Open the door to the jungle and enter into Colombia’s selva
in El Guaviare. Find out about the places you need to visit in this diverse area, where you can hike through the jungle and get back in touch with nature.
The department of Guaviare is located in the southeastern part of Colombia. The capital is San Juán de Guaviare, which is actually quite a small town, compared to other cities in Colombia. This city is the starting point for most tours you can experience in El Guaviare. Discover a part of Colombia, that not many tourists have been to yet, but which has a great potential to become one of Colombia’s top destinations.
What you need to see
If you want to take a look into the past, then you should visit the Cerro Azul. Here you get to see rock formations, that are painted over and over with ancient pictographs. It’s still not completely clear what exactly the meaning behind these pictures is as some are showing animals and others depict geometrical forms. But some are telling small stories about people going hunting. Knowing that these paintings originated more than 1000 years ago really is impressive. The hike towards Corro Azul is also worth it, as you pass through tunnels and from the hill, you have an amazing view.
Ciudad de Piedra - Stone City
The name says it all. This place seems to be an entire city built of stone. But it’s not literally a city since it’s not built by man, but by water. These million-year-old stones that occur in all kinds of shapes, where formed by the power of the sea. Some smaller stones carry huge rocks and even tunnels were formed, through which you can climb. Erosion has really done art here.
The Portal de Orion
Another impressive stone formation is the Portal de Orion (the door of Orion). This is quite a famous sight in El Guaviare. During December you are supposedly able to see the Orion through the stones window. But even if you are not there in December this place has something magical to it.
Portal de Orion
Not far away from the Portal de Orion, you can see one of Colombia’s red rivers. Caño Sabanas is maybe not as known as Caño Cristales, but it’s the same river, just called differently in El Guaviare. Located close to the impressive stone, you can combine those two sights and after the hike, you can take a refreshing bath in the river. Just pay attention that you didn’t apply sunscreen or mosquito repellent before you go into the water, as the algae that color the river, are quite sensitive to chemicals. The algae bloom from June to November, which is when the rivers appear red, and the best chances to see it in all its beauty you’ll have on a sunny day. Don’t miss this stunning natural spectacle.
What you should not miss doing
Exploring El Guaviare’s wildlife
Being considered the door to the jungle, Guaviare also has a great variety of wildlife to offer. You can watch different kinds of birds like parrots and toucans, observe monkeys while the hop from one tree to the next or even go swimming with pink dolphins in Damas del Nare Lake. Since these beautiful animals have always been treated with respect from the local indigenous people, they are not shy to humans, so you really get the chance to get close to them.
Swimming with pink dolphins
Visiting the Indigenous People
If you want to get to know a completely different culture, make sure to visit one of the indigenous people that live in this area. Many different groups are living here, but the only tribe that originally comes from El Guaviare is the Nukak Maku, who are living a nomadic life, hunting and gathering their food. The first time the world got to know about the Nukak Maku was in the ‘80s. Sadly the contact with other people has had disadvantages for the indigenous, as they are now confronted with diseases like influenza, to which they have no immunization.
Another tribe living in this area are the Tucanos. If visiting them, make sure to try their traditional food, like fish with cassava (yuca) and plátano
(plantain), served on a palm tree leave. It is also very interesting to get an introduction to their religious beliefs. You can for example visit one of their malocas
, which is their place for reunions and religious ceremonies. Most tribes also have a shaman, who works as a connection between nature and people. He is the one defining the people’s diet since he decides in which season the people can go fishing or hunting or which fruits can be collected in order not to exploit nature. Also, a very interesting fact that most indigenous tribes in this area have in common is that they are multilingual. Speaking up to 4 different indigenous languages is quite normal. Due to the reason that only people from different tribes can get married, they have to learn various languages.
Typical Tucano dish
Historical impact in El Guaviare
In the past El Guaviare has been considered to be too dangerous to be traveled to, since this region has been deeply involved in the armed conflict. But since the peace agreement has been signed in 2016, things are changing. The government has taken some actions to reincorporate people into society, who have been involved with the FARC guerilla fighters (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) in the past. Therefore they developed the ETCR (Espacio Territoriales de Captación y Reincorporación, Territorial space for caption and reincorporation). These places are like small villages, which are usually located in rural areas of the country, where the ex-guerrilla fighters get to start over again. They are cultivating a lot of vegetables, so they can live almost self-sustaining. The ETCR in El Guaviare contains about 300 families, who are involved in different projects like reforestation or producing jams.
Producing Bell Pepper jam in El Guaviare
Finca de Coca
Not only the armed conflict has had a large impact on the department of Guaviare, but also the drug traffic. Due to the geographical location, this place was perfect for growing coca, hidden in the jungle, and also to install coca labs. Fighting the war against drugs, the government used glyphosate to destroy the plants. Sadly this did not only destroy the base for the drug production but also contaminated the soil of this area. Which again caused massive problems for the local population. Not able to continue their farming, many were forced to engage in the drug trade to make a living. Nowadays you can visit the Finca de Coca
to learn how they used to produce cocaine in the past. To process cocaine, there are many chemicals used such as fuel and acetone. So keep in mind: coca doesn’t equal cocain. Besides informing tourists about how cocaine was produced, the farm is now also used to grow different trees, which are typical for this region, like the açia tree.
A guide explaining about coca
For now, El Guaviare is a remote place, but it offers that many stunning sights, that more and more tourists get attracted by this diverse Colombian district. Where else can you get insight on the past of a country, get to see ancient wall paintings, marvel at the wonders of nature, explore wildlife and experience a completely distinct culture, visiting indigenous people of the area?