Published on October 10th, 2017 | by Charly Mancilla Monroy
Forbidden Colombia, Part 2: Arauca — Natural Wonders No Longer Off Limits
This is part two of a Colombia travel series by Bogota-based tourism student Charles Mancilla Monroy, in which he explores lesser-known destinations that were once off limits due to guerrilla activity and civil war. Today, they’re back on the tourism map, and ready to be added to your Colombia vacation wish list.
For many years, the place called Arauca was tied closely to Colombia’s much-feared armed group, the FARC. The local community in this department (Colombia is divided into 32 departments, which are something like states) lived in fear and prohibited from enjoying their own paradise. Visitors were also shut out; just considering a trip to Arauca made people think about extortion, kidnapping and vandalism, all of which were common here. But today, this lovely destination in Colombia has benefited from the peace treaty, and acts of civil war and violence have diminished drastically. The department of Arauca is opening its doors to the world and providing a warm welcome, inviting visitors to become part of the llanera culture. The statistics don’t lie: In 2015, only 651 people visited Arauca. In 2016, 21,274 people made their way here.
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This is why I’ve decided to focus the second part of this Colombia travel series on Arauca. It’s a treasure still largely undiscovered by most people, and now is the right time to get to know and appreciate this llanero paradise, a place where everyone’s now welcome, to enjoy the local culture and the postcard-perfect scenery.
Located in the Orinoquia region, this majestic department is home to a culture rich with folklore and costumes that tell part of Colombia’s history, through the traditional joropo dance and activities in which llaneros partake on a daily basis, as well as the coleo (a type of rodeo that originated in Colombia and Venezuela). The region delights visitors with a unique culinary offering that includes carne asada (grilled meat), el cachicamo, sancocho de gallina (chicken stew) and hallaca criolla (creole tamale).
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Renowned for its sunsets, its diversity of flora and fauna, its ranching and its festivals and events, Arauca offers lots of lesser-known attractions and activities like nowhere else in Colombia.
El Cocuy national park, which is part of a network of 56 national parks in Colombia, is home to various ecosystems and lots of plant and animal life. At the Sierra Nevada del Cocuy you can view Colombia’s largest glacier, which has snow that towers 4,800 meters and 18 snow-covered peaks — creating what is also the largest continuous snow mass in South America north of the equator. There are also lots of lakes and waterfalls in the region. Located to the northeast of Boyacá along the Arauca/Casanare border, the destination has a climate that ranges from warm to temperate to cold.
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Every municipality in Arauca has something different for visitors to explore. The beautiful town of Tame has a variety of spas, while wildlife and vegetation is the draw at Morichales park. One of the newest towns, Fortul, is home to a multicultural indigenous community, thanks to the presence of the U’wa people.
In Puerto Rondón, visitors can wander pastoral settings and savannas, and enjoy views of the Casanare River, where water skiing and sport fishing are among the draws. And to finish up the tour, you can stop at the capital city of Arauca, which has enjoyed recent economic growth from the oil industry.
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It’s impossible not to admire the beauty in this region — the sunsets, the herons, the expansive ranches. You should also make time to visit Las Toninas aqua park, the local monuments, parks and the Santa Barbara cathedral.
Arauca has surged forward from civi war to create a welcoming environment for visitors, and is worth putting on your list of things to do in Colombia.