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

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Colombia home to a rich heritage



500 figures have been discovered; some exceed 20 feet.













Archeological sites are spread throughout the park, connected by trails winding through beautiful lawns.













The mysterious statues are best appreciated by visiting the Parque Arqueológico.














Horseback riding is an ideal way to view the ruins of the San Agustin area.

SAN AGUSTÍN

Tucked between the high mountains of the Cordilleras Central and Occidental in the Río Magdalena valley, San Agustín is little recognized as one of the major archeological sites on the continent. Freestanding monoliths and tombs punctuate the verdant landscape beguiling the visitor with their strength and strangeness.

Yet little is known about the culture that carved the sacred animals and monsters. Over 500 figures have been discovered and excavated, some exceeding 20 feet. Most were created between the 6th and 14th centuries, with the apogee occuring about 1100 years ago. The figures, most often erected at burial sites, served to worship the various dieties of the Agustinian culture and accompany the dead on their journey beyond.

The mysterious statues are best appreciated by visiting the Parque Arqueológico. Located 2.5 kilometers outside town, the park was originally the main ceremonial center and cemetary. Several archeological sites are spread throughout the park, connected by trails winding through beautifully manicured lawns. Among the ruins are amazingly well-preserved zoomorphic figures, tombs, and sites of ritual worship.

Entrance to the park costs $1.75 (2,500 pesos; half price with International Student ID). The ticket is valid for two days and covers entrance to Alto de los Ídolos (outside San José de Isnos) and other nearby attractions. A museum contains remains found in the tombs as well as explications of the culture’s development.

A good guide will greatly contribute to your understanding. If your Spanish is up to the task ask for Rosi Verio — a character as interesting as the ruins themselves.

Itinerary suggestions

Aside from the Archeological Park, the San Agustín area is rich with possibilties for exploring. The ruins cover a wide area through verdant rolling hills, narrow rivers, and cascading waterfalls. Tourist agencies offer several tours. One such loop covers area highlights such as the Alto de los Ídolos and the 400m Salto de Bordones, the second highest waterfall in South America. Cost is $12 person (16,000 pesos).

Two tourist information offices, Asintur and World Heritage Travel Offices, are located in town on the corner of Calle 3 and Carrera 11. Both can arrange car and horse tours, give recommendations on lodging, local information, etc.

By foot or by hoof

Horseback riding is an ideal way to view the ruins of the San Agustin area and appreciate the beauty of the rolling landscape. Rental can be arranged through the tourist information offices in town. Many hostels also offer services.

Prices are fixed for several predetermined routes. The half-day circuit of El Tablón, Chaquira, La Pelota, and El Purutal allows you to savor a range of ruins and landscapes. Cost is about $6 (8,000 pesos) per person plus an additional $12 (16,000 pesos) for a guide and horse. Longer and more ambitious circuits are possible such as a visit to El Alto de los Ídolos, but are best suited for those with iron groins.

You can also arrange horse rental directly through the Asociación de Acompañantes y Alquiladores de Caballos, located three blocks beyond the tourist office on the road to the park.

Lodging

Lodging options are many from hotels in town to ranches on the outskirts. Being outside the city is perhaps the best way to appreciate the scenery and traquility of the area. A few recommendations:

Casa de Nelly. T. 37 32 21. Friendly and relaxed. Several good tea houses behind offer English breakfasts.

Posada Campesina. T. 37 39 56. One kilometer out of town on Carrera 14 (Via El Estrecho).

Campo del Sol. Two kilometers out of town following Carrera 13 up the hill. Hippy atmosphere with great views. Some prefer Casa de Cristian, 20m further along.

Eats

There are many places in town. Two recommended are Brahama (Calle 5 #15-11) and Bambu Café (Calle 5 #13-34). Palacio de Jugos (Carrera 13 #3-32) is a great place to sample Colombia’s cornucopia of fruit juices.

Money matters

Change money before reaching San Agustín or suffer poor exchange rates. Casa Agraria on the corner of Carrera 13 and Calle 4 will give cash advances on Visa.


©2000, Mariah Media Inc.

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