How to decide among the best Llanos tours in Colombia?
It’s a tough decision because it involves several adventure days and a considerable budget.
Luckily, I’m here to help you out.
I spent 15 days around Yopal to look for the best local partners. Indeed, Casanare is the best place in Colombia to observe animals in their natural habitat.
To keep it simple, if you are looking to plan for:
- A tailor-made & premium adventure, contact Laura.
- An easy and affordable llanos experience, stay at the Zambrano family nature reserve.
- A wild horseback experience in remote areas, contact Heiler.
Read on to learn about the different tours in Los Llanos.
Desde 2015, Adrien, Alejandra y yo (Tom) ayudamos a los viajeros a explorar Colombia. Aquí, encontrarás todo lo que necesitas para enamorarte de este hermoso país fácilmente.
My favorite agencies in Los Llanos
👉 Want to know everything about Yopal? Learn where are the best places, and avoid tourist traps and beginner’s mistakes? Nothing could be easier. I put it all together in our guide to Yopal
Pick your next tour in the Colombian Llanos
This section will give you a precise idea of the different tours you can organize in Los Llanos de Colombia, considering the time needed and the pros and cons.
Plan a multi-day Llanos tour from Yopal
There are 3 main reasons to discover Los Llanos:
- Easily observe the incredible wildlife.
- Bird paradise.
- Epic journey on horseback through the plains of Los Llanos.
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1# Organize a Colombian safari to observe beautiful animals
Everyone wants to see plump chiguiros (capybaras) basking in the sun—and you’ll see them a lot!
Besides the chiguiro, travelers come to observe: giant otters, giant anteaters, pumas, jaguars, anacondas, armadillos, deers, turtles, pink dolphins, and monkeys.
Of course, some animals are more complicated to observe than others (see section 2). The longer your Colombian safari lasts, the better your chances of seeing them.
Generally, there are two time windows during the day where you will observe the animals with your guide: 5 am – 9 am and 3 pm – 6 pm. Depending on what you have agreed beforehand, you can do it on foot, by jeep safari, tractor (not recommended), or on horseback.
You will spend the rest of the day napping in the hammock or doing cultural activities in the hatos (traditional ranch).
So, how to organize this safari?
The easiest option is to stay several days in the same hato or nature reserve. It will be less expensive (transportation is costly in Yopal), and they can easily plan their activities.
Stay at the Zambrano family nature reserve
The nature reserve run by the Zambrano family is located only 1h30 from Yopal and includes 3 hatos (9,000 hectares!). You can decide to sleep in only one hato or make a 4-day horseback riding trip (only short trips) where you will sleep in all 3 hatos. I did this with Aleja, and I loved it: Read my Colombian safari adventure.
Or you can venture off into the Orinoco river basin, towards Alta Gracia.
Stay at Buenaventura nature reserve
Alta Gracia is a verada 6 hours from Yopal and consists of 16 private nature reserves. I stayed 4 days in Buenaventura. Its magnificent location, the quality of the rooms and services, and the kindness of Victor and Amparo make it a must in the area: Read my Colombian safari adventure.
It is a difficult area to reach, and it is best to ask Laura’s local agency (located in Yopal).
Due to its location, Los Llanos is ideal for bird lovers. It is a great destination to go for a birding adventure since you will be able to observe them more easily (compared to the dense vegetation of the Amazon).
During the rainy season, the majority of the savannah of the department of Casanare floods. Some species of birds profit from this moment of abundant water and food to nest. It’s the case of storks, many species of herons, little egrets, and roseate spoonbills. Some impressive trees are “painted” white and pink at dusk.
Los Llanos also serves as a stopover restaurant for migratory birds from North and South America. From December, the dry season begins, and the few water points are filled with fish. During these months, you can observe more than a hundred species of birds without difficulty; sandpipers, snipes, black skimmers, fork-tailed flycatchers, and more.
Check out the list on Ebirds to know all the exotic birds:
The two departments in Los Llanos with the most species of birds to observe are Meta (over 1000 species) and Casanare (over 700 species).
The best spots in Casanare are Hato Aurora, Reserva Guanapalo & la vereda Altagracia.
In Yopal, Laura is a well-known bird expert, and we’re proud to count her in our red of local partners.
3# horseback riding adventures in Los llanos
The horse is a llanero’s best friend. Many songs tell of the close relationship that develops through the adventures in the vast savannahs of Colombia.
Traveling on horseback will also be the best way to observe the animals since you will be part of the landscape.
If like me, you like horses but are far from being an expert, then the 4-day experience proposed in Zambrano family’s nature reserve will be the ideal choice.
If you are looking for the ultimate adventure, you should contact Heiler. I met this friendly cowboy at the Hato Berlin. He organizes 5 to 6-day horseback rides from Trinidad or Boca del Pauto to discover the vereda de Altagracia and other Hatos.
Each month of the year has its advantages and disadvantages: more mosquitoes, more rain, more heat, and more wild animals.
Visit a hato
The hatos are large ranches that earn their living from the sale of livestock. Although their operation is much smaller than before, the work remains the same. Cows and horses move freely around the property before being rounded up by the llaneros every six months to be groomed, branded, and selected for sale.
Some hatos have been converted into nature reserves to protect nature and diversify their income through tourism.
Here is a practical list, starting with the hatos closest to Yopal.
1# Hato Montana, hato mata de Palma & hato altamira
These 3 hatos belong to the Zambrano family. Together they form a natural reserve of 9,000 hectares. You can organize a simple day trip from Yopal, sleep on site, or plan a horseback riding trip (what we did). There are more than 30 pumas and an impressive density of wildlife in the nature reserve.
- Hato Mata de Palma is the closest to Yopal. It has the most beautiful scenery and many chiguiros nearby.
- Hato Montana has the most beautiful accommodation, with many deers. It is the most remote of the 3 hatos, so it is the most peaceful too. You are supposed to see the giant anteater more easily there.
- Hato Altamira is the most authentic. I heard the most bird sounds while swinging in my hammock there.
How to get there: 1h30 from Yopal by private transportation, or you can take a public bus that leaves for Ocuré at 5h30 am and tell the driver to let you at the reserve entrance.
2# Hato Berlin
A small hato that offers a great private day trip—there will only be you and your group for the whole day. Note that you can’t stay overnight.
It is the friendly Heiler who organizes this activity.
The tour starts early with a visit around the property (by horse or on foot) to observe chiguiros, caimans, turtles, howler monkeys, and other animals. After a traditional lunch and a well-deserved nap, you will take a boat ride to see more animals and watch the sunset.
Heiler has lived in the hatos and will gladly answer any questions. He embellishes this experience with Llanera songs that he sings acapella or with his 4-string guitar. I really liked this 1-day adventure.
How to get there: 2 hours from Yopal or 15 min from San Luis de Palenque or Trinidad. Private transportation only
3# Hato Los Deseos, Hato las gaviotas & hato el recreo
These are 3 different hatos, similar to Hato Berlin, located around San Luis de Palenque and Trinidad. You will not find public transportation to get there, and it is difficult (if not impossible?) to contact them directly.
Fortunately, Heiler knows everyone and will be happy to organize these expeditions for you.
4# Hato Barley
Laura recommended this hato, which is the closest to Bogotá (5 hours by car through Guateque). It’s an authentic ranch with a variety of wildlife and comfortable rooms.
It can be an interesting option if you have a car and your previous destination is Bogotá.
5# Hato La Aurora
It is the most famous hato of Los llanos (because it is also the oldest). The family that runs the place is lovely and serves delicious food.
It is a hato accessible all year round (the road is in good condition), but the best months are February and March for jaguar watching.
The only drawback is the quality of the rooms (poor bedding), especially considering the high prices— it’s the most expensive hato.
How to get there: 5 hours by private transportation from Yopal.
6# A luxury stay in Los Llanos
Even if the hatos mentioned above offer comfortable rooms, they are still basic accommodations.
Picky travelers can then go to San Pablo or Savanna Orinoquia Lodge. These two upscale boutique hotels are on the banks of the river. They both have a pool, and the quality of service is excellent. However, you will lose the authenticity of Los Llanos, and the fauna is more sparse because of the rice plantations nearby.
You’ll be able to see the dolphins in the Meta river.
How to get there: Both hotels are near Orocué. Guests usually arrive by charter flight from Bogotá. Both establishments have an airstrip.
Discover the culture of Los Llanos
Visiting a hato is an excellent way to discover the llanera culture. But if you are particularly curious about it, I have a different experience for you.
You should visit el El Llanerazo Rancho Museo, run by the famous “El Seco.” He was twice the winner of the reality show “El Gran Llanerazo.” For more than 15 days, the participants were subjected to numerous challenges (including fighting with an anaconda or dancing and singing) to elect the best llanero.
El Seco wants to preserve the Llanera culture. With this objective in mind, he built different buildings on his property on the banks of the Pauto River. The constructions and decoration elements are wood, palm leaves, horse hair, and cow leather. Moreover, he succeeded in recovering many objects used in his youth, such as plates in turtle shells, ropes, or unique saddle and stirrup designs.
In addition to the many explanations of the Llanera culture (and songs), you will take a boat tour on the Pauto river, watch howler monkeys, and enjoy a chocolate tour.
It is a private day tour, and you can also stay overnight. The above-the-floor room is designed with an open view of the Rio Pauto.
How to get there: 1h from Trinidad by private transportation.
Tips to enjoy your tours in Los Llanos
In this section, you will find many tips to organize your stay in the region of Los llanos in Colombia.
The fauna is extraordinary in Los Llanos. But that doesn’t mean that you will be able to observe all the animals every time.
It depends on the month, the time of day, and the location. To make it simple, the best time is from January to March, when the water points are becoming scarcer.
→ Jaguar: February-March. Hato Aurora. Probability of seeing it: low.
→ Puma: January – March. Zambrano family’s nature reserve. Probability of seeing it: low.
→ Anaconda: January – March. Probability of seeing it: Medium.
→ Otter: All year long. Altagracia. Probability of seeing it: Medium.
→ Anteater: All year long. Probability of seeing it: Medium.
→ Howler monkey: All year long: Altagracia or Berlin. Probability of seeing it: high.
→ Deers, caimans, turtles, capybaras, wild pigs: All year long. Probability of seeing them: 100%.
There are 3 main seasons to know before booking your tour in Los Llanos
→ The dry season is from December to March. Besides being the best time to observe the animals, it is also where you will have the best sunset and sunrise. It is windier, the heat is more intense, and the savannah becomes yellow.
→ The wet season is from May to October. The savannah is flooded with daily rains (especially in May and June). The landscapes are beautiful, between the colorful flowers and the never-ending reflections of the sky in the water. Most of the activities will be on horseback or by boat. Ready to cross rivers?
→ April & November are a period of transitions. You’ll have some of the pros and cons of both seasons. This is the best time to make long trips on horseback.
Yeah, in exceptional places in Latin America, there are always insects that want to drink your blood.
Mosquitoes will be present during the wet season, and ticks during the dry season.
But there is worst.
Los coloraditos (chigger).
They are microscopic mites that live in wet areas near livestock. They love the warm places on your body (under your arms, around your waist, on your buttocks), and their bite itches a lot. They are primarily present in the months before and after the rainy season.
Here are some tips to protect you from these f*$%&:
- Put mosquito repellent on your boots to prevent them from climbing.
- Shower with an astringent washcloth at the end of the day.
- After your evening shower, do not wear the clothes you used during the day again.
- The locals like to use a potion called “chimú” to protect themselves.
- Vaporub helps relieve itchiness.
- Tiamina is a vitamin that allows the body to release an odor that mosquitoes do not like. They bit me anyway.
Groups are a great way to reduce the cost of an activity. It is, however, useful to check the following:
- The maximum number of people remains small (8-10 max). It will be more and more complicated to stay quiet.
- To have several guides if some members are too physically weak to do various activities. Many seniors are attracted to Los llanos for bird watching, and the agency will adapt the tours to the weaker members. If you’re looking for wild llanos tours, it would be better to book a private experience.
San Luis de Palenque
San Luis de Palenque is a small, peaceful village on the banks of the Rio Pauto. It is an excellent base if you only want to make day trips because you will be close to many hatos (20 – 40 min).
Posada el Diamante is an excellent place to stay.
You will not be able to use public transportation to reach the different hatos. Unfortunately, private transport companies work with oil companies, and their prices are high. That’s why the tours are expensive.
You can ask the agency to pick you up at the Yopal airport if you want to save time on your itinerary.
Here are some guidelines:
- A small bag for your daily activities.
- Wear a hat, long shirt, and pants to protect yourself from the sun and insects.
- Waterproof jacket.
- Check with the agency if you will have rubber boots and binoculars.
- Bring your repellent.
Internet and communication
- The phone signal is terrible as soon as you move away from the cities. Claro has the best coverage.
- Don’t expect to watch Netflix in the hatos.
bonus: More tours to enjoy in the eastern plains
Casanare is not the only place to visit in the Eastern Plains of Colombia.
Caño Cristales is the famous 7-color river considered by many as the most beautiful in the world. It is located in the department of Meta, in the municipality of La Macarena.
Its colors come from the aquatic plant Macarenia Clavigera, which on sunny days and thanks to the crystal clear waters of the river, shows different colors between green, pink, red, purple, and brown.
It used to be unreachable, so imagine how virgin and magical it is.
Caño Cristales is located within the Serranía de la Macarena Natural Park, close to many other points of interest. That is why I always recommend 4 or 5 days to fully explore this destination.
You can travel independently, but it requires a lot of effort for the money you save, so I always recommend going with a local agency.
- They help you book your plane from Bogota to La Macarena.
- They fill out the forms to register you at the Centro de Ambiente and do their best to make sure you are among the 318 travelers authorized to enter the National Park.
- You will not only visit Caño Cristales. The agency will plan more day trips, such as swimming in the Caño Piedra River, canoeing on the Angostura stream while observing animals (prehistoric birds, caimans, turtles), and much more.
San Jose del Guaviare
San José del Guaviare is a destination whose secrets have not yet been fully deciphered. There is much to do among its mysteries, fauna, and flora.
All the tourist points are within 1-3 hours by car and/or boat from the capital. It will therefore be necessary to go through a local agency.
I love working with Julian’s agency. It is a local agency with local guides who know the area and works closely with the communities.
They offer different all-inclusive packages, private tours, and group tours.
Depending on the season, they will take you to see rock paintings, navigate the Guaviare River, swim with dolphins, view strange-gigantic stones, interact with an indigenous community, contemplate a river similar to Caño Cristales (although less impressive), and more.
To get the most out of your visit, I recommend at least 4 days.
Bottom line: tours in Los Llanos
Even though the llanos are spread over 4 departments, you will find the best tours to observe the animals and discover the llanera culture in Yopal.
You can spend a few days in a hato (Zambrano family’s nature reserve) or organize an itinerary with several destinations (contact Laura’s agency). Or go horseback riding for several days with an expert like Heiler.
Every traveler who loves nature should stop in Yopal.
The 8 best experiences you shouldn’t miss
Visit Caño Cristales (the most beautiful river worldwide)
Explore San José del Guaviare (an off-the-beaten-path destination)