birds replace the music of the disco. The attractions are the friendly people and countryside itself. Walk amidst the mountains. Find a shady doorstep to drink guarapo and partake of the hospitality. San Andrés is the type of town where children giggle in the streets, horses outnumber cars 10 to one, and people still have time and interest to sit and talk.

Suggested itinerary

Aside from El Aguacate, the ruins lie in relatively close proximity. Beginning from the museum you can explore the ruins of Segovia, El Duende, and El Tablón. Continuing along the trail from Segovia and El Duende you will reach the old road returning to San Andrés. In a half-hour you pass El Tablón on the hillside to your left. Another 20 minutes will find you back in town.

The following day you can visit the ruins of Alto de San Andrés and, if so inclined, continue along the trail to El Aguacate. The walk to El Aguacate is a steep two hours, but the scenery along the way is magnificent. The trail from El Aguacate continues along the ridge and back to the museum.

Entrance to museum

The museum lies along the main road to San Andres de Pisimbala, about a 30-minute walk from town. Entrance to the ruins is $1.75 (2,500 pesos; half price with International Student ID). The tickets is valid for two days. The museum itself is comprised of two sections across the road from each other: an ethnographic museum of the Paez people (contemporary indigenous people) and an archeological museum containing findings and explications of the tombs. The museum and sites are open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.


Accommodations are basic. Los Lagos, down the hill past the church, is the obvious place to stay in town. The friendly owners can inform on walks, arrange horse tours, and provide meals. Camping is permitted.

There are a slew of inexpensive hotels along the road leading from the museum to town. Recommended is the Lucerna. El Refugio is a more pricey alternative featuring a swimming pool.


La Portada, run by Leonardo, is the place to go. Food is excellent as is the ambience. It’s on the left as you enter town. Several places near the museum also serve traditional dishes and fresh juices.

Money matters

There are no banks in San Andrés. Solve your money problems in Popayán. If continuing on to San Agustín you will find limited services.

©2000, Mariah Media Inc.

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