The best-preserved funerary complexes of the Agustinian culture are found at Alto de los Ídolos. The park stands out for its very particular characteristics in the representation of anthropomorphic and zoomorphic sculptures, their dimensions, the presence of sarcophagi and ceremonial baths made from stone, and the paintings of both the statues and the sepulcher and temple walls. The tallest figure in the park measures seven meters.
The San Agustín Archaeological Park, located on the Department of Huila, is the only place in the world highlighted by 500 imposing stone statues carved in accordance to the mythology of their Indian sculptors.
Most of the statues were part of the funerary paraphernalia of the ancient inhabitants of the area and were related to funerary rites, the spiritual power of the dead, and the supernatural world.
the four mesitas (small man-made hills), where monumental funerary complexes, stone statues, tombs, and artificial monticules may be admired;
the Bosque de las Estatuas (forest of statues), where 39 statues stand in the open air amid the flora of the region
The horse riding tour started in the morning from El Maco. We made the first stop just after a few kilometres to the north, in El Tablón, which is said to be dedicated to the Moon Deity. The site keeps an interest by the splendour of the landscape. You can see six sculptures in their original setting and visit the Museo Etnográfico. Several utensils developed by ancient cultures are preserved and you find them on display in this museum, together with some old tools and machines. Entrance fee was 2000 COP (December 2008).
There is a small café and the accommodation in cabins and you can have a Mayan horoscope cast. Since I'm very much interested in Mayan culture, I asked the guy to make it for me.
Alternatively, El Tablón also makes for a nice short walk from the town.
Declared by UNESCO a World Heritage, Alto de los Ídolos is the second-most important archeological park in the region. It's far less visited and a bit smaller, but equally impressive as the Parque Arqueologico in San Agustin. It is located on the left margin of the Río Magdalena, 26 km north of San Agustín. It can be also reached from San José de Isnos (5 km northeast).
The best-preserved funerary complexes of the Augustinian culture are found at Alto de los Ídolos. The park stands out for its characteristics in the representation of sculptures, their dimensions and the presence of sarcophagi and ceremonial baths made from stone. Here is also the tallest statue of the area (seven metres). Alto de los Ídolos is placed in a beautiful setting of green hills. The views from the top are amazing.
The site is open 08:00am-04:00pm and the entrance fee was 7000 COP (December 2008).
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Horse riding is one of the most popular activities in the region. You can just stroll the surrounding or visit the archeological sites and other places of interest. The countryside provides a spectacular scenery for horse riding tours. Our guide Pacho was recommended by René, the owner of El Maco. We met Pacho a night before the tour so we could talk to him about the places that we were going to visit. The price depends on the number of people that take the tour.
The horses were well-kept and he chose very carefully the right horse to each of us (mine was white Mariposa). Paco is very knowledgeable about the area, nice and friendly guy. One the tour I had my camera on the string around the neck. During horse galloping the string tore and I suddenly found I had lost my camera :( Paco went back and soon found it - in mud! Fortunately it was in the photo bag so there was not much damage. And of course, he cleaned it before he deliver it to me :)
We visited El Tablón, La Chaquira, La Pelota and El Purutal. Pacho left us in front of Parque Arqueologico San Agustín. The site requires at least three hours so there was no use to wait for us. Before the visit we had a snack and drink in the bar outside the park. We returned to El Maco by taxi.
Bosque de las Estatuas (Forest of Statues) is a little tropical forest with 39 stone figures of different origins. They are placed along the trail that snakes through the forest and are surrounded by the flora of the region. The statues were originally found in remote areas and then brought and grouped for display in a natural forest setting.
The walk is very nice. You can appreciate the statues as they would have looked when they were created, now preserved by the local authorities and once again revered. Here in the forest they sit in ample space, protected and set against a backdrop of roots and dump closeness of the jungle.
Bosque de las Estatuas is part of Parque Arqueológico and is the nearest site to the entrance.
From Fuente de Lavapatas a path winds up to the Alto de Lavapatas where the oldest archeological site is located. The climb is quite steep but it's worth the effort. When you reach the top of the hill you can see a series of wonderful statues. There are the oldest tombs and a children's cemetery protected by a beautifully carved large Doble Yo statue.
The site is somehow mystical and we felt like staying a little longer. Just sitting on the grassy ground and relax. The panoramic view over the surrounding countryside is very beautiful.
Founded in 1935 and declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, Parque Arqueológico is the biggest archeological site (78 hectares) and only about 3 km from San Agustín. It's a complex with several spaces of great archeological importance. There are at least 130 statues carved by ancient sculptors and collect from other places as well.
The park is formed by three mesitas on which there are dolmens with deities under them. There are over 35 figures, some of them are up to 5 metres high. Then you'll continue to the stream at the Fuente de Lavapatas where the water runs through carved channels. From here there is a path to the Alto de Lavapatas with the oldest archeological site. The park also includes the Bosque de las Estatuas and there is the Museo Arqueológico at the entrance to the park which contains beautiful pieces of sculptoral art of San Agustín culture, pottery and artefacts.
It is open daily 08:00am-04:00pm. Entrance fee was 7000 COP (December 2008). Guided tours are in Spanish but they can be also arranged in other languages. You'll need at least three hours to get a good idea of the park.
From El Tablón there is a 3 km dirt downhill path through the countryside. In a spectacular setting half way down a canyon you'll find the massive rock carvings La Chaquira, perhaps the most impressive site of San Agustín. There are several figures, including La diosa de la Chaquira (the goddess of Chaquira). The main figure, with its hands up in worship position, faces the impressive canyon of the the Río Magdalena. Its expression is beautifully integrated into the magnificent landscape.
The site offers a breathtaking views over the fairy-tale landscape with Río Magdalena running through and waterfalls on all sides.
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Archeological sites La Pelota and El Purutal are quite close to each other. La Pelota is known for two pieces, a warrior and an eagle with a snake carved in rock, that display an extraordinary perfection of sculptural art. El Purutal is a possible ceremonial site whose statues of the king (which is about to sacrifice a child) and the queen yet preserve the colourful paint of their creators. They are the only painted statues of San Agustín culture, located in the middle of the forest on a hilltop.
These sites are further out of town. Those who enjoy the outdoors will find a great way to combine visits of archeological sites with trekking through this magical valley.
After the night journey from Bogotá I arrived in El Maco at about 08:00 in the morning. To my surprise I met an American that I already knew from Platypus; he was just having his breakfast. He told me that he and three more people (another American and a Kiwi couple) were going to take a jeep tour in about half an hour and asked me if I would be also interested.
I did not want to 'loose' a day so I really wanted to join. And besides, I did not need to do anything. The guys talked to the driver already the previous night so they more or less agreed about the tour and the price. I just wanted to take a quick shower and have a breakfast before the tour.
First we visited El Estrecho, the narrowest point of Río Magdalena (only 2,20 metres wide). The next stop was a small village Obando and then two archeological parks, Alto de los Ídolos and Alto de las Piedras. We had lunch in a small town San José de Isnos. On the way we also visited a sugar cane factory. Our final stop was at a beautiful 400 m waterfall Salto de Bordones.
We drove through amazing landscape, very green and lush, and were rewarded with magnificent views of the surrounding mountainous countryside.
It was a full day trip and we payed 30.000 COP each (December 2008). Lunch and the entrances were not included.
Our jeep tour was slowly coming to its end. We made the last stop at Salto de Bordones which is said to be Colombia's highest waterfall (400 metres) and second highest in South America. We left the car and walked down the winding path to the valley. After 15 minutes of trail we were almost in front of the waterfall. The view of the waterfall, protected by high mountains and dense vegetation, was quite impressive.
After that we returned to San Agustín. We were all staying in El Maco. In the evening we were going to meet with the guide to talk about the next day horse riding tour.
On a small hill 6 km north of San José de Isnos is another archeological park, Alto de las Piedras. This orchid-adorned place contains nine burial mounds. It has a few interesting tombs and monoliths, including the famed three-dimensional Doble Yo with four carved figures. All the statues that were found there preserve their original colour, just as the tombs do.
The figure of a human with enormous canine teeth stands out among them. A representation of a character with human and animal features rests on his head. Notable is also the statue of a pregnant woman.
The site is open 08:00am-05:00pm and there was no entrance fee.
In the south of the high valley of Río Magdalena, only a few kilometres north of El Estrecho, is a village Obando. The area is known for the cultivation of bamboo, figs, avocado, coffee and its main product, sugar cane. Its name was given in honour of the person who donated the land where it stands today, Rodolfo Obando.
The village has Parque Museo where you find eight tombs (out of thirty that were excavated) which were conservated. The small museum exhibits pottery (vessels and other pieces), grinding stones, paintings, among others. A small souvenir shop is attached to the museum.
The entrance fee was 2000 COP (December 2008).
Around San Agustín there are several spectacular sites worth a visit for its natural beauty. One of them is El Estrecho (the strait), a point where Río Magdalena is rnarrowed by massive rock formations and forced through a 2,20 metres wide corridor. This is the narrowest point of Colombia's main river in its over 1500 km course to the sea.
Situated 9 km from San Agustín, El Estrecho is framed in a beautiful landscape and the view is outstanding from where you look. It really is a place worth visiting.