January 11, 2014
After an almost tearful farewell to Casa de Francois (yes, we really like it that much!), we packed up the car and the kids and headed to our last and hottest destination, the Tatacoa Desert. Located halfway between San Agustin and Bogota, the dessert is a great place to stop for a day or two. It is known for its beautiful rock formations and is one of the best places in the world to stargaze given its low light pollution and location at the equator. But beware, it is hot! Daytime temperatures reach 47 degrees Celsius (116.6 degrees Farenheit) so we were abit nervous about doing this part in our little Chevy with three kids and no air conditioning.
The five and a half hour drive to Villavieja (the closest town to the dessert) was hot, hot, hot. We stopped in Neiva (the nearest city) to cool off with some ice cream but that didn’t do much to quell the crankies in our car. By the time we got to Villavieja, we were ready for a cold shower and a cold beer. The town was small and sleepy and the lodging choices were pretty basic. We checked out a couple and decided that Villa Paraiso was our best bet. The rooms were fairly clean and there was air conditioning. What more could we ask for?
We didn’t have much time to enjoy the A/C however as we had to get to the desert before sunset. We quickly showered to cool off, ate some sausage and empanadas (fried meat and corn patties) at the town square street cart (let’s hope our stomachs survive this dinner) and headed off to the desert.
Located about 20 minutes by car from Villavieja, the desert is small but really beautiful. We really enjoyed exploring the mazes of rock formations as the sun set. The only major disappointment was that it was cloudy and we could not see any stars. We were hoping to attend the three hour guided astronomy experience at the observatory (there is an observatory in this dessert!) but opted out since we could not see a single star in the sky. Bummer!
Lodging – Villa Paraiso – with rooms set around a somewhat cooler courtyard and A/C, this is the best place to stay in Villavieja. Rooms go for about 35,000COP (US$17) per person. It is also possible to stay in the dessert itself in quite basic and cheap accommodations. Some even have swimming pools. That would actually be my recommendation as the temperature drops sufficiently at night that it’s not too hot in the rooms but my family would not hear of it. They wanted their A/C and that was that.
Dining – Basic and local. There are several basic places to eat local fair (goat and chicken) right near the observatory and some typical Colombian restaurants in Villavieja. Our stomachs did OK with the street cart empanadas and sausages but then again we are fairly seasoned veterans at this point. (Although to be fair, I have traveled to over 50 countries, most of them in the developing world and have only gotten food poisoning from eating sausages in Switzerland, the cleanest country I have ever been to.)