Lonely Planet Writer

Irish explorer undertakes 22-day trip to see Colombia's 'Sistine Chapel of the Amazon'

To see the Sistine Chapel, it’s just a matter of buying a flight to Rome and perhaps a few hours of queueing in the Vatican. To see what’s been described as the Sistine Chapel of the Amazon … well then you are looking at the small matter of a twenty-two day round trip on a kayak downriver and through thick South American jungle.

Men hike 10 days to visit Colombia's 'Sistine Chapel'
Irishman Shane Young (left) and his Polish companions, during their Colombian adventure. Photo by Michal Dzikowski

And that is just the expedition that was undertaken by four men last November to visit the famed Jaguar Sanctuary in Colombia. Rock paintings, which some historians believe could be 20,000 years old, adorn the walls of an 800-metre high table-top mountain. The ancient pictures are found in the Chiribiquete National Park in southern Colombia, a park that occupies a territory the size of Belgium.

It is one of the most inaccessible places on earth which is why it took Irishman Shane Young and three Polish men – Maciej Tarasin, Michał Dzikowski, and Dominik Szczepański – a week and a half to get there.

Shane told Lonely Planet how they spent the first two days trekking through jungle before an eight-day river voyage to the paintings, which depict hunting, dancing, people and animals. “We had packrafts with us,” he said. “It was too slow going through the jungle, [by boat] we did sixty or seventy kilometres a day. Going through the jungle, it took two and a half days to do fourteen kilometres … and it was really tough conditions.”

Three of the adventurers paddling on the Amazon
Paddling down the Amazon. Photo by: Michal Dzikowski

He said they were fortunate with the weather, which was neither too hot nor too cold. “The coldest temperature we recorded was 20 degrees [Celsius] at around 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning. Now back home starting at Killary Harbour [in Ireland], it is about two degrees.”

The trip came with no nasty surprises and they were fortunate not to face any major obstacles or sickness. “It went pretty smoothly,” said Shane. “We had only two hundred grams of porridge oats left when we got back so we did cut it right to the bone.”

Amazon sunset
Young enjoys an Amazon sunset. Photo by: Michal Dzikowski

It is not the first ambitious expedition the Irishman has taken part in. In 2013, he was part of a team that sailed from the west coast of Ireland to Greenland, where they kayaked 500-kilometre along the coast. That expedition was documented on video, which you can catch up with here.