With flight fares continuously on the low and flight durations from as little as 30 minutes from Bogotá, Yopal has gained in significance on the Colombian tourism map. On weekends Casanare’s capital increasingly fills up with Bogotános wanting to escape the big city. However, tourism infrastructure is just catching up with the new stream of visitors and so it helps to know where to go and what to do to avoid getting stuck by the hotel pool all day.
Here are our top 10 of things to do in Yopal, Casanare
1. El Garcero – a natural spectacle
‘El Garcero’ is the home of hundreds of white herons that land here in the evening hours to sleep. It is technically a group of trees by a river stream that forms El Garcero, home of the garzas, as the white herons are called. The spectacle of hundreds of white herons landing there in the pretty light of the late afternoon and early evening hours can be viewed from the road, Ruta Sirivana, that passes by the Garcero and gets you as close to the Garcero as 50 meters. Although Yopaleños know about the crowd of birdwatchers by the road and tend to slow down, beware of the traffic that is heavier at this time of the day. Opposite El Garcero you will find a beautiful beer garden to sit for your sundowner and to enjoy the pastel colors of the llanos’ sky. This bar serves pop, beer and freshly squeezed juices along some nibbles. On weekends they also serve homemade desserts. Don’t forget long sleeves and mosquito repellent as this area has many river streams and lots of bloodsuckers swarm out during sunset. To get to El Garcero exit Yopal via Calle 11 to the east to get to La Ruta Sirivana (by car or bus) and drive for about 8 km.
2. Visit a cultural event and join in to Joropo dancing
Yopal is also known as ‘la puerta del Llano’, the gateway to the Colombian prairies, and naturally it is home to the llanos’ rich folklore and culture including vivid Música Llanera, Joropo dancing and hooting llaneros (cowboys). To get a taste of its culture head to a local event or concert. These are held in the Parque El Resurgimiento during the festive season in December as well as in some restaurants and hotels. The GHL Style Hotel hosts live music on Thursday nights. Get more information at the tourist information center at El Alcaravan Airport or at Parque El Resurgimiento. A good point of reference may also be the Casa Cultural (House of Culture). Why not ask at the hotel reception to get you in touch.
If you are serious about Joropo and you are in town for longer you may want to take Joropo lessons. Personally, I am a greater fan of watching others dance. Joropo is often performed by children in impressing outfits. To watch their tiny feet move faster than a sewing machine, their concentrated faces and them in their colouful outfits for the first time blew me away. For lessons check with the Casa Cultural or ask around in town – lots works through word of mouth in Yopal.
3. Enjoy Mamona in an authentic restaurant
On weekends magic happens around Yopal. Dozens of restaurants open in the rural villages and along the roads leading into and out of Yopal. As early as 7 am large chunks of fresh meat, usually from a novilla, a young cow, are being skewered on long spears and placed around outdoor fires for a slow roast. By noon these chunks will be ready to serve.This renowned llanero dish is called Mamona. Even if you are not into meat under normal circumstances, the juicy and flavorful local beef will absolutely overwhelm your tastebuds. If you are into meat indeed you should also try some local pork on this occasion. Crusty pork skin is a local all time favorite. Welcome to Colombia’s cowboy land!
Ask the chef for a small sample of meat (the guy with the large knife by the fire and a towel swung over one shoulder) before you order. Avoid to lunch any later than one o’ clock. After one or two o’clock the meat gets too dry.
4. Head for a dip into natural pools and rivers
‘Casanare is like a green sea’, some say. The earth bends at the horizon just like the ocean because of the Llanos’ vastness and flatness. However the actual sea and coast is far from this part of the country. Colombia is rich in water and even inland one is never far from a good and reviving swim in nature’s deep blue (any blue). Yopal is surrounded by several streams and large rivers such as El Charte and El Cravo Sur. The Cravo Sur river has several natural pools that almost look turquoise and are crystal clear in summer (December to February) plus you won’t soak in an awful lot of salt through your nose and eyes. There are some some nice beaches along the banks of the Cravo Sur, bays, sandbanks, waterfalls and rocks, from which brave hearts can jump. In short: It’s an adventure playground! And a spa! Find yourself being massaged by the waterfalls and currents while enjoying the view into the lush mountains and letting your gaze follow a group of garzas flying above. I promise the juicy meat will taste even better after a good swim and the cool water will feel like heaven after an extensive hike into the mountains. The top swimming spots are La Calaboza, a natural pool up a dust road (1 km) from La Puente de Cabuya (1km from Yopal), and plenty of little bays and pools in the Cravo Sur river behind the mountain village of ‘El Morro’ (15 km from Yopal) when exiting the village via a dust road into the mountains. There are plenty more streams and cascades and explaining how to get to every single one would definitely exceed this article, so follow Mark Twain’s advice: Explore. Dream. Discover.
5. Gallop a horse across the prairies ‘Los Llanos’
This is Colombia’s cowboy land. If you have dreamed of being a cowboy since your early childhood days then wait no longer and make the dream come true in Colombia’s spectacular wild plains – lots of wildlife watching included!
Los Llanos are most authentically experienced on horseback. Horses are well trained for cattle work and ideal even for first time horse riders. Cross streams, waterholes and wet savannas by horse, gallop across the prairies and herd some cattle, ride under extensive palm trees and through gallery forests discovering howling monkeys, capuchins, the giant anteater, exotic birds such as the hoatzin, herons, parrots, spoon bills and caimans, tortoises and yes, even anacondas. Several local fincas have discovered tourism as an additional source of income and are willing to make you a “llanero por un dia” (cowboy for a day) or lead you on a safari by horse. More info
6. Head to the Virgen de Manare viewpoint in the early morning or evening hours
This is the ideal wake up exercise and it is hugely popular with the locals. Still before the sun rises dozens of people pilgrimage to the Virgen de Manare mirador, Yopal’s very own ‘Monserate’ (about 3 km climb). They walk, jog or mountain bike in groups, alone or with their dogs and then stretch their legs and arms up by the virgin while enjoying the sunrise over the Eastern plains. Street vendors offer freshly squeezed orange juice and slices of water melon at the foot of the climb or at the top.
If you are not such an early bird (or had a couple of beers too many in one of the many bars the night before) then alternate for the early evening hours to enjoy the pastel and orange colored sky of los llanos from the mirador of the Virgen de Manare. You could also stop for a sundowner at one of the two bars/restaurants. From both you have great views of the city lights below and the vast and scarcely populated Llanos starting behind Yopal.
7. Hot on Wheels! Make the most of Yopal’s huge cycle scene
Cycling is becoming a huge thing in Yopal. The foothills attract mountain bikers and the empty and beautifully new paved roads leading into the Llanos are heaven for semi professional road cyclists. Aventur Eco Tours organizes tours by mountain bike and road bike including insurance, refreshments, guide, high quality bikes and hydration. On Sundays Yopal has a ciclovia (a for motor traffic closed and cyclists only route through town). Head on Sunday morning to the Parque El Resurgimiento. On Wednesday evenings there is a cycle parade starting at Unicentro leading through town. The route leads criss cross through Yopal and is great to see the town. If you are insecure about cycling out and about you could also enjoy the local spinning class at El Patinodromo – a lot of fun!
At El Patinodromo you can also turn your jogging rounds and rollerblade. Usage of this well maintained circular sports arena is free of charge and open to the public.
8. Visit El Morro – the founding town of Yopal
It’s not picture perfect Villa de Leyva but the small mountain village El Morro has its own authentic, rural and whole hearty charm. It’s here where people first settled before founding Yopal, about 100 years ago. The simple colonial style houses remain to date and not too much seems to have changed since its early days. There is a nice central square and park in the middle of town. Check in for a tinto at the only bakery. On weekends you want to try the soups and meats at the restaurants surrounding the square!
While the vistas from this mountain village into the lush hills are good, a hike from here on the dust road into the mountains (or a cycle) will blow you away in terms of scenery. Stop for a bath at one of the rivers or a shower under one of the many waterfalls. The route to La Virgen de la Peña (3 km walk from El Morro) is a decent hike for anyone – regardless of your level of fitness. Let your gaze wander across the valley, the roaring Cravo Sur river below and up along the cliffs and rock walls with their cascades and thick dripping root formations, rather unique!
Aventur Eco Tours organizes tours – hiking and cycling – including refreshments, a knowledgable guide, insurance and hydration if you’d rather have an English speaking local person guide you – also off the main path to some hidden gems such as a natural pool in-between two waterfalls! Your guide also happens to be the grandson of those who arrived here first, llaneros who love their land and cattle, and he naturally shows this enthusiasm for the land and the outdoors.
If you are into birding at all Yopal is your place. And even if you are not, you will probably find spotting toucans, hoatzins, spoonbills, parrots, troupials, pink(!) and white herons, hummingbirds, hawks and avid jays rather exciting. Yopal is located on the foothill of the Andes, an area that connects the vast prairies with the lush Andean mountains. The prairies geographically bridge the Amazonas jungle with the Andes. This location makes Casanare extremely rich in fauna and flora, even one of the richest in the world! Around 400 species of birds can be discovered in Casanare, a huge amount of which in Yopal’s parks and surroundings along the foothills, the Cravo Sur river and near the village of El Morro as well as in fincas and farms in the surrounding savannas. So keep your binoculars at hand!
Some local biologists and ontologists offer tours and guidance to visitors. You can also visit us at Villa Pepita, 1 km from Yopal, for excellent bird watching opportunities.
Yopal is associated with the Colombian prairies and plains known as Los Llanos. But don’t be fooled. Its surroundings reach from flat plains to lush hills and spectacular mountain ranges which are best explored by foot. There are several miradores, viewpoints, in the surroundings of Yopal that enable you to see both the mountains on one side and the llanos on the other as Yopal is the spectacular meeting point of prairies and Andean mountains. The area is a haven for birders, hikers, mountain bikers and nature lovers.
While Yopal has its sights and parks, its bars and restaurants and cultural events, the real reason one travels here is its scenery. Wander along the Cravo Sur river, swim, hike up to wonderful 360° viewpoints, explore dense forests and vast savannas rich in fauna and flora, enjoy the authentic local food (renowned throughout Colombia!) and spend some ‘delicious’ days, as Colombians would say.
Airlines operating Yopal directly from Bogotá and Bucaramanga are EasyFly, Avianca and LAN.
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