There are only a few daily buses from San Agustín to Popayán. You have to book ahead since some of them only stop if there are reservations. I booked a previous day at the Tourist Information Office on the main street (Calle 3). Next morning at breakfast I asked René, the owner of El Maco, to call a taxi for me. When the driver brought me to the office the guy explained that he was going to drive us (me and four more passengers) with his jeep to Pitalito which is about 6 km out from San Agustín. There we had to wait for the bus to Popayán.
It was a small Cootranshuila bus. The aisle was full of bags and boxes, and the driver kept picking up people along the way who ended up sitting on the floor. The dirt road to Popayán was rough (no asphalt pavement most of the way) but the view out of the window at the wonderful cordillera cloud forest hills was amazing. Since there was a lot of rain it was almost impassable at some points and the driver had to stop frequently to check the tyres. In the past, the road was controlled by guerilla soldiers. But nowadays it is safe with military presence along the way. We had a short stop for lunch at the place in the middle of nowhere.
From San Agustín to Popayán it's only about 130 km. The trip usually takes about 6-7 hours and so was mine. It seems I was quite lucky. The next day I met somebody who's journey took 12 hours. At the Popayán bus terminal I took a taxi to HostelTrail which was not very far.
I wanted to save some time so I took a night bus from Bogotá to San Agustín. To get from Platypus to the terminal I took a taxi. Due to very busy traffic it took almost an hour instead of usual 20-25 minutes and it costed 14.000 COP. Fortunately, I left early enough to catch my bus.
I took Pasajes Verdes bus at 09:30pm and payed 40.000 COP (December 2008). It seems this was a good price as all the other people I talked to payed from 45.000 to 48.000 COP. The bus was quite comfortable, with a toilet and TV showing movies. And I was relieved they did not put the air conditioning to the extreme cold temperatures as they usually do in Colombian night buses.
The landscape on the way is magnificent but as I took a night bus I could only enjoy a small part of it. The bus ride took a little more than 10 hours. The bus stopped right in front of the Tourist Office. From there I took a car to El Maco and payed 5.000 COP.
I came to San Agustin by bus from Popayan in 8 hours. You can also visit it from Bogota for a couple of days or get on the public bus and stay there more, hike and enjoy the bright pure nature. Hiking is as easy or difficult as you want it to be.
If you want to go to Tierradentro it will probably take you more than 6 hours as you will have to get on the the bus to Pitalito or to La Plata and then to Tierradentro. The journey is magnificent!!!
The tip from above continues...
After lunch we stopped at a few more garages and finally came to one that could repair the bus properly. After waiting for half an hour we saw the driver and the other man working on the bus crossing the road to sit down at one of the bars. I and the other two tourists (one from Colombia) did the same and had a beer.
When we came closer to Bogotá traffic was moving very slowly as many people were returning to the city after the weekend.
We arrived to the bus terminal in Bogotá late, about 14 hours after we had left San Agustin. I bought something to eat to bring to the hostel and then went to take one of the “safe” taxis to Platypus. To take a safe taxi from the terminal you will stand in line, say your destination to someone in a window and then you will get a recite with destination and price, and also a telephone number you can call if you have any complaints and the number of the car. This late it was 8800 pesos to Platypus from the terminal.
We were three persons leaving Casa de Nelly and San Agustin for Bogotá the same morning. The guide Pacho helped us with the tickets and brought them to us the evening before. The price between San Agustin and Bogotá, with Coomotor, was 44 000 pesos (August 2007). The direct bus for Bogotá is leaving very early (5.30am) so we left Casa de Nelly by foot at 5am (it was too early to get a car). It was still dark and I was happy not to walk this dark road alone.
While it had been cold in the bus from Bogotá it became very hot in this bus as the air condition didn’t seem to work. We were stopped once at a military checkpoint were all men had to be searched. Between that and lunch we got problems with the bus, a flat tyre I think. We had to stay in the closed bus while it was fixed, or at least I thought it was being fixed, but we continued with reduced speed and went to a few garages where no one seemed to be able to give us the help we needed.
Finally we stopped for lunch (and bathroom as the toilet in the bus didn’t work). We stopped at the same road café as on the way down and once again everyone seemed to eat different kind of breads. I was very hungry and asked for chicken, but it had to be quick as the bus were not stopping for too long. I got chicken, rice, potatoes, pasta and salad for 3500 pesos. I’m glad I had proper food as we still had many hours left until we reached Bogotá.
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I went up very early to go to the bus terminal. I didn’t have a reservation and thought a bus was leaving at 6.40 for San Agustin. From Platypus to the terminal this early in the morning a taxi was 8800 pesos (August 2007).
At the terminal I found out that the first bus to San Agustin was leaving at 7.00. I bought a ticket from Coomotor for 42 000 pesos (the first price was 46 000, but as I said it was expensive the women immediately gave me the other price). At the terminal there are several cafeterias and I had breakfast at Donkin Donuts (sandwich and coffee for 6200 pesos). If there is no bus direct to San Agustin you can also take a bus to Pitalito and change there.
The bus was rather small but comfortable, and there was a toilet. I had asked for a window seat as I wanted to see the scenery along the way. The disadvantage with sitting there was that the cold air condition was blowing out right above and a sweater was needed (at least on my right side).
The bus ride took 11 hours. About halfway we stopped to eat. After I came from the bathroom it seemed that everyone ate different breads (only the drivers had tamales). I thought there was no time to order anything else so I bought a yoghurt and some bread with cheese which I didn’t like. I was still very hungry and when we stopped at the terminal in Garzón (I think) I hurried to a cafeteria to buy lunch (meat, rice, salad and Pepsi for 6500 pesos).
The landscape is very beautiful at some parts and you can at several places see Magdalena River.
The bus arrived to San Agustin just as it started to get dark. As I didn’t know the way to Casa Nelly and didn’t want to try finding the way in the dark I took a car there for 5000 pesos. I asked for a taxi at the Tourist Office, which is situated just where the bus stops.
Visiting some of the outer lying areas would be very hard without some form of transport (IE you'd be walking a VERY long time). Unless you've got your own car, the best way to do so would be via a jeep tour.
The busses or jeeps bringing you to San Agustin will drop you off right in front of the tourist office, where you can book a jeep tour. The more people there are, the cheaper it is. Our tour had 6 people, as it's difficult to fit 6 people into the jeep, we were alternating at stops and sitting on the roof! It was great fun!
Anyways, this tour, for a very cheap price (but I forget exactly) brought us to some of the outer lying archeological parks as well as two waterfalls, and also a part of the Rio Magdalena known as El Estrecho, where you can swim.
Getting to/from San Agustin is safer than ever. There are direct busses to/from Popayan & Bogota, the latter being a very long bus ride.
If you are comming from elswere (as was the case with me), it's a pretty strait forward affair as well, though you will likely have to transfer at some point. I was comming from Inza but the same would apply if you were comming from San Andres/Tierradentro. There are no direct busses from these places. You'll need to catch a bus to La Plata. From La Plata, you might be able to catch a direct bus to San Agustin, I was told there are some, but I never found them. I made my way to Garzon by shared jeep, from Garzon I caught a bus to Pitalito and from Pitalito I was able to get a shared jeep to San Agustin.
If comming from Neiva or area, make your way via Garzon & Pitalito. From the south, go via Pitalito.
The easiest way to get there is by bus or truck. These usually don't opperate at night for fear of bandidos. I'd suggest you take it safe and travel during daytime in this region of Colombia.