If you want to discover the Tatacoa Desert in Columbia, you are in for an incredible adventure. This desert is the second largest desert zone in Colombia, the first one being the Guajira Peninsula. Tatacoa Desert covers 205 square miles and, you will need to follow a guide if you want to make the best out of your time here. You don’t want to take unnecessary risks while you are in the Tatacoa Desert, especially if you are going to bring your family with you.
Arriving in Tatacoa Desert
To arrive at the Tatacoa Desert, you will have to exchange several vehicles, unless you travel by your car or a rented car and a GPS. Once you get to Bogota or another major city in Colombia, you can catch a bus and even a flight to Neiva which is the capital of the Huila Department. Tatacoa Desert is 23 miles away from Neiva.
From the city of Neiva, you will have to get a colectivo car that will take you to Villavieja which is situated at the entrance of Tatacoa Desert. This drive should take about 45 minutes on average. But you are not in Tatacoa Desert just yet. At the edge of Villavieja, you will find a taxi station that can take you to the desert in about 15 minutes. Now, your adventure can begin!
Tatacoa Desert has plenty of hotels and hostels to choose from when you look for the best accommodation. You can find accommodation for all types of budget and the prices get even more affordable if you book your stay in advance. Here you will find luxurious, romantic hotels with impressive pools and cozy restaurants, surrounded by charming desert landscapes.
If you are on a budget, staying at a hostel will be the best choice for you and you will find everything you need. A budget-friendly but neat accommodation would be Qji Glamping Biohotel, where you can also find a pool and all the services you need right next to the Astronomical Observatory.
On the other side of the spectrum, you can choose to stay at fancier hotels such as La Casa del Angel Hotel, which is in Villavieja, not very far from the Dessert’s attractions.
It is a lot easier if you set up your budget before you look for the best accommodation. If you do that, you will know what type of hotel or hostel to look at, according to your finances and, you will find something that will help you feel comfortable!
To see all the fascinating attractions this desert has to offer, you might need to stay at least three days. But even if you can’t spend this time in the Tatacoa Desert, here are some of the best things you can see and do here!
One of the best things to do in Tatacoa is stargazing. There is an impressive Astronomical Observatory to support you in this respect so you can see the stars closer than you would with your naked eye.
The Astronomical Observatory you will find here has several telescopes you can use to observe the stars and there is an expert available that will give you valuable information. Since the sky is clear most of the year, you will have perfect conditions to see stars you will not get the chance to see from other parts of the world.
The Red Desert
Another thing you should check out while you are in Tatacoa is the red desert. The red desert is one of the main areas of the Tatacoa desert, along with the grey desert. You will find out that the red desert area is known under the name of the Cuzco area as well. Here, the earth and sand are red, giving you an impressive experience. You will feel like you just landed on a different planet as soon as you experience the red desert of Tatacoa. Here you will take fabulous pictures and experience astonishing scenarios.
Los Hoyos pool
Los Hoyos is an inviting natural pool formed in between the rocky background of the grey desert of Tatacoa. This pool has spring water and it is the best place to take a swim and relax. Considering the hot weather you will find in the Tatacoa Desert, a break at the Los Hoyos will be more than welcome and you can enjoy some great drinks while you relax inside this natural pool too.
On your way to Tatacoa Desert, you will most likely pass through Villavieja town. But instead of rushing towards the desert, you could spend a couple of hours here checking out the paleontology museum, where you will find over 600 fossils found in Tatacoa. These fossils are from the Miocene period and, some are even unique in the world. Plus, you will discover great spots to relax in Villavieja and enjoy some delicious morning coffee. So, when you find yourself in Villavieja, make sure to give this small town a chance because it has its gems to offer!
The Grey desert
As we mentioned previously, the grey desert and the red desert make up most of the charm of the Tatacoa area. Also known as the Los Hoyos desert, this desert is one of the most attractive areas in Tatacoa. The grey desert is rocky and looks very similar to the surface of the moon, which will fascinate you from the beginning. The rocky formations will spark your interest as soon as you see them, and the contrast between the grey desert and the red desert is impressive to the eye. Get ready to snap plenty of pictures and enjoy at least one sunset in this surreal area of the grey desert!
Bike ride or horseback ride experience
Tatacoa Desert offers plenty of opportunities to go for a bike ride. You can go for a bike tour by renting all the equipment you need. During such a tour, you will go by the most interesting highlights in the area and you will enjoy some exercise as well. However, keep in mind that the temperatures here are high so, you need to make sure you have enough water with you.
You can also explore the Tatacoa Desert with a horse riding tour. This type of tour requires less exercise and effort on your part and it can give you an unforgettable experience. There are horse riding tours that last all day but also shorter ones, in case you think that would be too much. If you don’t know how to ride a horse, you will get the training you need to make sure you are safe while you enjoy this experience.
One day itinerary in Tatacoa Desert
Duration time: between 4 – 8 hours
Start time and place: 8 – 9 AM, Astronomical Observatory – Villavieja, Huila, Colombia
Time and place where it ends: Piscina Mineral, Villavieja, Huila, Colombia
If you only have one day to experience the Tatacoa Desert, you can still check out the most important attractions if you are well-organized. You can choose to join an organized tour of the Tatacoa desert or you can set up your schedule.
You will most likely want to visit both the red desert and the grey desert so make sure to split your day in two.
If you get in the Tatacoa desert at 8-9 am, you shouldn’t have any trouble checking both of these impressive areas.
Start with visiting the red desert area
You can evaluate the red desert for a two hours hike if you intend to explore it on foot. But you can also try a bike ride or horse ride tour here. Your adventure into the red desert will start at the Astronomical Observatory, which you should check out since you are at it.
The trailhead comes with marks all the way through so, you will not take any risks of getting lost as long as you follow the signs. It is best to go on this hike before noon as the temperatures can easily reach 100 degrees F in the middle of the day.
While you explore the red desert is important to bring a hat as there is no shade on the trail and plenty of water to stay hydrated. The furthest point you can go to in the red desert is Cementerio de Los Fosiles. If you make it here, you can consider the area explored and head back to the aisle with hotels and hostels for a snack before you move on to the second part of your trip.
Save the grey desert for the second part of the day
The grey desert of Tatacoa will be a bit more relaxing to explore. So, you will want to spend more time here than you did in the red desert. The grey desert is only 8 km away from the Astronomical Observatory.
The trail inside the grey desert will start at the Estadero Los Hoyos and the finish point is Piscina Mineral. The hike itself will take about one hour if you are not in a hurry and, you will find many interesting rocks along the way.
The main attraction here is the Los Hoyos pool where you can relax for a while and swim. If you are looking for a chill spot after all this hiking in the desert, this pool is just what you need.
You can rent your car or you can use one of the local tuk-tuk vehicles that are very common in both the red desert and the grey desert. These tuk-tuks act like taxis and, you can arrange with the driver to wait for you while you hike in the area or simply get another tuk-tuk on the way back.
If you stick to the marked trails, you will not have any problem finding a car as they are waiting at several points. The main areas to find a tuk-tuk available are at the beginning and ending points of each trail.
Best time to visit Tatacoa Desert
Tatacoa Desert has high temperatures all year round. However, you will most likely make the best out of this adventure during the season which starts in June and ends in August.
If you want to enjoy some local festivals, this time is also the best for that. The Festival of the Stars takes place every year, in July from the 17th to the 20th and, you will enjoy plenty of speeches and lectures from experts in astronomy. This festival takes place in the desert and the central point is the Astronomical Observatory.
Potential dangers to watch out for
Despite the bad reputation Colombia gets in terms of safety, the Tatacoa desert is considered one of the safest destinations. People are friendly here and they want tourists to feel safe and welcome since the area lives mostly on tourism.
Your enemies in the Tatacoa desert will not be people but the sun and the potential to get dehydrated if you don’t make sure to drink enough water.
Also, watch out for scorpions and snakes that hide in the desert and could cross your path during your hiking trips.
Once it gets dark, the desert has no lights to show you the right path so, it is essential to bring a head torch with you just in case you get lost.
What and where to eat
Eating in the Tatacoa Desert shouldn’t be a problem. You will find a restaurant that serves traditional Colombian dishes at every hotel or hostel. The prices are reasonable and the food is tasty all day long.
However, water is pricier. So, it is wise to bring some water with you from the city because once you get to the desert, if you do find some water, it will not be cheap. You will find stalls along the trails that sell juice and fruit for a snack as well.
Tatacoa Desert will offer you an experience that will not be easy to forget. If you do have the time, I recommend spending more than one day here so you can take in the entire experience. Make sure to bring your camera because you will find many breathtaking scenarios you will want to capture along your hikes!