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To break up the bus trip back to Bogota from San Agustin, I made a stop into Neiva and the Tatacoa Desert for a couple of days. I visited the desert as a day trip from Neiva, the capital of the Huila district of Colombia. Starting off bright and early in the morning at the bus station in Neiva, I caught a collectivo bus to Villavieja. These buses don’t run on a timetable, they go when they’re full. It was recommended to me to go early so I wouldn’t have to wait too long and I only ended up waiting about 15 minutes. The trip to the town took around 45 minutes.
At Villavieja I didn’t have to seek out a tour guide, they came to me! Unfortunately as a solo traveller the prices of trips like this are not exactly cheap. The rates vary and can be negotiated of course, but basically the more people taking the same tour, the cheaper it will be. There were no other tourists looking to visit the desert that day so after some haggling I went off on a private tour of the desert.
The Tatacoa desert has an area of 330 square kilometres with two distinct zones, the red desert and the grey desert. After a particularly wet few months, the desert was rather green and my guide said it hadn’t been this green for quite some time. My guide/driver was entertaining and knew a lot about the desert. He happily took photos of me during the trip and led me on walks through areas I would not have liked to hike alone. He insisted that I was always posing in the photos, but I really do like people-less photos, especially landscapes, so this resulted in me taking a lot of sneaky shots so my guide wouldn’t see.
My guide also explained bits and pieces about the cactus, showing me that I could eat parts of some of them. It took a little convincing on his behalf to get me to try the fruits. They didn’t really appeal to me, but the peculiar little pink fruit is meant to have a lot of health benefits. Along with the abundant flora, I came across a few eagles and plenty of lizards but it was an extremely hot day so I guess the other animals were hiding out. There are also meant to be wildcats, alligators, turtles, scorpions, spiders and snakes in the desert.
Starting off early in the morning was a good idea as the day got very hot, and I finished up the tour in the early afternoon. Back in Villavieja I had some lunch and had my guide take me to a shop where you can buy all kinds of cactus products. They sold sweets, juices, lotions and every kind of souvenir you could imagine. After a little exploring in the town and to the museum (which was closed) I headed back to Neiva to spend the night relaxing and soaking in the warmth before heading back to Bogota the next day.