Famed for its mysterious pre-Columbian stone figures of men, animals and gods, the little town of San Agustín is also an opportunity to enjoy the rural landscape of Colombia at its finest. The largest collection of religious monuments and megalithic sculptures in South America, the statues uncovered in this wild, spectacular countryside were hewn from stone between 3300 BC and the arrival of the Spanish. Little is known about the culture that produced them, further adding to their fascination. Many of the figures have been moved to an archaeological park just outside the town but you can also visit some which remain at their original spots, ensconced in rolling green hills rich in colourful, sub-tropical flowers and tumbling brooks. Here, the Río Magdalena is at its angriest, kicking and screaming into life as it begins its journey through the heart of Colombia towards the Atlantic coast.
The rainy season is April to June/July, but since the weather often comes up from the Amazon basin to the southeast, it rains somewhat during most of the year, hence the beautiful green landscape; the driest months are November to March. The days are warm but sweaters are needed in the evenings; average temperature 18°C.
There are four tour agencies masquerading as ‘tourist offices’. While they may well give out useful advice, much of this will be clouded by contracts they hold with various hotels and other operators around town. For impartial advice visit the Oficina Municipal de Turismo on the plaza civica or the tourist police at the police station just nearby, Oficina de Policía de Turismo (C 3, No 11-86) . For cultural information there is a Casa de Cultura (Cra 3, No 3-61) .
The best books on the subject are Exploraciones Arqueológicas en San Agustín, by Luis Duque Gómez (Bogotá, 1966, 500 pages) or San Agustín, Reseña Arqueológica, by the same author (1963, 112 pages); a leaflet in English is obtainable from tourist offices. The Colombian Institute of Archaeology has published a booklet (English/Spanish) on San Agustín and Tierradentro; it may be available at museums in San Agustín and San Andrés.
Warning Beware of ‘guides’ and touts who approach you in the street. Have nothing to do with anyone offering drugs, pre-Columbian objects, gold, emeralds or other precious minerals for sale. Enquire about safety before walking to the more distant monuments.
Travellers are advised to change TCs before arriving in San Agustín; enquire at the travel office and the small shop opposite the police station who may exchange cash. Caja Agraria, C 4/Cra 13, and Ultrahuilca Redeban, Cra 3, No 12-7, will give cash advances against Visa card. Almacén de Todo, opposite the town hall, will cash TCs but at a bad rate.
Connections are slow in San Agustín. Weblive.com, Cra 12, No 4-14.