Footprints guided us through the red labyrinth section of the Tatacoa Desert. We were surrounded by cracked red hills and rugged rock formations, like a midget version of those famous national parks in Arizona and Utah. We spent a night in the Tatacoa Desert, which is actually split into grey and red sections and isn’t even technically a desert. Don’t let that put you off though – it’s a special place and a good excuse to get away from the tourist trail for a night or two.
The red desert (El Cusco)
Apparently they are going to send brave volunteers to colonize Mars in the near future. My advice to anyone thinking of going; don’t bother, go and live in the red part of the Tatacoa Desert instead. We wandered around this alien landscape for a few hours – it’s an atmospheric and mysterious place, especially just before sunset when the light is just right. We didn’t see any other people in this red labyrinth – the only signs of life were some cactus plants and a horse. We stayed at a hostel across the road from the red desert but you can also camp there if you want a more “authentic” desert experience.
Walking from the red desert to the grey desert
You can take a tour from the red desert to the grey desert; we were quoted $55,000 COP. This seemed expensive as the tour just drops you off at the entrance to the grey desert track and picks you up a few hours later. We decided to walk, which not many people do. We left at 8 am and it definitely wasn’t too hot for a start. We took a wrong turn down a side street which delayed us by about 45 minutes and eventually arrived at the grey desert at about 11 am. It started to get quite hot at around 10am but it wasn’t too bad. If you’re thinking of walking make sure you bring plenty of water and maybe think about leaving a little earlier than we did. The walk was really nice – it’s more barren and flat than the red and grey sections, which gives it a more open, wild feel. The more common option to get from the red desert to the grey desert is to hire a bicycle, which tends to cost around $15,000 COP.
The grey desert (Los Hoyos)
While not quite as impressive as the red desert, the grey desert (also known as Los Hoyos) is still worth a look. Again, it seemed like we were the only ones on the track. Our legs were tired after walking from desert to desert so we didn’t do the whole walk. We backtracked to a restaurant a few minutes from the grey desert and organised a motorbike to take us back to our hostel for $20,000 COP(for 2 people).
Staying in the Tatacoa Desert
Most hostels are located within walking distance of the red desert and all seemed pretty similar. We told the collectivo driver the name of the place we wanted to stay at but he dropped us at another hostel- I didn’t even notice until the next day! We stayed in a double room for $30,000 COP and the meals cost around $8,000 COP. There is an observatory nearby where you can attend a talk/night sky viewing by a local astronomer. It was cloudy when we were there – I’ve heard good things about it though so do it if you get the chance.
Getting to the Tatacoa Desert
If you’re heading south from Bogota toward Ecuador it makes sense to stop off for a night in the Tatacoa Desert. You can take a bus from Bogota to Neiva and from there collectivos will drop you off at your hostel for $15,000 COP. After you visit the desert you can make your way to San Agustin and then Popayan – it’s a good route to take if travelling overland to Ecuador.
Further reading: The Smiling Statues of San Agustin, Colombia
Have you been to the Tatacoa Desert, or any other deserts around the world? Let me know!
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