The lovely little town of San Agustin, located in the southern Colombian department of Huila, is an increasingly popular travel destination. People from around the world are drawn to San Agustin for its world-class coffee, UNESCO World Heritage archaeological sites, and beautiful Andean landscapes. Read on to discover the best things to see and do on your visit to San Agustin.
The principal reason for visiting San Agustin is to visit its UNESCO World Heritage Site, the San Agustin Archaeological Park. This impressive park is home to hundreds of examples of the mysterious pre-Columbian statues and burial mounds which have made San Agustin famous worldwide. If you have time for one thing in San Agustin, then it has to be the archaeological park.
Two more essential pre-Columbian sites closer to the small town of Isnos, Alto de Las Piedras and Alto de Los Idolos are best visited as part of a day-trip that includes the Magdalena Strait and Bordones Waterfall, and are important stops for anyone with an interest in ancient South American cultures. The statues here are newer and more detailed and show an interesting variation from those on show at the main archaeological park.
The source of the Magdalena River (see below) is located not far south of San Agustin, and the Magdalena Strait – Estrecho del Magdalena – is known as the narrowest point of Colombia’s mightiest river. The nascent river is squeezed through a narrow canyon just under 3m (9.84 ft) in width and the surrounding landscape and rushing river make for a beautiful sight.
Colombia’s longest river is still a raging torrent close to San Agustin so it’s possible to take a day-trip to go white-water rafting close to the Magdalena Strait. Although there are perhaps better rafting sites in Colombia, there’s nowhere else where you can enjoy a day white-water rafting on the most important river in the country.
The San Agustin Archaeological Park is far from the only important site in the region, in fact, the entire San Agustin region is surrounded by a series of important burial sites and statues. Two of the most interesting are La Pelota and El Purutal; these sites are farther afield and you will need to hire horses to reach them comfortably in a day, but the reward is a series of unique statues, many of which still retain colourful patterns.
This mysterious archaeological site is located a short distance outside San Agustin and is also best reached on horseback. A narrow ridge descends through a stunning valley to reach a precipitous viewpoint over the Magdalena River below and carved on the boulders surrounding you are a series of mysterious faces and monstrous figures, remnants of a culture about which virtually nothing concrete is known.
A visit to the Obando Archaeological Park might be one for the pre-Columbian history purists only: this site lacks many of the mysterious and unique statues that can be seen at the other important parks; however, what Obando does have is a large number of ancient tombs that you can actually enter, unlike any of the other parks.
As you can see from some of the other activities in San Agustin, one of the most enjoyable and popular activities in the town is to rent a horse and take a ride through the stunning surrounding mountains and coffee farms. Whether you choose to combine your horseriding trip with a visit to some of the other historical sites is up to you; you could simply just hire horses and head off to explore the beautiful landscapes.
Salto de Bordones – or Bordones Waterfall – is the highest single-drop waterfall in the country with a height of around 490m (1,607 ft). Located near to the town of Isnos, the ‘falls tumble down into a spectacular, jungle-covered canyon. Although there is no access to the base of Bordones, the viewpoint offers a stunning view across the valley to the distant waterfall.
The Laguna del Magdalena is the legendary source of the most important river in Colombia, and can only be reached via a gruelling trek through the Paramo de Las Papas, a misty, isolated moorland south of San Agustin. It can take up to three days to visit the sacred lake, but you can hire horses for some of the trickier sections. There are several tour operators in San Agustin who offer the trek.