Become a Colombian Cowboy in the Great Eastern Plains

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

Colombia’s great Eastern Plains – or Llanos Orientales – consist of the regions of Arauca, Casanare, and Meta, and cover a vast area of the country. It’s also home to one of Colombia’s most unique and celebrated cultures: the llaneros, who are essentially Colombian cowboys. The llanos sees very little tourism, but if you visit you can discover this fascinating culture firsthand, and try your hand at becoming a Colombian cowboy.

The Eastern Plains of Colombia are a vast tropical grassland region crisscrossed with vast rivers and full of stunning wildlife. The plains also flood for almost six months of every year between May and October, when the heavy rains of the wet season can cause huge inland lakes of up to one meter in depth to temporarily form. Due to this consistent and heavy flooding, the grasslands were wholly unsuitable for most forms of agriculture before the development of modern farming technology. Therefore, during the era of Spanish colonialism, the principal economy of the llanos region was herding cattle, a tradition which has continued to this day.

As this archival image from the 1960s shows, llaneros have been herding cattle in the plains for many decades

The Colombian cowboys of the Eastern Plains are known as llaneros, which basically translates as ‘plainsmen.’ They have a reputation in Colombia (and Venezuela, which also counts on a huge plains region) for toughness and a certain wildness, partly borne out of their starring role in the Wars of Independence, when llaneros made up the bulk of the cavalry (for both sides of the conflict). However, their culture goes beyond simply herding cattle, and encompasses music, dancing, a love of nature, and many other unique aspects. No trip to the Eastern Plains – which many people enjoy for ecotourism purposes – would be complete without learning a little about llanero culture.

However, the principal culture of the llanero revolves around the 12 million or so cattle that live on the plains. They spend huge portions of the year herding these cattle between high and low ground to escape periods of extreme flooding and drought, and, naturally, are exceptionally skilled at riding horses, lassoing cows, and reading the landscapes of the plains. They often compete in contests known as coleos, where they compete to drag cattle to the ground (not dissimilar to a rodeo).

Llanero herdsmen in Casanare, Colombia

The other central pillar of llanero culture is music: a distinct type of music known as joropo is the principal musical expression of llanero culture, and the key instruments in the music of the Eastern Plains are the maracas, the harp, and a small guitar known as a cuatro. The lyrics of llanero songs are highly evocative of place and tend to emphasize place names, the names of birds and animals of the plains, cattle, horses, and a love for the outdoors. The dance is lively and boisterous, and a party in the llanos is never without a group of men in cowboy hats singing songs.
Llanero food is also a key component of their unique culture – unsurprisingly, the diet consists largely of meat, particularly beef and the meat of the capybara, a large rodent which is abundant on the plains. A llanero-style BBQ is easily one of the most popular typical meals to be found in Colombia, and BBQ joints are ubiquitous throughout the plains region.

A typical llanos BBQ

Tourism in the llanos is a relatively new and developing concept, but a key aspect of it is the universal appeal and romance of the llanero lifestyle – most tours in the region include riding, as well as typical llanos musical performances and even lessons in how to rope a cow or milk! Ecotourism ranches like Hato La Aurora and La Palmita in Casanare are excellent places to visit in order to enjoy not just an unbelievable wildlife experience, but also to discover the llanero culture. You could also attend one of the important festivals in the region, such as the Garcero del Llano Festival in Yopal, Casanare, the Festival del Joropo in Villavicencio, or the Cuadrillas de San Martín Festival in Meta department.

Dancing Joropo at the Festival del Joropo

One thing is for certain: while you may never actually get to be a Colombian cowboy, discovering and participating in their culture in the great Eastern Plains of Colombia is a unique and unforgettable experience for sure!

landscape with balloons floating in the air

KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?

Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.

Winter Sale Offers on Our Trips

Incredible Savings

X
Edit article