Travel Guide : San Jose Del Guaviare

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Once a dangerous FARC stronghold, San José del Guaviare, the capital of the Guaviare department,  is a secret paradise full of undiscovered gems. Come here to admire rock paintings, chill in natural jacuzzis, swim with dolphins, take fantastic pictures of a purple-pinkish river and wander through unreal landscapes made of vegetation and intriguing stones.

We have been exploring Colombia since 2015 and stayed in San José del Guaviare for 10 days.

Julian and his team can plan you a fantastic multi-day trip to San Jose Del Guaviare.
👉Find out about Julian’s agency

In this guide you will find all the best explanations to organize your trip to San José del Guaviare:

  1. 3 practical information about San José Del Guaviare
  2. 15 best things to do
  3. Visit San José Del Guaviare with a local agency
  4. Plan your stay in San José Del Guaviare on your own
  5. Our tips & advice

Ready for this adventure? Let’s go, amigo.

3 Practical information about San Jose Del Guaviare

Before discovering the many possible experiences in San José Del Guaviare, we will start with the practical information.

 

1# Where is San José Del Guaviare?

San José Del Guaviare is the capital of the department of Guaviare. This small city is located southeast of Bogotá along the Guaviare River.

This territory is still very wild and includes part of the Serranía de Chiribiquete National Park, considered one of the most beautiful reserves in the world and declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

2# How to get to San José Del Guaviare?

You will have to leave from Bogotá or Villavicencio.

By plane to San José del Guaviare

There are direct flights from:

  • Bogotá | Easyflight & Satena | 1h30 | Almost every day.
  • Villavicencio | Satena | 1h

By bus to San José Del Guaviare

There are direct buses from:

  • Bogotá | Flota La Macarena | 10h | I recommend you to take a night bus. Choose the premium bus (more comfortable).
  • Villavicencio | Flota La Macarena | 6h

Ask our local partner

Julian’s team can help you to book your ticket (airplane or bus). They can also arrange semi-private transportation from Bogotá. This is a shared car ride. | 7-8h

3# Best time to visit San José Del Guaviare ? 

You can visit San José del Guaviare all year round.

We can consider two seasons:

  • Winter from mid-May to mid-December: there is a little more rain, and the water level rises
  • Summer from mid-December to mid-May: it rains less, and the water level is relatively low.

If you want to admire the pink aquatic plants (Macarenia Clavigera) of Caño Sabana and swim in the natural pools, you will have to go there between June and November.

Our local partner organizes group tours during the high season. It will be cheaper. Groups of 15 to 25 people, mainly Colombians.

Tu peux visiter San José del Guaviare toute l’année.

15 things to do in San José del Guaviare

Thanks to its geographical position (near the Amazon), San José del Guaviare is surrounded by beautiful and varied landscapes. I loved sailing up the Guaviare River on a small boat, crossing wide-open spaces in a jeep, and weaving my way through creepers and stone tunnels. Let me show you all the beautiful activities you can do in San José del Guaviare.  

 

1# Cerro Azul & Nuevo Tolima

Cerro Azul San Jose del Guaviare
Cerro Azul

Indigenous tribes were already present in the Guaviare 12,500 years ago. How do we know? Rock paintings depicting animals, hunters, and erotic scenes have been discovered in 2 places: Nuevo Tolima & Cerro Azul.

With Julian’s agency, we went to Cerro Azul. After a 30-min hike, we were able to admire a colossal wall of  7 m long and 4 m high. There were so many pictograms on it that I couldn’t observe them all at once.

There are still many unexplained mysteries around these rock paintings. It’s difficult to date the pictograms. Scientists found foods and human rests near Cerro Azul. Thanks to the Carbon 14’s method, they were able to date them around 12 500 years old. But is it the age of the pictograms? How is it possible they stayed in such perfect conditions? 

  • Difficulty: 2.5/5
  • I like: You leap into the past by trying to understand these pictograms. There is a beautiful view from the top of Cerro Azul.
  • Why you could not like it: You hate cavemen paintings because you think you could do better.
  • How to get there: 2 hours drive.

 

2# El Raudal del Guayabero

El Raudal del Guayabero (1)
Our little boat

On the way back from Cerro Azul, the agency stoped at El Raudal del Guayabero. It is a “narrow” zone, where the Guaviare river is flanked by lush vegetation and massive cliffs.

Regrouped on 2 small boats, we rode upstream to look for dolphins and have a quick dip in Cascada del Amor.

During the boat ride, I felt tiny. You realize how powerful nature is. On both sides, there were huge chunks of wood perched on the rocks. Indeed, from June to September, the river can increase up to 4 -6 m!

  • Difficulty: 1/5
  • I like: To admire the landscapes. The impression of venturing into an area little visited by men. The dolphins.
  • Why you could not like it: It can be a bit scary if you don’t like boats. Also, you’ll walk a few meters on slippery rocks.
  • How to get there: On our way back from Cerro Azul.

 

3# Puerta de Orion

Puerta de Orion
Puerta de Orion

Long ago – well before my old old old —you get the idea— grandfather was born – the Guaviare department was under billions and billions of cubic meters of water.

The erosion of its sedimentary rocks creates spectacular landscapes.

One of the most typical sites in San José del Guaviare is La Puerta de Orion. It is a gigantic rock of 12m high with two holes. It is so named because you can admire the constellation of the Orion belt through the upper hole in December.

  • Difficulty: 1.5/5
  • I like: You walk through the savanna of the Serranía de la Lindosa to get to the Puerta de Orion. The landscape, with its enigmatic-shaped rocks, is very nice.
  • How to get there: 20 min by jeep + 30 min walk.

 

4# The gorgeous Caño Sabana

Caño Sabana San Jose del Guaviare
Caño Sabana

As we continued our day of adventure in the Serranía de la Lindosa, we arrived in front of Caño Sabana. Below our eyes, there was a cranberry river flowing between rocks and palm trees.

From June to November, the Macarenia Clavigera —an aquatic plant— grows in this bed river. Its color changes from green to purple according to its exposure to the sun.

This is a good alternative if you don’t have the budget to see this scenery in Caño Cristales. Spoiler alert: It’s even more mind-blowing in Caño Cristales.

  • Difficulty: 1.5/5
  • I like: This river is beautiful to contemplate. It seems unreal.
  • How to get there: By jeep (45 min). We visited la Puerta de Orion the same day.

 

5# Mighty waterfalls

Cascada Las Delicias Guaviare (1)
Cascada Las Delicias | Credit: Local partner

I love waterfalls. Cold, hot, whatever. It’s always nice during a hike.

There are many waterfalls around San José del Guaviare. You can ask a local agency to take you there. 

The most well known are: Cascada Las Delicias, Tranquilandia, Cascada Arcoiris, Cascada del amor —yes, Colombians are romantic.

Our local partner always includes waterfalls in their tours. 

 

6# Los Pozos Naturales

Pozos naturales San Jose del Guaviare
You must dive, Adrien!

Speaking of swimming, you don’t want to miss the Pozos Naturales. 

Erosion has dug natural pools in the river bed. Some are deep enough to dive into.

We walked a few kilometers along the river during this day trip, admiring the fauna and flora. This “aquatic day” is enjoyable and easy to do.

After a one-hour swim in the natural pools of San José del Guaviare, we continued our walk to a farmhouse. We had enough time to have a typical lunch and play a tejo tournament (typical Colombian game) before heading back on the road.

  • Difficulty: 1.5/5
  • I like: These natural pools are delightful, and you can take lots of fun pictures and videos. It’s a perfect place to relax. The yellow color of the river. 
  • How to get there: 1-h drive & 2-h walk.

 

7# La Laguna Negra

Laguna San Jose del guaviare (2)

La Laguna Negra is a peaceful place where the lake’s water merges with the sky’s blue. It is awe-inspiring at sunset.

  • Difficulty: 1/5
  • I like: The boat ride in the middle of the lake.
  • How to get there: 20 min drive.

 

8# La Ciudad de Piedra: fantastic rock formations 

Ciudad de Piedra Guaviare (1)
Credit: local partner

As you now know, the landscape of Guaviare is composed of strange-looking rock formations —due to erosion.

La Ciudad de Piedra is one of these sites. There, huge rocks stand in line like sleepy giants and constitute natural streets paved with grasses.

The visit to this place is often paired with Los Tuneles (next on the list).

 

9# Los Tuneles

Los Tuneles Guaviare
Mr. Tunnel 2019 (aka me)

Los Tuneles is an interweaving of caves, rock formations, stone gutters, and roots. 

It is a natural labyrinth where you can play hide and seek. But I wouldn’t go too far from the guide if I were you – unless you want to spend the night with the bats.

  • Difficulty: 1.5/5
  • I like: The mysterious energy of these two places (Ciudad de Piedra & Los Tuneles).
  • Why you could not like it: I’m probably a bit too picky, but it’s the day trip you might want to skip if you’re in a hurry. I preferred the other San José del Guaviare’s highlights. 
  • How to get there: 20 min drive.

 

10# Birdwatching

Cock of the rock Bird Jardin
Guainan Cok-of-the-rock

San José del Guaviare is on the border of the Amazon and Los Llanos. This particular ecosystem is home to many magnificent bird species (some of which are endemic).

I don’t know much about birds. I only know that this is a known area for bird lovers.

According to Colombia Birdwatch, Playa Guio, Buenavista, and Nueva Tolima are 3 interesting spots.

 

11# Dolphin Watching: Laguna Damas del Nare

Ruta Delfines Geotours del Guaviare (1)
Yes, you can swim with dolphins. | Credit: Local partner

Laguna del Nare is a lagoon where a dolphin family lives. They stayed there all year long because this place is a food paradise — although there are more dolphins from June to September.

We jumped on 2 small boats to venture out on the river and look for them. Dolphins love motors vibration under the water. They want to know what’s going on. Our guide threw many times a long rope in the lake while calling them by their name. No, they didn’t answer us. It took us 1 hour to spot the first one.

They grabbed the rope with their “mouth” and started swimming between our legs.

I have to admit it was a bit scary at first. You can’t even see your feet in the brown water of the canal. So, I let you imagine my face when I felt a big unknown submarine monster touching my legs.

  • Difficulty: 1.5/5
  • I like: Dolphins! And the boat ride on the Guaviare River. There was a fantastic sunset.
  • Why you could not like it: From what I saw, dolphins seemed “happy” to see us. It won’t be the case if t hundreds of tourists start visiting San José del Guaviare
  • How to get there: 1h30 boat ride + 30 min walk.

 

12# Fishing

Fishing Guaviare
Credit: Local partner

There are some serious monsters in the Guaviare River. Check with a local agency that respects the environment and releases the fish.

We didn’t try this experience.

 

13# Awe-inspiring sunsets

On our way back from Lagunas del Nare

The sunsets over the Guaviare River are breathtaking. You can watch it from the city harbor or on your way back from an expedition. The Laguna Negra is another famous place to enjoy the sunset.

 

14# Discover an indigenous culture

Ruta Etnica Geotours
Credit: Local partner

The Tukano Oriental is an indigenous community that had very little contact with the outside world until 1988. Due to drug trafficking and armed conflict, they were forced off their land and now live near San José del Guaviare. 

This local partner has an agreement with this community to allow travelers to discover their culture. This allows the Nukak to earn a small income.

We were lucky enough to attend a Veleda Indigena (ceremony)

  • Difficulty: 0/5
  • I like: Discovering another culture.
  • Why you could not like it: I always feel like a bit of a “voyeur” in these situations. You take pictures, you observe. 
  • How to get there: On the outskirts of San José del Guaviare.

 

15# Farms and ecolodges

Finca Educativa San Jose del Guaviare

 

The indigenous Nukak were not the only ones to suffer from the drug trade. El Guaviare was for a long time a department abandoned by the government. Many farmers were forced to grow coca.

Now there are fewer coca plantations, but the government is not fulfilling its commitments. Tourism is a solution to generate a new source of income.

You can contact them to spend the night: Playa Guio, Finca El Paraiso.

Julian’s local agency offers local and solidarity tourism. You will make regular stops in these farms (for lunch).

Visit San José Del Guaviare with a local agency

Using the services of a local agency to visit San José Del Guaviare eliminates all stressful and uncontrolled situations:

  • Find transportation on your own: a plane (flights are not daily) or bus (choose the right schedule to have a more comfortable bus) from Bogotá or Villavicencio.
  • Find a reliable local agency on-site because you won’t be able to do anything alone.
  • Create your itinerary.
  • Know where to sleep.

Visit San José Del Guaviare with Julian’s agency

We visited the area with Julian’s local agency, which was an excellent choice. Julian and his team are natives of San José Del Guaviare. They are full of energy, kindness, and enthusiasm to show you the richness of their region.

They have developed a solid network of local actors in the Guaviare department for several years. This has allowed them to create quality tours that include the local population.

If your Spanish is a bit rough, Julian’s agency can provide an English translator for your group for a small daily fee.

Choose how many days to stay in San José Del Guaviare

They offer different all-inclusive packages where they take care of all the organization. The activities may change slightly depending on the season.

In “winter” it rains more, and the water is higher than in “summer.” For example, the Caño Sabana (pink aquatic plant) and Los Pozos Naturales experiences are only possible in winter.

Depending on your budget and the excursions that appeal to you, you can :

  • Book a private tour for you and your group from 2 to 5 days.
  • Join a group tour. The agency regularly organizes it to allow people to pay less. The departure dates often correspond to public holidays in Colombia. You will mostly end up with Colombians.

In any case, I recommend spending at least 3 nights there and 4 full days.

You will have time to enjoy the atmosphere of San José Del Guaviare and to take part in at least 4 excursions to discover the region. I’m sure you won’t regret it.

Visit San José Del Guaviare on your own

Do you have time and speak Spanish? Then you might be tempted to plan your adventure in San José Del Guaviare by yourself.

What you need to know

The sightseeing places are in the surroundings of San José Del Guaviare. The roads are not in excellent condition, and there are no signs.

San José Del Guaviare is still a pretty unknown destination for tourists. You will have difficulty finding other travelers to share the cost of the different tours.

The essential steps to follow

  • Find a plane or a bus from Bogota or Villavicencio
  • Know where to stay
  • Know what sites you want to visit
  • Find a reliable guide who also manages insurance
  • Take care of transportation logistics (4×4 and/or boat)
  • Allow at least 1 full day in San José Del Guaviare to get organized

Organize your excursions in San José Del Guaviare

You will need at least a 4×4 car and a driver/guide who knows the area and the different tourist sites well. On the other hand, some places of interest are only accessible by boat.

Even if it is possible to do it on your own, I recommend booking your trip through a local agency. It will be much easier, and the price difference is not so high that it is worth it.

Advice & tips

Here are our final tips for making the most of San José del Guaviare.

What to bring to San José del Guaviare:

  • Wear a long-sleeved shirt and a cap to protect you from the sun.
  • A raincoat. It’s a tropical area.
  • Walking shoes that you are willing to get wet.
  • Insect repellent. The Nopikex works well. You can buy it everywhere in Colombia.

Festivals:

Where to eat:

  • Nomadas was my favorite restaurant for dinner.
  • El Mirador del Barquito in the Cultural center is our little tasty secret. The view of the river is gorgeous and the lunch was fantastic (and cheap).

 

My feedback on San José del Guaviare

San José del Guaviare was an excellent surprise. We went there to see Caño Sabana. Then we realized that there were many beautiful sites around.

Because of its turbulent past, this place has a bad reputation among Colombians. It was a nice surprise to realize that it is a peaceful place —although there are still narcotraffickers in the area. I did not feel once in danger.

It is a destination that is rarely visited and has managed to stand on its own. There are potholes, dirt roads, and the infrastructures are quite simple. In short, it’s an adventure.

And to make the most of it, I recommend the Julian’s agency.

Stay 5 days if you can.

 

Alternative to San José del Guaviare

  • If you want to admire the most beautiful river in the world, take a look at Caño Cristales.

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How to enjoy El Guaviare

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