It has taken me no less than eleven years to get to Casanare and to embark upon a Colombian Safari, and while the wait was lengthy, it was an experience that was breathtaking in so many ways. I could wax on about the beauty of the Llanos, the immense skies above us at all moments, the wildlife within touching distance, the authenticity of the people and the opportunity to show my three-year-old son a little more of his homeland, but, just perhaps, these images can go some way to explaining the experience.
Under the careful guidance of husband and wife team of Julia Buschmann and Andres Gonzalez Perez (www.aventurecotours.com), I took my wife and son out for a Colombian Safari in the plains, savannahs and wetlands of Casanare. On our bespoke experience, we took in the perfect combination of a slice of the authentic Llanos cowboy lifestyle and saw droves of birds and other wildlife including deer, caimans and chiguiros (capybara).
Colombia is a country of contrasts and with an embarrassment of riches to which to travel and only recently is this being understood. Casanare has charm, style and substance and oozes all of them and anyone wishing to experience adventure, birdwatching and authenticity should make time to come here. I must also emphasise that at no point did we feel unsafe at all, just embraced by the warmth of our hosts and the destination as a whole.
I cannot emphasize enough how incredible this three-day break from Bogotá really was. Visit Casanare as soon as you can.
What you need to know about travel to the Llanos of Casanare and the Colombian Safari
Speak to a Bogotano about travelling to Casanare – not in the least that you plan on taking your family – and their eyebrows will arch and mouth will fall agape, and you can expect them to react as if you suggested you were walking your family off the plank. There will be mentions of FARC guerrillas, dissident FARC threats, kidnapping at the hands of illegal groups, paramilitaries and more. While there may well be an influence of illegal groups in the area, most probably an off-shoot of paramilitary outfits intent on charging vacunas (protection fees) from oil companies and large cattle farmers near to Yopal, at no point did we feel unsafe. First and foremost, out here on the Llanos it would be very difficult for any government-opposed groups to exist nor hide…they would be spotted from 100km away!
What to Bring on a Colombian safari
- Long sleeve shirts (preferably light colors) to protect from sun, branches and insects
- Long trousers (jeans are perfect for riding)
- Rain clothes
- Hat/cap, sunglasses
- Closed shoes/hiking boots to protect from insects (mainly ticks)
- sun block and insect repellent
- Torch/ head torch for the farm
It is imperative that you go with a reputable outfitter and ensure that the people of Casanare and the Hatos (farms or haciendas) are benefitting from the trickle-down economy of tourism. This is a growth industry here in Casanare at the moment and as tourists, travellers and people seeking out experiential adventures of this type, we have the opportunity to help the region get it right from the start.
Getting to and from Yopal
Your travel agency will sort out the logistics once you are here and these will include transfers in a 4×4 vehicle, horse-riding (or on a tractor in our case), cycling and hiking. But, to get to Yopal from where your Colombian Safari will begin is remarkably easy.
Driving to Yopal
You could choose to drive it as we did, making a huge loop out of southern Bogotá down to Villavicencio in Meta (3.5 hours) and spending the night there to split the trip. From here we drove along the rim of the foothills with the Cordillera rising up to our left and the Llanos stretching out endlessly to the right of us all the way to Yopal (4.5 hours). To return to Bogotá from Yopal, instead of doubling back on ourselves we took the road up over the mountains to Sogamoso, Boyaca. This road was beautiful, untravelled and arriving at the highest point, passing over a paramo and then seeing the Laguna de Tota from above was most rewarding. Yopal to Sogamoso is a winding but mainly paved road (3.5 hours) and then from Sogamoso to Bogotá (3 hours) is a dual carriage way and very comfortable to drive.
By Air to Yopal
Plan in advance and keep an eye on deal with both Avianca and Latam and you could be fortunate enough to get a one way flight for COP69,000. This is US$24 for a 40 minute flight. So, just under US$50 to get here and away. This, is not going to break the bank!
To hear more about our trip and Aventur Eco Tours, tune in to Episode 234 of the ColombiaCalling podcast and hear the interview with Julia and Andres.