The Tatacoa Desert in Colombia has always fascinated us, since the first moment we read about it in the Lonely Planet guide. Before we made our decision to embark on our adventure, we deliberated for quite some time whether getting to this remote location would take too long and be too complicated to reach. But this unique landscape of clay carved by wind and water was so different from anything we had experienced before…So, in the end, we decided to embark on our adventure to the Tatacoa desert!
Tatacoa desert is not technically a desert. Some may call it semi-desert and others say it’s a semi-arid dry tropical forest. The desert is divided into two main attractions. The red desert filled with rocky canyons that form dry labyrinths and the grey desert with natural colors that are interrupted by occasional green bushes.
Here you can read about why going on an adventure to the Tatacoa Desert was the best decision! We also share our advice on how to get there and what to do.
OUR ADVENTURE TO TATACOA DESERT: HOW TO GET THERE AND WHAT TO DO
HOW TO GET THERE
We took a bus, a moto-taxi, a canoe, and a tuk-tuk to get to Tatacoa desert but don’t worry, it sounds like more hassle then it actually is!
The closest town to the desert is Villavieja a small village in the center of Colombia. From Salento, a very touristic town famous for its super hight palm tree, we had to take a bus towards Neiva. And from Neiva, we were supposed to take a connecting bus to Villavieja. That was the plan… but the couple in line before us booked the last two direct bus tickets from Salento to Neiva!
Pro Tip: if you are in Salento (very touristy place) book your bus ticket in advance.
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That is where our adventure to Tatacoa actually began. We had to take a bus to Ibaguè and then a connecting one to Neiva. During our second bus towards Neiva we checked the GPS map we realized we were passing very close to Villavieja.
We asked the bus driver to dropped us in the middle of the road. We were at Aipe. Aipe is a little village separated from Villavieja just by a river.
From Aipe we took a moto-taxi to reach the little dock where we could cross the river and arrive straight to Villavieja. We paid 5.000 COP each for two moto-taxi for a 10 minutes ride. The moto-taxi dropped us at the “imbarcadero” where we paid 3.000 each to cross the river with a canoe. We finally arrived in Villavieja.
By doing this trick we shorten the trip of about 2 hours.
Fun Fact: We met again the couple who took the last two bus tickets, they just arrived while we were going out for dinner. We call it Karma!
WHERE TO SLEEP
We decided to stay in Villavieja but there is the possibility to sleep or camp in the desert. If you love watching the stars, the Tatacoa desert offers incredible stargazing. We already had our experience sleeping in the desert on the north coast of Colombia so we decided to stay in town. Villavieja offers different accommodations, we decided to stay at Hotel Piscina Paraiso*. Relatively cheap accommodation with basic rooms but with a swimming pool. It can get very hot next to the desert 😉 *Not to be confused with the fancy Hotel Paraiso.
The cheapest way to arrive in the desert is to go directly to the main square and take a Tuc-Tuc. Villavieja based its economy on tourism so many people will stop you from offering tours and transportation to the desert. We did it without a guide and we arrange our transportation when we needed it. Don’t over plan or book anything, it is so easy to explore the desert by yourself.
We paid 15.000 COP for the Tuc-Tuc that dropped us at the main entrance of the red desert.
From the main entrance, there is a small trail that gets down into the desert. We spent two hours wandering around the canyons taking pictures of every single cactus and crazy shape. We got lost several times in this beautiful maze and we suggest everybody do the same. But not to worry, there are some signs and benches around where you can read information and rest a bit.
FROM THE RED TO THE GRAY
The trail inside the red desert ends up on the main road, a few meters further the main entrance. From here you can catch a ride to the grey desert. Even though we like hiking we would not suggest you walk between the two deserts. The distance is very long and the sun very high in the sky. Either you stop a Tuc-Tuc or like us you take a moto-taxi. One moto for three people (the driver plus two passengers). The ride is about 15 minutes long and we paid 25.000 COP.
The moto-taxi dropped us at the main entrance, make sure to arrange your way back with your driver. The gray desert is less frequently visited compared to the red one.
We hiked the loop in the gray desert in 1.5 hours. At the end/beginning of the loop, there is a swimming pool where you can cool down after the hike.
We paid the moto-taxi back from the grey desert to Villavieja 30 COP.
From Villavieja there are “collectivos” every hour to go to Neiva. They all leave from the main square.
WHAT TO PACK
The heat and the sun in the desert can be very strong. Bring sunscreen, a hat, and plenty of water. We also recommend good hiking boots since the desert is covered by cactus and hard stones. Bring a swimsuit if you are planning to swim in the pool located in the grey desert and some snacks.
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WHY WE LOVED IT SO MUCH
Our adventure to the Tatacoa desert is something that we’ll never forget. It is touristic but due to its dimension, you rarely meet other people. We loved getting lost in this maze of red and gray surreal shapes. Tatacoa desert is a unique and special experience, totally worth the trip.
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