San Agustin / Parque Arqueológico (Archaeological Park)
In the west of Colombia in the Andes Mountains is San Agustin, a remote town of just over 30,000 people. Here, traditional Colombia seems to meander on enchantingly. Though what really makes San Agustin’s status shine is that some of the most compelling archaeological artefacts in South America are located here. Still relatively unknown on the regular tourist route, in some ways the region rivals Machu Picchu. San Agustin has to be one of the best remote towns in Colombia.
Although a handful of foreigners have settled here, realistically the area is still opening up after its isolation in hills, previously notoriously dangerous. Located towards the Ecuador border, these days San Agustin is a convergence point for travellers crossing between Colombia and Ecuador.
Horses are still a very popular form of transport, as are motorbikes which always get turned off down hill to save petrol! Cowboys roam around town and travellers depart on horseback for local adventures in the surrounding hills.
All this makes for a compelling experience.
I was staying at Casa De Nelly, a tranquil property in the countryside, ten minutes walk from the centre of town.
It was also a short walk to the archaeological site, so I decided to make my way there on foot.
Midway I was unsure if I was on the right path.
After asking local kids for directions to the “Archaeological Park” and them not understanding at all, I had to resort to mimicking statues with goggly eyes for them to finally get it. I hadn’t known how to say the place in Spanish but I was a bit perplexed that the most famous site in San Agustin, the “archaeological park” could sound so different to Parque Arqueológico!
My humble naivety.
It resulted in a lot of laughter when it twigged to them and they showed me on my way. The goggly eyes got them!
I passed through some small backroads, where life goes on simply. I’ll admit walking alone I suddenly got nervous when I saw a male approach me on the road with a machete in his belt. A lot of locals carry them as they come in handy for their work and day to day needs. I didn’t altogether know that at that point so I must admit all those naysayer voices about going to Colombia and how dangerous it was started infiltrating my otherwise relaxing saunter through the countryside.
We all know how we would feel in a big city, walking down a solitary road and a guy with a knife starts walking towards you. We are stigmatised to think people mean us harm but 9 times out of 10, people are more good than bad.
In this case, in this Colombian village, people are more curious with no intent other than friendly interest. Well that was my impression.
We exchanged “Buenos,” the customary Colombian greeting no matter what time of day, me breathing a little deeply but wondering simultaneously why I had been so brainwashed to be afraid of being in Colombia?
When I arrived at the park, I met Miriam.
She was an amazing guide who transformed the experience of seeing ancient rocks into something way more profound and had me in constant fascination and bewilderment.
We went onto to be good friends during my time in town.
The San Agustín Archaeological Park or Parque Arqueológico is home to the the largest group of religious megalithic sculptures on the continent. Ancient ceremonial and burial sites created between 1-900 AD are symbolically protected with statues of gods, animals and mythical creatures, created out of volcanic rock.
Some sculptures also mysteriously resemble ancient people from all over the world. How did this northern Andean culture know what Egyptians and Asians physically looked like and why would they depict them?
Yet what really gave me goosebumps was a carving in rock – discovered under water – apparently of the world’s continents mapped out in closer formation before the land masses shifted!
My guide Miriam speculates that perhaps this culture who created these artefacts lived in a time when they were more easily able to travel around bodies of water, in somewhat a theory of Atlantis, when the continents were closer together. This would explain how they depicted other races from as far away as Egypt, Asia and Africa.
However, there is still some conjecture and a mystery about exactly when, how and why they were created.
To be honest, it all put my head in a bit of a spin…
I returned to Casa De Nelly that night as if I had discovered Noah’s Ark!
Nature in the Park
If the statues and archaeological burial grounds don’t knock you sideways with perplexity, the wildlife certainly will.
Settled in remote mountains in one of the most bio-diverse countries on earth, in San Agustin there’s no shortage of surprises and beautiful natural delights.
Where to stay in San Agustin?
On a recommendation from an Australian friend who had stayed at Casa De Nelly for months and rode horses with locals to Ecuador, it was inevitable I would follow his lead.
That is, to stay at Casa De Nelly, not to ride horses to Ecuador!
As soon as I walked into the property it felt somewhat of a sanctuary after my epic bus ride from Popayán.
Dozens of intrepid travellers were staying there and we got to mingle over drinks and dinner. Eating there was often easier and more enjoyable than venturing into town at night and the camaraderie of travellers there was unique and insightful.
Here I met some remarkable people, including two solo female travellers who participated in my blog series, Solo Female Travel in Colombia.
There were also hilarious episodes of trying to capture hummingbirds in focus on camera (impossible whilst laughing uncontrollably) and later two of us inspired individuals sourcing the Australian comedian Jim Jeffries You Tube episode on Gun Control, to play it to those who hadn’t seen it.
After all us travellers just want peace on earth…more nature, less guns.
I am not being paid by Casa De Nelly.
On principle I never promote anything – hotel, hostel, travel experience, tour or restaurant unless I endorse them due to a positive personal experience.
If you do follow the link below, and book accommodation through Booking.com I will get a small commission. Something hopefully for bringing you the above information on such a special place in South America.
For the funny back story on my journey from Popayan to San Agustin and some of the scenic photos, stay tuned for my blog: The Road Less Travelled.