Guaviare History

Guaviare is one of the least populated departments of Colombia while being one of the most pristine natural destinations in the country.  

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Cerro Azul, El Guaviare

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In the past, the settlement of Guaviare was mainly thanks to the enormous natural riches of its soil and the resulting exploitation. The first foreign settlers to the Guaviare region were the Spanish colonizers who came seeking their wealth in the new world. Then populaces came increasingly to cultivate rubber and balata (latex).
Moreoverthe trade in wild animal skins, native plants and other exotic creatures was an additional incentive.

Finally, more recently, the illicit cultivation of coca attracted many people, bringing with it war and chaos to the region.

While European peoples were barely awakening from the last ice age, Amazonian peoples were highly active in what is now the Chiribiquete nature reserve. Stunning rock art discoveries were made which will take ages to fully understand. For thousands of years, rocks in the park were used for art, leaving modern mankind one of the largest displays of prehistoric pictographs in the world. For more than 12,500 years, collections of prehistoric rock paintings lay undiscovered in the Amazon rainforest. Depicting now-extinct ice age animals, such as the elephant-like mastodon, stocky ice age horses and giant sloths, the drawings were painted by some of the first humans to ever reach the Amazon.

Prehistoric rock art, paintings on a sheltered cliff face Serranía La Lindosa

As groups of hunter-gatherers traversed the globe in search of food, shelter and land, they were confronted by the enormity and diversity of the Amazon rainforest. Researchers have long been mystified by the choice of early humans to settle in the Amazon basin, due to its harsh environmental conditions and seemingly inhospitable landscape. Spanning nearly eight miles of the cliff face, the paintings were kept a secret until they were recently unveiled. The Serranía La Lindosa is one of the country’s most important archaeological sites with a staggering history.

The paintings located in the Serranía La Lindosa, will not necessarily provide the answer as to why humans decided to settle there, but can certainly give glimpses into an ancient civilization about which little is known.
Serranía La Lindosa is positioned on the riverbank of the Guayabero river, between the departments of Meta and Guaviare. Fish, lizards, birds, dancing people and even one figure wearing a bird mask, are among the images.
At the time of discovery, they were described as “The Sistine Chapel of the Ancients.”
Additionally, there are drawings of deer, tapirs, alligators, bats, monkeys, turtles, serpents and porcupines, as well as what appears to be Ice Age megafauna. These now-extinct animals are depicted in rock art which is notoriously difficult to date. However, adjacent materials such as the tools that were used to create the images, were tested to date the site. Scientists have now identified animals that are extinct, which helps with the dating process.

Lagoon, Guaviare

If you’re wondering what to do in Guaviare, check out our list of 7 must-see things and experiences in this breathtaking destination. Click here to read our blog.

Over the last several decades, the Department of Guaviare has been known mainly as the hotbed for the country’s armed conflict associated with prohibited crops, primarily coca. Huge swathes of Colombia were once no-go zones for travellers and Colombians alike. Most of the departments in Amazonas and Orinoquía were practically off-limits, as were many parts of the south and west. Although there are still some remote destinations to avoid, the good news is most of the country is now open to tourism in the wake of a peace accord and Colombia’s overall improved safety. Today some once-dangerous destinations can safely be visited.
Now the largest national park in Colombia and the second largest in South Americait is home to at least three indigenous communities in voluntary isolation, the Carijona, Urumi and Uitoto. With more than 75.000 paintings, some of which date back more than 20,000 years, it is nothing short of incredible.

Nowadays tourism is opening as a new possibility for the economic development of the region and it is becoming a good strategy for the protection and conservation of amazing natural and archaeological areas.

The pre-Columbian era refers to the time preceding the arrival of the Spaniards in 1492. This was shaped by various indigenous groups who had their own political and economic organization as well as their own beliefs and rituals. The oldest evidence suggests that the first settlers appeared on Colombian territory more than 15,000 years ago. Over time, groups such as the Muisca, the Tairona, the San Agustin culture and others emerged.
When the Spanish arrived in 1492, it is estimated that between three and seven million indigenous people lived on Colombian territory. The arrival of the conquistadors brought a variety of diseases, as well as various armed conflicts and forced labour that was imposed on the indigenous people, resulting in them being reduced to a fraction in less than a hundred years. But despite all the difficulties, many groups managed to survive and still live on Colombian territory today.

Flying over the gateway to the Amazon, Chiribiquite National Park, the scene below is a paradise of nature untouched. Rivers snake through dense forest, carving pristine coves from the banks, while the only breaks in the treeline are from the massive rocks that soar up over the park.

Chiribiquete National Park

This area is one of the most important ecological areas in the world. The indigenous peoples who live here are not connected to the outside world and the ecosystems are so important for research that the park is always closed to visitors. The Vaupés and Guaviare regions in southeastern Colombia are inhabited by several indigenous groups belonging to different linguistic families. Now twenty-four different ethnic groups live in this area, including Tukanoan, Guahiban, Arawakan, Kakua-Nukak and Cariban. In the Guaviare, the most prominent are the Guahibans.

For those seeking deeper cultural immersion and connection with indigenous communities, check out our 3-day ‘Living with the Embera Community in Kiparate’ experience.” (link attached to “Living with the Embera Community in Kiparate”)

 Weather and Landscape
Characterized by vast savannahs irrigated by numerous and abundant rivers, most of the inhabitants of this region live in the cities, while the indigenous communities of Tunebos, Betoyes, Sikuanis, U’wa, Curripaco, Puinaves, Piapocos and Guahibos representing about 5% of the population, live in their own communities.

The climate in San José del Guaviare is generally very warm, humid and overcast.
The dry season is from December to May with the rainy season during the rest of the year (especially April-July and October-November).
Annual rainfall ranges from 2,000 ml/122´´to to 3,500 ml/214´´.
The temperature in San José del Guaviare varies a little over the year, so there are no hot and cool seasons as such. During the day highs reach 22c/71f to 30c/87f, dropping at night to 12c/54f. The average elevation in Guaviare is 1,132f/345m, with the highest point 13,383f/4,079m and the minimum 272f/83m.

The soils are bathed by numerous rivers and a network of streams, divided mainly into two basins, the Orinoco River Basin and the Amazon River Basin.
Beyond the Andes, the eastern plains or los llanos, extend to the border with Venezuela along the rivers Arauca and Meta in the north. To the south, the plains extend to the border with Peru and Ecuador in the department of Putumayo. Finally, it extends from the base of the Cordillera Oriental to the Orinoco. This region is divided into two natural landscapes, the Amazon rainforest in the south of Colombia and the eastern plains in the centre of the country.

Get all the information you need to start planning your trip to this magnificent destinationcheck the weather and climate facts of  Guaviare here!

About 100 km. from Villavicencio is La Macarena, a special tropical ecosystem that hosts the Sierra Nevada de la Macarena and the river of seven colours, Caño Cristales. *Check here Macarena and Caño Cristales weather facts!

Caño Cristales

The area around the capital of San José del Guaviare is stunning, diverse, satisfyingly remote, and completely ready for you to visit. So here are some compelling reasons to do so…..
Selina Monteverdi, There are several rivers within half an hour of the urban area that, in the right season (June-November), run red. Visiting Caño Cristales is where everyone wants to go, however, San Jose del Guaviare is much simpler and, whilst these red rivers might not be quite on the scale of Caño Cristales, they are stunning and wild nonetheless. They are also very under-visited, so you will be comparatively alone compared to visiting their iconic big brother. For half the year these red rivers alone are a wonderful reason to head down to Guaviare.

Caño Cristalitos, Guaviare

Cerro Azul, Nuevo Tolima & El Raudal del Guayabero these three places are all sites where you can visit remarkable ancient rock paintings, some dating back 10,000 years. The blood-red paintings, daubed on the face of ancient tepuilike rock formations in the jungles of Guaviare, are vivid reminders of our ancient ancestors.
All three sites are similar but distinct. For El Raudal you can take a canoe along the stunning rapids of the Guayabero river. All are well worth visiting.

Raudal del Guayabero

Playa Güio
The beauty of San José del Guaviare is its remarkable diversity. You can visit the jungle, plains or rivers all close by. The best way to experience the jungle is to go to Playa Güio. A little ecotourism communal, constructed on the banks of a small creek about twenty minutes outside town, you will be amazed by the raucous wailing of howler monkeys along with brown woolly and squirrel monkeys. Toucans, parrots and a myriad of other colourful tropical birds flutter through the trees. You can walk the jungle trails or take a dugout canoe along the river. Enjoy meals of freshly caught fish with coconut rice.

Rostrhamus sociabilis

Experience the magic of the Amazon rainforest with our 4-day Amazon Wonder, click here for more information!

Guaviare means biodiversity!
This region is so biodiverse it is quite unbelievable. Even those not obsessed with nature lovers will find something to be amazed by here. Pink dolphins, caiman and turtles on the Guayabero River, at least four species of monkeys are seen regularly in the jungles around the town, and toucans, parrots and hummingbirds are all over the place.
Guaviare is truly a paradise. Simply by travelling to these places, you can observe some of the most diverse and beautiful wildlife Colombia has to offer. Expertise is not required.
The real prize of the area is the Damas del Nare Lake. Here it is possible to swim with very friendly wild pink river dolphins!
So, make sure to carry binoculars along with the swimming gear.…

Pink Dolphin in Nare Lagoon.

Explore the historical wonders of Colombia on our 14-day itinerary, featuring must-visit destinations such as Guaviare, San Agustin, and the Desert of Tatacoa. Click here to have a view of the itinerary

Finding a place to stay in San José del Guaviare is never a problem. There are options that will suit all budgets and preferences, from hostels like the Guaviare Soul to 5-star hotels like the El Aeropuerto Hotel. So, there is no excuse to not see magical places like this one!

Hotel Quinto Nivel is a newish hotel in San José del Guaviare that has quickly become one of the best options. Close to the centre yet in a very quiet location, with attentive staff, good breakfast, comfortable beds, hot water and everything you might need.

Playa Guio
Twenty minutes by taxi from the centre of town you find yourself in a haven of peace in the middle of an unspoiled environment of river bank and jungle. Here are family-run eco-cabins at a very affordable price.

Hotel Campestre Palma Real
This 3-Star establishment is an unassuming hotel off Highway 75, 2 km from the Catedral de San José del Guaviare. Suitable for families with a large pool and restaurant.

There are traditional dishes that you definitely have to try while in Guaviare, as the food from this department is the most interesting in all of Colombia. Compared with produce only found in the area and that has the seal of the Wayuu culture.

Beef roasted on a grill may seem like any other meat, but the way it is seasoned with beer, salt, and traditional herbs gives a tender and soft texture with a unique flavour. Typically, veal is served with potatoes, cassava (yuca) and plantain. Other meats such as pork, beef and even chicken are also served in place of beef.

Tungos Llaneros:
If you are a fan of tamales and empanadas, you will love the tungos llaneros. This is one you cannot miss, consisting of cooked rice, local cheese, panela and sour milk, all wrapped in a bijao banana leaf.

Pescado Moquiao:
A smoked fish dish, where the whole fish is wrapped tightly in plantain leaves and cooked underground over coals, often over a period of several days. A variety of different types of river fish can be used to prepare Pescado Moquiao, and it is commonly served during important indigenous celebrations. It can be difficult to find at times however if you do come across it on your travels make sure to sample it.

Pisillo is a very popular plate that is made mainly with dried beef diced into thin strips. Cooked until it softens with scallions, garlic and paprika and served with cassava (yuca).
Also at times is made with fish and wild animal meat.

Pineapple Guarapo:
A drink that is prepared with slices of pineapple, panela (brown sugar), water, and ice. It is a natural companion to complement any traditional Colombian dish.

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