Desierto de Tatacoa, sweltering heat|Colombia

Imagine a lunar landscape but with trees. Imagine red earth there. Add another 40 degrees and voila: Desierto de Tatacoa. Desierto de Tatacoa is a misleading name. It is not originally a desert, but a “tropical dry forest. Although this was 2.5 million years ago. Eventually the climate changed so much that it became a desert. The Tatacoa Desert covers 330 square kilometers and is the second largest dry zone in Colombia. Tatacoa in Spanish means rattlesnake. To one of its inhabitants who can survive in the sweltering heat.

On the road and yellow fever vaccine

Our journey to this red Tatacoa baking dish began early. At 5:00 in the morning we took the bus from Villa de Leyva to Bogota. After 3 hours of winding roads, we were happy to arrive at Central Terminal in Bogota. For me it was very pleasant, because in the Netherlands I had forgotten to get a yellow fever vaccine. The Colombian government has a yellow fever vaccination program. For its own residents, but so it is also possible for tourists to get it for free. Lucky me, because a yellow fever malaise was not something I was waiting for. It took a while to find where the little office was. But at Terminal 4, you can get a free jab. It’s a small one and you walk right past it. So take a closer look. When they have vaccinated you, you will also be given a certificate. The vaccine works for 10 years. The vaccine works after 10 days. And costs 30 euros in the Netherlands depending on the municipality where you live.

Fully protected, we took the bus to Neiva with our final destination being Desierto de Tatacoa. We had a super luxury bus, with wifi! During the trip, you saw many checkpoints with accompanying soldiers. This is normal in Colombia. The president has invested heavily to make Colombia safer. Occasionally the bus would stop, the soldiers would look in at the checkpoints and we would be allowed to pass. After six hours of driving, we arrived at Neiva. There we had to change buses to the village of Villavieja which is 38 km away. You can choose to stay overnight in Villavieja (which is really a cute little village) or in the Desierto de Tatacoa itself. We chose the latter.

Things to do in Desierto de Tatacoa

We slept in a simple room with basic amenities at Posadero Noches de Saturno. The toilet was a cubicle with a shower curtain as a door. The shower was a garden hose down. A headlamp is essential. When you still want to see what you rub in at night while showering. Breakfast was included. We paid 50,000 COP per night. By the way, you can also pitch your tent here. When you sleep here, you can immediately go hiking in the Tatacoa. Or go to the Astronomical Observatory. The sunsets are also very beautiful. And how about the starry sky once darkness has fallen. Wonderful. The area is also quite suitable for astronomy.


We hiked in El Cuzco area of Desierto de Tatacoa. We soon lost track, so decided to just walk around. The silence combined with the heat quickly grabs around you. I felt myself becoming very small and insignificant. Meter-high cacti and beautiful clay formations. Go out as early as possible. It gets really hot after 11 a.m., best to just lie by the (small but effective) pool then. We stayed for 2 nights. You can also continue on to a large lake where you can swim. Since we got off to a somewhat late start, we were unable to do this. We did hear okay stories about it. You could also do this just fine on your own during your visit to Desierto de Tatacoa. So you basically don’t need a guide. However, it is helpful that you speak a word of Spanish. At Posadero Noches de Saturno I had telephone coverage, during our walk I did not. Wifi is not there. This is useful to know. Do let people know when you are leaving and approximately what time you will return. Just in case.

Vegetarian food in Desierto de Tatacoa

Anyone expecting haute cuisine in a remote place like the Desierto de Tatacoa has most likely not been outside the city very often. Fortunately, it wasn’t too bad. We got rice with raw vegetables and some ketchup and egg. Not pompous but it filled our stomachs and was not gross! That they had something edible even in the middle of nowhere gave us hope. And it was also somewhat varied. Because one night we had the eggs with rice and the other night we had something with a tofu-like substance. Although Sander liked that better than I did. They also had Coke. Cold Coke. Nothing is better than a nice cold coke after a day of wandering around in 40 degrees and lying in a hammock. You could even take a dip in the pool to cool off. Delicious!!! Posada Noches de Saturno is basic, but fine.

After the sweltering silence in the Desierto de Tatacaoa, we traveled on to the mysterious statues of San Agustin. Which, to this day, little is still known about….