On Safari in Los Llanos, Yopal and Casanare, Colombia’s Best Place to See Wildlife

Travel Guide to Los Llanos, Yopal, and Casanare, Colombia

If you’re looking for one of the neatest and most unique places to visit in Colombia, not to mention the absolute best wildlife spotting in this amazingly diverse country, a visit to Los Llanos should be near the top of your list of places to go in Colombia.

I came back from Casanare in Los Llanos with a broken arm and a broken camera. Despite that, it’s now one of the top places I’d recommend going in Colombia if you’re interested in nature or adventure travel.

In fact, since my injury required us to cut out trip short, I hope to go back! I honestly think, after Guaviare (which I will be writing about soon) it is Colombia’s second best kept secret.

The sprawling plains are beautiful and home to a huge variety of animals. There is simply no better place to see wildlife in Colombia, and experiencing the neat, rustic, cowboy culture of the region is just an added bonus.

So, forget about needing to go to Africa to go on a wildlife safari, you can do it in Colombia in Casanare and Los LLanos.

Read on to learn all about how to visit Los Llanos and the main jumping off point to do so from the city of Yopal in Casanare, Colombia!

View of the plains of Los Llanos Colombia with a view of the sun rising behind clouds behind a dirt road and treen line.
A view of Los Llanos in Casanare not long after sunrise. The scenery here is different from anywhere else in Colombia, and there is tons of wildlife to be spotted. Learn all about it in this article!

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Travel Guide to Casanare, Colombia – Contents

  • Is it Worth it to Visit Los Llanos in Colombia?
  • Where are Los Llanos Orientales in Colombia?
  • Is it Best to Visit Los Llanos in the Wet or Dry Season?
  • What to See and Do in Casanare, Colombia
    • What Animals Can You See in Casanare?
    • How to Do a Safari in Los Llanos
    • Other Things to Do in Casanare
    • Things to Do in Yopal
  • Where to Stay in Yopal
  • How to Get to Yopal and Los Llanos
  • Practical Tips

Too long; can’t read it all quick overview

  • Los Llanos are massive grasslands between the Andes and Amazon.
  • The department of Casanare is the best area to see wildlife in Los Llanos, with its capital city of Yopal being the best jumping off point.
  • If you need a place to stay in Yopal, we loved the Estelar.
  • From Yopal you can plan day trips with agencies or stay at a hato, or cattle ranch that doubles as a nature reserve and is open to visitors, like Reserva Natural Guanapalo, where we stayed.

*Want to take the hassle of out planning your trip to Colombia? Let the experts at our partner BnB Colombia Tours help you! Check out their predesigned packages or fill out this form and they will work with you to design a truly unforgettable, custom made trip to Los Llanos or anywhere else. Packages start at $250 USD a day per person.

View of the plains of Colombia Los Llanos near Yopal, Casanare.
The massive grasslands and prairies of Casanare are home to so much more than cattle ranches and perfect for going on a nature safari in Colombia.

Is a Visit to Los Llanos Worth it?

Do you enjoy getting off the beaten path when traveling?

Do you enjoy nature travel or did you come to Colombia in hopes of seeing wildife?

Do you like horseback riding or did you ever kind of dream of being a cowboy?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, then a visit to Colombia’s llanos and Casanare is absolutely worth it!

I’ll be honest, I didn’t know a whole lot about Casanare or Los Llanos until not that long ago. When we were looking at places we wanted to visit in Colombia before leaving to come live in the US, it struck me as pretty interesting.

So, we decided to include it on a several months trip, that included some really neat and lesser known places, especially nature and adventure destinations like Guaviare, the rainbow river of Caño Cristales, and the mystical Mavecure Hills.

The two things that drew me most to Los Llanos was the possibility of seeing lots of neat wildlife like anacondas in the wild. Pretending I’m a cowboy also sounded like fun.

Man crossing a creek on horseback in Casanare, Colombia.
Imagine crossing deeper and so many more creek beds during the rainy season in Casanare.

But really, I think the neatest thing about the trip is it just felt so different from just about anywhere else we’ve been in Colombia. We’ve been to the major cities like Cartagena (obviously), Medellín, and Bogotá, the small towns like Salento, Barichara, and Villa de Leyva, and even the jungles of Leticia, but Casanare was just its own unique landscape and culture.

Let me just pause for a second also and say, if you are planning a trip to Leticia primarily to see wildlife, stop and change your plans to Casanare, or if you really want jungle and hiking too, change it to Guaviare.

If you’re going to do something like spend a few days out with indigenous communities in the jungle, then maybe stick with Leticia, but if you’re just planning to stick around the city and do the tour of the river, you’ll see lots more wildlife in Casanare.

Photo of a small fox laying down surrounded by grass and bushes with some birds flying overhead in the Llanos Orientales Colombia.
Look closely, can you spot the animal in the grass? We saw much more wildlife on our visit to Casanare and Los Llanos Orientales than either visit to Leticia and the Amazon.

The one hitch here, is traveling to Casanare and Los Llanos in Colombia was more expensive than I imagined it might be.

We tend to do things on our own, but information on Los Llanos is pretty sparse, and from what we found there isn’t a lot of bootstrapping options for doing the safaris on tight budgets.

Getting to Yopal is easy enough, but there aren’t a lot of public transportation options once there out into the plains, and you’ll need to organize your actual experience there with guides and the properties themselves.

Organizing the trip via both agencies or directly with the hatos, or ranches, was all pretty pricey. I’ll share below both how we did it and some of the options we looked at.

Photo of a girl on horseback on Los Llanos Orientales Colombia.
And besides the wonderful wildlife spotting opportunities in Casanare, getting out on Los Llanos in Colombia is also perfect for playing cowgirl or cowboy for a few days!

Of course, there are advantages to having done it this way, like you know when you fall of a horse and break your arm and have to have surgery!

Yup, let’s address the elephant in the room I’ve alluded to a few times now. I got a little over confident galloping around and wondering if this whole blogger thing doesn’t work out if cattle rancher was a viable future career path.

It was a lot of fun!

Until it wasn’t!

I took a fall off my horse galloping and fractured my left humerus shaft. Luckily, after nearly a year my arm is pretty much nearly back to full strength.

Photo of a man on horseback in the woods of Los Llanos in Colombia Casanare.
This was like 5 minutes before my fall. When we came out of these woods into a clearing, Pulga, my I guess not so loyal stead, took off like he was fired out of cannon a little faster than I was expecting and I lost my balance.

This is probably where I should point out you do NOT have to do horseback riding in Casanare. You can also go out on safari style trucks.

The horses are also plenty safe and well trained. They also have horses that are good fits for all skill levels.

For example, Susana, who was humoring me by doing this trip but is not a fan had a horse that was slow and lumbering and sometimes didn’t want to walk at all.

I was pushing the limit of what I could do on my horse and went a little past that limit.

Honestly, I was fortunate in a lot of ways. It could have been a worse injury, and nearly all of my hospital bills were covered by the insurance of the agency we booked through.

Still obviously, this was a big bummer since we had to cut our trip short, not to mention just a wee bit painful. Plus, I had to cross cowboy off my list of alternative career paths.

However, this will always be a memorable trip for what I enjoyed too, and I really can’t recommend visiting Casanare, Colombia yourself for one of the neatest experiences you can have anywhere.

Just maybe don’t act like a cowboy unless you are one.

Oh yea, my camera also decided to crap out on me early in the trip as well.

In fact, it happened as I was photographing the massive anaconda we saw.

So, photos here aren’t nearly as nice as I would have liked, but between our phones we still managed to get some decent ones. Check out the Instagrams of some of the ranches and agencies to get a better idea of what you could see though.

Now, that I’ve hopefully convinced you and not scared you off from visiting Colombia’s Los Llanos, I’ll be trying to fill my gap on the sparsity of information on visiting in the rest of this post and sharing some of the best things we saw to help you plan a trip to Casanare yourself.

Where are Los Llanos in Colombia?

If you look at Los Llanos on a map, you’ll see just how massive an area they cover, probably something like between a fifth and quarter of Colombia, although they aren’t not quite as much space as the Amazon rainforest.

They also stretch into Venezuela and take up even more space there.

Really, there are sort of like two or even three parts of the Llanos Colombianos, or the Llanos Orientales. There is an area that borders on the northern edge of the jungle to the south, southeast of Bogotá, where you’ll find Caño Cristales and Guaviare in sort of the transition to the jungle of the Amazon. Much of the area along the Meta River into Vichada province is also sort of transition from the Colombian plains to the jungle.

Then finally, in the sort of center of that entire area you have mostly open plains and prairies. These plains flood during the rainy season, transforming into a lush area covered with streams, ponds, and lakes.

Photo of a small pond alongside a dirt road in Los Llanos Colombianos of Casanare near Yopal.
Even during the dry season, there remain a few small watering holes in places of Los Llanos in Casanare.

In fact, Simón Bolívar’s crossing of the Colombian Llanos during the rainy season is what allowed his forces to catch the Spanish by surprise at the decisive Battle of Boyacá for Colombian independence.

They run basically from the southern edge of the Andes, beginning around the city of Villaviciencio south and east to where the edge of the Amazon rainforest is.

If you look at Los Llanos on a map, you’ll see there are only 3 real cities in the region, Villavicienco on the northwest edge, San José del Guaviare on the southern edge and border of the jungle, and Yopal, located centrally just below the Andes and the capital of Casanare.

There are also some smaller towns in the llanos themselves and along the Meta River.

I’ll have more on getting there below, but most people will want to plan their visit out of Yopal as it’s closer than Villavicienco to the ranches and wildlife preserves.

Photo of a dirt path over the plains of Los Llanos grassland in Casanare Colombia.
Once out of Yopal, you have the stretches of grassland and prairies that make Los Llanos Colombianos and most of Casanare.

Is it Best to Visit Los Llanos in the Wet or Dry Season?

Well, it depends slightly on what you want out of your trip.

During the wet season, the plains flood. They turn a lush green, and are home to tons of migratory birds during this period. You can also do some fun activities like canoe trips or riding horses through the flooded areas.

During the dry season, the plains dry out and become largely barren. Since water sources from the remaining ponds and streams become very scarce, animals have a smaller range.

Photo of capybaras on the banks of a pond with birds in the pond in the background.
Animals congregate around the remaining water sources. The range of animals like the anaconda and jaguar are also reduced during the dry season, so they can be easier to spot.

So, if you are hoping for better chances of seeing the rarer and harder to spot animals like anacondas, giant anteaters, or maybe even a puma or jaguar, you will have a better chance during the dry season.

We went during the dry season.

Our terrific guide Eliana, said she thinks the wet season is much prettier. I can see why that is the case. She also said the dry season can be sad because many animals die due to the lack of water.

The land really was barren, all dried up, hard, and cracked, and I imagine it is so much prettier during the rainy season. I imagine the sunsets in particular would be amazing (and they were great during the dry season too).

In fact, when we go back, I think I would like to do it in the wet season to see the difference.

So, really you will get a great experience either way!

Photo of the sunsetting behind a view of the dried up los llanos with a small creek to the left.
You can see some reflection off this small creek that was still there when we visited. Imagine the whole flooded plain with lots more green, it would be really special! I’d like to go back to see that.

When is the Wet Season in Los Llanos in Colombia?

The wet season in the Colombian Llanos runs from approximately April through September. October and November are sort of transition seasons between the wet period and the dry period.

When is the Dry Season in Colombia’s Los Llanos?

The dry season in Los Llanos runs from December through March.

Of course, these are just rough outlines, and the actual seasons can vary slightly from year to year.

So, I’d say if you really want to go during dry season, aim for late December through the end of February. Our visit was in late January.

Photo of the Llanos grassland with clouds overhead and some trees in the background.
As you can see, the grass doesn’t die off completely, but it’s a fairly barren landscape and the ground is rock hard. If you look closely here, you can see a dried up little creek bed.

What to Do and See in Casanare, Colombia

The main reason to come to Los Llanos and Casanare in Colombia is without a doubt to visit a hato or wildlife preserve and do a safari.

There are some other things you could do as well in Yopal and in the vicinity, which I’ll also mention below.

But, let’s first talk about the animals you can see!

What Animals Can You See in Casanare?

Lots of them!

I’m going to mention the animals we saw as well as some we didn’t and try to give an idea of how likely it is to see them.

Capybaras aka Chiguiros – You’ll See Them Everywhere!

Photo of two capybaras with trees and clouds in the sky.
Capybaras basically run the show in Los Llanos. They are everywhere!

This is the most plentiful and easy to spot animal in Casanare.

They are everyhere!

The capybara, usually called Chiguiro by Colombians, is the largest living rodent. They look like something of a mix between a dog and a gerbil. They are cute but also sort of odd and funny.

They are so ubiquitous that the signs that had been put up about social distancing in Yopal and Casanare said to make sure you stay 2 chiguiros away from others.

You should see plenty of them traveling in herds, and if you go in the dry season they will likely be congregated around whatever little lakes and ponds are left.

Actually, they are really good swimmers.

Photos of several capybaras swimming across a small pond in Casanare Yopal.
Did you know capybaras are good swimmers? It’s remarkable to me they get along so well with the caimans (see them hanging on the shore?).

Did you know people eat them?

They are actually quite a common meat served in this part of Colombia. It is kind of like a stringier, tougher beef.

Caimans aka Babillas – Very Common

Photo of a small caiman on a leafy bank of a creek in Colombia Casanare.
These little guys were everywhere either along the banks of the creeks and ponds or floating around with their head popping up. They were basically as plentiful as the capybaras during our visit to Casanare.

Ok, these might not be quite as plentiful and easy to spot during the wet season when they have a lot more space, but you’ll surely see them.

During the dry season when we went, the little ponds left were crawling with them.

Crocodiles – Very Rare

There are also crocodiles that call the rivers and ponds of Casanare, Colombia home.

In fact, the Orinoco Crocodile is one of the largest in the world. Unfortunately, they were extensively hunted and they are now a critically endangered species.

That means it is nearly impossible to spot them in the wild, although I guess you could get extremely lucky in the more remote areas near the Meta River across the llanos south of Yopal.

Photo of a caiman entering the water of a small pond in Colombia los llanos.
Yea, we didn’t see any crocs, but here’s a caiman pretending to be one. Look for the heads of others in the water!

There is however one place where you can see them, which we actually planned to visit but didn’t get to after having to cut the trip short. More on that below.

White Tailed Deer – Very Common

Photo of a group of deer under trees in Los Llanos Colombia.
We were treated to spying on this deer family enjoying a snack from what I think is a lilac tree. They were pretty plentiful as well.

Considering deer are so skittish, they might be a bit harder to spot during the wet season, but we saw tons of them during our visit.

We even saw a big family eating the falling buds and flowers from a tree, which was really cute.

At the hato we stayed at, there was also one named Pepe which has gotten comfortable around people and will let you feed him bananas.

Photo of a deer closeup behind barbed wire.
Pepe, the friendly and banana addicted deer.

Birds, lots of Birds – Very Common with Some Rarer and Seasonal Species

So, we saw lots of birds, even during the dry season, although during the wet season, many more migrate to the llanos, including many that nest and give birth here.

We saw these particularly neat birds that dive down and fish by skimming the water with their beaks, making little lines in the water.

We also got to see a big nest of herons, which Eliana explained to us gets much fuller during the wet season.

There was one rare type of heron we did get to see known as the soldier heron that had a nest in a small grove of trees.

Photo of a girl observing herons flying overhead in Casanare Colombia.
Susana seeing the nesting herons.

Field Owls – Fairly Common

I thought these were actually some of the neater animals we saw!

These tiny little owls have burrows in the ground. They were fairly easy to spot but usually hide as you get closer.

We also did see a larger owl in a little grove of trees which was neat too.

Turtles – Fairly Common

Photo of a turtle walking along the ground.
We stumbled upon this guy near a creek during one of our safaris.

We found a really big turtle one day roaming the plains.

We didn’t see them everywhere like what we did along the rivers in Guaviare, but there is a good chance you will see some wondering around, rather you visit during wet or dry season.

Foxes – A Bit Rarer

Photo of a small fox on Colombia's Los Llanos grassland.
The little foxes were neat looking! I feel like they almost look like if you crossed a cat, a dog, and a wolf.

We did see a few little foxes.

They look almost more like little dogs, and really were pretty cute.

Eliana and I spotted a small family while on horseback around dusk our first day, and then we encountered another one who seemed injured or dehydrated another day.

While he was cute, it was also kind of sad as he kept running off just a bit and laying down panting. It was definitely a reminder that this is a harsh environment, especially during the dry season.

Monkeys – A Bit Rare

We did catch a glimpse of a few monkeys in small wooded groves.

Since most of the area is sprawling plains and prairies they aren’t necessarily plentiful, but you have a pretty good chance of seeing some in the wooded areas.

Anacondas – Rare but Can be Found

Photo of an anaconda under a tangle of branches in a creek in el llano Colombiano.
We found this anaconda lazily hiding under these branches along a nearly dried up creek. She must have eaten within the last day since she was so still and her belly was swollen. Wonder what she had? My bet would be capybara!

Seeing an anaconda in the wild was probably one of the things that drew me most to Los Llanos. While I certainly wasn’t trying to swim or wrestle with one, I thought it would be pretty neat to see one up close and in the wold.

We had really good luck too!

On our first afternoon, we went on a walk through some woods along a nearly dried up creek. Eliana thought we had a good chance to find one here as there were lots of downed branches and good places for the snakes to hide.

She went off on her own and calls to us to come quietly across to the other side of the creek.

There, under a tangle of roots and branches, was a huge anaconda. She appeared to have recently eaten because her belly was swollen and she was not moving around much.

We were standing practically right over it!

Closeup view of an anaconda's head and body under the water in Los Llanos in Casanare Colombia.
Here she is close up.

Oh, and this is right when my camera decided to crap out. Fortunately I did get a quick snap or two of it and we got some decent shots with our phones too.

It would have been cool to see one swimming in the water or slithering along the ground at its full length, but seeing one so close was pretty fascinating.

Fun fact, the local llaneros usually call anacondas güios, which is their indigenous name.

Note that the anaconda is much harder to spot during the wet season. They basically have a huge territory with everything flooded and are harder to spot in the water.

We didn’t see any on land, but I’ve seen plenty of photos online and on Instagram to feel confident there’s a pretty good chance you can see one during the dry season.

Giant Anteater – Very Rare but Can Be Spotted

Here’s another one that is very hard to spot. We heard reports that people had seen one nearby one day, but we never got to see it ourselves.

These are pretty fascinating looking animals, so it would have been neat to see one.

Note in Spanish these are often called the oso palmero o oso hormiguero.

Pumas – Very Rare

So, actually there was a puma on the property we were staying, and we found at least one dead capybara that was most likely its work from the day before.

Eliana said it had been spotted at a distance a few times, but we never caught a glimpse of it.

Photo of capybaras grouped around some bushes on Los Llanos grassland in Colombia.
We didn’t catch a glimpse of either big cat that calls Los Llanos home, but we did see lots of potential lunches for them.

So, while they are more common than the other big cat that can be seen in Casanare and Los Llanos, because they have such a large range and are so stealthy you need a bit of luck to see one. That is if you even really want to see one up close.

I wavered back and forth on rather I really wanted to encounter the one at Guanapalo!

Jaguar – Extremely Rare

Finally, the dominant predator is the endangered jaguar. They are extremely, verging on impossible, to spot.

However, they are occasionally seen, especially as you get further way from Yopal. To have a chance to see one, you’ll almost definitely need to go during the dry season and probably go a bit further south and east than we did.

Photo of a cow laying in the los llanos grassland in Casanare Colombia.
Oh, and I should mention, you will also see plenty of cows in Los Llanos!

How to Do a Safari in Casanare

There are a few ways you could do this.

The first, and probably the cheapest is to arrive to Yopal and ask around and compare prices. It is possible to do day trips out to the hatos that aren’t too far away, and that is a good option if you have a limited amount of time and/or budget.

However, I really think it’s absolutely worth spending the night at a hato and getting a dose of the cowboy culture and just some peace and quiet.

Not to mention, the sunsets out on Los Llanos are incredible!

Photo of a couple on horseback in Casanare with the sunset over Los Llanos behind them.
I guess horses think sunsets are romantic too?

To spend the night, again, you could arrive to Yopal and ask around. I would also recommend checking out options before hand. Usually Instagram has been my best method for contacting places, and we looked into several before going.

Most of them offer packages that include safaris and other activities ranging from 2-5 days.

We settled on booking a package with the agency Awake Travel, which was actually priced slightly better than doing it directly with the actual hato we went to, El Encanto de Guanapalo.

We were really happy with Guanapalo which is actually a family run reserve that includes 3 hatos run by the children of the original landowner. Our guide, Eliana was terrific and everything you’d expect in a Colombian cowgirl!

Photo of a group of people in front of a house.
Managed a group photo with our great guide Eliana and her helper Juan before heading to the hospital.

I’m excited to say the agency I partner with BnB Colombia Tours also now offers some terrific packages that can be customized to include 3 or 4 days and up to 3 hatos. Fill out this form indicating you are interested in Casanare and I can get you a quote on price. I can even get you a modest discount!

Another option we looked at was the agency Wild Llanos, which were pricey, but Eliana told us were maybe the best agency because they put a lot of effort into making sure you see as much wildlife as possible and take you to various hatos, sometimes including Guanapalo. She said they send out spotters and insist on going back out on numerous treks in a day to see animals if possible.

The one critique I would probably have of Guanapalo is we had lots of downtime. So, if you can manage the budget for Wild Llanos or a personalized trip with BnB and want to get the absolute most out of wildlife spotting, I’d definitely get in touch with them.

Photo of Los Llanos in Casanare Colombia.
Most of the nature reserves in Casanare double as active cattle ranches.

We also looked into the Hato San Pablo, El Boral, and Hato La Auroa. There’s a great blog post on San Pablo from Toni at Flash Pack Journal and it looks to offer a bit more luxury experience.

La Auroa is quite far away and might be the best option for those hoping to get a glance of the rarest animals like the Jaguar.

El Boral is also farther south and near the Meta River.

I’m sure there are plenty of other options too, so I’d recommend asking around and comparing their packages based on what you want, time, and budget.

Photo of Los Llanos grasslands in Colombia in Casanare province.
I was struck by how old school and non-industrialized the ranches were, basically allowing the cows to roam free range.

You might be asking yourself if staying on a ranch is good. Isn’t cattle ranching like one of the worse industries for the environment?

Well, sort of. In lots of places, including other parts of Los Llanos like Meta and Guaviare, not to mention the Amazon, cattle ranching is a major driver of deforestation. However, that’s not really the case in most of Casanare.

This was all grassland anyways. Although it is true that some non native grasses have been introduced, and actually burning to plant crops has changed some natural aspects of the environment.

However, I was struck by how rustic the cattle industry remains. At least where we were, they cows roam pretty much freely, and some are lost to the puma or heat and dehydration. They are only rounded up and counted once or twice a year.

So as far as cattle ranching goes, this is probably as close to sustainable as it gets. It’s also been a way of life here for generations, even dating back to colonial times. In fact, they still use things like horse hair to weave together ropes and reins, which they showed us how to do.

For those particularly interested in learning more about the workings of the ranches, many packages include trabajo llanero, which basically is going out with a field hand and participating in herding the cows or some other work that needs to be done. This sounded pretty interesting to me, but you have to have a minimum number of people.

We did get to milk a cow though!

Photo of a girl milking a cow in Casanare Colombia.
To get the utters started, they bring over the baby cow to start.

Other Things to Do in Casanare

Really the main reason to come here is to do a wildlife tour and safari, whether that be a day trip or multi-day experience.

However, there are a few other things that might be worth checking out.

See the Orinoco Crocodiles at Wisirare Park

When researching on Casanare, I came across this blog post from the excellent Chris Bell on Wisirare Park.

It’s a nature reserve just outside the tiny town of Orocue where they are working to breed and release offspring to repopulate the Orinoco Crocodile population. So, here you can see these massive animals up close.

We had actually planned to go here the day after Guanapalo, but my fall and arm break kind of made that impossible. It’s one of the reasons I want to go back though.

It’s possible to get to Orocue by a once or twice daily public transportation from Yopal or by boat on the Meta River. I’d recommend trying to contact one of the small handful of hotels in town to ask about help on current best ways to arrive if you wanted to do this.

Enjoy the Amazing Llanero Sunset

The sunsets over Los Llanos in Casanare are stunning, some of the prettiest in all Colombia!

Photo of the sunsetting behind a tree line in the background over Colombia's eastern plains.
The sunsets over Los Llanos really are spectacular!

While we thought it was beautiful during the dry season, especially from horseback, my understanding is they are even more beautiful during the wet season.

The flooded savanna looks like a mirror of the clouds, trees, and sun rays, and fireflies buzz around overhead.

Just another reason for us to come back!

Photo of a sunset behind a tree line with a creek in the foreground.
Again, I imagine when everything is lusher and the plains are flooded, these sunsets are even more amazing!

Things to Do in Yopal

So, regardless of you’re doing a day trip or overnight stays at a hato, you’ll most likely need to spend at least a night or two in Yopal.

There isn’t a ton to do here, but there are some things worth checking out so consider spending a day or two here if time permits.

See the Sunrise from the Mirador de la Virgen de Manare

This was totally worth it, and I’d say the top thing to do in Yopal. You can head up to the hill just outside of town where there is a shrine and an amazing view of the town below and the plains beyond.

The view of the sunrise here was spectacular!

I’d say the walk up took around 90 minutes. We had to take a few short stops to catch our breath, but it wasn’t too bad.

Head there on the road that goes by the hospital. There were quite a few people walking up there the day we went, but a guy also stopped us and warned us there had been some robberies and it is still borderline dark, of course.

So, I’d probably leave valuables behind and exercise a bit of caution especially if there are not many other people around.

Photo of people sitting atop the hill in Yopal Colombia withe the sun rising over the city in the background.
The view of sunrise in Yopal is totally worth the hike up the hill.
Visit the Parque Iguana

This park along the river in town seemed like it might be really pretty during the wet season, but was pretty barren during the dry season. It was neat to see the river, and you can tell just how much the landscape must change by all the exposed rocks that make up the riverbed.

We didn’t see any iguanas. So, I’d say during the dry season stop by if you have time but don’t feel like you have to either.

Photo of a girl sitting on a rock next to a mostly dried up river near Yopal, Casanare, Colombia.
This is the Rio Cravo Sur, located on the backside of Parque Iguana in Yopal. You can see just how much it had dried up.
See the Birds at El Garcero

About 20 minutes outside of town, you can find El Garcero, where lots of herons supposedly flock around sunset, at least according to what we read.

We didn’t see any at all!

I imagine this must be a seasonal thing and the birds had migrated. Or the taxi took us to the wrong place or something.

There is a cool little café and restaurant here that had good drinks and the view of the sunset was pretty, but again during the dry season I wouldn’t characterize it as a must see thing to do in Yopal.

Go to the Cattle Auction

This I do think would be pretty neat to see.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays there are cattle auctions held in Yopal. This region lives on ranching after all. Our days didn’t work out to make this possible, but I imagine it would be a neat experience.

You can double check the current schedule here.

Photo of a group of cows gathered around a tree on the Colombia's eastern plains.
We didn’t go to the cattle auction but did see plenty of cows out on Los Llanos!
Sample Some Mamona

If you’re wondering what at least some of those cows become, you have to try some traditional mamona llanera while in Casanare (you can also find this is other areas of Los Llanos like Villavicencio, Guaviare, or Meta).

The mamona is a cut of veal, so from young calves still suckling. It is tender and pretty darn delicious. So, if you spending the night in Yopal, find a place you can order this. You also could tro to ask for it for dinner one night at a hato as it is an iconic regional dish.

Photo of a group of cows in a large pen on the eastern plains of Colombia.
These cows kind of eyed us suspiciously…
Explore Some Nearby Trails

There are a few other trails and hikes you can do near Yopal we didn’t do. There’s a good run down of a few of those at this blog post. Since the city is right at the edge from the transition to mountains to plain, it means there are some neat waterfalls and viewpoints nearby.

Where to Stay in Yopal

Yopal is a medium to small sized city, but because there is a fair amount of tourism and business, there are a lot of hotel options, including some nicer places that are actually really good values.

Here are a few ideas for hotels in Yopal:

Estelar Yopal – Yopal Hotel Where We Stayed Part 1

When I was looking for hotels in Yopal, I came across the Estelar and was a bit shocked at how reasonably priced it was. We have stayed at the Estelar Manzanillo resort outside Cartagena and thought it was great.

So, I figured, why not spend couple nights here somewhere nicer to relax a bit and enjoy the little pool. It’s in a great spot close to town, the restaurant was very good, and the room was really nice. Plus, it costs a fraction of what nicer tier hotels in most of the rest of Colombia cost.

Hotel Sophia Real – Yopal Hotel Where We Stayed Part 2

After my surgery, we needed another Yopal hotel for a few nights before we flew out.

The Sophia Real was a good budget option, and we thought the room was plenty comfortable. It’s also in a good location not far from the center of town, and makes for a good budget place to stay in Yopal. If you just need a place to stay the night in a Yopal hotel before or after heading out on the plains deeper in Casanare, this is a very solid option.

Holiday Inn Express – Another Good Nicer Hotel in Yopal

Like the Estelar, the prices at the Yopal Holiday Inn are very reasonable for a 4 star style hotel with a pool.

Rooms look very nice too, and if you were doing more slow travel through Boyacá and staying in cheaper accommodations before hand like we were, it makes for a good spot to spend a few days relaxing and seeing some of Yopal before or after getting out in Los Llanos themselves.

Hostal Bon Habitat – Another Good Budget Option

Bon Habitat looks like another good option for a budget option for where to stay in Yopal.

This Yopal hostel is more like a hotel that offers some group rooms. There aren’t any real backpacker style hostels in Yopal that I know of. Rooms here look plenty fine and comfortable. So, it makes another good cheaper hotel in Yopal if you just want a place to lay your head during a stopover before or after heading out on safari.

Photo of Yopal, Colombia in the background just before sunrise.
That walk up the hill is totally worth it for this view of Yopal.

How to Get to Yopal and Casanare

You can fly or bus into Yopal pretty easily.

Buses to Yopal

You can bus from Bogotá via Villavicienco to Yopal. This is the easiest and fastest bus route.

We opted to bus through Boyacá following a route I found recommended on a site I can’t seem to find again. Anyways, it suggested traveling to Sogamoso from Bogotá, where there are some neat, off the beaten path things to see like the Laguna Tota, the pretty town of Monguí and impressive hike through the nearby Paramo de Ocetá, and some other neat little towns like Paipa and Duitama.

You can also stop at the Punte de Boyacá on the way, site of the decisive battle in Colombian independence and spend a night in Tunja.

From Sogamoso, you can travel south to Yopal via Aguazul, even stopping to see the largest waterfall in Colombia near the town of Pajarito along the way if you want.

This is what we planned to do, and we had a great time in Boyacá, seeing some neat stuff that we hadn’t seen on our previous trip to Villa de Leyva (well worth a visit too if you go this route!).

However, the road to Aguazul had been damaged in a landslide.

So, we actually went from Sogamoso a longer way via Labranzagrande, basically a detour through a higher part of the mountains on a largely unpaved road. The upshot of this was the route was incredibly scenic. You’re passing through high jagged peaks of the Andes, then all of a sudden you are down and out into the hot climate of Yopal with the plains of Los Llanos stretching before you.

Photo of mountains and hills near Casanare's Yopal capital city.
This is actually from next to the river in Yopal, so the very end of the foothills of the Andes, but the ride through them really is spectacularly scenic and makes the route through Boyaca worth it.

So, if you have the time for some slow travel and want to see some areas that few foreign visitors, this is definitely the route I’d recommend.

You can check out some options for buses and even book online at BusBud, although my experience has always been there are many more options a the terminals themselves.

Flying to Yopal

It is also possible to fly to Yopal, and this is the best option if you have more limited time.

Aviana, LATAM, and EasyFly airlines all fly to Yopal.

It’s possible to fly to Yopal from Bogotá, Bucaramanga, or Medellín. Flights, especially from Medellín and Bucaramanga are limited so check ahead to make sure what days they are if you are flying from either of those.

You can try to compare prices at Expedia or CheapOair or look directly with Avianca or EasyFly is a good idea too.

There are also more flight options to Villavicencio if you wanted to fly there and then bus to Yopal which is a bit shorter than busing from Bogotá.

Photo of herons flying over other herons nesting in tree tops in Casanare Los Llanos.
Casanare is less than an hour flight from Bogotá, maybe a bit more as the heron flies.

Getting Around Casanare

So, there is pretty sparse information on how to get around by public transportation from Yopal to other areas of Casanare.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot to add to fill that gap.

Like most of the rest of rural Colombia, locals have to get to and from the main city sometimes, so there are ways to travel to some of the towns in the Llanos themselves, usually via 4×4 jeeps where you’ll likely be crammed in pretty tight.

Photo of two people on horseback with the sunset over the Colombia Llanos behind them.
I imagine you can get around on horseback too in Los Llanos.

I know there is at least one transport daily from Yopal to Orocue because we looked into it, and I also know that it goes through the town of San Luis de Palenque near Guanapalo.

We opted to just pay a bit more and have them pick us up to save some time and get the most out of the first day, so if you are doing an overnight at a hato, I’d recommend asking them what they charge for transportation and how easy/not easy it is to arrive via public transportation and decide what’s best.

I understand that it is possible to travel down the Meta River into the heart of Los Llanos too, but I’m not confident enough to give much advice on that.

Finally, if you are going to some of the hatos farther away, it may be possible to go by tiny private plane. I imagine this costs a pretty penny but is probably also pretty awesome!

Photo of a small lake with waterfowl in it in the background.
I’ve heard it’s also possible to travel via the Meta River but don’t have a lot of info on that.

Some Practical Tips for Los Llanos

  • Yopal is a decent sized city with a hospital (trust me, I know, and actually I thought the doctors did a good job!), pharmacies, supermarkets, and ATMs.
  • However, once out in Los Llanos there isn’t much. So be sure to take plenty of cash and any needed medications or other things you will need or want.
  • During the dry season, it is hot and sunny, so bring appropriate clothes. During the wet season it is also still fairly hot and humid with frequent rains so come prepared for that. Quick dry, looser long sleeve shirts and long pants like you might wear hiking work well to protect from the sun and bugs. You’ll also want comfortable shoes, preferably waterproof hiking boots, especially during the wet season.
  • You’ll probably want at least slightly thick long pants or jeans for horseback riding.
  • Oh, yea, and did I mention, the horses are well trained and relaxed? But try not to get as carried away as I did if you are not properly trained or experienced.
Photo of the sky lit up after sunset over a creek in Los Llanos Colombia in Casanare near Yopal.
One more view of the sunrise to convince you to plan your own trip to Los Llanos and Casanare, Colombia!

Ready to plan your safari in Los Llanos?

I really, really, can’t recommend a trip to Los Llanos and Casanare enough during a trip through Colombia, especially if you are at all interested in seeing wildlife.

It’s really a neat place, and the experience there itself and trip there through Boyacá is one of the most memorable I’ve done in Colombia. Plus, even after going home with a major injury, I want to go back!

If you do plan to visit Casanare, I hope this post was helpful, and, most importantly, you have a wonderful time and come back in one piece!

Cheers and Happy Exploring!

Did you like this post?

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Travel Guide to Tayrona National Park
Travel Guide to the Lush Mountain Town of Minca
Travel Guide to the Desert of La Guajira and Punta Gallinas
Travel Guide to Whale Watching on the Pacific Coast in Nuquí
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