San Agustín, Huila

We had a short amount of time in Colombia and none of us wanted to take a 10-hour overnight bus, but I was determined to make it out to San Agustín.  This was by far the most time efficient method. After much debate between the three of us, we all ended up deciding to go and I’m glad we did!

Our Arrival

As soon as we arrived in San Agustin, we were harassed by tour operators shoving brochures at us, telling us they had tours available and telling us to follow them to their office. After a long, overnight bus ride, this was by far the last thing we needed. Marc, always too nice to be rude, got sucked into a conversation with one tour operator who then overheard us telling the taxi the name of our hotel. He said he would come by later to tell us more. Wonderful.

Hotel Casa de Nelly is beautiful and the owner Arti was very welcoming. He brought us coffees, told us to relax in the hotel’s beautiful tropical garden, and let us check-in as soon as our room was ready.

As we were getting ready, guess who shows up? The tour operator! So aggressive. Marc dealt with it – he listened to the guy’s speal and then told him we didn’t have enough time and that was that. That was the truth. We were leaving the next day and really didn’t have a lot of time unfortunately.

The climate in San Agustín is completely different from Bogotá. Bogotá is at a much higher elevation and therefore cooler. San Agustín is humid and tropical. Once we were ready, we walked along the dirt road between the lush, green hills and bamboo forests toward the Archaeological Park.

San Agustín Archaeological Park

This park is really the only reason people visit San Agustín. Unfortunately, it’s so far out and difficult to get to, people often don’t make the effort to go (that was almost us!) Some people are satisfied with just seeing the single statue in the gold museum in Bogotá, but the actual park is amazing.

We started walking through the park and quickly realized how meaningless the states were without explanation and background. The signs provide little detail. Luckily, we stumbled upon an English tour guide giving a private tour to a family. I awkwardly asked if we could join and they were fine with it as long as we could help chip in for the “expensive” guide – 60,000 CLP ($20 USD equivalent).  Between the three of us and the family, it was like nothing for American standards! The statues was exponentially more interesting after we joined the tour.

The park was discovered in 1947 and is the biggest cemetery/burial grounds in the world. The pre-Colombian site is still mostly a mystery. Archaeologists haven’t even figured out the name of the people who once lived here. They believe the site may have been establish as early as 3300 BC, long before the Spanish arrived. What they know for certain so far is that the burials were mostly for the important people in the society and that men and women were treated equally.

From what we saw, there are statues with Egyptian and Asian influences even though there was no way they had traveled that far back then. Conclusion? They must have been on hallucinogens. That’s how they explain the statues of gorillas, which they don’t have in South America of course and the statues with the Egyptian headdress. Apparently that is the general belief and how they explain a lot that can’t be explained. A few of the statues do have bulging, drugged-out eyes…

The purpose behind these statues was to protect the dead. A lot of them have animal and human features (i.e. monkey fangs). When they were buried, they were also buried in urns with pottery and gold objects. These objects are no longer held in San Agustin due to grave robbers. A lot of them are held in the Gold Museum in Bogota, which we saw just two days prior. It was pretty cool seeing it all come together.

They also carved these figures into a river where they bathed and performed ceremonies. There are many theories about the river. One is that this is where they gave birth because there is a carving of a face coming out from between two legs and there are apparently nine streams that likely represents the nine-month gestation period. You can barely see it in the pictures but there are lizards, faces, and various animals carved into the stones. 

These statues are scattered all over the area and the Archaeological Park is just one of the most concentrated regions with statues. There are a few other sections you can go to but we didn’t have the time, so we headed to a nearby viewpoint.

La Chaquira

After our tour, we headed to El Tablon and La Chaquira.We didn’t have a lot of time at that point before sunset so we really had to hussle. We ran into people who did this trip by horseback which seemed a lot more pleasant than running/walking along the rocky and muddy path. But we made it!

We saw the back of the statues at El Tablon and reached La Chaquira for an amazing view of the valley. Not only is there a view, but on the side of the rocky mountain is a big rock carving. The size of it in its location was very impressive.

San Agustin was totally worth the 10-hour overnight bus ride. If you are on the fence about heading here, just do it. It’s a beautiful place and the history is amazing!

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