A small town of friendly people, residents are used to Colombian, South Americans, and international tourists who come to see this unusual geographic area. The town itself, formerly the capital of the area, retains its colonial roots. The central square park is a gathering place in the evenings, surrounded by businesses. It is easy to find a café along the intersecting streets and, facing the park, the restaurant in the Hotel Colonial Villavieja is very good and featured savory goat stew one of the nights we had dinner there. The major reason visitors come to Villavieja is to tour the nearby desert. A desert? In the tropics? Yes, the Tatacoa Desert, simply called el desierto by local residents, has been created by the unique geography of the area. Although the tropical rains are plentiful in this region, the Cordillera Central and Cordillera Oriental mountains keep the clouds from drifting over part of the terrain. Drier than the surrounding area, 300 square kilometers have turned into a desert within the tropics. Eroded gullies and weathered rocks abound, uniquely interspersed with unique vegetation (cacti and desert brush) nourished perhaps by the moisture in the air and the occasional rain. Having spent more than a month in the tropics and the Andes, it was great fun to travel through a tropical desert and compare it with our much-loved trips to California’s (much drier) Death Valley where we have also been caught in rainstorms.
Licensed guides can be found in the plaza. Their knowledge of the terrain and its hidden points of interest is not only a time saver, their presentations are also accurate and their networks of people and places ensure a thorough visit to the region.
We were fortunate that two women from Bogota, staying at the same hostel, had already arranged for a trip and asked us to join them and share the costs. Not only was it fun to speak Spanish with them (and be gently corrected at times), one of them, Ximena, has been studying English and got to practice with us as. Language learning is always a most enjoyable experience as we travel.
Technical aspects of the desert are covered very well on the web: Tatacoa Desert. I have included a few of our favorite photos to show what we saw.
The astronomy center of Colombia is located in the desert. The view of the stars is reported to be magnificent due to the clean desert air and the unique location near the equator. Sadly, due to a heavy overcast and steady “occasional rain (!!)” the nights we were there, that experience was postponed indefinitely for the two of us!