Secret Colombia: the Wonders of Guaviare

Michael Harrington | 

Colombia is a land of dramatic contrasts and no better place to witness this variety is the region of Guaviare on the fringes of the Amazon rainforest. We recently took an insightful and breath-taking trip to the region courtesy of our good friends at ProColombia. The reason the area has been a “secret” is that for over 30 years the area suffered from the conflict between the FARC guerrillas and government forces. It was also an area of cocaine production and as a result the region was marked as off-limits to visitors and thus seldom visited as a whole.

However, since the 2016 Peace Agreement a dramatic change has taken foot with locals now stopping their illegal activities and now working in farming as well as sustainable ecotourism.

First up, the Colombian people could not be more friendly and hospitable from the moment I arrived to the day I left. I’ve travelled to Colombia almost a dozen times, but this would be the first time to visit an area like this…and I wasn’t disappointed. So, on day 1 we departed by private plane from Bogota to San Jose del Guaviare, capital of the region, and after a brief touchdown to refuel in the tropical sunshine we set off once again…this time for the Chiribiquete National Park. The Park is Colombia’s largest spanning an massive 43,000 sq km it’s largest than some European countries such as the Netherlands. But the area is completely prohibited to outsiders thus preserving the indigenous inhabitants (some of whom have no contact with the Western world), the incredibly rich wildlife as well as incredible ancient art some believe dates back over 15,000 years, possibly more.

The central area of the Park is domination by ancient Tepuis, towering table-top mountains that date back to the dawn of time and lay almost completely unexplored. It’s a fascinating window into one of the wildest, most untouched spots on the planet. Oh what it would be like to land!

The next day we set off to visit a famous mountain peak called Cerro Azul in the Serrania de la Lindosa, much closer to civilization but still shrouded in dense vegetation and requires a few kilometres hike to reach its beautiful lookout.  En route we visit an ex-cocaine farmer who is now a strong advocate for ecotourism in the area who also sustains his family with 200 acres of land. His story is a sad, insightful but also inspiring one of how someone can turn their life around for the better.

Once we reach Cerro Azul after a short hike through hot and humid conditions, we’re met a mammoth wall of rock brilliantly adorned with extraordinarily well-preserved rock paintings dating back 12,000 years. Once we continue, we’re all surprised as we travel through the mountain and a bat-filled cave to the other side and once we reach it a spectacular vista unfolds. A truly wonderful day.

Day 2 offers less activity but no less surprising. After a 2-hour boat trip along the Rio Guayabero and we reach a switching point where we hop into a smaller boat and through the forest to a hidden lagoon. And what a surprise lays in store…pink river dolphins. And not only do we spot them, but we swim with them! These wonderfully charismatic creatures are very responsive to our guides calls of “hermosa!” (beautiful!) and not 1 but 3 adult dolphins appear and disappear over the next 2 hours through the murky tropical waters. Another fantastic day.

Our final day in the wonderful region takes us a bit closer to home…the Puerta Orion: a striking rock formation that forms as a door to the constellation Orion. Our leisurely (albeit hot!) hike brings up in contact with amazing predatory plants, the national flower of Guaviare as well as towering rock formation that do indeed resemble an ancient city so perfect are their lines. As forest opens up to savannah, we hear a babbling brook, but no ordinary brook. In fact, the beautiful Macarenia clavigera algae with its soft structure and vivid pink hues, it’s a beautiful and relaxing experience. The last finishes with a dip in cool waters fed by a picture-perfect waterfall and the perfect wind-down to a fascinating and memorable trip to Colombia’s secret heart.

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