Cali & Southwest Colombia
Southwest Colombia is often overlooked by travelers, but this fascinating region warrants an appearance on all itineraries. It's an land of multitudes: Andean and African, modern and pre-Columbian. It stimulates the senses at every opportunity and leaves intrepid visitors with countless tales of classic travel experiences.
Security has improved markedly and destinations that were once off-limits are being put back on the map by adventurous trailblazers. Here you will find the best archaeological sites in the country. It's a region of immense biodiversity where you can pass through desert, jungle and páramo (high-mountain plain) ecosystems in just one day. Nature lovers will find active volcanoes, thermal springs and spectacular mountain ranges all easily accessible from thriving metropolitan centers famed for their vibrant culture.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Cali & Southwest Colombia.
Archaeological SiteParque Arqueológico
This 78-hectare archaeological park is 2.5km west of the town of San Agustín. There are over 130 statues in the park in total, either found in situ or collected from other areas, including some of the best examples of San Agustín statuary, with human or animal features, or a mixture of the two. Don't miss the carved tombs either. Reputable guides congregate around the museum.
Archaeological SiteParque Arqueológico
Scattered across the hills around the little town of San Andrés de Pisimbalá, Tierradentro's Parque Arqueológico includes four tomb sites, an above-ground statuary and two museums. Tickets for the Parque Arqueológico are inside the museum complex, a 25-minute walk from the town. You're given a 'passport,' valid for two consecutive days, enabling entrance to all sites, accessible via a 14km walk. Visit the museums before the tombs, as there's not much in the way of explanation at the sites themselves.
DesertDesierto de Tatacoa
Technically not a desert but a landscape of red and gray rock, sculpted by ancient waterways, the Desierto de Tatacoa is one of Colombia's most unique ecosystems. It lies 4km east of Villavieja and can be explored on foot or by bicycle.
MarketMercado de Silvia
On Tuesday, market day, members of the Guambiano community come down from their surrounding villages to Silvia to sell fruit, vegetables and handicrafts. This is the best time to visit the town. It is not a tourist market – fruit and vegetables, raw meat, discount clothing and household items dominate – but you may find a poncho or woven backpack that takes your fancy. The main attraction is seeing the Guambiano themselves in traditional dress.
National ParkParque Nacional Natural Farallones de Cali
This 1500-sq-km national park protects the headlands around Cali. During the height of the armed conflict it was closed and it has yet to be officially reopened to visitors. Security remains an issue in some areas and ecological protection measures are also in place to conserve the delicate ecosystem, making the majority of the park off-limits. The only path that is currently accessible, by hiring a guide in Pance, is the full-day hike to Pico de Loro.
WaterfallFin del Mundo
Fin del Mundo (the End of the World) is a towering waterfall that plunges off a large rock ledge down into the Río Mocoa valley below. A path leads to the ledge at the top from where you can view Mocoa in the distance. It's a 1½-hour walk up an often muddy path from the entrance point on the Mocoa–Villargarzón highway; the last part of the trail is not well signposted.
Surrounded by lush jungle, this high-volume waterfall drops into a deep and inviting swimming hole that's a wonderful spot for a refreshing dip. Ornoyaco is rarely crowded and you'll often have the place to yourself, adding to the natural experience. To reach the waterfall, cross the Río Mocoa on the suspension bridge on the Mocoa–Villargarzón highway a few hundred meters before the Río Rumiyaco and follow the path for 1¼ hours up the hill.
Archaeological SiteAlto de los Ídolos
Located across the Río Magdalena 4km southwest of San José de Isnos (26km northeast of the town of San Agustín), this is the second-most important archaeological park in the region after the Parque Arqueológico. Its stone carvings include the largest anthropomorphic statue in the San Agustín area, which is 7m tall but with only 4m visible above ground. Take an Isnos-bound bus (COP$2500) and ask to be let off at the entrance.
ChurchSantuario de Las Lajas
This massive neo-gothic stone church is built directly against the rocky wall of the gorge where the miraculous image appeared. A gilded painting of the Virgin, accompanied by Santo Domingo and San Francisco, has been painted directly on the rocks just to be sure there is no confusion. The first chapel was built in 1803; today's church, designed by Nariño architect Lucindo Espinoza, was built between 1926 and 1944.
Whether it’s a guided tour of a historic landmark, private tasting of local delicacies, or an off-road adventure — explore the best experiences in Cali & Southwest Colombia.