Hiking Tierradentro's Painted Tombs from La Portada

One of the joys of visiting Tierradentro is the opportunity to do some walking and in particular to hike between  the archeological sites. We stayed at a wonderful small inn called La Portada in San Andres de Pisimbala which I highly reommend. What a fantastic place. Run by a delightful family this small hotel has everything you could wish for in rural Colombia; clean rooms with hot water,  simplicity, charm and good food. 

It is located perfectly for walking between the sites and they provided us with this excellent small map...

We left just before 9am heading out towards El Tablon, El Duende and Segovia, with  plan to stop at the museum before lunch.  El Tablon is know for statuary similar to that found in San Agustin while El Duende and Segovia  are know for their fine examples of the famous painted tombs. We hadn't decided if we would make it up to the highpoint at Aguacate as we'd heard it was quite challenging so it made sense to us to  hit the most significant archeological sites first. Everyone agreed that Segovia offered the best of the painted tombs so that was our priority. 
Note: Because I want to go into some detail about the walk and the tombs I'm going to begin by posting the El Tablón, Duende and Segovia section of the walkending with the museum. I'm hoping that  providing some detail  (including photos) will make this walk a little easier for others as we found it quite difficult to find much information on Tierradentro before we went.  This section of the walk was quite manageable and could be undertaken by anyone in relatively good shape, going in this direction you have the advantage of traveling predominantly downhill and the first section of the walk, until the turnoff to Duende can even be covered by car. This takes care of all the uphill for those looking for an easier approach, or what we would call cheating!
Starting our walk in San Andres de Pisimbala, we passed the  the 400 year old white washed village church (above) unfortunately damaged in a recent fire and headed out of town on a small road. 
From the beginning it was well signposted and it was easy to find the entrance to El Tablón on our right as we hiked up the small gravel road.
Having visited San Agustin,  the statuary here was very familiar and clearly these were carved by the same pre-Colombian culture.  This was the first site we'd visited in the National Archeological Park and we were able to buy our tickets here from the custodian which was very convenient. 
There were horses grazing right next to the site.
The landscape was incredibly lush  with bamboo, bananas and  coffee and the views were lovely as you can see below.
As we headed  down the hill towards Duende and turned off the small road onto a narrower path the views became more expansive. Again it was well marked.This was where we same a small minus dropping off some walkers, who knew there were people who were even more fair-weather hikers than me!
As you can see the path winded down a steep track and at this stage I was glad we weren't heading up. The roofs in the middle distance are Segovia. Below is  D., as always waiting for me to catch up!
The landscape varied enormously, and it was tropical but also dry in parts and because of the elevation you even see pines! However ,it didn't take long to get to Duende which was on our left as we headed down the hill.
These were the first of the painted tomb but as there were not lit it was impossible to take photos without flash and so all my tomb photos come from Segovia  the tombs are lit.  As you can see you go directly down into the tombs which are carved  out of the tufa.
The walk down to Segovia was easy and once again the turn off well signposted.
There were an extremely large number of tombs in this complex and each of these roofs covers the entrances to several seperate tombs. Here is UNESCO's summary, "The area holds the largest concentration of pre-Columbian monumental shaft tombs with side chambers--known as hypogea—which were carved in the volcanic tuff below hilltops and mountain ridges. The structures, some measuring up to 12 m wide and 7 m deep, were made from 600 to 900 AD, and served as collective secondary burial for elite groups."
They also note, "The tombs are often decorated with polychrome murals with elaborate geometric, zoomorphic and anthropomorphic designs in red and black paint on a white background, and the chambers of the more impressive underground structures were also decorated with elaborate anthropomorphic carvings. " The tombs are indeed impressive and often feature a series of pillars carved out of the rock as you can see below. 
The painting is still highly distinctive and quite beautiful as you can see.
Here you can see anthropomorphic faces at the top of the columns below.
The ceilings of the tombs were also highly decorated in the same monochromatic palette, with predominantly abstract geometrical designs in red, black and white.
The tombs are not particularly deep bu the descent into them was often narrow and very steep as you can see below.
These tombs were predominantly secondary burial sites and in one of the tombs they've left the pots that were found here which contained the bones of the deceased. 
One of the joys of this walk was the beautiful views where ever you looked. 

From Segovia we made our way downhill towards the museum which once again was well marked. 

After a steep downhill section the path flattens out down by a small stream on your right. You've reached the end of the walk when you see a rather charming covered bridge.
From here you are almost at the museum. The collection is divided into two parts on either side of the main road. Ask at the ticket booth and they will send someone to open  up the collections.
One section focuses on local culture and history, here' s what the  church at the beginning should have looked like.
There are also sections on indigenous culture, music, food, farming etc.
Across the road is the archeological museum which houses an extensive collection of pots and pottery shards as well as several stone sculptures from the region.
The pot below was particularly impressive and highly decorative. 
I highly recommend this walk, it's very manageable and the entire thing, including the time we spent at each site and in the museum, took less than four hours. Yes,  there are some steep downhill sections but overall is isn't a difficult walk and there are a number of stops on the way which make it both enjoyable and rewarding.

The only question was were we going to tackle the second half of the walk and climb Aguacate? Tune in for the next post to see what happened....


Unknown said…
Thank you so much. Your account is fun and very informative. I'm going to Colombia this July and searching for details about hiking Tierradentro. As you said, there is quite little information about the place and you help clearing many things for me.
Thanks so much for your kind comment. This is exactly why I bother to write the blog and I'm delighted that the information was helpful. You're right there isn't much written in English about this wonderful area and I'm so happy it was useful for you.