National Archaeological Park of Tierradentro is a UNESCO-inscribed prehispanic necropolis located well away from civilization hidden deep in the Colombian Andes Mountains.
The necropolis comprises about three dozen underground tombs (Hypogea) that are accessed by steep stone stairs. Dating from the 6th to 10th centuries, the burial chambers are the only examples of their kind in the Americas. Inside, you’ll encounter a few ceramic objects, and black and red drawings on the walls, which are thought to reproduce the internal decoration of houses from that time. While the artifacts are not the most interesting thing to see, climbing up and down the old rocky stairs leading into the tombs is quite a thing!
You’ll find a few information boards in English, but very little is known about this ancient indigenous civilization that was able to thrive in such an inhospitable mountainous environment. And due to its rather inaccessible location, not many tourists venture out this far.
Frankly, from an archeological standpoint, Tierradentro is interesting, no more. The real treasure behind this place is the spectacular landscapes you will enjoy along the trails while wandering around to discover the mysterious indigenous past of Colombia. Especially, the El Aguacate site offers 360-degree breathtaking views over the surrounding valleys and the mountain ranges.
The ruins of Tierradentro National Archeological Park are dotted around the picturesque hills in 5 distinct locations along a 15 km long trail (Segovia, El Duende, El Tablon, Alto San Andres & El Aguacate). The trails to reach these locations are well-marked, you can visit all the hypogea of Tierradentro in a full day.
The best would be to start the hike early from the park entrance (where you get a passport) and hit the Segovia, El Duende, and El Tablon sites, which should take about 3 hours with stops. Then you can come back to your accommodation in the village of San Andres de Pisimbala, have a quick lunch, and then continue to El Aguacate, accessed by the San Andres-El Aguacate-Alto San Andrés trail.
The El Aguacate trail is hard owing to the steepness of the path, but stunning the entire time passing through high sierra farmland, tropical jungle, rivers, friendly locals, horses, cows, and birds…in short a fantastic hike in an unbeatably beautiful untamed landscape.
With a total distance of 7 km and a 700 m altitude difference (both up and downhill), this hike can be classified as moderate and is worth every effort to enjoy the panoramic views at 2100 meters above sea level. Well, let’s say it’s worth almost every effort. Because getting to Tierradentro is an adventure in itself that’s certainly not something for everyone.
On the way there, we caught a ride with a local public transport truck from La Plata town, which was an adventurous bumpy ride on dusty and windy mountain roads. And the onward journey to the capital of the Department Popayan took us 6 hours to cover the 100 km distance which left us feeling rather tired and frustrated than euphoric. There was no road in parts, just mud, the journey was truly an endurance test, both for our nerves and the old bus. In the video below, you can get a glimpse of the adventurous journey and the amazing views.
A well-off-the-beaten destination that is so hard to access with a truly beautiful landscape in the Andes Mountains. Tierradentro that is. Does it appeal to you?