San Agustín is a small, rather unremarkable or unique town in the south of Colombia. It would be overlooked completely by passing tourists if not for the amazing archaeological sites that surround it. San Agustín is at the heart of a massive archaeological park that spans over 250 square miles and is home to some of the most impressive pre-columbian statues in South America.
These statues, along with the tombs and other archaeological sites that surround them, offer visitors a chance to see the power of this ancient and mysterious culture. Who built these statues and why is still a puzzle and it is estimated that less than half of the pre-columbian sites have been excavated.
UNESCO World Heritage Site
There are literally hundreds of statues, tombs, and rock carvings to see in and around San Agustín. Your best bet is to plan at least a full two days to see the major sites.
The main archaeological park, which has a small entrance fee, is the most popular stop. There are a number of burial sites and tombs, along with plenty of statues. There is also a museum that gives a basic overview of the history of the ancient pre-columbian culture that built these sites. The culture is a bit of a mystery and was long gone by the time the Spanish arrived. Most of the statues and larger tombs were built by this culture between the 1st and 8th century.
Also in the park is La Fuente de Lavapatas, an impressive water sculpture and fountain that consists of a maze of canals, pools, and carved images which the water flows through. The engineering of the structure and the high level of skill it took to make shows that this ancient culture was quite advanced.
Besides the main Parque Arqueologico, you should also try and visit the smaller park of Alto de Los Idoles. There is another small entrance fee but this park has some unique artifacts and great views.
Four other smaller sites all site within walking distance of each other – El Tablon, La Chaquira, La Pelota, and El Purutal. Obando, located further from town is famous for underground tombs and also has a small museum with some great examples of the ancient cultures pottery.
Hike, Horse Riding, or Jeep Tours
In 1995, after the whole area was declared a World Heritage Site, there was a significant boost of tourism to the small town of San Agustín. Tour companies and hostels started to open, offering guides and unique opportunities to visit the sites.
Today you can book both jeep and horseback riding tours which allow you to see the most number of sites in one day. That being said, hiking is still considered one of the best ways to both visit the sites and enjoy the beautiful local countryside. A great hiking option is to take the early morning bus (carro) to Obando and walk back towards San Agustín, stopping to visit El Estrecho. The hike takes approximately five hours but if you get tired, you can usually stop a bus on the main road and get a ride back to town.
Couple Travel Tips
- Your guidebook might mention that this region is home to rebels and guerrilla but the area is actually quite safe now-a-days. That being said, it’s best to avoid night travel and of course don’t hike alone.
- Respect the heritage of the site and don’t climb on or damage the stones. Many of the archaeological sites in this region have already been damaged by looters and treasure hunters. Don’t add to the problem.
- Make sure you bring some extra cash as there are only a few ATMs in town and they occasionally run out of money, especially during the holidays when more people are visiting.