A Trip to Tatacoa

Just recently, the four Tulanians studying abroad in Colombia went on a weekend excursion to el desierto de la Tatacoa. Located about 175 miles Southwest of Bogotá, this arid natural wonder is not actually a desert in the traditional sense but rather what remains of a tropical rain forest that gradually dried up to become a desert. The beautiful paisaje is divided into two halves: la parte gris y la parte roja.

Our desert accommodation

One of the best parts about studying abroad in Colombia is the opportunity to travel within the country. While it can be a bit difficult and costly to travel between countries in Latin America, it is relatively affordable to travel internally. While my travel experiences may differ quite a bit from my peers studying in Europe, I am enjoying the opportunity to get to know one country very well. At the end of the semester, I think I will leave with a very complete and complex understanding of Colombian culture, geography, history and, of course, people.

Our first evening in the desert we enjoyed simple but classic Colombian fare at our homestay, chowing down on rice, patacón, and carne de res. As the daughter of a chef, I have always had an appreciation for food as a part of culture, and as I have traveled more, this interest has deepened even further.

As the sun set, we made our way towards a nearby observatory. The stars were breathtaking. Located so far from any large city the sky was magnificent, and, serendipitously, we planned our trip the night of a new moon, meaning that the sky was at its darkest. The guides arranged telescopes through which we observed Saturn, Jupiter, and several stars. This was one of my favorite parts of this trip because the entire presentation given by the local astronomy gurus was in Spanish, giving us the chance to practice our language skills and to experience the night sky alongside Colombian visitors. One of the major reasons I chose Colombia as my study abroad destination was to pursue fluency in Spanish, so opportunities like these are always very rewarding.

The next day we awoke bright and early ready to traverse the desert. We began with the larger grey half of the desert called Los Hoyos. Despite running into a few difficulties with directions, the views were incredible. When I was first considering Colombia as a study abroad destination many of my friends and family expressed doubts, their perceptions of the country colored by the its tumultuous history. Spectacular sights like this desert are just one way to show to those back home that Colombia is so much more than its past.

After a long and tiring hike, we made a pit stop at a small restaurant on the side of the road and decided to buy a Colombian dessert sampler as a treat. This region of the country is known for its goat milk, so we enjoyed assorted dulces made from this famed milk. The arequipe, similar to dulce de leche, was some of the best we’d tasted.

La Parte Roja of the Tatacoa Desert

We also stopped to chat with the owners of the restaurant, learning that most of the people residing in the desert had lived there for generations and had no intentions of uprooting. Conversations like these are another one of my favorite parts of traveling—I have found that talking to locals is often the best way to learn about a new place.

Exhausted, we relaxed in the hammocks at our hostel before beginning the trip home.

Short but sweet, this adventure is definitely one of my fondest memories in Colombia so far.

Alex Duffy (BSM ’21) is a junior majoring in finance and international development. She is studying abroad in Bogota, Colombia, for the fall 2019 semester.