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Astrotourism in Colombia: Explore 4 Unmissable Celestial Destinations

Desierto de la Tatacoa with a blue sky

Updated on 02/16/2024

Dear reader,
I would also like to recommend our Colombia travel guide, which provides a perfect overview of the tourist attractions in Colombia. Enjoy reading it!

Colombia, known for its geographical diversity and rich culture, is a destination that will surprise you with its experiences. In fact, it stands out for having unparalleled destinations for astronomical observation. This outdoor activity is an interesting way to explore the sky and the stars over Colombian terrain. So, keep reading to discover the sites you must visit in Colombia to contemplate the cosmos.

Stellar Adventure in Colombia

World Astronomy Day is celebrated on April 13 and September 23. In honor of this day and to combat light pollution, “astrotourism” or astronomical tourism was introduced. Astrotourism focuses on experiences and activities centered around observing celestial and stellar phenomena. This requires being in a location with minimal artificial lighting.

While Colombia hasn’t been widely recognized as an astronomical destination, it’s gaining prominence as an emerging, sustainable, and thrilling form of entertainment in its distinctive and diverse natural surroundings.

Among the astronomical activities you can find are:

  • Visits to observatories, museums, or planetariums
  • Astronomical festivals
  • Workshops about astronomy
  • Observation of celestial bodies while camping or visiting specific outdoor locations.

Therefore, I will now tell you about the perfect natural places to enjoy astrotourism in Colombia.

Highlighted Places for Astrotourism in Colombia

Ideal places for astrotourism must have various characteristics. For example:

  • They should be uncrowded during observation, with minimal sudden movements to prevent telescope calibration issues.
  • They should have a flat surface for positioning telescopes or have these devices available to the public.
  • Preferably, the location should be primarily natural to ensure low artificial lighting.
  • It should not be raining or have a cloudy sky.

These are the most frequented places for astronomical observation in Colombia that meet the aforementioned criteria.

Villa de Leyva, Boyacá

Location: Villa de Leyva is located in the department of Boyacá.
Altitude: 2,144 meters (7,034 feet) above sea level.
How to get there from Bogotá: By car, take the northern highway and then the Bogotá-Tunja route; the journey takes 3 hours, about 135 km (83 miles). You can also take a bus from the Salitre or Satélite Norte Terminal. https://maps.app.goo.gl/WJALC3ery2SZ17gs9
How to get there from Tunja: Villa de Leyva is approximately 1 hour from Tunja, about 38 km (23 miles) from the capital. You can take a bus from the Regional Juana Velasco de Gallo Terrestrial Transport Terminal in Tunja to Villa de Leyva. https://maps.app.goo.gl/h89R4y2JsEZbCsfV8

Villa de Leyva is a charming colonial town in Colombia that has become a preferred destination for astrotourism due to its geographical location, offering clear night skies and low light pollution.

And due to the city’s altitude, you can have a clear view of the cosmos, and its impressive surroundings with mountains and natural landscapes attract those who wish to camp under the starry firmament.

Normally, astrotourism is only conducted in the central park of Villa de Leyva during festivals of this kind, as I will discuss later. Therefore, many people choose to enjoy this activity from their accommodations. Among them, hotels with natural spaces, glamping sites, and camping areas stand out. These accommodations have excellent spots and low light pollution.

Here are some examples of ideal sites for astronomical observation in Villa de Leyva:

Genki Luxuri Glamping

Location: Genki Luxury Glamping is located 3.2 km (1.9 miles) from the center of Villa de Leyva, reachable by car in about 10 minutes.
How to get from Villa de Leyva: https://maps.app.goo.gl/FmBUw9UFjY5TrdvM9

Monarca Azul Glamping

Location: Monarca Azul Glamping is located 14 km (8 miles) from Villa de Leyva, and the car journey takes around 22 minutes.
How to get from Villa de Leyva: https://maps.app.goo.gl/AfKCBphvDoSjbfgs7

El Lago camping area

Location: This camping area called El Lago is located 3.2 km (1.9 miles) from Villa de Leyva, with a route taking about 8 minutes.
How to get from Villa de Leyva: https://maps.app.goo.gl/htMyC9qqFxHZxfvg7

Hotel Cashiluna

Location: Cashiluna Hotel is 1.3 km (0.8 miles) from Villa de Leyva, approximately 5 minutes by car.
How to get from Villa de Leyva: https://maps.app.goo.gl/d3MiSxXhYmwV9FvG8

Desierto de la Tatacoa, Huila

Location: To reach the Tatacoa Desert, you must go to the municipality of Villavieja in Huila.
Altitude: 430 meters (1,410 feet) above sea level.
How to get there from Villavieja: Villavieja is 1 hour by car from Neiva, the capital of the department, about 6 km (3 miles). You can also take a public bus if you prefer. https://maps.app.goo.gl/DjLmbizb3km4UYCD6

The Tatacoa Desert is known for its arid and desert-like landscape. It’s not a true desert, as it has sporadic vegetation. Its main features include formations of red and gray soil, canyons, and a large number of cacti. Moreover, it is a popular site for astronomical observation due to its clear night sky and low light pollution.

It has a Starlight certification from the Starlight Foundation, essentially certifying it as a space with excellent quality for astronomical observation. It is the first Colombian tourist destination to receive this certification and the second in all of South America. Therefore, it is advisable to protect and conserve this ecosystem.

At the Astrosur Astronomical Observatory, located in the desert, you can learn in detail about the universe, stars, and celestial phenomena. You can also attend various astronomy-related conferences. Similarly, you can bring your equipment, and there, you can observe stars, planets, galaxies, and other celestial bodies along various trails, with the Los Hoyos route standing out.

Also, thanks to this site’s proximity to the terrestrial equator, it is possible to observe all 88 constellations and meteor showers. And the best part is that if you want to stay overnight, there is accommodation available on-site, such as cabins and camping areas, just like:

Estadero Los Hoyos

Location: This accommodation is 15 km (9 miles) from Villavieja, about a 37-minute drive, and just 5 minutes from the Los Hoyos trail.
How to get there from Villavieja: https://maps.app.goo.gl/QRyhWT4ipHTvKwqYA

Observatorio Astronómico OATA

The Observatorio Astronómico Municipal de Villavieja (or Municipal Astronomical Observatory of Villavieja by its meaning in English), known as OATA, is located in the desert and has been in operation for over 16 years. Its main goal is to promote astronomical culture and provide visitors with a clearer perspective of the universe. It is led by Astronomer Juan Sebastián Lozano Martínez, a Physics student at the National University.

The observatory attracts hundreds of astronomy enthusiasts and offers interesting talks every day from 6 to 10 pm. The entrance fee is $10,000 per person, and the lectures are available in English.

Cabo de la Vela, La Guajira

Location: Cabo de la Vela is located in the department of La Guajira, near Uribia and Riohacha.
Altitude: 47 meters (154 feet) above sea level.
How to get there from Uribia: You need to reach the municipality of Uribia, 63 km (39 miles) away. From there, the car journey takes about 1 hour and 30 minutes. If you prefer to take a bus, the journey takes 2 hours to reach the Cabo. https://maps.app.goo.gl/zftr45ZKgszvAido7
How to get there from Riohacha: Cabo de la Vela is about 97 km (60 miles) from Riohacha, taking a little over 1 hour by car. If you choose to take a bus, the journey takes 4 hours, as you first head to Uribia from Riohacha, then transfer to another bus to reach Cabo de la Vela. https://maps.app.goo.gl/25n9jq7K1epmZwLFA

Cabo de la Vela is a coastal geographical feature in the Colombian Caribbean region. It has become an increasingly popular destination for astrotourism due to its remote location, far from major urban centers, ensuring dark and clear skies ideal for stargazing.

Additionally, its stable climate and proximity to the equator contribute to extensive visibility of constellations and planets, making it an attractive destination for astronomy enthusiasts who want to experience the beauty of the night sky to the fullest.

As such, there are no specific astrotourism services. However, both professionals and astrotourists with the necessary equipment can go and enjoy the nighttime view of the cosmos.

Parque Nacional Natural El Cocuy, Boyacá

Location: El Cocuy National Natural Park is situated northeast of the Eastern Cordillera, in the department of Boyacá, specifically in the municipality of Güicán.

Altitude: On the western side, it has an altitude of over 4,000 meters (13,123 feet) above sea level, and on its eastern side, it descends to 600 meters (1,968.5 feet) towards the Colombian departments of Arauca and Casanare.

How to get there from Tunja: El Cocuy is approximately 266 km (165 miles) from Tunja, the department’s capital. By car, it takes about 7 hours to reach the main access route in Güicán. If you want to take a bus from the Juana Velasco de Gallo Regional Terrestrial Transport Terminal, the journey takes about 8 hours because it makes a stop in the center of Güicán , and from there, you have to walk or rent another transport that goes to the main access route in Güicán. https://maps.app.goo.gl/k4wLawV9pKQa4wVA7

How to get there from Bogotá: El Cocuy National Park is 9 hours from Bogotá, about 405 km (251 miles) to the main access route in Güicán. By bus, the journey takes about 11 hours from the Satélite Norte Terminal because it makes a stop in the center of Güicán , and from there, you have to walk or rent another transport that goes to the main access route in Güicán. https://maps.app.goo.gl/aPQqnxshdUPWJiqy6

El Cocuy National Natural Park, spanning 306,000 hectares, offers pristine landscapes with snow-capped peaks, lagoons, and forests. Its remote and sparsely populated nature, coupled with low light pollution, makes it an ideal spot for astrotourism.

While renowned for hiking, astrotourism is accessible with proper gear and a National Parks permit. Notably, overnight stays, horseback riding, and pets are restricted. For stargazing, reaching the Cabaña de los Herrera near the main entrance suffices, avoiding the demanding hike to the mountain’s summit.

The route is marked with green stakes every 200 meters (656 feet) for those wanting to delve deeper into this ecosystem.

Important

If you wish to ascend to the paramo or glacial areas of this park, you must have a guide and additional preparations.

Observatories and Planetariums in Colombia

One of the main attractions in Colombia’s most touristy cities is the presence of planetariums and observatories. Here are the most important ones that I recommend visiting if you’re an astronomy enthusiast or a professional in the field:

  • Observatorio Astronómico Nacional de Colombia, Bogotá (or National Astronomical Observatory of Colombia, by its meaning in English)
  • Maloka, Bogotá
  • Observatorio Astronómico ITM, Medellín (or ITM Astronomical Observatory, by its meaning in English)
  • Observatorio Astronómico UTP, Pereira (or UTP Astronomical Observatory, by its meaning in English)
  • Planetarium of Bogotá
  • Planetarium in Medellín

It’s important to note that astronomical observatories and planetariums serve different purposes. Observatories focus primarily on scientific and astronomical research, while planetariums are geared towards public outreach and education.

However, all the mentioned sites offer services and activities for learning about astronomy. You can enjoy incredible dome projections and learn about the cosmos through workshops and lectures.

Astronomical Festivals in Colombia

Astronomical festivals in Colombia are events that bring together enthusiasts, professionals, and astronomy lovers to enjoy sky observations, talks, workshops, and activities related to the study of the universe. Here are the main astronomical festivals in Colombia:

Villa de Leyva Astronomical Festival

This is one of the most popular annual astronomical festivals in Colombia. It is usually held in the municipality of Villa de Leyva, in the main park, which is located in an environment conducive to stargazing due to its low light pollution. The festival includes conferences, workshops, exhibitions, and sky observation sessions.

Date: Varies each year (In 2023, it was held from February 24 to 26)
Website: https://www.festivaldeastronomia.com/

Gachancipá Astronomy Festival

In this astronomical festival you can enjoy live music, cultural activities and an incredible local gastronomy. Likewise, both lovers and professionals will observe the various stars that the clear sky of Ganchacipá allows you to observe from the main park of the municipality.

Location: Gachancipá, 41 minutes from Bogotá (Approximately 44 km or 27 miles by car). You can also take a bus from the Satélite Norte terminal. https://maps.app.goo.gl/1uU2Fimw151TsVGE8.
Date: Varies each year
Website: https://www.museofac.mil.co/es/noticias/x-festival-de-astronomia-de-gachancipa

Astronomy Tourism Festival in the Tatacoa Desert

This festival offers everything to have a memorable astronomical adventure, its visitors will be able to do astrophotography and stargazing. Likewise, they will be able to attend lectures, film screenings, buy a fair of local products and go hiking. This event takes place in the main park of Villavieja and in the observatory of the Tatacoa desert. It is a fascinating festival!

Date: Varies each year
Website:
https://www.huila.gov.co/publicaciones/14312/villavieja-vivira-el-festival-de-turismo-astronomico-de-la-tatacoa/

Essential Items for Astronomical Tourism in Colombia

Here’s a list of essential items you should consider bringing for astronomical observation:

  • Telescope or Astronomical Binoculars: If you have a telescope or astronomical binoculars, bring them for a more detailed observation. Don’t forget the telescope tripod.
  • Star Map: A star map or an astronomy app on your phone will help you identify constellations and celestial objects. I recommend Stelarium, an app that indicates the location of the celestial object you want to observe.
  • Red Light or Pointer: Red light doesn’t affect night vision and is useful for calibrating and focusing your telescope. Many telescopes come with it included.
  • Warm Clothing: As this activity is nocturnal, bring warm clothing such as a waterproof jacket, long boots, warm pants, and a hat.
  • Chair: Sometimes, cloud cover or the movement of celestial bodies can delay observation. Bring something to sit on.
  • Camping Gear (if applicable):If you plan to camp, consider bringing:
    • Tent
    • Sleeping bag
    • Sleeping mat
    • Blankets (thermal if necessary)
    • Flashlight
    • Fully charged phone
    • Portable kitchen kit (including a portable stove with fuel, pots, plates, utensils, glasses, and a can opener)
    • Non-perishable food and drinks
    • Multi-tool
    • Personal hygiene items
    • Trash bags

General Tips for Astronomical Tourism in Colombia

Here are some general tips to enhance your astronomical tourism experience and avoid setbacks:

  • Choose an Appropriate Location: Look for sites away from light pollution, such as national parks, observatories, and rural areas.
  • Research Moon Phases: Moonlight can hinder observation. Plan your astronomical trip during new or crescent moon phases for darker skies.
  • Follow Telescope Recommendations: For the health of your eyes, avoid using the telescope during the day or pointing it directly at the sun.
  • Research Transportation: If you plan to use buses to reach these destinations, check online platforms like RedBus for schedules and ticket information.
  • Check Weather Conditions: Ensure that the weather is suitable for astronomical observation. Clear, precipitation-free nights are ideal.
  • Calibrate Your Telescope Properly: Telescopes are sensitive instruments. Calibrate them frequently according to the celestial object you want to see.
  • Stay Informed About Special Astronomical Events: Keep an eye on eclipses, planetary oppositions, conjunctions, meteor showers, and other unique celestial events. Plan your trip accordingly.
  • Protect Your Telescope: If sharing your telescope with a group, prevent people from touching it, as it can disrupt the view.
  • Prepare for High Altitude (if applicable): Locations at high altitudes (above 2,000 meters or 6,561 feet) are excellent for astronomy. However, acclimatizing to the altitude can be challenging. Prepare with breathing exercises and avoid sugary foods.

For festival dates, consult websites and pages such as the Asociación de Astronomía de Colombia (Association of Astronomy in Colombia).

Colombia is a fascinating place to explore from the stars. Feel free to reach out, and we’ll be more than happy to assist you with your next adventure! Until next time, adventurer!

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About Author

Frank

Frank

Hello! I'm Frank Spitzer, the founder and the heart behind Pelecanus, a specialized tour operator for Colombia travel. My journey in travel is vast and rich – I've explored over 60 countries, absorbing cultures, experiences, and stories along the way. Since 2017, I've been channeling this wealth of global experience into creating unforgettable travel experiences in Colombia.I'm recognized as a leading authority in Colombian tourism, with a deep-seated passion for sharing this beautiful country with the world. You can catch glimpses of my travel adventures and insights around Colombia on my YouTube channel. I'm also active on social media platforms like TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest, where I share the vibrant culture and stunning landscapes of Colombia.For professional networking, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn. Join me on this incredible journey, and let's explore the wonders of Colombia together!

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