Tatacoa Desert is a semi-desert just 6 hours from Bogota, Colombia. Here's my experience of visiting the Desierto de la Tatacoa
Being solo never means that you are alone on your travels. After leaving Medellin I must admit that I was pretty much an emotional wreck, crying easily and spending the evening in my dorm room getting my head around leaving. The older I get, the longer it seems to take me to adjust to leaving somewhere.
By day two, I was practising my Spanish with the Colombian girl in my room, sharing biscuits and stories, and Googling the words which I couldn’t comprehend.
By Friday, I was on a 6 hour bus journey heading out of Bogota to Neiva, the capital of the Huila region in Colombia, for some time offline. Enticed by the thought of sleeping under the stars, the desert was just what I needed to transition from expat to solo traveller and I was ready for a long bus ride to reflect on everything.
After stepping of the bus, it was straight onto a jeep heading to Villavieja, for the hour’s journey into the desert.
Thinking that I would be taken to Villavieja where I had written down a couple of guest house options to ask at, the driver carried on to Cusco, an area in Tatacoa, and dropped us off at Sol de Verano, a place with camping, hammocks and thankfully rooms. Not realising how utterly hot it would be (a fan was definitely required), I was going to look at the stars instead of sleeping under them.
That evening one became four and I teamed up with a Danish couple and a Canadian to book a tour into the desert for the following morning.
Desierto de la Tatacoa isn’t really a proper desert. Some say that this 330 km sq area is a semi-desert, and others – a dry tropical forest. Whatever its proper label is, I was excited to be in it, and even more excited when I saw a film crew and trailers just five minutes down the dusty road (according to German our guide, they were filming Sal, which has apparently already been filmed. Hmm…)
With each stop on our moto taxi with German at the wheel, the landscape changed. The Riojas area has to be the most iconic image of Tatacoa, and in my professional desert opinion is the most spectacular. You can pretend to be in an Indiana Jones movie as you walk through the tall red formations.
Then it was back in the moto taxi as we took the road deeper into the desert before parking up for a walking tour of the area of Los Hojos.
Then it was off to what looked like someone’s back garden where German pointed to a natural pool of water and said “piscina.” Looking at the green algae water, I opted out of getting in and the others just dipped they feet in instead.
Luckily this wasn’t the pool on the tour and when we arrived we virtually had it to ourselves to cool off from the desert heat.
After being gone for five or so hours, we finally headed back to our accommodation with German trying to take us to each stop on the way back. No, we didn't want to buy any goat milk, or a wooden statue, or stop for a horse ride.
But we did stop for a photo opportunity to find the rock animal formations (which was cool). Tired and weary, it was time for an afternoon siesta as I fell asleep listening to the geckos in my room.
Unfortunately my dream of seeing stars didn’t happen due to it being cloudy both nights but I left the desert feeling well rested, happy and ready for my transition back to solo female traveller…
Where To Stay in Tatacoa
There are a few options to stay in Tatacoa. Having researched on the internet before, I could only see accommodation Villaveija for approx 15,000 COP a night, but the jeep took me straight into Tatacoa to the area called Cusco where I was dropped off at Sol de Verano. They offered private rooms for 30,000 COP, hammocks for 10,000 COP or camping for 7,000 COP.
Within walking distance are two or three more places to stay. My accommodation was just a 5 minute walk to the Riojos area, and the observatory where an astronomer was on hand at night to offer daily shows of the stars.
Getting to Tatacoa
I took a bus to Neiva from Bogota which cost 29,000 COP with Bolivariano. It had loads of leg room, seat-back TVs, and a toilet onboard. Expect it to be a windy after the first hour for about twenty minutes, after that it’s straight for most of it. The bus hardly stopped so stock up on food and water before you get on otherwise you may feel yourself going hungry (like I did!)
When I reached Neiva, I was asked if I was heading to Villavieja and hopped on a jeep which was in the next part of the terminal. This took an hour and cost 15,000 COP to be taken all the way into Cusco in Tatacoa. Luckily the other 3 were all heading back at the same time so getting back we pre-arranged a jeep to collect us for the same price and take us back to the bus station in Neiva.
How good is the Tatacoa Desert for solos? I loved it and even though it's in the middle of nowhere, it is safe to sleep in a tent or hammock here. I found people to join forces with for a tour but you could also do it solo.