Welcome to the Tatacoa Desert!
We’ve compiled a list of the 7 best things to do in the Tatacoa Desert + the best places to stay, the best time to visit, and so much more.
Let’s get started!
Location of the Tatacoa Desert
First thing you NEED TO KNOW:
Despite its name, the Tatacoa Desert is not a real desert but rather a dry tropical forest, renowned for its dramatic, eroded landscapes shaped by wind and water erosion.
The Tatacoa Desert is located in South-West Colombia.
The Tatacoa desert actually consists of TWO AMAZING DESERTS.
The CUZCO area is often referred to as the “Red Desert” due to its distinct color, which is a result of iron oxides that are present in the ground. This is the most Instagram-worthy desert.
About 30 minutes further by car lies the famous second area in the Tatacoa Desert LOS HOYOS also known as the “Grey Desert“.
The video below provides you with beautiful 4k images from the desert!
Things To Do
One of the most popular trails is the CUSCO TRAIL.
The trail starts just across the road from the observatory at Mirador El Cuzco.
Beginning with a descent down a staircase, this trail takes you directly to the red rock formations, following a winding path through them. The route is indicated by wooden posts painted yellow. However, be aware that it’s infamously easy to stray off course.
Play safe and book a tour with a local showing you the best spots!
The second gorgeous hike is the LA PISCINA HIKE, utilizing a brief loop trail of less than a mile to reach La Piscina, a man-made pool filled with natural spring water.
The path is picturesque, taking you through the Grey Desert formations. After the hike, you’re rewarded with the opportunity to refresh yourself in the pool.
Explore La Piscina
La Piscina, also known as Piscina Mineral, is a free man-made SWIMMING POOL located in the heart of the Tatacoa Desert.
The pool is fed by natural spring water and is often used by locals to cool down.
The pool is easily accessible, and you can request your driver to drop you off at La Piscina. This makes it a convenient stop during your time in the Tatacoa Desert.
We recommend to do the hike before noon and relax at the pool in the afternoon.
Visit the Rainbow Valley
The Rainbow Valley in the Tatacoa Desert is one of those hidden gems that only the most adventurous travelers know about.
This Valley landscape is filled with NATURAL rock formations that have been sculpted by wind and water erosion over millions of years.
The colors of red, purple, yellow, and green dominate the landscape, which gives it the name “RAINBOW VALLEY.”
We recommend that visitors take a guided tour to explore the area’s canyons, hike along the Rainbow Valley, and watch the stars at night.
Take a Night Walk Through the Desert
This is another MUST-DO in the desert!
Trust us: taking a night walk through the Tatacoa Desert is like stepping into another universe. Especially as there is NO LIGHT POLLUTION giving you a clear view!
The best routes take you through the Cuzco and Los Hoyos gullies, where you can spot constellations and planets with the naked eye. You can always book a tour with a guide for this experience!
Visit Astronomy Sites
How often in your life do you get the chance to look through a telescope?
The Observatorio Astronómico de la Tatacoa, offers the opportunity for visitors to look at our Milky Way!
The observatorium also serves as a planetarium. Here you can learn more about the cosmos through interactive exhibits. You can visit this tower FOR FREE!
And if you’re feeling adventurous, hike up to the Cerro La Tetona lookout tower for an even more panoramic view of the night sky.
Have Your Own Private Picnic In One Of The Many Secluded Coves
The Tatacoa Desert may seem like an unlikely spot to have a private picnic, but with over 300 square kilometers of rocky terrain and hidden coves, it’s the perfect secluded spot to enjoy a peaceful and intimate meal.
Spread out a blanket on the warm, sandy ground and soak up the sun as you savor your favorite snacks and treats.
Experience a Magical Sunset
Imagine surveying the horizon from a bird’s eye view, marveling at the vibrant colors of oranges, pinks, and purples as the sun dips below the desert landscape, casting long shadows across the canyon floor.
It was a breathtaking experience for us, we’re sure that it will leave a lasting impression on you too!
Best Time To Visit
We recommend visiting the Tatacoa Desert in Colombia during the DRY SEASON, with the best times being between December and February, and then between July and August.
These periods are when the weather is most pleasant and the skies are clear, which makes for excellent stargazing opportunities.
However, for those who don’t enjoy walking in the heat (like us), an early morning visit is recommended regardless of the time of year.
Where To Stay
Bethel Bio Luxury Hotel is a unique and extraordinary hotel located in the heart of the Tatacoa Desert. It’s known for its stunning views and creative accommodations.
Star Lounge Hotel is located in Villavieja. It has a lovely restaurant serving Grill Bbq cuisine, and free private parking is available.
The Tatacoa Star Eco Hotel is a popular mid-range option. It offers comfortable accommodations and has received positive reviews from previous guests.
Qji Glamping Biohotel is an inexpensive accommodation just across from the Astronomical Observatory. It is perfect for stargazing!
Final Tips and Tricks
To end our guide, we’d love to give you some of our final tips and tricks, so you don’t have to think about them.
Travel accessories: As you are going to a remote location, don’t forget all your essential travel accessories.
Start Early: The desert can get extremely hot during the day, so it’s recommended to start your tour early in the morning.
Stay Hydrated: It’s essential to carry enough water with you due to the high temperatures and arid climate. We recommend 2 liters per person for 4 hours.
Wear Appropriate Clothing: Opt for loose, light-colored clothing to stay cool. Don’t forget a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen to protect yourself from the sun.
Swimming: Some areas in the Grey Desert (like La Piscina) have natural swimming pools. If you plan to take a dip, don’t forget to pack your swimsuit.
Is the Tatacoa Desert worth it?
Absolutely, the Tatacoa Desert is definitely worth visiting. It offers a unique and breathtaking landscape that’s unlike anything else in Colombia. The desert is known for its stunning rock formations, clear night skies perfect for stargazing, and rich paleontological history.
How many days do you need in Tatacoa Desert?
We highly recommend staying for at least two days. This will give you enough time to marvel at the immense rock formations, hike through the Cuzco Canyon, and catch an unforgettable glimpse of the Milky Way. Plus, two days allow for a bit of relaxation and enjoyment of the unique atmosphere.
How to visit the Tatacoa Desert?
When it comes to transportation, renting a car is a common option but the roads can be tricky and very isolated. Consider joining a tour group, which can provide transportation, guide services, and even camping gear. Lastly, come prepared with plenty of water, sunscreen, and a hat as temperatures can reach up to 40°C.
What is the Tatacoa Desert famous for?
Known for its unique geology, the desert is full of vibrant red and orange canyons, wide open plains, and cacti dotting the landscape. But there is more than meets the eye.
Visitors can enjoy stargazing under one of the clearest skies in the world, hike through the lunar-like terrain, and even visit a dinosaur museum.
If you want a more adventurous experience, try exploring the Rainbow Valley, an area of the desert that is filled with a rainbow of colors that will take your breath away. Whatever your preferences are, the Tatacoa desert is a must-visit destination that promises to leave you converted.
How to get from Salento to the Tatacoa desert?
One option is to hire a private car or taxi, which can be arranged through most tourist offices or hotels in Salento, and will take approximately three and a half hours.
Another option is to take a bus or colectivo, which is a shared taxi, to the city of Neiva, and then take a second bus to the Tatacoa Desert. This option is cheaper but can take anywhere from five to seven hours.
How to get from Bogota to the Tatacoa Desert?
The most popular way to get to the Tatacoa Desert from Bogota is by bus. You can catch a bus from Bogota’s main bus terminal, the Terminal de Transportes, which takes you on a six-hour journey to the nearest town to the desert, Neiva. Once you arrive in Neiva, you can take a taxi or hop on a minibus to the desert, which takes roughly an hour. If you don’t want to take the bus, you can also rent a car and drive there yourself, but be aware that the roads can be challenging, especially during the rainy season.