Fancy visiting surreal landscapes on earth? Look no further than Villavieja, Colombia. A place where you can see the resemblance of planet Mars and our Moon! 😉 Just kidding!
Bogota to Neiva
During Ciclovia day (Sunday), our stop for the public bus at Septima going to the airport changes from next to the Exito express to Cra 13. It was still easy to get one, though. Our ride was smooth, with not much traffic, but the driver drove very slow, only about 20-30km/hr.
The aftermath of the 21st November 2019 demonstration could still be seen whenever we stopped at stations to get passengers. The obvious one was the missing glass windows. What was once sheltering the passengers from wind or rain has yet to be fixed by the authority.
Our flight this time was departing from terminal 2. This terminal was only used by domestic airlines such as Easyfly and Satena. I remembered arriving in this terminal from Manizales but never flew out from here before. Although there were not many flights departing from here, however, because we shared the same airspace, our Easyfly flight was delayed, and we sat on the plane for an hour, waiting for clearance. The flight time to Neiva was only 36 minutes.
Neiva to Villavieja
Taxi from the airport to the Neiva bus terminal cost 12,000cop. We talked to the driver about Neiva town during the journey, and he told us that Neiva was dangerous compared to Vilavieja. I guess it’s similar to Bogota, where you need to be alert on your possession, especially electronic stuff.
It was quite confusing to find the correct gate for the bus to Villavieja, but after asking a few people and walked in a circle, we finally made it to the gate. It was located near the Cootransamaria booth. No pre-purchase ticket was required though, the person who guarded the gate was aware of where we wanted to go, and he told the driver when the conductor had arrived.
It was a long wait in the terminal, and we regretted not taking the taxi straight to our destination. It cost 100,000COP from the airport directly to Vilavieja; while the public transport – Camioneta (Pickup) by Flota Huila S A company charge 8,000COP + 2,000COP extra to take us straight to the hotel.
Note: Do not sit at the seat behind the driver if you’re claustrophobic.
Hotel Sueño Real Tatacoa
Located about 800 meters away from the town square, this hotel was quiet, ideal for relaxing. It cost about 150,000COP per night booked thru Agoda. We stayed for three nights in this lovely place. Initially, we only booked for two nights and had another hotel reserved in Neiva town. However, we changed our mind when we saw the town’s condition plus everyone that we met had informed us that there’s nothing much to do there and of course they kept on pointing out the safety issue.
We especially loved the Hammock and the seating area on the top floor that we spent most of our afternoon there laying on the Hammock while reading books. I also took the opportunity to photographs a few birds. They weren’t afraid, and the vivid red bird was my favorite. It might be Vermilion Flycatcher or Scarley Flycatcher, I wasn’t sure, and the others were Palm Tanager, Yellow-bellied Seedeater, and Tropical Kingbird. I hope I was right 😊.
The swimming pool was just in front of our room, and the water temperature was just lovely, not too hot or cold. The nature landscape surrounded the accommodation was peaceful and beautiful as well.
The room was basic with air-conditioning and a private bathroom. During our stay, the hotel only provided us with towels with no shampoo or bar soap. There’s also no hot water, but the water pressure was good, and it wasn’t too cold to shower.
Our room was with one double and one single bed which we had utilized the extra single bed to place our belonging and clothing.
We got two pillows each, which was nice, but we found that the mattress was too hard for our liking. Another thing was the air-condition made so much rattling noise. We have to turn it off in the middle of the night to sleep, and thankfully, it was a bit cooler at night.
Throughout our stay, whenever we’re out in the cafeteria for our daily Huevos Pericos breakfast, we also took the chance to befriend the black dog on the premises that was super tamed. Once we started scratching its neck, it wouldn’t leave us alone and kept on asking for it. He would nudge you with its nose or hand if you stopped! His name, if I not mistaken, sounded like ‘Chew.’
We also booked our ride (A Tuk-tuk) from the hotel, which cost 100,000COP to visit three places (Red Desert, Los Hoyos & the Astronomy Observatory). Gilberto was a nice guy, he reached the hotel earlier than the scheduled time, and while we’re doing the sightseeing on our own, he waited for us.
On the day we’re supposed to go stargazing, we noticed that the sky was cloudy and told Gilberto that we wouldn’t be going. He then took us to the town instead. However, at about 8:30 pm, I started to see the stars appearing in the night sky and decided to take pictures from the hotel once we got back from town.
With not much light pollution in this area, it was a great chance to watch the night sky, but I didn’t have a wide lens to get a better picture, and I didn’t bring my tripod and remote control. From a standard lens, this was what I got with the help of a timer.
It was completely safe to walk around the attraction places in Vilavieja no matter in daylight or night time. However, beware of the dogs! It’s probably just our bad luck, though, because we’re almost got bitten by a dog while walking back to our hotel at night.
I could still picture the panic moment in my head. The road was quite dark, and we have to use our handphones torchlight to guide us. About 200 meters before reaching the hotel, we heard dogs barking, and upon approaching our hotel junction, one of the dogs bared its teeth while charging at us.
Mike tried to mimic a kicking motion, but he kept on coming. I was frantically looking around, searching for some stones, which thankfully I got some and threw it at the dog. When I ran out of the rock, though, I pretended to bend over, collecting stone, and it did the trick, and the dog scurried away. The next day when we walked past the same place, I came prepared with a stick that I found on the roadside, but we couldn’t see the dog anywhere else.
Mosquitos / Blood-sucking Insects Attacks!
Aside from the dog issue, another thing to keep in mind was putting on sunblock during the day, drinking plenty of fluids, wearing a comfortable walking trainer, and the most important thing was to spray mosquito spray, lots of it, day and night. My mistake was spraying mildly on the exposed area, and I ended up being bitten by mosquitos and different types of blood-sucking insects.
I got over 40 bite marks on my arms and legs! I never got bitten that many in other places I’d visited; even Amazon wasn’t that bad. Anyway, I’ve listed the sites and restaurants we visited during our four days three nights in Vilavieja.
Red Terrain – El Cusco
This place, which I imagine resembled Mars, was fascinating. The terrains were decorated with dry red hills and some greenery such as cactuses. Goats were the only animal we saw wandering in this barren land, while above the sky, some vultures hovered around looking for prey.
We spent more than an hour walking around this red dessert. It was easy to spot the Sandero – painted in yellow to guide the walk. However, sometimes we have to walk off the path, avoiding the soft ground.
Yet, often we couldn’t avoid it and helplessly watching our trainers sunk, and it wasn’t fun! Finding our way back was a bit of a challenge since we didn’t follow the path. In the end, though, after following the waterway, we managed to walk off the area.
Gilberto had told us that it was hot from June to Aug where the temperature was reaching over 40 Celcius. The driest year they experienced was in 2013 and 2014, where it rained only once. It was sad years as they were left helplessly watching over the death of their cows and goats, starving without grass to munch.
Grey Terrain – Los Hoyos
If I ignore the green vegetation, I could pretend that this surreal landscape with its grey terrain resembled the moon surface. Compared to the red desert, Los Hoyos was more comfortable to navigate, with solid ground and covering only a small area.
The famous part in Los Hoyos was the Valle de Los Fantasmas, or valley of ghosts. Here, one could see the unique geological formation where a group of spirit shaped figures emerged from the ground and forever frozen at the same spot. I wouldn’t want to visit this place at night!
Another thing we noticed while touring this place was the stone tower. Stack of five stones, we saw there were many scattered around the area, in which later on we found out that people who visited this place would say their wishes while stacking the rock, and if it’s still standing after a year, their wishes will come true!
The swimming pool located right at the end of the path was rewarding if you planned to dip after the walk in the hot sun. It cost 8,000 per person for adult and 5,000COP for 2-10 years old children. We didn’t swim, though. On our way back, through the stairs, we couldn’t resist taking a picture of this majestic view of an oasis in the middle of this surreal landscape.
El Valle de la Tatacoa
This theme park was located just one minute away from the hotel we’re staying. However, we couldn’t be bothered visiting it. I saw families and couples walking inside, though, and it looks fun posing for a picture with the statue of dinosaurs and reptiles they have in there.
Capilla de Santa Barbara
The Jesuits built this chapel between 1631 and 1767; it’s one of the oldest churches in the department of Huila.
Nuestra Señora del Perpetuo Socorro de Villavieja
Initially, this church, which was built in the 19th century, was to replace Capilla de Santa Barbara, which was on the brink of collapsing during that time.
Museo Paleontologico Villavieja
Maybe because we arrived a little early, the first time we got to this place, it was closed. Thankfully, we wandered around, had breakfast before revisited the site, and this time, there were a few who’d just arrived too.
The entry cost 5,000COP for foreigners, and the officer welcomed us with a short introduction before letting us wandered around this little museum. The building itself was 300 years old, where they retained the same floor and roof during the Spanish era. There’re also two Spanish guns adorned the wall along with many other historical images.
Consists of three rooms, the museum’s collection was dated in the Miocene period between 13.8 and 11.6 million years ago. Fossils such as femur once belonged to the extinct mammals – manatees and crocodiles were part of the collection. But the most impressive collection was the giant turtles, which they preserved in the case.
Food & Drinks
Restaurante Pimienta Gourmet
This place was one of our most frequent restaurants. We often stopped by here for lunch or dinner whenever we’re in town as it’s convenient, only about 700m away from our hotel. The food was quite tasty, and it cost the same as any restaurant in Bogota. The staff, especially the elderly lady, was polite and friendly.
Pechuga Gratinada @ 20,000COP, Carne Ranchera @ 22,000COP, Jugo Agua @ 4,000COP, Agua Botella @ 2,500COP. and Menu Del Dia @ 8,000COP.
El Rincon Del Cabrito
On our way to visit the desert, we saw a herd of goats on the roadside, freely grazing the grasses. We thought they were wild, but it turned out it wasn’t. We then asked our driver, Gilberto, if there’s any restaurant serving goat meat, and he recommended this place.
The meals were cheap and tasty. It costs at 20,000cop per person for the set meal consisting of goat soap, sweet cake on the side, some grilled goat meats, rice mixed with goat blood, and the animal’s inner part.
Besides serving meals, they also sell other products such as goat milk, meats, cheese, sweets, etc. We bought the goat cheese @ 12,000COP.
Tiendas – Estadero el Turista La Tatacoa & Continental Soda Fountain
These two drinking places were located at the corner of the square, and bottle beers cost 3,000COP. We watched a parade where a group of people of various ages following a Tuk-tuk played Christian songs. Well, if it wasn’t because of the blaring music from the Tuk-tuk, one will wonder why they were worshiping the vehicle 😊.
On our last night here, we had desserts in this place. The place was beautifully decorated with the seating places surrounded by colorful bulbs and lanterns, and at the big tree trunk hung one lone swing. They have hammocks, lazy chairs, and we could see the stars from the inside of the restaurant’s open space. It was a romantic place for a couple!
Restaurante Punto Verde Karol
We stopped for lunch at this restaurant, which was located opposite the airport. The restaurant was clean, and where we’re there, the place was almost full. It cost 13,000cop each for menu Ejecutivo.
Villavieje to Bogota
The bus to Neiva was parked in front of the church. One day before our departure, we’d asked about the schedule, and they told us it was every 45 minutes. But, the truth was they never followed the scheduled time but leave whenever it’s full. Our ride back this time was a van, and we departed at 11:15 am. We told the driver to drop us at the nearest stop to the airport, but the driver took us straight to our destination!
The airport was tiny, with only one departure hall and with a café with a bar. The security was quite strict. They used the tool to scan every passenger even after going through the scan machine without triggering the alarm.
While waiting for our flight, I saw one of the security staff took something off from one of the passengers! From my observation, the guy had left something in the container, and when the female officer pulled the box, it clattered on the floor; it sounded like coins tho.
The female staff took something out of the rest of the items, and one male officer tried to take it from her and put it back inside the box. However, he was stopped by the female staff. She kept it in her palm, stifling a laugh while waiting for the guy to return and get the remaining item. She then put the thing inside her pocket. I wasn’t sure what’s the thing she took, but I hope it wasn’t anything valuable! Or, I prayed that I was mistaken!
It was a pleasant holiday, with only minor discomfort – Dog chase, mosquitos, and both had a stomach ache in the middle of the night after consuming hot dog bun and burger we bought from Pistacio Helado Gourment near the square. We bought medicine the next morning at the drug store located somewhere around Continental Soda Fountain. We took the pill with Chulupa, one of the local fruit available in this region. It tasted like passion fruit and looked like one too, but it wasn’t Maracuya.
Travel Date: 15th ~ 18th December 2019