10 Reasons Why the Colombian Plains are the Next Top Ecotourism Destination in South America

Photo of Chris Bell
4 May 2018
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The wild Eastern Plains – or Llanos Orientales as they are known locally – are a vast region of seasonally-flooded grasslands and gallery forest in the east of the country. The Plains consist of the regions of Casanare, Meta, and Arauca, and are an ecotourism paradise on account of their huge populations of mammals, reptiles and birds, and the relative ease of observing them in the open landscapes. Read on to find out why the Colombian plains could be the next top ecotourism destination in South America…

There’s incredible biodiversity

The key aspect of any ecotourism destination is its biodiversity, and the Llanos has plenty of that! With strong populations of terrestrial mammals such as capybaras, giant anteaters, white-tailed deer, tamanduas, as well as caiman, anacondas, hundreds of amazing bird species, and even rare species like pumas and jaguars, the Eastern Plains has enough biodiversity to satisfy even the most well-travelled ecotourist.

Caiman in the Colombian Llanos | © Chris Bell

Observation is (relatively) easy

As any good wildlife-watcher knows all too well, observing wild animals in their natural habitat is far from easy – it’s possible to be unlucky and never really see anything during a trip. Luckily, the geography of the plains with wide open spaces, large lakes, and small pockets of forest makes for relatively easy observation. If you put yourself in the right place at the right time (dawn or dusk), then you stand a good chance of seeing some beautiful wildlife.

It’s still off-the-beaten-track

The Llanos haven’t really filtered through into the tourism sphere just yet, meaning that a wildlife-watching trip to Casanare, Arauca, and Meta is still an off-the-beaten-track affair and you are likely to be sharing your experience with no-one but the caiman and capybaras! There are none of the crowds of jeeps surrounding the wildlife that you will sadly find at many ecotourism hotspots nowadays.

Off-the-beaten-track in the Llanos | © Chris Bell

It’s easy to access

While the Plains may be off-the-beaten-track tourism-wise, they are actually extremely easy to travel to and have excellent road and air connections to the rest of Colombia. You can fly to all of the capital cities – Yopal, Villavicencio, and Arauca – relatively cheaply, and bus connections are good and regular.

Stay at one of Colombia’s best ecolodges

Juan Solito Ecolodge at Hato La Aurora Reserve is arguably the best ecolodge in Colombia. This vast cattle ranch has been free of hunting for decades and is home to vast populations of capybara, deer, anacondas, birds, and giant anteaters – and more than 25 jaguars! The fact that the animals have been left alone for so long makes them remarkably relaxed and you can enjoy staggeringly close-up views of many species. The lodge itself is comfortable, and you can enjoy live llanos music and dancing, as well as horse-riding and dawn hikes.

A stunning scene at Hato La Aurora | © Chris Bell

Discover the good emerging infrastructure

Tourism is quite new to the Eastern Plains, especially ecotourism, but things are changing and there are a host of excellent new agencies and hotels offering ecotourism in the region. Recommended ecotourism agencies to explore the Eastern Plains include Aventur Eco Tours and Casanare Natural – both can offer packages including wildlife safaris, boat trips, and birdwatching, and will take you to the best spots to observe wild animals in the Llanos.

There’s also a cultural aspect to visiting

The Llanos is incredible for spotting wildlife, but there’s a lot more to a trip there than just endless animal observation. The culture of the llaneros, such as the Colombian cowboys, is truly unique in the country, and no visit to the Plains would be complete without taking a trip riding with the llaneros, learning to lasso and milk cows, and enjoying their propensity for poems and songs – the cow-milking and work songs of the llaneros are a UNESCO patrimony of humanity. Finca Campoalegre in Arauca and the Rancho Museo Llanerazo in Palenque are especially recommended for a taste of Llanos culture.

A real Colombian cowboy in the Llanos | © Chris Bell / Culture Trip

It’s a wildlife photographer’s dream

The vast open spaces and incredible dawn and dusk light of the Plains make for some excellent conditions for wildlife photography. During the dry season from December to March, wildlife clusters around the few available water sources meaning that photographers can get close to many different species at the same time, making for some stunning shots. If you don’t just want to see amazing wildlife, but photograph it, then the Llanos is the place to visit!

Go for amazing birding

The bird diversity of the Eastern Plains is another feather in its ecotourism cap (excuse the pun!), with hundreds of species to be spotted, including regional specialities such as the pale-headed jacamar, wire-tailed manakin, jabiru stork, and scarlet ibis. Birders will be in heaven in the Llanos – and don’t forget how easy so much of the species are to observe too.

Scarlet Ibis in Colombia | © Chris Bell

Meet the giant anteaters!

There’s really nothing more to say about this one: the photo below speaks a thousand (awesome) words. Look at the baby hanging on the back!

Giant Anteater in Colombia | © Chris Bell

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