History buffs rejoice: there’s a host of ancient sites in Colombia that beg to be discovered, from age-old megaliths in the western part of the country, to crumbling Tayrona sites in the north; and many more in-between. Read on to find out which ones we think are the most unmissable ancient sites in Colombia of all – we hope you’ll feel inspired to learn more about this country’s intriguing heritage.
San AgustinSan Agustin Archaeological Park is one of the most fascinating ancient sites in Colombia, quite unlike anything else to be found in South America. The impressive megaliths and monuments are thousands of years old, all to be found in a protected park west of the country that covers 116 hectares. Housed in ‘Mesitas’, it is believed that they were constructed between 1-900 AD, as a funerary site to commemorate the elite members of society at the time. As you wander through this intriguing park, you’ll come across statues of gods, animals and even fountains hewn from bedrock in the middle of a stream, as well as terraces, mounds and an accompanying museum that is well worth taking the time to explore.
To reach San Agustin, you need to take a flight from Bogota to Neiva, and from there make the five-hour drive south. While in the area, you might also like to visit El Tablon and La Chaquira for more historical remnants, or head off on a horseback ride through the charming countryside.
La Ciudad PerdidaLa Ciudad Perdida, ‘The Lost City’, is an incredible Colombian archaeological site built by the Tayrona civilisation, hidden in the Sierra Nevada south of Santa Marta, which can only be accessed on a multi-day hike. The trail takes you through mixed terrain, passing waterfalls, rivers and native wildlife that live in this most pristine rainforest, so the journey is one filled with exhilarating moments and dazzling sights at every turn. When you arrive at La Ciudad Perdida, you are sure to be filled with awe as you gaze at its centuries-old ceremonial sites, terraces, aqueducts, pathways and bridges, which were only rediscovered in the 1970s. With a backdrop of lush green jungle, and few visitors due to the lack of infrastructure to get here, the ancient architecture is all the more breathtaking – and camping out in nature is an adventurer’s dream!
Start your expedition to the Lost City in Santa Marta, on Colombia’s Caribbean Coast, where your guide picks you up and takes you to the start of the hiking route that leads into the Sierra Nevada. After your visit, you could take the time to relax on the beaches of Tayrona National Park, where another ancient site – El Pueblito – can be found.
TierradentroIf you’ve made the journey west to encounter the megalithic statues of San Agustin Archaeological Park, you might want to linger on in order to marvel at Tierradentro, another pre-Hispanic site found five hours north of San Agustin. Any effort to get here is rewarded with the sight of beautiful, undulating hills in this rural corner of Colombia, which you can admire before heading down to the archaeological site itself. Tierradentro is made up of crypts, at Alto Segovia and Alto del Duende, buried deep in the hills outside of San Andres. Emblazoned with ornate paintings, you’ll soon understand why this has been classed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As deep as nine metres below ground level, these tombs are the resting site of Tierradentro’s ancient elite, reflected in the artwork seen here. As you descend into this subterranean funerary site by candlelight, take in the images of animals, patterns and human figures; a surreal experience indeed.
Tierradentro is a five-hour drive from San Agustin, so combining the two archaeological sites is a good idea and gives you a greater historical perspective of the region. From Tierradentro, Neiva Airport is 3.5 hours by car, where you can catch a flight back up north to Bogota.
El PueblitoMore than 500 years old, El Pueblito is where the remains of an ancient village can be admired, up in the hills of Tayrona National Park. This preserved hamlet reveals some of the details of a typical Tayrona settlement, awash with stone bridges, thatched roofs and mossy pathways, which you can explore at your own pace on a guided tour. This is a great option for those who don’t have the time (or adventurous spirit) for a long trek to La Ciudad Perdida, as you can visit in just a day! What’s more, the three-hour, round-trip hike bestows you with captivating jungle views, as you trek uphill through the trees and pass beguiling wildlife along the way, such as land Crabs, Butterflies and perhaps a Tamarin Monkey or two.
You can visit El Pueblito while staying in the verdant Tayrona National Park, on the Caribbean Coast, and spend days in-between navigating the many unspoilt beaches of the region. The colourful city of Cartagena is a few hours’ drive away and is a must-see destination of Colombia, which you will probably want to experience either before or after your El Pueblito excursion.
Villa de Leyva: Muisca Sites and Dinosaur RuinsThe ominously named El Infiernito (‘Little Hell’) is thought to be an astronomy site of the Muisca civilisation, made up of more than a hundred stone carvings found just outside the quaint colonial village of Villa de Leyva. With a fair few of these figures resembling phallic shapes, it is believed to have been used for fertility rituals too, and there are also burial mounds dotted around the site. Another Muisca ruin nearby is Sogamoso, which has a superb museum encasing over 4,000 artefacts from the civilisation, and can be unearthed on an excursion to Tota Lagoon before or after staying in the lovely Villa de Leyva. Then, if you want to go back even further in time, head out of town to admire a 150 million-year-old fossil that was found in the area. A museum – Museo El Fosil – has been created around the remains of an ancient dinosaur known as a Kronosaurus who almost looks entirely intact and is nearly seven metres long..!
Villa de Leyva and its surrounding Muisca and dinosaur ruins can be easily reached from Bogota, a few hours’ drive north of the Colombian capital. While in Villa de Leyva, take the time to stroll through its pretty cobbled streets, popping into churches like the Convento del Santo Ecce Homo or the Iglesia Parroquial on the large plaza.
Click here to discover Muisca archaeological sites and dinosaur fossils on our Colombia Highlights Tour.
If you’re feeling inspired to discover some of these amazing ancient sites of Colombia, head to our trip planner and tailor a tour to suit your tastes. Handpick the hotels and activities you want, adjust the durations depending on how long you want to stay in each place, and have fun in the process! Surtrek is always at hand to help out. Call us on 1 866 978 7398 (Canada and USA) or 080 8189 0438 (UK) to talk to an expert, and Discover Your South America with Surtrek!