October 1, 2018, 10:45 pm
There are destinations in Colombia that are relatively well-known to tourists and travellers these days: the Coffee Region, parts of the Caribbean coast, major cities like Bogotá and Medellín – these are all spots that are firmly established on the traveller trail in Colombia. Yet, the magic of this country is that there are still so many places that have barely been discovered by travellers: one of those places is the Llanos Orientales, or Eastern Plains.
So what, and where, are the llanos?
Encompassing the Colombian departments of Meta, Casanare, Vichada, and Arauca (as well as some parts of Guaviare and Guainía), the llanos is a vast tropical plain made up of savannas, woodlands, and grasslands. It lies to the east of the Colombian Andes and the north of the Amazon, and is shared between Colombia and Venezuela. For half of the year – between May and October – huge swathes of it are flooded: so much so that when the first Europeans arrived in the region from the east, they supposedly believed they had reached the Pacific Ocean; such was the size of the body of water in front of them. And whether that’s true or not, it neatly illustrates the contrast between the wet and dry seasons in the region. The llanos are also remarkably biodiverse and home to some of the best ecotourism experiences in Colombia.
Birding in the llanos
For a start, the llanos are a birder’s dream. The region doesn’t support any truly endemic species – although the White-bearded Flycatcher and Pale-headed Jacamar are semi-endemics, only found in Colombia and Venezuela. Moreover, there are at least 70 different aquatic bird species found in the region, including the rare Orinoco Goose, Jabiru Stork, the magnificent Scarlet Ibis, and bizarre looking Horned Screamer. Classic tropical species like macaws, toucans, and tanagers also abound in the forests of the plains. In the dry season – roughly between November and April – thousands of herons, ducks, ibises, and storks flock to the few remaining watering holes, making for one of South America’s most incredible natural spectacles.
Other animals in the llanos
And it’s not just birds that make this region such a natural joy: the number of mammals, reptiles, and amphibians is also quite astounding. Devotees of TV nature documentaries will be completely blown away by the sheer mammalian diversity: giant anteaters strolling though the savannas, howler monkeys swinging through the trees, giant capybaras moving in herds of more than one hundred individuals, pink river dolphins jumping from the rivers, and even the mysterious jaguar, giving away its presence through footprints and not much else! Lucky travellers can even get up-close-and-personal with the mighty anaconda, but never fear, they‘re more scared of you etc. etc. There’s a reason why a trip to the llanos has been called ‘the Colombian safari’ – if you head out on horseback or in a 4x4 into these great plains it truly does feel as if you are on an African safari (minus the lions, elephants, and rhinos, naturally).
Then there’s the unique culture of the region (it’s not just about wildlife after all). The llanos are the home of the llaneros, who are basically Colombian cowboys...which is just as awesome as it sounds! No trip to the area is complete without heading out on horseback, poncho around your neck, sombrero on your head, corralling cattle with some llaneros; then retiring back to the hacienda for some fresh BBQ – they love their meat there – and joropo music on the guitar. The llanero culture is truly unique within Colombia, and it’s a whole heap of fun as well! It’s not often that you can say you spent the day hanging out with a bunch of cowboys (apparently the collective noun for cowboys is “a saunter of cowboys.” That’s much better).
How to see it for yourself
You don’t read much about the llanos in guidebooks or travel magazines, but the area is poised to become a focal point of ecotourism in Colombia and South America as a whole. And the good news? You can experience the llanos orientales for yourself on an Uncover Colombia Llanos tour. Just contact us and we can arrange for you to visit these great plains and discover their magic for yourself.
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