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7 Deserts in Colombia – Everything you should know

Desierto de la Tatacoa in Huila

Updated on 05/07/2024

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!

Colombian deserts

What is a desert?

A desert is an area that supports very little plant growth due to its extremely dry climate and lack of adequate rainfall. Deserts can have both hot and cold climates and span different regions of the world including North Africa, parts of the Middle East, North America, Australia and Asia.

There are different types of deserts including:

Hot Deserts: These deserts are known for their high temperatures. The Sahara Desert in Africa and the Arabian Desert in the Middle East are examples of hot deserts.

Cold Deserts: Although cold deserts have lower temperatures, they still have very little rainfall. The Gobi Desert in Asia and the Great Basin Desert in North America are examples of cold deserts.

Semi-deserts: These areas are slightly less arid than typical deserts, but still experience low levels of rainfall. They might support some plant growth, but not enough to be considered prolific.

Sandy Deserts: In these deserts, sand dominates as the main soil surface. Dunes can be a distinctive feature of sandy deserts.

Stone or scree deserts: Here the surface consists mostly of stones or gravel. As a result, temperatures can heat up significantly during the day and cool down significantly at night.

Deserts are often harsh, extreme and difficult for life. Still, some plants and animals have evolved specialized adaptations to survive in these demanding environments.

Guajira Desert

Location: The Guajira Desert is located in the department of La Guajira, which in turn borders the Caribbean Sea. Part of the Guajira Desert is also on the territory of Venezuela.
Altitude: 0 – 450 meters above sea level. The Guajira desert in the north of the country is the largest desert in Colombia, covering an area of around 25,000 hectares.

Sub-regions of the Guajira Desert

The Guajira Desert is divided into 3 sub-regions:

Alta Guajira: This part of the desert has cliffs, rock formations and secluded beaches.

Media Guajira: In Media Guajira one can find the Los Flamencos Flora and Fauna Sanctuary, the Musichi Nature Reserve, the mouth of the Palomino River and the small tourist town of Dibulla, which has various paradisiacal beaches.

Bajaguajira: This area is very close to the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and the Serranía del Perijá.

Why visit the Guajira Desert?

In the Guajira Desert there is a large presence of the Wayuu indigenous community, one of Colombia’s most important indigenous communities. Some of the Wayuu live on the coasts and live mainly from fishing. Goat keeping is also very common. The Wayuu also make excellent handbags and hammocks.

However, a large part of the indigenous community suffers from great poverty and poor education. Many Wayuu also do not speak Spanish. One problem is the water supply, since a large part of the water seems to be stolen by mafia structures. The big local mines operated by multinational corporations also appear to be involved. Child mortality is therefore high and the Colombian state declared a state of emergency in 2023.

Guajira Desert is a stunning area and certainly worth a visit. Destinations such as Cabo de la Vela or Punta Gallinas are difficult to reach and only have a simple infrastructure, but you will be rewarded with fantastic landscapes and beaches. Tourism can also help strengthen the local economy and alleviate current problems.

How to get to the Guajira Desert?

The capital Riohacha has an airport which offers direct connections with Bogota.

Tatacoa Desert

Location: Villavieja, Huila
Altitude: 430 meters above sea level
The Tatacoa Desert is not a classic desert in the traditional sense, but rather a semi-arid area with an arid climate in Colombia. It is located in the department of Huila, southwest of Bogotá. Although often referred to as a “desert”, it is actually an arid region with varied landscape features.

The Tatacoa region is characterized by its fascinating geological diversity, including red and gray strata, grabens, colorful rock formations and erosional structures. This landscape has made it a popular spot for tourists, hikers, photographers and scientists.

The two main areas of the Tatacoa Desert are the “Cuzco” (colored red) and the “Los Hoyos” (colored gray). Cuzco is known for its reddish soil and spectacular views, while Los Hoyos impresses with its rocky formations.

The Tatacoa Desert also offers excellent conditions for astronomical observations due to its arid environment. There is also an astronomy observatory that visitors can use to gaze at the stars.

Why visit the Tatacoa Desert?

  • Geological Diversity: The Tatacoa Desert offers an amazing array of geological formations, including colorful strata, canyons, rock formations and erosion structures. This diversity makes it a paradise for naturalists, geologists and photographers who want to explore and document the unique landscapes.
  • Stargazing: The desert is known for its clear night skies and low light pollution. This creates ideal conditions for astronomy enthusiasts. There is an observatory on site that offers visitors the opportunity to observe the sky and view stars, planets and other celestial bodies.
  • Hiking and Trekking: The vast open spaces of the Tatacoa Desert invite to hiking and trekking tours. There are trails and trails that allow visitors to explore the desert’s diverse landscape features up close.
  • Photography: The fascinating and unusual geological formations, the colors of the layers of earth and the breathtaking sunsets make the Tatacoa Desert an ideal place for photographers. The changing light conditions during the day offer a variety of opportunities for unique shots.
  • Natural Beauty: Although the Tatacoa Desert is an arid environment, it still has a special natural beauty. The contrasts between the different colors of the landscape and the unusual shapes of the rocks make it an aesthetically pleasing place.

Curiosities of the Tatacoa Desert

  • August celebrates the Tatacoa Astronomical Festival, an event that brings together astronomers, teachers, students and tourists with the aim of promoting knowledge in the field of astronomy.
  • The Tatacoa Desert got its name in honor of a rattlesnake.
  • The Spanish conquistador Juan Alonso discovered the Tatacoa Desert in 1538 and was able to give it the name “Valley of Sorrows”.
  • In the Tatacoa Desert there is an astronomical observatory equipped with numerous telescopes so that people can see all the celestial bodies that appear in the sky.

How do you get to the Tatacoa Desert?

It takes about 7 hours from Bogota by land. However, you can also fly to Neiva, from where you can be in the Tatacoa Desert in 90 minutes.

Sabrinsky desert

Location: Mosquera, Cundinamarca
Altitude: 2,600 – 2,800 meters above sea level

The Sabrinsky Desert, also known as the Mondoñedo Desert or Alto del Tigre, is located near the municipality of Mosquera. This desert is characterized by being very rocky and also has shades of orange and red.

Why visit the Sabrinsky Desert?

Laguna de la Herrera is located near the Sabrinsky Desert. Among other things, Muisca tombs, pictographs and other archaeological pieces were found in the Sabrinsky Desert.

Access to the Sabrinsky Desert is private. However, owners generally have no problem allowing entry.


  • The Sabrinsky Desert has historically been exploited by various national-level mining industries.
  • The Sabrinsky Desert is named for its resemblance to the Arizona Desert where the 1970s film Zabriskie Point was filmed.

How to get to the Sabrinsky Desert?

It takes about an hour by car from Bogota.

Tatacoita Desert

Location: Nemocón, Cundinamarca
Altitude: 2800 meters above sea level

The Tatacoita Desert is within Los Ciros Farm in the municipality of Nemocón, 45 km from Bogotá. A tour of the Tatacoita Desert can be done on foot and takes about 2 hours. However, the route can also be covered by bike, as the terrain is mostly flat.

Why visit the Tatacoita Desert?

In the Tatacoita desert there are many canyons, caves, sand walls up to 20 meters high and one canyon. Various archaeological elements such as vessels, mammoth fossil remains and cave paintings have been found in the desert.


  • The Tatacoita Desert is named for its resemblance to the Tatacoa Desert.
  • The Tatacoita Desert was formed about 200 years ago through the clearing of native forest and subsequent planting of trees such as eucalyptus and pine.

How to get to the Tatacoita Desert?

It takes about an hour to drive there from Bogota.

Desierto del Occidente

Location: Department of Antioquia
Altitude: 430 – 1,300 meters above sea level

The Desierto del Occidente is located in the department of Antioquia between the municipalities of Sopetrá, Anzá, San Jerónimo and Santa Fe de Antioquia. This desert has an extension of more than 300 square kilometers.

Temperatures in the Desierto del Occidente reach almost 40° C during the day and up to 23° C at night.


  • In the Desierto del Occidente you can go on various hikes, practice some extreme sports and also camp.

How to reach the Desierto del Occidente?

From Medellin you can reach the Desierto del Occidente by car in around 90 minutes.

Candelaria Desert

Location: Ráquira, Boyacá
Altitude: 2,150 – 2,500 meters above sea level

The Candelaria Desert is located in the department of Boyacá , 7 kilometers from Ráquira and 32 km from Villa de Leyva . This desert is also called “Desert of Souls” because it was found far away from populated places.

Why visit the Candelaria Desert?

There are numerous cave paintings in the Candelaria Desert. There is also the Candelaria Convent, built at the beginning of the 17th century on the initiative of the Spanish Augustinian priest Mateo Delgado.

The climate in the Candelaria Desert is cold compared to other deserts because it is located in a moorland area. Therefore, vegetation grows around the desert and a river with crystal clear water also flows by.

The temperature in the Candelaria Desert varies between 18º C and 25º C.

How to get to the Candelaria Desert?

From Bogota, the journey takes around 5 hours.

Important recommendations for visiting the deserts of Colombia

When visiting a desert, there are some important things to keep in mind to respect both your safety and the environment. Here are some tips:

  1. Wear appropriate clothing: Deserts can be exposed to extreme temperatures. During the day it can get as hot as 50° Celsius and at night temperatures can drop below freezing. Wear light, breathable clothing that protects you from the sun. Also remember to protect yourself from wind and sand.
  1. Hydrate yourself: Drink enough water. The dry air and heat can lead to dehydration. Always carry an adequate amount of water with you, especially if you are going to be outside for a long time.
  1. Sun protection: Apply sunscreen with a high SPF to protect against the sun’s intense UV rays. A wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and light, long-sleeved clothing can also protect against sunburn.
  1. Navigation and Orientation: Desert landscapes can often seem monotonous, making it easy to lose your bearings. Bring maps, GPS devices or navigation apps to ensure you find your way back.
  1. Respect for the environment: be careful not to leave litter in the desert and respect nature. Desert ecosystems are fragile and slow to recover from human intervention.
  1. Emergency equipment: Take basic emergency equipment with you, including a first aid kit, mobile phone with a fully charged battery and possibly a portable charger, in order to be able to call for help in an emergency.
  1. Animal Safety: Beware of animals that live in the desert. Some may be toxic or display aggressive behaviors. Avoid disturbing or feeding wild animals.
  1. Weather Forecast: Find out the weather forecast for the area before you head out. Deserts can experience sudden weather changes, such as sandstorms or temperature drops. When it rains, deserts become impassable as vehicles get stuck in wet sand.
  1. Group Tours: It is often safer to explore deserts in groups, especially if you are unfamiliar with the region. An experienced guide can help you explore the area safely.
  1. Permits and Rules: Find out what permits may be required to enter the desert and abide by the applicable rules and regulations.

More nature tourism experiences in Colombia

Here you will find a list of incredible destinations for hiking and other nature activities in Colombia:


About Author



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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