My name is Frank and I run a travel agency based in Bogota, Colombia. If you have any feedback or suggestions, please write them in our comments section. Thank you and have a great trip to Colombia!
1.1 The Llanos
First of all, I would like to make it clear that I am completely biased and the following article is therefore subjective. Casanare is my 3rd home (after Switzerland and Bogota) and I am absolutely in love with this area of Colombia.
The entire Llanos range from Colombia to Venezuela is huge and has an area of about 375,000 km2, which is about the size of Japan. The Colombian Llanos are summarized in the Orinoco area and include the departments Meta, Arauca, Casanare and Vichada.
Casanare has an area of about 44,500 km2 and is thus slightly larger than Switzerland. The majority of the area is flatland, with an average altitude of 350 meters (1,150 feet) above sea level. To the west Casanare extends over the eastern Cordilleras. Accordingly, areas of more than 4,000 meters (13,125 feet) above sea count to the department. The population is about 375,000 and the capital Yopal has about 150,000 inhabitants.
In the flat regions, temperatures can rise to over 30 degrees Celsius (86° F). The rainy season starts in May and lasts until October. This is so pronounced that entire areas are completely flooded during this time and can no longer be reached by vehicles.
The traditional economy is the livestock, which is still very pronounced today. Today, oil and various monocultures (rice and oil palms) also count to the local economy.
The local culture can be described as typical cowboy culture and the people in Casanare are extremely friendly and relaxed.
2. Tourist destinations and activities in Casanare
2.1. In Yopal
Yopal is the capital of Casanare and offers various activities and attractions. The city itself is not a gem.
In a region, where cattle breeding is a major source of income, of course, appropriate food is on the map. In Yopal you will find different restaurants. Mamona is the absolute specialty, with huge pieces of veal being cooked next to the open fire. A feast for every meat-eater, all over here in this cowboy land animal products are served.
If you spend a holiday in the Llanos, you must in any case also get a corresponding headgear. You can do this in one of the numerous shops in Yopal or you can go to the absolute specialist and buy a custom made hat.
On a popular lookout point and elevated on a hill stands the Virgin, who oversees the city. In the past, cows were also driven past to be blessed and protected. Today, in particular, many sports enthusiasts set out early on foot or on a bicycle.
Just outside Yopal and also on a hill, there is a thematic park, where many cultural elements of the region have been incorporated into stones in the form of animals and figures. You can find animals like the Orinoco crocodile or capybaras. Once at the top, you can have a coffee and enjoy the view over the city.
In Yopal you can find some interesting species very close to the city.
Yopal has recently opened a new and outstanding convention center. For business events, congresses and also in combination with teambuilding activities, it is a very good destination.
2.2. Outside of Yopal
Finca La Fortuna is around an hour drive from Yopal and is the perfect destination for a short break. You can cross the nearby river and visit an oil palm plantation. Impressive that this is full of local animals.
If you invest a little more time here, you can also book a Llanero experience, such as horse riding and a Llanero safari.
This small village sits at 1,150 meters (3,770 feet) above sea level in the eastern Cordillera and offers beautiful views over the Llanos. The lookout tower must be shared with a small army post. The area around Tamara is spectacular and beautiful, but is considered unsafe.
Nunchia is also a small village near Yopal, which you can visit.
Trinidad is a village about two hours drive from Yopal. It is a good starting point for various activities in the Llanos. Various hatos (ranches) are located in the immediate vicinity. From there you can, if the river level is not too shallow, reach various other destinations by boat.
The local called Seudiel or nicknamed “Seco” is the “Grand Llanerazo”. In his youth he won a competition in the Llanos, which dragged on for weeks. The disciplines were: driving cows, riding, river crossing with horse, catch anaconda and much more crazy stuff. Since then, Seco is one of the most famous men in the region. In the tradition of the Llaneros, he is always barefoot. Seco is probably one of the most humble and charismatic people I’ve ever met.
Today he runs a museum in his home and shares the history and culture of his region with visitors. As a climax, he performs a river crossing on the horse. He is a cowboy through and through and a visit should not be missed.
This private conservation reserve consists of 3 hatos. Hato Mata de Palma, Hato de Altamira and Hato Montana. It is located near San Luis de Palenque and is just under 3 hours from Yopal.
It is the perfect destination for horse riding and all Llanero activities. The Llanero safari can be done either in 4×4, by tractor, by safari 4×4 or high on horseback. During the rainy season, the area is partially flooded.
This Hato is about 8 hours drive from Yopal and during the rainy season it can only be reached by plane. Here is one of the most original experiences and with a little luck, the shy wild animals can be observed.
Hato los Deseos
Near San Luis de Palenque, this is also a perfect place for a cowboy experience.
In the nearby lagoon in the evening you can see the birds, which are looking in large numbers for a night’s sleep in the surrounding trees.
Hato La Aurora is probably the best known destination for nature lovers traveling to the Llanos. The approach is difficult. I was there 2 years ago with a small chartered plane, with which one flies there in 40 minutes. The runway is a flat grassy area.
The area is spectacular and you can indulge in all the activities. However, the accommodations require urgent investment and the prices seem high to me. There are good alternatives today that are easier to reach.
3. Wildlife Safari – Animals in the Llanos of Colombia
In Casanare you will find a variety of animal species and about 700 different species of birds. Here are some of the best known, but their sighting is not guaranteed. Of course there is much more to see!
The Jaguar is certainly one of the most imposing big cats in the world. He has not only the strongest bit of all cats, with which he can crack turtle shell or kill caimans, but the second strongest bit of all land animals. For comparison, a Jaguar has the double biting power of a lion and kills its prey with a bite through the skullcap.
Despite the colonization of humans, the Llanos still counts to the natural habitat of the Jaguar. However, to see it, it requires not only planning and time, but also a lot of luck. On different hatos, however, there are photos of self-triggering cameras and you can also go looking for marks and tracks.
Capybaras can be seen throughout Llanos, as these are very common. These excellent swimmers also spend a lot of time in the water and are therefore everywhere, where there is water.
The animals can weigh up to 90 kg and reach shoulder heights of up to 62 centimeters. The animals are very social and occur in large families.
The anaconda is one of the largest snakes in the world and proved lengths reached over 9 meters. Reported specimens weigh over 200 kg. The snakes are superbly adapted to an aquatic life and sluggish on land and defenseless.
These beautiful and interesting animals can be spotted especially at the end of the dry season.
With a total length of up to 2.3 meters and a weight of up to 50 kg, the giant anteater has an impressive appearance. The animals have poor eyesight and it can therefore happen that the animals approach to a few meters before they notice the presence of humans.
These animals can be seen with a bit of luck. During my visits to the Llanos, I saw the giant anteater several times.
This endangered species can still be found in the Colombian Llanos. With lengths of up to 7 meters, these animals were huge. It is believed that today only animals up to 5 meters in length exist, which, with a weight of up to 600 kg, also seems considerable.
The armadillo is widespread but difficult to recognize due to its size and color.
Like the jaguar, the cougar also lives in the Orinoco area. The animals, however, avoid each other. Pumas are not easy, but easier to see than the Jaguar. Traces are also increasingly found.
Sloths can be found in different regions of Colombia. Although cute to look at and slow motion-like speed, one should not touch the animals.
Primates live throughout Colombia and you can find various species. The Common squirrel monkey as well as the loud Venezuelan red howler can be heard and seen also in this area.
The giant otter is a sociable fellow and does not flee at the sight of man, but retains a certain safety distance.
Probably the most conspicuous bird in the area. With his red color, he immediately stands out. Impressive, especially when a whole swarm is flying over you.
These pretty and cute little owls can be found in many places. They live in burrows and look at you with big eyes.
Yopal can be reached from Bogota within 20 minutes by plane and is served by Latam, Avianca and EasyFly. By car you need about 7 hours from Bogota.
Casanare is a large and sparsely populated area and not all roads are paved. Public transport is available in Yopal as well as to the municipalities.
However, if you want to go on a safari on your own or visit a Hato, you usually need an off-road vehicle and have to organize this with a local provider beforehand. Such transports are not very cheap.
For longer trips or during the rainy season, small aircraft or helicopters can also be chartered in Yopal.
In Casanare there are various pests and the usual mosquitoes. Therefore you should always protect yourself well from stings. In my experience, the Trombicula autumnalis are the biggest annoyance. These are microscopically small and despite long clothes and rubber boots, they find their way into the skin. This leads to unsightly and countless stitches and you have these unwanted parasites in addition under the skin. You can, however, coat with VicksVaporub and the mites die immediately. Even a cool climate they cannot stand, they die back in Bogota within a few hours.
6. Personal Conclusions
The Llanos is one of the greatest areas in the world and a safari is incredibly exciting and a lot of fun. Anyone who enjoys riding in nature is in the right place anyway. The whole area is touristy not yet very well known.
For those who are not great nature lovers or cannot stand the heat, this is not the destination. For all others, Casanare is almost my second home and I would be delighted to organize an unforgettable trip for you. As a travel agent in Bogota we are specialized in tailor made and luxury travel in Colombia .
- Share your personal experience below in the comments so that other travelers also can profit from your know-how.
- Feel free to spread the word of Colombia being one of the greatest countries in the world, the relevant buttons are below.