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The Smiling Statues of San Agustin, Colombia

The Smiling Statues of San Agustin, Colombia

The smiling statues of San Agustin are a bit of a mystery to tourists and archaeologists alike. Who built them? Why did they build them? Were the craftsmen and their models all on magic mushrooms at the time? We looked at around 100 of these strange statues at the archaeological park just outside of San Agustin. Did I crack the mystery of the statues? No…but we had a great time exploring one of Colombia’s most important historical sites. Here’s a quick guide on what to expect:

Bosque de las Estatuas (The statue forest)

We took a leisurely stroll down a forest path lined with ancient San Agustin statues. It was nice to have some shade from the midday sun and the forest setting made for a mysterious atmosphere. We saw some interesting statues and I loved the fact that they look so happy – it almost looks like some of them are giving a double thumbs up! The forest wasn’t the original location of these statues; they were taken from other sites around San Agustin.

A statue in the forest near San Agustin, ColombiaA monkey statue in San Agustin, Colombia

Mesita A (Site A)

After handing out our left over bread to some hungry dogs, we ventured down a wide, tree lined path to Mesita A (site A). Here we got our first look at some of the ancient burial sites of this forgotten civilization. These graves have long since been looted, and my attention quickly returned to the psychedelic statues nearby.

A statue near San Agustin, ColombiaAn ancient grave in San Agustin, Colombia

Mesita C (site C)

Don’t worry, you haven’t slipped through a worm hole 5 minutes into the future and missed reading about site B. Due to the park’s layout, it makes more sense to go from A to C to B. Site B had yet more graves and statues, and further down the hill we saw a huge fountain thing. The sands of time haven’t been kind to the carved fountain; it must have been pretty impressive in its prime though.

Statue ruins in San Agustin, ColombiaA ruined fountain in San Agustin, Colombia

Alto de Lavapatas (The big hill)

We continued our journey up a steep flight of stairs to Alto de Lavapatas. There is a cafe on the way up, as well as a small shop selling carvings and other souvenirs. We bought a couple of small statues and almost purchased a carved coffee mug. After looking at it closely we decided we’d probably get some kind of metal poisoning if we tried to drink out of it. It looked cool but we stuck to the statues. We arrived at the top of the hill and caught a glimpse of the rolling green hills of the San Agustin countryside as well as some more statues.

Statues on a hill in San Agustin, Colombia

Mesita B (Site B)

Some of my favourite statues are found at site B, including a massive face and a giant 3-4 metre, 2 headed work of art. It’s not the biggest statue in the San Agustin region though, apparently there’s a 7 metre one in another area.

Statue ruins in San Agustin, ColombiaA tall statue in San Agustin, Colombia

How to explore the smiling statues of San Agustin

The main archaeological park in the area is located around 3 km from downtown San Agustin; you can either walk or take a bus for around 1500 COP. Entrance to the San Agustin archaeological park costs 20,000 COP and includes the other statue sites (and you also get a cool passport/entrance ticket) and a small museum. You’d probably have to take a tour to see the other sites as they are further from town. We didn’t do it but it sounds like a good tour as it also takes you to some waterfalls. The countryside near San Agustin is stunning (get a window seat for the bus ride on the way in and out of town) and you could easily spend a few days in the area. We arrived in San Agustin from Bogota, with a one night stopover in the Tatacoa Desert. It was a great way to do it.We went to Popayan after San Agustin and the road was one of the worst I’ve ever travelled on (getting the backseat made it even bumpier).

Further reading: San Agustin Archaeological Park is a Unesco Work Heritage Site – check out their website for more information

Have you seen the statues in San Agustin? Have you been to any not so famous historical sites? Let me know!

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Jon Algie

A travel blogger from New Zealand who hates talking about himself in the third person and has no imagination when it comes to naming websites.