Once in the iron grip of guerrillas, Los Llanos is Colombia’s Big Sky Country. Grasslands and savanna stretch out to the horizon, and the Milky Way shines brightly here. The inhabitants — hardy ranchers and horse people known as llaneros — recall the gauchos of Patagonia. But, unlike many parts of Patagonia, Los Llanos is barely on the Western travel industry’s radar. Even now ‘la violencia’ has died down, it’s only just starting to open up.
Outside the area’s workaday hub town, Yopal, civilization as you know it starts to ebb away quickly. It leaves only the endless-seeming plains and their silty rivers, ponds, lakes, temporary waterways and gallery forests. And it’s here that those intrepid enough to visit can take part in some of the best wildlife watching in South America.
Your time in Los Llanos is spent at a working ranch or hacienda (independent exploration is impossible, given the dearth of local infrastructure). From your base, you can go out on horseback rides, go piranha fishing, and take part in guided hikes and mountain biking.
One important aspect, for many people, is the chance to live alongside llaneros, perhaps even joining them as they go about their day-to-day activities. And, then there’s the wildlife.
You can embark on safari-style game drives with a guide, looking for the birdlife, reptiles and mammals that flourish in this undeveloped part of Colombia.
These drives take place in the back of a pick-up truck. While they lack the comfort of an African or even Pantanal equivalent, they do end with sundowners. And, the sightings can come thick and fast.
Jabiru storks, roseate spoonbills, caracaras, ibis, jaçanas, chachalacas and burrowing owls make their homes among the ponds, mudbanks and grasses of the plains.
Families of capybara scamper around river slip-off slopes, iguanas rustle through the underbrush, and the waterways bristle with caiman. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you might glimpse an anaconda. Jaguar can also be sighted here.
Depending on your confidence as a horse rider (total beginners can be accommodated, too), you can join the llaneros as they round up or rope cattle. Spend a little time with the llaneros, and you’ll get a taste of their unforgiving existence eking off the land.
Their faces are often leathery and weather-beaten from a life spent in the open air, and you’ll notice that the mark of a true llanero is that he or she goes barefoot. Dry grass, tree roots, nettle stings, insect bites, thorn bushes — nothing fazes them.
After your morning outing, you might come back to a ranch for lunch. While the women cook (think thick cuts of meat cooked on skewers over a fire, with lots of fruit and vegetables), the men lie around napping (they’ve usually been up since 4am), or playing guitars. Siesta culture is very much alive here, given the midday sun’s heat.
Beyond the tiny towns and the far-flung ranches, the only city of any kind in this region is Yopal. Even here, you won’t find any chain stores — not even Colombian chains, never mind international ones — and English is barely spoken. Life slows down: you’ll see people going to church, or meeting in the parks. Likewise, in a llanero lodge, you’ll encounter little English, save that of your guide.
Best time to visit Los Llanos
Los Llanos can be visited all year round — it’s just that the way you’ll experience the wildlife changes with the seasons. During the wet season (May to September), expect to embark on more boat trips across the flooded plains, while in the dry season (November to April) you’ll likely mostly explore by pick-up truck on safari-style drives.
Map of Los Llanos
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Photos of Los Llanos
Accommodation choices for Los Llanos
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