My first Safari in Colombia: 4-day horseback riding
My adventure in an outstanding hato at only 1h30 from Yopal
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Beautiful sunset in Los Llanos
It’s 3 pm, and my new guide wakes me up nicely. Eliana is the daughter of a famous llanero (Seco, the winner of the reality show El Llanerazo).
The horses are already saddled. Cano & Borraleño will be our faithful mounts for 4 days.
Here we go for a 3-hour ride to observe as many animals as possible in this natural reserve of over 9000 hectares.
Different landscapes succeed one another in front of my eyes while the sun’s intensity decreases quickly.
A vast area of savannah has been completely ” cleared ” by the 1700 heads of cattle—the hatos live mainly from this activity.
Then we cross a long stretch of water (the end of the wet season), where the confident step of our horses blurs the reflections of the colors of the sunset. It is the ideal spot to take superb photos.
The natural diversity of Los Llanos is remarkable. We admire burrowing owls, species of ibis, herons, and eagles, the famous red-footed turtle, some wild horses, and an impressive giant anteater.
On the way back, I stop on a small hill to admire the last rays of the sun, which gives way to the full moon. I feel tiny in front of so many natural wonders.
After a romantic dinner on the terrace, surrounded by period furniture, we quickly fall asleep in a comfortable bed under a much-appreciated fan.
Boat trip at first light
At 4:45 am, my alarm clock rings.
The day begins early in Los Llanos, and I don’t want to miss the sunrise.
After a coffee in front of the endless plains, I see Eliana silently passing by in a canoe on the calm water of the cañada. It’s time to go fishing.
An incandescent red ball rises above the trees and illuminates the chiguiros that slowly wake up. They sleep at the water’s edge to escape the attacks of the puma or jaguar.
We cast our fishing lines from the shore to catch caribes (piranhas). I got a small one that I prefer to release.
After breakfast, we leave around 9:30 am for the 2nd Hato of the natural reserve.
My sore buttocks, the bag’s weight on my shoulders, and the intense sun make this 2h30 ride a bit more tiring.
Fortunately, we stopped in the shade of the bushes several times to observe animals and cool down. Wildlife is harder to observe as they, too, prefer to avoid the hot hours of the day. That doesn’t prevent us from seeing an Oso Melero (a small anteater) and many white-tailed deers.
Hato Montana feels like a small boutique hotel with excellent outdoor facilities, many flowers, nicely decorated rooms, and a semi-open brick shower.
The staff pampers us between the many bottles of fresh fruit juice, unlimited coffee, delicious meals, and relaxing naps under the trees.
In front of the Hato, we see many deers. Even one comes every morning—his nickname is pépé—to eat potatoes.
In addition to two horseback riding excursions to witness the incredible wildlife, the hato’s staff organizes some surprises for us to gain insight into the llanero’s life.
We spent our evening meal listening to stories and tales, such as the Bola de Fuego and llaneros acapella songs—the Quatro player (small 4-string guitar) unfortunately could not come that day.
And in the early morning, we galloped with the Llaneros to gather the semi-wild horses in the paddock to treat their manes and tails.
My safari Colombiano continues with the visit of the last hato on the 3rd day. It is a little more authentic and rustic than the previous one.
Numerous fruit trees delight the birds. I feel like I am in the middle of a symphony concert. However, there are no chiguiro or white-tailed deer within sight.
The horseback ride is done at a peaceful pace. The air is still fresh due to a 30-min heavy rain, and my buttocks become one with the saddle— ok, it’s not 100% true 😀
Eliana leads us to a “natural hotel” for scarlet ibis & herons. These are two giant trees at the water’s edge where hundreds of birds of both species come to sleep.
It is already dark when we start the way back. The path is less and less noticeable, but it is not a concern. My horse knows we are heading towards the hato and goes on auto-pilot. I let him guide me, watching dozens of yellow fireflies happily dancing to celebrate the afternoon rains.
The end of the safari
Today is our last day.
I wake up in a thick fog at 6 am and go to the cow pen. Today we have to milk them. The theory is simple, but the practice is quite different. I do alright, but it’s nothing compared to the powerful jets of milk obtained by our guide.
Then we leave around 8:30 am in the direction of the 1st hato (Mata de Palma) to join our private transport (much more practical than the bus). The two hatos are only 30 minutes away by horse. We take a one-hour detour to make the pleasure last and to say goodbye to the fauna of this superb natural reserve.
Bye-bye Cano, Borraleño, Pépé, the thousands of chiguiros, deers, colorful birds, and other inhabitants.
👉 Did you like this experience? Discover how to stay at the Zambrano family nature reserve.
What you’ll like about this Colombian Safari
You have many advantages to booking this safari to discover Los llanos wildlife.
It’s easy to do
This natural reserve of 9,000 hectares is divided into 3 hatos (run by 3 cousins). The riding distances are short (2h30 -3h max), and the terrain is flat. It was the 3rd time Aleja was riding in her life, and she did great. Still, prepare yourself to have a sore buttock.
However, it is essential to take into account the seasons. During the summer (dry season from December to March), the sun is intense, and it rains a lot from May to July.
It’s near YOPAL
The nature reserve is only 1h30 from Yopal by jeep. You can go there at any time of the year. In addition, the small airport of Yopal has direct flights from Bogotá and Medellín.
Comfortable rooms and delicious foods
The owners have recently renovated the rooms of the three hatos. They are all nice, with very comfortable beds and spacious showers (without hot water). A fan is missing in the hato Altamira.
Chefs make delicious dishes over a wood stove when it comes to cooking. Believe me. You won’t die of hunger.
You visit a new hato everyday
I loved discovering each new hato. The atmosphere, nature, wildlife nearby, the landscapes … everything is different. You go from surprise to surprise.
Many animals in their natural habitats
It’s hard to imagine the number of animals you will see on this Colombian safari. Riding a horse allows you to get close without scaring them too much, and you will observe a large part of the wildlife from only a few meters away.
affordable private tour
For about 350$/pers, you will enjoy a private tour where activities, accommodation, and food are included. And this price is for a minimum of 2 people!
However, you must consider the transport price from Yopal (private or public) & the translator (if needed).
What you might not like about this Colombian Safari
Nobody is perfect. Here are a few points where the reserve can still improve.
I wanted to know more about the llaneros
I could see the world in which the llaneros live, but I could not enter it. In other experiences, I have participated in Los Llanos, and I have been able to eat with the heads of the cattle farms and listen to their exciting stories about “how it was before.”
Also, during the high season, many travelers organize day trips from Yopal. The silence fades when there are too many people. I was there in November, and very few other travelers were present.
A bit repetitive, and all planned
It’s a small detail, and I wonder if it’s really a drawback, but it’s worth considering before booking this experience.
Most activities are on horseback, and you will see the same animals and landscapes. It is an extraordinary adventure, but some travelers can be bored after the 4th day.
The organization in the hatos went very well, but there are some points to improve to start the adventure in good conditions.
- I would love a place to put my luggage in storage—you can’t be too heavy for horseback riding.
- Binoculars and rubber boots aren’t available for the whole trip.
- The guide should directly organize transportation to and from the nature reserve. In my case, she had no idea, and I had to send a WhatsApp to the agency.
My 2nd Colombia Safari: 4 days in AltaGracia
After a day of rest, I went on another adventure with a local agency run by Laura. This group tour happened in a remote paradise 6 hours away from Yopal. Here is my report.
My incredible adventure in the nature reserve of Buenaventura
With my personalized water bottle (gift from Laura), a pair of binoculars, and a snack, I jump into one of the 2 jeeps. After 2 hours, we stop in a traditional finca for breakfast: Caldo de res (beef), arepa, sausage, eggs, and juice. The classic llanero breakfast.
Then we set off again. The asphalt road leaves place to the dirt road, of which some muddy sections test our driver’s dexterity. Spoiler alert: he succeeds, hands down.
For the next 4 hours, we cross many hatos, with endless fields of pastures and rice. Thanks to our binoculars and Laura’s attentive eyes, we observe many animals: turtles, caimans, chiguiros, tijereta, aguilas, garzas, ibises, and a dead anaconda.
Our journey to Buenaventura ends with a 20 min walk where we must cross 2 bridges—you can also do it by canoe.
Sunset and light shows
The farmhouse, located on a small hillock, overlooks a large estuary that connects with the cañada.
The sun is starting to set, and we go for a walk with Aleja. Armed with our boots, we cross a muddy area (the result of wild pigs looking for food) toward the moriches—a typical palm tree of Los Llanos.
We are alone, facing a sky and a lagoon that blazes with warm colors; red, orange, yellow, and purple.
I hear a loud, ominous noise in the distance on the other side of the estuary. It sounds like a gust of wind, but the leaves don’t move. It is, in fact, a family of howler monkeys announcing to the wildlife that it is time to go to bed (or to wake up).
Behind us, a family of deer finished dinner. The little one is greedily looking for his mother’s teats while she remains motionless, a cattle egret on her back to eat the insects which turn around her.
Victor and his family
When we return, the table is already set. Amparo, Victor’s wife, is in the kitchen next to a wood-fired oven.
Victor dines at our table while telling his story. About fifty years ago, his father came with a few brothers and friends to occupy these uninhabited lands. It took days on horseback to cross the dense vegetation. Then, little by little, they brought in cattle and fenced their property.
About ten years ago, a company came to look for oil. In Colombia, the subsoil belongs to the State. Basically, if they find oil, they offer you money for your land without you having any say in the matter.
The only option to protect his land was to become a nature reserve and convince his neighbors to do the same. There are now 15 nature reserves representing 18,000 hectares (80% of the Altagracia vereda).
Hike in the grove to see howler monkeys
It’s 5 am, and I’m sipping my tinto (strong black and bitter coffee) in front of the sunrise while waiting for the others.
Today’s walk aims to observe the birds, howler monkeys, and flora.
Laura, a bird lover, accompanies us with Victor and his daughter Daniela (it is the weekend). She is only 14 years old and has all the attitude and skills to become a great Llanera.
We slalom between the trees on a well-maintained path. Every ten meters, we take a break: here is el arbol de aceite; this plant is used to heal burns; oh look, a family of howler monkeys!
And let’s not forget the many species of birds that we observed thanks to the binoculars!
Or the cute giant otters who kept their heads above water to see what we were doing.
We are back around 9 am to have a good breakfast and a well-deserved nap in the area of the chinchorros (hammock), with a breathtaking view of the estuary.
A magical boat ride on the AltaGracia lake
At 2h30 pm, we start our new expedition.
This time, we went walking to the lagoon Altagracia. It only takes an hour and a half, but the heat and the humidity are less bearable for the group’s seniors. Fortunately, folding chairs and cold beers are waiting for us.
A family of chiguiros and 2 macaws are hanging around while we regain strength in front of the beautiful landscape.
Then Victor and Gerardino (his cousin) invite us to board 2 small canoes. The sun is gradually setting as we cross the lake silently; Gerardino expertly maneuvers the boat with a long pole.
We stop for a few minutes to see the sun disappear behind the palm trees. Then we sail peacefully towards our finca, accompanied by the sound of birds and Llaneras songs interpreted by Gerardino and many mosquitoes.
Let’s look for Giant Anteaters
This 3rd day starts with two objectives: to see a giant anteater.
Giant anteaters live alone and are very territorial. Their daily occupation? Eating about 30,000 termites and ants at sunrise and sunset.
Victor knows their territory and how to find them. After an hour, we see a young giant anteater taking a nap in a grove of about 15 trees.
A branch cracks. He wakes up. Then he quickly dodges between two trunks.
Fortunately, we can follow him at a distance in the savanna. He takes refuge in a new grove where we can observe him more closely. Its long and broad tail, which looks like a palm leaf (hence its name, Oso Palmero, in Spanish), is impressive. After a few minutes, we move away to avoid disturbing him more.
Boat trip, fish, and surprises
The end of the morning and the beginning of the afternoon is spent in finca to avoid the hot hours. Victor and his daughter give us a small demonstration on how to saddle a horse and make knots. The previous day was about making fresh cheese.
After an unavoidable nap, we return to our canoe adventure.
Slowly passing through the aquatic plants, we get close to many species of birds, such as the famous Jabiru (a 1m20-high bird) or the river ray.
Then we take a break in the shade of the trees to catch some piranhas. We have to be quick with our improvised fishing lines. These fish are hungry and devour the chicken pieces in a few seconds.
On the way back, I see a table and several chairs installed at the water’s edge facing the sunset.
Laura has just uncorked two bottles of white wine. Victor lights the wood fire. Gerardino approaches with his quatro and maracas.
Tonight we will celebrate the present moment like the llaneros.
The end of the safari
It is already time to return to Yopal. We leave early in the morning to have time to have lunch in San Luis —a cute little village on the banks of the Pauto river.
👉 Did you like this experience? Discover the best tours offered by Laura.
What you’ll like about this Colombian Safari
Let’s see the highlights of this experience in Altagracia.
It is customizable, and you will pay the same price
Buenaventura is one of the 15 natural reserves of Altagracia. You can focus your safari on bird watching or finding a particular animal. The terrain is flat, so this trip is easily adaptable to the traveler’s physical condition; boat ride, jeep, hike, or horseback riding. You name it.
Everything is close and easy to organize. You can change the order of your activities according to weather conditions, physical shape, and desires.
Incredible wildlife, especially for bird lovers
You are far from any city, in a natural reserve of 18,000 hectares. The wildlife is incredible, especially from December to March when water spots are scarce for the animals—although you won’t see the chiguiros as close as in my previous safari.
Altagracia’s biggest asset is bird watching. It is a WHSRN site (focused on the conservation of all shorebird species). You’ll observe the unknown Buff-breasted Sandpiper or the Orinoco Goose.
And the most beautiful part of all this? You can observe them from the hammock area in the finca 🙂
A stay with a llanero family
Victor and his family run a small cattle business that is a drop in the bucket compared to the large hatos of Los Llanos. They do everything themselves, with the occasional help of a family member, like their cousin Gerardino.
During this stay, you live with them. They are always there, available and smiling to answer all your questions.
A premium adventure
Laura, the manager, knows what she is doing. After each excursion, I got a cold towel to clean my face. Each member of the group was given binoculars and boots. Laura, Victor, and his family put all their resources into improving the rooms and facilities (which are top-notch!). In short, they do an excellent job.
What you might not like about this safari
Since it is a remote area, there are two disadvantages to mention.
It’s hard to reach
You will need 5-6 hours by car to reach the Buenaventura reserve when the conditions are good (without muddy sections). Besides, you can only make this trip from mid-November to April.
Another option is to ask Laura to organize a small plane from Yopal (about 5,000,000 COP round trip for 4 people).
Or ask Heiler to organize a horseback ride for you (over 6 days).
The private transport companies in Casanare (Yopal department) also work for the oil companies. The rates are, therefore, high. To go to Buenaventura, the agency must reserve the jeep and the driver for 4 days!
And since it is a little-known destination, it is difficult to get group tours. So you mostly have to book a private tour.
Best Safari in Colombia: Bottom line
Many travelers think of the Pacific Coast for whale watching or the Amazon Rainforest to see the incredible Colombian wildlife.
While both destinations are incredible, there is a much easier option for viewing animals in their natural habitat.
This option is Los Llanos.
In this immense savanna, it is much more difficult for the animals to hide, and their density increases around the water holes during the dry season.
Don’t hesitate to contact the Zambrano family for a horseback riding adventure in the hatos near Yopal or ask Laura for a personalized trip to Los Llanos.
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