The subterranean tombs were created around 700 AD and rediscovered and excavated between 1930 and 1995. Most tombs had been damaged and looted by grave robbers but the level of preservation of the actual structures is impressive. These tombs provide an unique opportunity to study an ancient pre-Columbian civilization, and for this reason the Tierradentro Archeological Park has earned its place on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Not much is known about the pre-Colombian civilization who created the burial chambers.
Flora and fauna
San Andres de Pisimbala or simply San Andres is the tiny hamlet where most people stay.
- From Popayan : several buses a day make the 4-hour ride to Tierradentro. Some will drop you off at a place called El Cruz from where it's a 2-km walk to San Andres. The company Popayan Tours offers daytrips from Popayan to Tierradentro if you don't want to spend the night in Tierradentro.
- From San Agustín : you first have to go to Pitalito and then get a bus to La Plata which leaves at 6AM and 10AM From there you can take bus to San Andres at 4PM.
- From Neiva and Bogota. There are several direct, luxury bus services between Bogota and La Plata, (8 hr, approx COP$70,000). More frequent is the connection at Neiva (3 hr, COP$20,000). From La Plata you can catch a pickup to the San Andres village (1½ hr). The last pickup to the San Andres leaves around 5PM. There are several basic hotels in the La Plata if necessary.
All sites are within walking distance. It's possible to visit all of them in one long day starting at the archaeological park, then hiking to Segovia, El Duende and El Tablon before having lunch at San Andres, and finally visiting Alto de San Andres and Aguacate in the afternoon. This 14-km loop takes between 8 and 9 hours, so start early.
Near the entrance of the park there are two museums. An archeological museum with pottery, statues and interesting information (in Spanish) and an ethnological museum with interesting information about the Paez Indians who nowadays live in the surrounding mountains.
From the entrance there are two walks. One will lead to Segovia a extensive site with the best preserved burial chambers and the only ones with light. Further up is the site El Duende with some more burial chambers. And close to San Andres is El Tablon with statues similar to the ones in San Agustín.
The other walk will lead to Aguacate sitting on top of a mountain. The views are amazing, but most of the burial chambers are not maintained at all. Close to San Andres is the site Alto de San Andres.
There is no bank nor cashpoint. Take enough money especially in small bills, changing your COP$20,000 bills can be hard.
Bring a torch before going to Tierradentro. The ones available in San Andres are bad.
In San Andres there is only one restaurant, you can't miss it.
There are several budget residentials renting out rooms and cooking meals. One of them is an old lady called Marta which has rooms for COP$8,000 and a meal cost around COP$2,000.
- La Portada, ☏ . Main hotel in San Andrés, has a good restaurant. COP$35,000 for a double.
Tierradentro is a guerrilla area, but up till now they haven't harmed any tourists. Armed conflicts between guerrilla and military aren't uncommon, so inform yourself of the situation before setting off.
There is a 6AM bus to Popayan (4 hours, COP$20,000). Otherwise, catch one from El Cruz.