Travel guide: Llanos Orientales, Colombia


Get the BEST Colombia places in your Pocket

Just one last step and you will be able to start reading our guidebook! You should receive an email soon to confirm your inscription. Please, check your email box (Don't forget the Promotion and junk boxes)

How to enjoy Colombia’s Llanos Orientales

Share it with your adventure partner 👆

The Llanos Orientales (Eastern Plains), also known as the Orinoco Region (or Orinoquía region), is one of Colombia’s most beautiful, wild, and biodiverse regions.

Los Llanos is mainly known for its endless flooded plains, extensive cattle breeding, and deep-rooted “llanera” culture, where Colombian cowboys, beautiful sunsets, and unbelievable wildlife are the main characters.

This Colombia’s Magical Diamond comprises 4 departments.

Casanare and Arauca are flat and vast plains flooded in winter. They are also ideal destinations for animal watching — don’t go to Arauca because of the heavy presence of illegal armed groups. Meta and Vichada are hilly savannahs with waterfalls, canyons, and jungle.

We spent 15 days exploring Los Llanos Orientales, searching for the best experiences and destinations.

Read on to discover one of my favorite destinations in Colombia that I am sure you will fall in love with.

I also included Guaviare, a department between Los Llanos Orientales and the Amazon, in this guide.



Our map of Los Llanos Orientales

Located in eastern Colombia, the Eastern Plains are crossed by the mighty Orinoco River, bordered to the west by the Andes, to the north by the Venezuelan coastal zone, and to the south by the Amazon.

Most of the cities mentioned in this post are on our map 👉

Our travel guides:

Main cities in The Llanos Orientales, Colombia

The cities of Los Llanos Orientales are lush and sweltering. It is not in their urban centers that you will find the true richness of the eastern plains, but it is the best starting point to organize your adventure in the region.


1# Yopal: the ideal city to plan a Colombian safari

Yopal, Los LLanos Orientales, Colombia
Yopal main square

Capital of the department of Casanare, Yopal is a quiet town with wide streets, few buildings, and many hotels, restaurants, and stores.

You won’t find interesting visits to make in the city center. Its tourist interest lies in the nearby large farms (hato) and nature reserves. Their breathtaking landscapes and abundant wildlife will be ideal for planning your safari in Colombia.

There are only a few local agencies in Yopal, and travel to the different highlights will be expensive unless you take public transportation.

How to get there: Yopal has an airport with direct flights to and from major Colombian cities such as Bogota, Medellin, and Bucaramanga.


2# San Luis de Palenque: a peaceful town in Casanare

San Luis de Palenque

San Luis de Palenque is a small town about 2 hours from Yopal, filled with trees and friendly people and bordered by the Pauto River.

The town is charming, but there is not much to do except walk along the river and eat typical food (the best restaurant is La Patrona).

The main attraction of San Luis is that there are several beautiful hatos within an hour’s drive. It makes it a great place to plan some day trips and save time and money on transportation.

You can find basic, inexpensive hotels near the main park or stay 5 minutes drive from town at the beautiful Posada el Diamante. It’s a pleasant guesthouse with an incredible 45-min walking trail to observe monkeys.

How to get there: You can arrive at Yopal’s bus terminal early in the morning to find a direct shared cab to San Luis. Otherwise, you’ll have to take a bus to Trinidad (every 30 min, 2h30) and then a 15-min taxi.


3# Villavicencio: the largest city in Los Llanos Orientales

La Macarena

Villavicencio, known as the Gateway to the Colombian Llanos, is the capital of Meta. The city is more developed than Yopal, and in its surroundings, you can also do adventure tourism to enjoy incredible landscapes, waterfalls, and natural pools.

Although it is a well-known getaway from Bogotá, unexplored areas have only recently been opened to tourism. For example, the impressive Guejar River Canyon 3 hours from the city.

Villavicencio can be used as a base to explore off-the-beaten-path destinations such as Mesetas, La Macarena, Granada, and San José del Guaviare.

How to get there: The road between Bogotá and Villavicencio is in good condition, and many buses leave daily (4h journey). You can also come from San José del Guaviare (6h). The city also has a small airport with regular direct flights to the main cities. The airlines are Satena, Easyfly, Vivaair, and Avianca.


4# San José del Guaviare: a new off-the-beaten-path destination

San José del Guaviare Canyon Lancha

San José del Guaviare is the capital of the department of Guaviare. The topography is flat and undulating, typical of the transition from the eastern plains to the Amazon plains.

Thanks to the Peace Agreements, more and more tourists today come to discover the wonders of San Jose del Guaviare. The village is not very interesting, but in its surroundings, you can admire rock paintings, relax in natural jacuzzis, swim with dolphins, take fantastic pictures of a purple river and walk through unreal landscapes made of intriguing vegetation and stones.

How to get there: from Bogotá with a 10h bus (Flota La Macarena) or a 1h30 direct flight (Satena or Easyfly). There are also several buses from Villavicencio.


5# La Macarena: the only access to Caño Cristales

Caño Cristales

La Macarena is a town in the department of Meta, known mainly for the Parque Nacional Natural Sierra de la Macarena, which is home to the most beautiful river in the world: Caño Cristales.

It is possible to see this incredible phenomenon only from June to November when the heavy rains give life to brightly colored aquatic plants in the riverbed, such as pink, purple, and red—hence its nickname of Rainbow River.

How to get there: the easiest way is to take a 1h30 flight from Bogotá (Satena).


6# Puerto Carreño: mighty rivers and old rock formations

Luis Bernal Puerto Carreño
Credit: Luis Alejandro Bernal

Puerto Carreño, the capital of the department of Vichada, is where the savannah turns into the jungle, surrounded by 3 rivers: Meta to the north, Orinoco to the east, and Bita to the south.

It is a destination with many waterfalls, canyons, and natural pools. You can also see outcrops of the Escudo Guayanés —one of the oldest geological formations on the planet.

You can also practice sport fishing for species, such as peacock bass, between December and March and visit National Parks such as El Tuparro.

Best things to do in the eastern plains

The eastern plains are a paradise for ecotourism lovers and adventurers. Here are some incredible experiences to consider.

Must read before coming to the eastern plains:


1# Immerse yourself in the Llanera culture

The Llanero culture is still very much alive in Casanare, and you will not see anything like it in all of Colombia. It is centered on the traditional way of life of the cowboys and their daily work with horses and cattle.

Therefore, one of the best things to do in Los Llanos Orientales is to visit a hato —a large cattle ranch— to see firsthand how these proud, hard-working people live.

My favorite recommendation is to take a trip to Museo El Llanerazo, about 3 hours from Yopal. Its owner, nicknamed “Seco,” has won two reality TV shows in search of the most authentic Llanero in the Orinoco region.

Seco has authentically kept his family home. You can even sleep in it, with a breathtaking view of the Pauto River.

Another option is to cross the vast tropical grassland plain as the llaneros did before the existence of roads. You will travel for days on horseback, even crossing rivers, stopping at hatos to rest and sleep in chinchorros (hammocks).

And if you are in Villavicencio, you can visit the Parque Las Malocas. It is a less authentic experience, but you will still learn interesting things (music, myths, legends, etc.).

How to do this experience:

  • Ask Heiler (Spanish only) to plan your trip.
  • Ask Laura (English available) to plan your trip.


2# Colombian safari in the eastern plains

Los Llanos caiman (1)

You don’t need to travel to Africa to go on a safari. You can do it here, in Los Llanos Orientales. In a 4×4 or on horseback, travel across vast savannahs to observe wildlife in its natural habitat.

Depending on the season, you may see anacondas, chiguiros (the world’s largest rodent), howler monkeys, otters, stingrays, giant anteaters, porcupines, deer, land and sea turtles, hundreds of native and migratory birds (like the rare Orinoco goose), and even, if you are lucky, pumas and jaguars.

I recommend doing a multi-day safari because it allows you to do more activities, get to know the culture better, and increase your chances of seeing animals.

You can also have the opportunity to eat the typical Mamona dish: slow-cooked and grilled veal. But you must request it in advance to your agency and pay an extra price. The dish is expensive because you have to kill a calf, so it is ideal for groups of friends and families.

How to do this experience:


3# Horseback riding in the eastern plains

Los Llanos horseback tom (1)

If there’s one activity you should do when you come to the eastern plains, it’s a horseback ride.

Connecting with my horse, feeling the wind while looking at the endless savannah, listening to the birds singing, and observing the animals, is one of the experiences you really need to have to get into the shoes of a llanero.

Riding a horse in summer and in winter are two very different experiences. If you travel to the plains during the rainy season, be prepared to ride through flooded savannahs and cross rivers. In the dry season, the savannah turns yellow because of the drought, and the sun is even more intense.

In any case, the experience will be unique.

I recommend you do it in Casanare.

How to do this experience:


4# Colombia’s best sunsets & sunrises

Sunset in Altagracia, Los LLanos

“A llanero sunset gives a touch to the landscape, making the trail more scenic and easier to see (…),” — sang our guide as we navigated a lake at sunset.

The sunsets and sunrises in Los Llanos Orientales are famous for their intense colors. They seem to go on forever and set the plains and the few trees full of ibises and storks that come to rest for the night ablaze with red and orange. You will not see similar ones in the rest of the country!

The best months are January, February & March.


5# Go fishing

fish in Altagracia Los Llanos

Fishing in the Llanos Oriental goes beyond just trying to catch piranhas. Its rivers and streams are home to a lot of wildlife, so while you navigate to get your dinner, you can see many animals, among which you can find rays, birds, chiguiros, caimans, and otters.

And if you’re lucky, you will watch a beautiful llanero sunset over your canoe.


6# Music and Dance

The Joropo is the most representative musical genre of the Eastern Llanos of Colombia.

The Joropo is part of the Llanero’s daily life, composed of a harp, a cuatro (a 4-string guitar), and maracas. You will learn to really appreciate it once you get to know this part of the country.

The lyrics are usually very poetic and refer to the landscape and the work of the Llanero. As for his dance, it consists of a rapid pounding of the feet that imitates the gait of the horse.

Suppose it’s something you’re really into it. In that case, my best recommendation is not to miss the International Joropo Festival held in Villavicencio or ask your agency to include a band in your itinerary for about 500,000 COP.

Also, look out for the Cantos de Vaquería —songs that cowboys sing a capella to connect with their cattle and horses —which are now part of the intangible heritage of humanity.


7# Day trip to a Hato

Los Llanos Orientales (7)

A day trip to a hato is a plan I recommend for those with little time (nor budget) to spend in Los Llanos Orientales.

This experience usually starts at 9 am and ends at 6 pm (for sunset).

Depending on the hato and the excursion, you will horseback ride for at least 2-3 hours in search of animals. Then you’ll enjoy lunch, take a nap under the trees, and end the day navigating a river to see more wildlife and enjoy a beautiful sunset.

Most hatos are close to San Luis de Palenque (30-45 min) or 2 hours from Yopal.

How to do this experience:


8# Caño Cristales

Caño cristales fusion Tom & Adrix (1)

Caño Cristales is considered the most beautiful river in South America and is nicknamed the Rainbow River because of its multicolored appearance.

The colors are due to an aquatic plant called Macarenia Clavigera that grows in the river during the rainy season. You can visit the natural park only from June to the end of November.

You can only do this experience with a guide, and the most recommended option is to book a 4-day all-inclusive trip from Bogotá or Medellín.

How to do this experience:

  • Ask Bruce to plan this adventure.
  • Caño Sabana, near San José del Guaviare, is a cheaper alternative to Caño Cristales. Julian’s agency will help you organize it.


9# Insane waterfalls and boat trips

Among the most incredible waterfalls and rivers, you will find the Guejar River canyon between Mesetas and Lejanías (a 3-hour drive from Villavicencio). A wild paradise hidden for many years is now accessible thanks to the peace agreements.

In the Guejar River Canyon, you can go rafting (5 hours, 17km) while observing animals and millenary rocks more than 50 meters high. Nearby, you will find fantastic waterfalls such as Charco Azul, which is surrounded by jungle and a beach.

The most majestic waterfall in Los Llanos is probably Caño Canoas, about 3 hours from La Macarena. It’s a 70 meters high waterfall surrounded by jungle and powered by a river that rises in the highest part of the Sierra de La Macarena.

There are no authorized agencies to go to Caño Canoas, and the entrance is risky because it is mostly jungle and steep trails.

Another fun and adventurous option is to travel to one of the region’s mighty rivers. You’ll have plenty of choices between the Meta, the Guaviare, and the Orinoco. These boat trips are included in most multi-day tours, although the most impressive ones are in Meta & Guaviare.


10# Tuparro Natural Park

The Orinoco is one of the richest regions in biodiversity and is home to numerous nature reserves and parks.

Among the most important parks is the Tuparro Natural Park, located in the department of Vichada, between the borders of Colombia and Venezuela.

This park comprises extensive savannahs of approximately 500,000 hectares, mighty rivers, canyons, indigenous communities, and a rich diversity of fauna and flora. The park is a destination little explored by travelers because of its location, lack of information, and infrastructure.

One of its tourist attractions is the Raudal de Maypures, named “Eighth Wonder of the World” by the naturalist Alexander von Humboldt. It is undoubtedly a dream place for nature and adventure lovers.


11# Mysterious rock paintings

Cerro Azul San Jose del Guaviare
Cerro Azul

Strange and beautiful red rock paintings depicting animals and the daily life of indigenous people have been found in several places in El Guaviare. Many mysteries surround these paintings as some experts believe they could be more than 20,000 years old—older than Lascaux!

The most important sites are hidden in the Chiribiquete National Park, and only scientists can go there. Fortunately, you can still get a good look at Cerro Azul. It’s a 5m x 10m rock wall covered with these drawings. And the preservation and quality of these paintings are incredible —considering they are in the open air.

How to do this experience:

Is it safe to travel to Los Llanos Orientales?

Los Llanos Orientales (5)

We traveled for several weeks and on different occasions through the eastern plains (Casanare, Meta) and around San José del Guaviare.

We never felt unsafe on the excursions or walking through the streets.

However, it was not always so.

A few years ago, these destinations were unsafe because of the strong presence of FARC and paramilitaries. Today, these illegal groups no longer exist thanks to various peace processes, and these hidden gems are accessible to the public.

As these were destinations closed to tourism, you will find better-preserved sites with an authentic sense of adventure. In addition, the locals are amicable.

On the other hand, the department of Arauca still has a reputation for being dangerous, which is why we have yet to go.


When to Visit Los Llanos Orientales

Los Llanos alta gracia laguna boat

You can visit the eastern plains at any time of the year.

Just keep in mind that there are 3 distinct periods of the year. Each one shows Los Llanos with different sceneries.

The climates and tours also change according to the season.

December – March

It is the dry season in the eastern plains and the hottest months of the year. Yes, you will suffocate. To avoid the heat, you’ll plan most of your excursions early in the morning and late in the afternoon.

It is also the best season to see animals. If you want to see pumas, jaguars, and anacondas, I recommend you go during this season. You will have a better chance of seeing them because they stay near the rare water holes.

Another good news is that there are few mosquitoes. The bad news is that you will have to deal with ticks.

May – October

It is the rainy season. The plains of Casanare are flooded, the waterfalls and rivers grow, and the savannahs bloom. You will cross rivers with your horse, navigate in canoes, and fish for piranhas.

The landscapes are beautiful, but it will be more challenging to observe the animals, except for the annoying mosquitoes.

You can also admire the beautiful Caño Cristales and Caño Sabana from June to November.

April & November

These are the 2 months of transition between the wet and dry seasons. Here you will have a bit of both, with their advantages and disadvantages.

It doesn’t rain frequently, but the savannas are still a bit flooded, the heat is more bearable, and you still have a good chance to observe animals.

The Llanera Culture


What surprised me most about Los Llanos Orientales is that they still have a deeply rooted culture. For example, far from adopting musical genres from elsewhere, the Llanero prefers to sing and listen to llanera music.

Walking on foot does not hurt, and you won’t convince him to wear shoes. The feet of the Llanero have been connected to mother earth for hundreds of years.

Between long journeys and farm work, the horse is his best friend in life. By age 2 or 3, they already ride horses with their parents, and by the time they are about 10 years old, they ride alone for long distances to school.

Before there were roads in the eastern plains, the Llanero rode for 20 to 30 days to sell his cattle in Villavicencio or Bogotá. Between 500 and 2,000 animals would follow him and his companions. The songs between the Llanero and his cattle are known as Cantos de Vaquería and have been part of the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage since 2017.

He always has a hat and long shirt to protect himself from the sun, a sharp knife to make a path, and a sense of direction to make Indiana Jones flinch. He lets himself be guided by the stars, the sound of the wind, and the shapes of the trees.

It is fascinating to see how the llanera culture survives. Perhaps it’s because only a few years ago they didn’t have much contact with the city. So much so that the Llanero, used to living in the savannahs, far from everything, could not even imagine what a rock was!

Articles about Los Llanos

Save On Bank Fees And Get Travel Insurance

  • Free Travel credit Card

    Save money on bank fees

    Free Travel credit Card

    Bank fees can be a pain in the ass when traveling abroad. Nowadays, mobile banking, like N26 are the ideal solution to go without spending money on bank fees. And it's FREE!
    Get one Free NOW!
  • Best Travel Insurance

    Travel safe

    Best Travel Insurance

    If you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel. Don't joke with your health because you want to save a few extra bucks. We always take one when traveling.
    Yes, it's important

Plan your Colombia trip

The best Colombia travel guidebook you’ll find on the internet. We answer all your traveler’s concerns. 100% interactive. FREE.

Just one last step and you will be able to start reading our guidebook! You should receive an email soon to confirm your inscription. Please, check your email box (Don't forget the Promotion and junk boxes)