I must admit, when I lived in Colombia I had no desire to visit San Agustin however, once I left my native country and saw the world through different trips I realized how special this park in Huila Colombia is.
The giant statues on Easter Island in Chile may be more famous, but in my opinion, they are nothing compared to the marvelous megalithic sculptures of San Agustín. As soon as you view the spectacular carved stone statues here, you will have to agree.
This park features the largest collection of huge stone religious sculptures in South America, and I would have to say they are also the most fascinating. San Agustín is definitely a must-see if you have any interest at all in Pre-Colombian art and culture.
In 1768, Fray Juan de Santa Gertrudis was the first one to explore and talk about this fantastic place, but only until 1913 this park was scientifically explored by the German archeologist K. Th. Preuss.
The creators of these statues simply disappeared without leaving trace, and until today nobody knows about them. Questions about how did they transport the statues, worked the stone, and the true meaning of the sculptures are still unexplained by many explorers who have visited and worked on the site.
For many this is a mythical place that shows the importance of shamans and the flourishing of wisdom. These figures appear similar to stone works in England, works of Mesoamerican cultures, and even those of indigenous peoples in Easter Island in Chile. Apparently, there are fountains of energy and underground waters that were strategic places for the artists to place the sculptures. Still many questions remain.
3 Must-Do Activities
Visit the Parque Arqueológico – Most of the amazing sculptures in San Agustín are protected within the boundaries of the Archaeological Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can easily catch a bus here from town, pay a small fee, and spend the whole day wandering through the collection of tombs and statues.
I especially liked the grinning, jaguar-toothed shaman statues that seemed ready to spring to life as soon as my back was turned. But my favorite part of the park is the “Fuente Ceremonial del Lavapatas,” an intricate set of carved pools and channels that transforms a small stream into a complex work of art. The channels and pools make all sorts of symbolic animal shapes, and the longer you look at it the more you will see.
Take a Tour on Horseback – The Parque Arqueológico contains just a fraction of the Pre-Colombian statues, tombs, and art that can be found around San Agustín in Huila.
I found it really fun to visit the other nearby archeological sites with a local guide on a horseback tour. Riding through the lush green jungle and then turning a corner to suddenly spy a huge statue made me feel like a real explorer. Make sure you choose an experienced guide so that they can share the best San Agustín facts with you during your tour.
Visit a Coffee Plantation or finca cafetera – San Agustín is located in one of Colombia’s best coffee-growing regions.
While in the area, you should definitely stop in at a working coffee plantation to learn more about coffee cultivation and perhaps to sample some freshly-brewed local coffee. One of my favorite activities is staying overnight at a coffee plantation for a relaxing retreat from town life.
How to Get to San Agustín
Several bus routes serve San Agustín. You can catch one in Bogotá (12 hour trip), Neiva (4 hour trip), or Popayán (6-8 hour trip). My advice is to fly to Neiva and then take the short bus ride. This will get you to San Agustín faster and you won’t have to worry about the road from Popayán being closed, as sometimes happens on this treacherous unpaved route.
Another way is to simply hire a driver, which become available for a reasonable price for a family of 4. Many of them know the region and take you at your own pace showing you around the area.
Where to Stay in San Agustín
You can find several good San Agustín hotels in town, but personally I prefer to stay a little outside of town whenever possible. La Casa de Francois is an excellent choice-it’s only a 10-minute walk from town, has amazing views, and serves great food. Most rooms here are hostel-style so if you want a private room, make your reservation well in advance.