Visit Cerro Azul travel guide: the Sixtine Chapel of the colombian Amazon in Guaviare

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To visit Cerro Azul in Guaviare (or Cerro Pinturas) is to witness a formidable illustration of the pre-Columbian cultural and historical heritage of Latin America and the Amazon region in particular. It’s a fascinating site that combines exploration, history, mystery and heritage of importance to mankind.

San José del Guaviare lies on the border between the llanos plains and the Amazon rainforest. The Serrania de la Lindosa, home to a number of rock painting sites, is considered the gateway to Chiribiquete, Colombia’s most protected natural park, off-limits to tourists.

The region has been home to many pre-Columbian cultures, and the rock painting sites around San José del Guaviare bear witness to this heritage.

Disclaimer: we apologize in advance for any grammatical or syntactic errors, as our native language is not English (we're a Colombian-French couple), so we hope you'll forgive us and still enjoy the information we share with you! Please note that all the information on our blog is based on our own experience, and is checked and updated regularly.

Discovering Cerro Azul

The Sistine Chapel of the Amazon in Guaviare

Visit Cerro Azul travel guide: the Sixtine Chapel of the colombian Amazon in Guaviare

The various rock painting sites in Guaviare reveal an artistic and cultural treasure trove of impressive scope. So much so that the foreign press has not hesitated to use superlatives to describe these rock painting sites as “the Sixtine Chapel of the ancients“, while the French press speaks of the “Lascaux of Amazonia“!

When “Westerners” continue to “discover” America

Between 2018 and 2020, the foreign press will be making headlines by announcing the “discovery” of cave paintings in the Guaviare region, in complete ignorance of the history of the place and the scientific expeditions that have already studied it. Often confusing the Serrania de la Lindosa with the Chiribiquete Natural Park (where thousands of rock paintings are also forbidden to the public).

However, it would have been easy for journalists to find out more from Colombian scientists. Spoiler: the Guaviare rock paintings were not discovered in 2018 .

Firstly, it seems obvious that the indigenous peoples of the area have always known about the site, and that the locals have always known about it, even helping to protect it.

According to the newspaper L’Espectador, archaeologists had already described some of the paintings found in the Serrania de la Lindosa area in the 1950s. And in the 1960s, an expedition to the Sierra de la Macarena also recorded some of these paintings.

Then in 1980, professors from the national university’s geography department organized an expedition to talk about the mural paintings at Cerro Azul in the Guaviare (otherwise known as Cerro Pinturas).

The dark years and the tourism renaissance

From the 1980s onwards, the FARC guerrillas began to compete with the national army for this territory. Paramilitaries became involved in the conflict, and the San José del Guaviare region experienced several dark decades of armed conflict and drug trafficking.

The region fell into oblivion and the Guaviare rock painting sites remained totally inaccessible.

It was thanks to the peace process and the demobilization of FARC in the early 2010s that Guaviare experienced a renaissance, allowing tourism to reopen and in-depth archaeological research to be carried out.

As in many places affected by the conflict in Colombia, it can be said that amidst the misfortune and atrocities committed in these regions, the decades of state neglect have helped to keep the natural and archaeological sites in a unique state of preservation.

Since the early 2010s, by developing viable alternatives to illicit crops, tourism has played a central role in preserving the archaeological and natural sites around San José del Guaviare.

12.000 years of history

In 2014, major scientific work began at Cerro Azul in the Guaviare region, with excavations at the foot of the large panels of rock paintings.

Over seven years of excavation, groups of researchers will collect several thousand objects, mammal remains and charred seeds, making it possible to date the various periods when human presence is attested on the site.

As the paintings were largely made from iron oxide, they cannot be dated. Only the objects and remains buried under the earth around the walls have made it possible to date the human presence on the site.

For the moment, the scientific consensus is that the oldest human remains discovered on site date back over 12.000 years, making this site one of the oldest artistic testimonies in Latin America.

Researchers have also been able to date seeds and objects dating from 9.000 years ago, 7.000 years ago, 3.000 years ago and up to 320 years ago, giving reason to believe that this site has been a meeting place and exchange point for the peoples of the region for thousands of years, right up to the present day.

Since 2018, the Serrania de la Lindosa rock painting sites have been declared a site of archaeological importance by ICANH.

Contact Marcel to visit the Guaviare

What is Cerro Azul in Colombia?

Rock paintings in Guaviare

Visit Cerro Azul travel guide: the Sixtine Chapel of the colombian Amazon in Guaviare

A few hours’ 4×4 drive from San José del Guaviare is the Serrania de la Lindosa, a massif made up of numerous “Tepuyes”, rocky mounds derived from the Guiana plateau, the oldest geological formation on the planet. Tepuyes are found in French Guiana, Brazil, Venezuela and Colombia.

It was here that pre-Columbian civilizations left their mark creating immense panels of ochre-coloured paintings whose representations remain a mystery.

But Cerro Azul in Colombia is just the tip of the iceberg. Hundreds of similar sites can be found all over the Amazon rainforest around Serrania de la Lindosa, Macarena and Chiribiquete!

Cerro Pinturas, and the various similar sites accessible from San José, are in fact a public testimony to the thousands of rock paintings hidden from view and protected by the Amazon jungle.

The rock paintings present a variety of scenes and images depicting the daily life, beliefs and practices of pre-Columbian cultures. Researchers have been amazed by the quality and diversity of the works.

The most abundant drawings on the panels of the Serranía de La Lindosa show humans interacting with plants, forests and animals.

Other rock painting sites in Guaviare

As we explain, it is possible to observe rock paintings in Colombia, around San José del Guaviare, at different sites that are only accessible with a local guide:

  • Cerro Azul (or Cerro Pinturas)
  • Nuevo Tolima
  • Cerro Raudal

Controversy and mystery

Some researchers have interpreted certain paintings as representations of megafauna dating from the end of the last Ice Age (12.000 years ago).

Other scientists, on the other hand, believe that these representations have more to do with shamanic “visions”. And given that the site may have been a sacred or meeting place over the centuries, it’s quite possible that paintings have been added over time.

There are even theories that paintings at Cerro Azul in Colombia refer to events connected with Spanish colonization.

Like the San Agustin and Tierradentro sites, the Cerro Pinturas site and the rock paintings in the Guaviare region remain an almost total mystery. What’s more, it’s only been a few years since scientists began working on these archaeological sites, and there are still many questions surrounding the rock paintings in the Serrania de la Lindosa.

Contact Marcel to visit the Guaviare

Our visit to Cerro Azul in Guaviare

Rock paintings in Colombia

Visit Cerro Azul travel guide: the Sixtine Chapel of the colombian Amazon in Guaviare
Rock paintings, Guaviare

We were lucky enough to be able to contemplate these incredible paintings with our own eyes. On the morning of day 3 in Guaviare, Marcel, our local partner in San José, picked us up to accompany us to one of the most important sites in the Serrania de la Lindosa.

Access to Cerro Pinturas (located on private property) is regulated and only permitted in the presence of a guide from the village of Cerro Azul. Arriving at the finca that serves as the entrance to the site, we meet William, a young man from the village who will accompany us for the day with Marcel.

We set off for a few hours’ walk to the foot of Tepuye. First under an oppressive sun through the savannah and its yellowing grasses, we then enter the forest, where we’re lucky enough to have some pretty encounters, notably with woolly monkeys!

The climb up to the walls makes us appreciate the spectacle even more when we arrive at the foot of the first panel of rock paintings! This first panel offers the greatest concentration of pictograms at Cerro Pinturas.

Even though we’d seen the images, it’s a real surprise – it’s magnificent! It’s a time for admiration, questioning and brainstorming.

Contact Marcel to visit the Guaviare

These millennia-old paintings are awe-inspiring ! As we make our way around the Tepuye, we discover two other panels of rock paintings, much larger, and very different in their physiognomy, the variation of pictograms, and the way they are exposed to the eye.

The paintings depict scenes of life, hunting, fighting, dancing, ceremonies, animals, people, geometric shapes and other symbols..

Almost nothing is known about the exact origin of these paintings. We know that they are the fruit of indigenous Amazonian cultures, but what are their meanings? Where did they come from? Who exactly were they?

All interpretations are possible, and discussions with William and Marcel are in full swing!

Before turning back, we cross the bowels of the Tepuye to emerge on the other side and climb to the mirador offering a unique view of the immense Amazon rainforest. Green, green, green, as far as the eye can see!

It’s an opportunity to let our emotions run wild, our tons of unanswered questions, but that’s what makes this place so magical, what leaves us gaping at the aesthetics of the frescoes, in awe of the message of an age-old culture.

How to visit Cerro Azul in Le Guaviare

Ecoturismo Guaviare (#45)

To contact Marcel, our local partner in San José del Guaviare, you can use the form below. You won’t pay any more, but it will let him know you’ve come from us.

IMPORTANT: If you don’t hear from our partner within 72 hours, please check your SPAMS first before contacting us.

Where to stay in San José del Guaviare

San José del Guaviare, the best hotels

Hotel El Aeropuerto

Hotel

Hotel El Aeropuerto

Double room : $300.000 to $350.000 COP

Hotel El Aeropuerto is, as its name suggests, located right next to San José del Guaviare airport. With its swimming pool, nice common areas and all the services of a classic hotel.

San José del Guaviare, the best hotels

Hotel Quinto Nivel

Hotel

Hotel Quinto Nivel

Double room : $300.000 to $350.000 COP

The Hotel Quinto Nivel is one of San José del Guaviare’s best-known hotels. Most local agencies lodge their clients in this hotel.

San José del Guaviare, the best hotels

Visit San José del Guaviare travel guide: the gateway to Amazonia

Eco Lodge

Playa Guio

Dormitory : $25.000 to $50.000/Double room : $0 to $100.000 COP

Playa Guio is a haven of peace in the middle of nature, a 20-minute cab ride from the center of San José del Guaviare. On site, you’ll find the warmth of the Melo family, a large common room where you can eat and have a good time, a large hut for those who want to sleep cheaply in a hammock, and two private cabins for those who want privacy.

How to get to Cerro Azul in Colombia

San José del Guaviare is the safest and most accessible tourist destination.

Getting to Guaviare by bus

BUS | Bogota <> San José del Guaviare (8h)

  • Fare: approx. $70.000 COP
  • Companies: Flota La Macarena
  • Departures: all day, with night bus departures as well.

BUS | Villavicencio <> San Jose del Guaviare (5h)

  • Fare: approx. $50.000 COP
  • Companies: Flota La Macarena
  • Departures: approximately every hour

Getting to Guaviare by plane

PLANE | Bogota <> San José del Guaviare (1h15)

  • Fare: approx. $210.000 COP one-way
  • Airline: Satena, EasyFly
  • Departures: Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday

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Authors

Angélica & Samuel

We are Angélica and Samuel, a French-Colombian couple, professional photographers and web editors specializing in travel to Colombia. We created this blog to change the image of the country, help you prepare your trip and inspire you to discover Colombia in a different way!

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