Blog WHS Visits

WHS #727: San Agustín

San Agustín isn’t as hard to reach as Tierradentro, but the 135km between Popayan and San Agustin still took the public bus that I was on 5 hours. About 3.5 of them were spent on an unpaved road right across Puracé National Park, which at least offered great views in return. The bus will drop you at the turn-off to San Agustín, from where it is 8km or so into town and another 3 to the Archaeological Park. This add-on was nicely taken care of by the bus company (Cootranshuila), as they paid for my ‘taxi’ into San Agustín (on the back of a motorbike).

Guarding the entrance to a tomb

As the site closes at 4 p.m. and it was already 1, I continued straight on to the park. At the ticket office they were kind enough to store my backpack behind the counter, so I did not have to haul it around the extensive grounds. A minor complaint though is that they have succumbed to the practice of ‘foreigner pricing’. I can understand it in certain circumstances, but there are a lot of middle class Colombians and the price difference between 35,000 what they have to pay and the 50,000 pesos for foreigners isn’t that much (charge all 40,000 and you will get the same revenue, as the domestic tourists by far outnumber those from abroad). But in the end I was happy to pay the equivalent of 12,50 EUR for a truly unique site on a global scale and two days’ worth of entrance which I found a bonus.

During that first afternoon in the park I did the loop along the 5 original excavations (Mesita A, B, C and the Fuente and Alto de Lavapatas). Due to the way it is set up, it looks a bit like an artificial sculpture garden - partly because each sculpture has been given a protective shelter against erosion. But all sculptures were really dug up on the spot. They seem to be many variations on a limited number of themes. I liked the trio’s the best – a fierce-looking deity, accompanied on either side by what appear to be two guardians. It reminded me of Korea’s Joseon tombs. The waterworks of the Fuente de Lavapatas are also special.

Fuente de Lavapatas

The next morning I took the first bus into the park again to check out the 2 remaining parts, the museum and the Forest of the Statues. The site opens at 8, however the museum was not open yet so I started with the forest. Here they exhibit statues that were found in other places in the region. It has a very different atmosphere than the open fields of the Mesitas: this is a dense rainforest. There weren’t other people around yet, so I enjoyed the natural surroundings as much as the sculptures. You hear a lot of birds, but they are skittish. I stood still for a long time under a few popular trees and managed to photograph four Latin American bird species. I also saw a beautiful large butterfly.

There a number of scattered locations around San Agustín which still have sculptures in situ. Technically they are not part of the WHS, but I was tempted to at least get to El Purutal – this has the only 2 statues that still have their original colouring. There is a signposted path to El Purutal from the road between the Archaeological Park and the town of San Agustín. According to it is only a 5 kilometer walk, but it would take you almost 2 hours. That must be a lot of climbing! I therefore choose to take a taxi. It had to make a detour all the way to the back of the hills, on a road that is almost impassable with a normal car. The site takes a 5,000 pesos entrance fee and there are even 2 eateries near the entrance, so they’ll see their fair share of visitors. The 2 sets of tombs + sculptures here are also in an open field, just like the Mesitas at the main park. The first set (known as La Pelota) is a fine set of three sculptures: a bird, a crocodile and a human-like being.

El Purutal

However, everyone comes here for the second group: it is a large tomb with two statues that have retained their original colors. It gives the sculptures an even more deterrent appearance than they do normally. This group is not only protected by a roof from sun and rain, it is also surrounded with barbed wire: a grim reminder that in 2011 the statues were painted over by vandals. Although it was done in the original colors, it did damage the porous volcanic rock.

Els - 12 January 2020

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Els Slots 13 January 2020

Yeah, for all I have tried to find a different location and/or a different angle (especially compared to Solivagant's reviews, as he visited only a few weeks before me). At least I will add info about getting to the sites by public transport.

Zoë Sheng 12 January 2020

And you were worried there's nothing more to write after all the other reviews lol