Los Llanos: Colombia’s Exciting Frontier
"Los Llanos" is a geographical region of northern South America spread between Colombia and Venezuela in the Orinoco river basin. The Colombian Eastern Plains has 214 thousand square kilometres and occupies four departments: Arauca, Casanare, Vichada, and Meta. The inhabitants of the region, the Llaneros, are cheerful, hospitable people and excellent horsemen.
You will not see the sunset again in the same way, after traveling to the Eastern Plains in Colombia: admire the sunset while listening to the vibrant harp strings that will move each fiber of your body. Go ahead and travel around the region to incredible places, such as Caño Cristales and the Manacacías River. Dance to the rhythm of the joropo with the people of the area, always ready to teach you the traditional ‘zapateo’.
Thinking about the Eastern Plains is to bring to mind a series of landscapes that look like photographic postcards of paradise: extensive plains that extend to the horizon, sunsets that will delight your senses and a variety of animals that you will only find in this region of the country.
Top Places to Visit in Los Llanos
La Macarena National Park: Home to Caño Cristales, the river of seven colors, this sprawling park also features rapids, interesting jagged rocks, and walking trails. The best time to visit is between the wet and dry seasons – from July to November – when moss and algae blooms create the vibrant hues.
Villavicencio: This is the biggest city in the Eastern Plain Region and the gateway to Los Llanos. It takes about 3 to 4 hours to drive between Bogota and Villavicencio. The temperature is drastically warmer and many Bogotanos head to Villavicencio for weekend getaways.
Bioparque Los Ocarros: Those who visit the Los Ocarros Biopark can get to know 5.5 hectares of lush vegetation where they enjoy a beautiful natural lake fed by the waters of the Aguas Claras stream. Without barriers or bars, every animal species that lives here is in its natural habitat. If you visit the park you will find estuaries, savanna, morichal, gallery and river forests. But also, landscapes that emulate the respective elements of flora for each animal. In addition, it has a sector dedicated to providing information to children about the importance of conserving species and becoming aware of how essential both flora and fauna are in the process of sustainable development.
Parque Las Malocas: A place where customs and cultural traditions are rescued is the Las Malocas Park, in Villavicencio. Here visitors can walk a path in which sculptures about myths and legends of local folklore such as Patasola and La Llorona are built. You can also visit the Santa Elena herd, the typical Caserío Llanero and attend coleo competitions in the Benedict Cely manga.
La "Casa de las Toninas": Pink dolphins are not exclusive to the mythical Amazon River. They are also found in the Manacacías River, which crosses Puerto Gaitán, municipality 194 kilometers south of Villavicencio. In this tourist site, you can see these species, known locally as ‘toninas’. The best option is to do it in a canoe. It also houses species such as alligators.
Merecure Agroecological Park: A day to get in touch with nature and the plain landscape can be experienced in this space. Surrounded by a zoo with various endemic species of this area. It offers the possibility of fishing in Lake Tucunare, horseback riding, canopy and jetski.
Yopal: Capital of the department of Casanare. Its natural landscapes and sunsets are the main attraction of this city, perfect to spot a sky. Ideal place for adventure tourism and water sports, in addition to its typical llanera gastronomy.
Best things to do in Los Llanos
- Sleep in a traditional Ranch: Learn about the Colombian cowboy and cowgirl way of life by staying in a traditional ranch, or hato, during a trip to Los Llanos. Visitors can even take part in nightly barbecues and listen to the popular regional music called Joropo.
- Wildlife Safari: Los Llanos is home to so many interesting creatures to spot. Go on a Los Llanos safari and look for monkeys, anteaters, tortoises, caimans and exotic birds. Chigüiros, also known as capybaras, are the largest rodents in the world and can also be spotted in this area.
- Horseback Riding: Explore Los Llanos on horseback to cover more ground and to cross rivers without getting wet. Learn how to ride from locals, many of whom have been riding horses since they were children.
- Enjoy the Sunset: Los Llanos is known for having marvellous sunrises and sunsets. With streaks of orange, yellow and pink hues, visitors will start and end their days with awe-inspiring beauty.
- Boat Trips: Meander through rivers and see a new side of this area of Colombia from a boat. Boat trips let people spot unique flora and fauna while enjoying the gentle breeze as the boat glides on majestic rivers.
- Visit the most beautiful river in the world: Visit Caño Cristales, the so-called rainbow river or river of the five colors, which makes its way through the jungle and whose unique tones come from the aquatic plants, the sand and the stones of the place. Without buildings, trancones or cares, in Caño Cristales you will be in a completely natural environment that has not yet been touched by humans. Breathe pure air, recharge yourself with the energy from the place and be inspired by the colors, vegetation and sounds of the Colombian jungle.
Marseille Farm: Located 15 kilometers from Villavicencio, there you can enjoy a tour in a buggy, a large vehicle to appreciate species and landscapes typical of this region. You can also do activities such as rappelling, canopy, hiking and horseback riding.
Puerto Carreño: Capital of the department of Vichada and one of the most beautiful points of the boundaries between Colombia and Venezuela. There the waters of the Orinoco and Meta rivers converge. Famous for the sunsets llaneros that fall in love in their sheets.
Tuparro National Park: Recognised by UNESCO as a national monument, Tuparro National Park sits near the Venezuelan border. The park is dotted with rivers, rapids and spectacular rock formations, but it does not see a lot of tourism yet.
Los Llanos Travel Information
When is the Best Time to visit Los Llanos?
- Los Llanos is considered to have a desert climate. During the year, there is virtually no rain in Llanos.
- The average annual temperature is 17.4 ° C. Precipitation is 5 mm per year.
- Temperatures are highest in January, around 21.1 ° C. The lowest temperatures of the year occur in July when it is around 13.7 ° C.
You can find more information about the weather in the rest of Colombia here.
Los Llanos has several events that represent the greatest expression of folklore and customs of this region made up of the Colombian departments of Arauca, Casanare, Meta and Vichada, located in the eastern plains. There are dozens of celebrations, festivities and contests throughout the year in each of the departments of the region.
However, there are five most prominent and crowded parties on the holiday calendar:
- Festival de la Negrera (December): This festival is held in Arauquita, department of Arauca, starting on December 8 of each year, when the "time of negreras" begins. This name refers to the popular celebrations in which people dye their bodies black, characterizing Spanish kings, Moors and other courtiers. In this party, they wear Spanish-style costumes from the Colony. During that time they sing and dance to the rhythm of tambora, furruco, cuatro, charrasca and flute. It is a tradition that comes from Venezuela.
- Festival de Cuadrillas: These popular celebrations are the oldest in the country. They date back from the year 1785, when the priest of the town, Gabino de Balboa, organized a holiday to celebrate the end of the year. At that time, the festival consisted of an equestrian choreography in which four groups participated. Each of them symbolized a race. These races were the blacks, the Indians, the Spaniards and the Arabs, who intervened in the process of social formation in Latin America.
- Festival Nacional de la Canción y Torneo Internacional del Joropo: This celebration was held for the first time in 1960, when the territory of the Meta was elevated to the category of department. This festival is organized in the city of Villavicencio and competitions. You can find competitions of collegiate bulls, contests of works of the plain and typical gastronomy. But also craft shows and artistic exhibitions, such as sculpture and painting. The most prominent singers, musicians, composers and dancers of llanera music participate in the festival.
- Fiestas Patronales de Arauca: These festivities are in honor of the Virgin of Santa Barbara. They are one of the most representatives of llanero folklore, because the most renowned artists (musicians, singers and composers) participate in these, as well as collectors from Colombia and Venezuela. The dances, parades, exhibitions, processions and other religious activities are the most genuine representation of the traditions, customs and idiosyncrasies of the llanero people.
- Encuentro Mundial de Coleo: This sport originating in this Colombian-Venezuelan region is part of the popular llaneras festivities, as it is intimately linked to its culture. During this event there are artistic activities that include dance and singing competitions, gastronomic festivals and exhibitions. It takes place from March 20 to 22 and it gathers between 200 and 400 collectors from several Latin American countries, such as Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, Brazil and Mexico.
What are the best transports in Los Llanos?
How do I travel to Los Llanos?
From Europe there are several flights to Colombia. The main airlines that connect directly with Europe are Iberia, Air France, Lufthansa, British Airways and Avianca, almost always with a stopover in Bogota.
Villavicencio is the region's main transportation hub, just a three-hour journey down the highway from Bogotá or a short hop on several daily flights.
The highway now extends all the way to San José del Guaviare too, after which things get slightly more tricky.
Villavicencio, as well as Bogotá and Medellín, have direct flight connections to La Macarena for access to Caño Cristales, however, these flights are not commercial, but charter.
How do I move around?
Bus is the main way to get around Los Llanos, with flights picking up the slack in the very remote regions and when time is short.
There's a good network of routes centered on Villavicencio and San José del Guaviare, though distances are huge and road conditions are often challenging.
Is it safe to travel to Boyaca and Santander?
Many people are worried about safety in Colombia because of the country’s dark past. There is no denying Colombia used to be one of the most dangerous countries in the world because of drug trafficking, kidnappings and an internal conflict that raged for more than 50 years. Fortunately, the safety situation has improved drastically in Colombia over the past decade, resulting in more international visitors discovering the beauty of Colombia that has been hidden from the world for so long. People no longer have to be afraid to visit Colombia and can enjoy everything this fascinating country has to offer in peace.
These are some simple tips that should keep you out of trouble:
- Don’t flash large amounts of money in public
- Look out for pickpockets on public transportation
- Call or use a smartphone app to arrange for a taxi instead of hailing it on the street
- Be aware of your surroundings
- Keep your phones and cameras out of sight
- Don’t wear flashy jewellery
- Avoid taking cards or passports out with you
Those who visit the Eastern Plains in Colombia are not only surprised by the landscape, but also by the gastronomy of the area. Much of the meat consumed in the country and exported to other countries comes from this region, so it is expected that the typical dishes of the eastern plains region include meats of excellent quality. Learn which are the typical dishes of this wonderful region!
Mamona: It's beef roasted on a grill. Apparently, it may seem like any other meat, but the way it is seasoned with beer, salt, and traditional herbs gives this tender and soft meat a unique flavor. In general, this typical veal is served with potatoes, cassava and plantain and other meats such as pork, beef and even chicken to complement flavors.
Jalea: it is prepared by cooking the pulp of guava, a Colombian fruit recognized for being the ingredient of traditional Veleño snacks and with which a refreshing juice is also served that is served throughout the country. Due to its thick consistency, it is ideal to serve as a dressing of bread and cookies or to accompany a portion of fresh cheese.
Pineapple Guarapo: It is a drink that is prepared with slices of pineapple, panela scraping, water, and ice according to the taste of each person. It is a natural companion with a sweet taste ideal to complement any dish of traditional Colombian cuisine.
Chiguiro: The way to cook this exotic dish is grilled or baked, slow cooking and accompanied by cassava and plantain. If you want to taste the best chigüiro dishes in Villavicencio, you have to attend the International Joropo Festival, where the dish is considered par excellence and is in various presentations.
Tungos Llaneros: If you are a lover of tamales and wraps, you will love the tungos llaneros. This dish, which comes from the whole family of wrapped in Colombia, is one of the dishes that we can not miss, since it can be consumed at any meal and at any time of the day. This wrap consists of cooked rice, peasant cheese, sugar and sour milk, all wrapped in a bijao banana leaf.
Pisillo: The "Pisillo" is a common preparation that is made mainly with dried beef minced in thin strips. This is cooked until it softens and you add long-headed onion, garlic and paprika and it is accompanied with cooked cassava. The snack can also be made with fish and bushmeat.
Gofios: They are an ancient tradition in the indigenous llanera slope, they are amasijos of roasted and ground corn that accompanies the llanero in the long days in the plain. Corn or cassava flours, hydrated with water and flavored with honey or chili, were the staple food of the indigenous diet of the jungle communities.
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