San Agustín, Popayán, & the Silvia Market

This Post Covers April 1st Through April 6th

If you want to listen to some authentic Colombian Mapalé music while you read click below (Its actually performed by a Mexican artist named Toto La Momposina)

My bus arrived in San Agustín at 8am and I stepped off of it tired and still half asleep.  10 hours overnight, and like an idiot I had forgotten my headlamp (there are no little reading lamps on these busses) and my ipod in my big backpack which was stashed under the bus and the only scenery to look at was the rain drops sliding across the window with a pitch black backround.  So it was a boring ride and I was very happy to have arrived.

Silvia had lent me an old 2003 edition of The Lonely Planet Colombia (guide book).  The 2003 edition described San Agustín as being “surrounded by FARC [guerilla] activity”, and said that due to the dangers involved in traveling through the region the town had only registered about 1,100 foreign tourists in the previous year (2002).  Now there are 5 hostels to choose from the and the town is so quiet and peaceful you could fall asleeop in the main square and no-one would bother you for days.  As peaceful as the small square with its colonial church was, I opted for one of the hostels.

That´s the hostel to the right

A couchsurfer had recommended one that was about two kilometers walk down a dirt road outside of the town (a small town of about 30,000 people).  The hostel was run by a Colombian hippie woman named Clemencia in her 50’s.  The place was beautiful.  An eco-hostel surrounded by fields and mountains with a botanical garden and organic vegetable garden.  The rooms were made from bamboo and all open to the elements.  The one I stayed in was like sleeping in a tree house.  So I chatted it up with Clemencia for a  while, settled in with my things and took off for the nearby arqueological park which  is the town´s main attraction.

Little is known about the pre-hispanic tribes that inhabited the area around San Agustín from 3300 BC to about the turn of the millenium.  However the society that sprung up around the first century AD that flourished until about the 8th century AD left behind hundreds of huge stone monuments which comprise  “The largest group of religious monuments and megalithic sculptures in South America” –(World Heritage website) and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995.  Most of the statues are located in the arqueologic park, some are in an indoor musuem but most are on display in a series of trails on or near the locations where they were discovered.  However, the site officially covers 2,000 square miles and many of the statues are scattered about in the surrounding hills and mountains and are accessible to anyone willing to go seek them out.   The statues were pretty impressive and the park gave lots of good information but I kindof felt after a while that once you had seen a couple dozen of these things you had seen them all.  So the next day I decided to try something different…to set out to explore the area around San Agustín on horseback.

I talked a local guy who gives tours on horseback into letting me take a horse out on my own.   He obviously had a good sense of humor because he saddled me up a nice horse named Princess.

Me and Princess

So Princess and I set off to find some old ruins in the surrounding hills.  Not quite the Indiana Jones adventure that might come to mind when you think of searching for ancient ruins in Colombia but we had a swell time.  Princess was a good animal. Her stubborness and refusal to follow direction suited her just fine.  So we galloped and trotted along small country dirt roads in search of ruins.    Again, the ruins were cool but got a little redundant, the real treasure was the scenery which was stunning.  One of the stone monuments overlooked an amazing canyon that looked like a scene out of Jurasic Park with a river running down the middle, and steep cliffs on either side that looked as if they had sprung leaks right out of their sides with 60 foot wateralls (18m)  that poured down feeding into the river. “I wonder if there is a way to hike down into that” I thought.

The two pictures below were both taken standing in front of this ancient monument...they sure knew how to pick good locations to put these things

So Princess and I continued on our path, past fields of coffee and green pastures with dairy cows moseying about.  I knew we were close to home when Princess picked up the pace without my encouragement and broke into a trot all on her own.

So the next day, determined to dig into this canyon I had seen, I asked Clemencia if there was a trail that went that way and sure enough there was, El Sendero Alto de los Idolos.  So I packed a lunch and headed out just as a light rain was begining to fall.  I followed a very narrow foot trail that descended down into the canyon and brought me to a nice little covered bridge over the river.  Then up,up, up, past the two waterfalls I had seen the previous day, past coffee plants being cultivated on hillside so steep that I had to wonder how they managed to plant and harvest them.  I only saw two people in an hour 20 minutes that I was on this trail, a father with his son of about 8 years old who both smiled and greeted me with a “Buenos dias”.  At the top of the otherside, the directions Clemencia gave me became a bit unclear, I was supposed to head to a small town called San Jose where I could catch a bus back to San Augstin, but I made a wrong turn.  Instead I landed on a small rural road that I walked on for about an hour and half until it brough me to the main highway where I caught a ride back to town.  Not sure what the road to San Jose is like but the one I ended up on was amazing!  It took me past miles and miles of coffee plantations, friendly locals, huge canyons, valleys, ranches and small homes.

Welcome to Jurassic Park. Taken from near the bottom of the canyon
From near the top of the other side
Taken from the dirt road that led to the highway. Those are coffee and banana plants in the foreground.
Popayan

I got back to town mid afternoon, packed my things and caught the next bus to Popayán.  This was a six hour bus ride on a dirt road bouncing up and down which made for an interesting journey Popayán is a charmig small city with a historical center of all whitewashed buildings, some nice colonial style churches, and not much else to see.

Popayan
Potatoes

Luckily though I arrived there on a Monday and had heard that there was a really interesting indigenous market that only happens on Tuesdays at a small mountain town an hour and a half away called Silvia.  The indigenous Guambiano indians come here once a week to sell their harvest and pick up supplies before returning to their remote viliages in the mountains.  It was definitely not a touristy market (I saw 3 other foreigners there).  There was no kitschy artesal goods made for tourists, but rather just bags and bags of potatoes and other produce.  There must have been 30 varieties of potatoes for sale.  The indian culture is still very much intact in the way they dress and I felt like I was back in the Ecuadorian Andes.  The market seemed so authentic and real that I felt that walking around conspicuously snapping photos would have been way too intrusive so I spent a few hours wandering around with my small camera wrapped in a hankerchief taking hipshots so that none of my subjects knew they were being photographed.  The end result was about 150 crooked and out of focus photos and about a dozen keepers.

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After returning from the market I spent a couple days in Popayan just decompressing and making friends with a bunch of the other backpackers who were staying there, some of whom would join me on my next adventure…Tierradentro.  En seguida…..

To see more photos from this leg of the journey, Click Here And remember, some of the photos have descriptions, if you view them as a slideshow you can click “Options” in the upper right and  check where it says “Always show title and descriptions”, then go back and restart the slideshow.

Also from now on at the bottom of each post I am adding a section  meant for those readers who are travelers and looking for practical travel information.

Where, What, When, How Much, How Long, and Personal Recommendations

  • Bus from Bogota to San Agustín – 10 hours, $46,000 COP (Bargained down from $52,000).
  • San Agustín Hostel- Casa del Sol Naciente- $15,000 COP (I recommend)
  • Horse rental – Arranged at hostel $25,000 COP for 4 hours (He let me take the horse out alone, with more people and a guide I think he said it is $20,000 COP
  • Trail I Hiked (Alto de Los Indios) from the beginning to where the road reaches the highway is about 3 hours.  Once you get to the top of the other side of the canyon and hit the main (small dirt) road, go LEFT for San Jose or RIGHT to go the way I went (which I thought was awesome.  From either San Jose or the highway you can catch a bus back to San Agustin.
  • Bus from San Agustín to Popayán- Almost 7 hours $26,000 COP
  • Popayán Hostel- Hostel Trail- $18,000 COP (Recommended)
  • Bus from Popayán to Silvia (one way)- 1.5 hours, $5,000 COP
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14 thoughts on “San Agustín, Popayán, & the Silvia Market”

  1. Happy Easter mr jones! I love your blog, I feel like I’m on the road with you … I had dreams of riding across Argentina on a horse, possible? Xxx

    1. Luke, I actually did not stay in Silvia, its really more of a day trip frm Popayan. In Popayan I stayed in Hostel Trail which was a good place, i dont have their info offhand but they have a webste for sure, just google them. Happy adventuring amigo!

  2. I loved your pictures and comments about San Agustin. I was raised in Neiva (huila) and had the opportunity to visit San Agustine several times when I was young. Thanks for the beautiful pictures.

  3. HELLO! I AM JUSTIN,I HAVE SOOME QUESTION
    YOU SAY”Bus from San Agustín to Popayán- Almost 7 hours $26,000 COP”,AND I CANT FIND THE BUS FROM San Agustín to Popayán~~
    CAN YOU PROVIDE ME WHAT BUS YOU TAKE, THX
    MY EMAIL:yungiboy@yahoo.com.tw

    1. I dont remember which bus company it was but there are definitely busses from San Agustin to Popayan. If you are in San Augustin now just ask around and someone will tell you. If you arent there dont worry, you will find the bus when you get there and you can buy the tickets one day in advance

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