Pre-Hispanic Colombian Treasures for Travelers to See

Colombia contains a wealth of pre-Hispanic treasures. Trek through the jungle to the Lost City, explore underground tombs in Tierradentro, or marvel at the golden figures of the Museo del Oro.


Photo © iStock/DC_Colombia

Ciudad Perdida

This ancient Lost City in the jungles of the Sierra Nevada mountains is Colombia's most famous pre-Hispanic wonder.

Founded around 800 AD, the city was rediscovered in 1972 by a group of treasure hunters. The Lost City is known as Teyuna to local indigenous groups, who are direct descendants of the Tairona people, believed to be the city’s founders.

Made up of a series of spectacular terraces carved into the jungle-clad mountains, and only accessible via a steep climb up 1,200 stone steps, visiting the Lost City requires a demanding 4 day, 44km (27.3 mile), trek into the jungle.

It's a tough, sweaty hike, featuring several river crossings, so pack light! Tours leave from nearby Santa Marta, but you can arrange to be picked up in Palomino or Tayrona.

San Agustín

According to UNESCO, the San Agustín Archaeological Park is South America's largest collection of religious monuments and megaliths. Left behind by a mysterious Andean culture between the 1st and 8th centuries, the stone figures depict gods and animals in a variety of styles, depending on the age of the statues.

There are enough sites to keep a visitor busy for a few days. You can buy a 'passport' which gives access to all of the sites, including Alto de los Ídolos and Alto de las Piedras in nearby Isnos.

The main park consists of six sites, including the wonderful Lavapatas fountain, a bizarre carved riverbed. Other nearby sites such as El Tablón, La Chaquira, La Pelota and El Purutal can be visited from the town as a day-trip on horseback.

San Agustín itself is a pleasant coffee-growing town in the mountains of Huila department. There are regular bus routes to and from Bogotá, Neiva, and Popayán.


Tierradentro National Archaeological Park is home to the largest concentration of underground tombs with side chambers in the Americas. These tombs, known as hypogeas, can measure up to 12m by 7m, and were constructed between 600 and 900 AD.

The archaeological park is made up of four principal sites; Alto de San Andrés, Alto de Segovia, Alto del Duende, and El Tablón. At the main entrance to the park there are archaeological and ethnological museums, and there are two walking trails that lead to the main burial chambers.

The nearby village of San Andrés is the best place to stay for access to Tierradentro. Getting to San Andrés is easiest from Popayán, 5 hours away by bus.

Other Pre-Hispanic Sites

In Bogotá, don't miss the Museo del Oro. With over 6,000 pieces on display, it’s the most important repository of pre-Hispanic artifacts in Colombia. It also contains the iconic Muisca golden raft, which depicts an indigenous ceremony that formed the basis of the legend of El Dorado.

Outside Bogotá, you can visit Guatavita Lake – a sacred site for the Muisca people where the raft was found.

One of Colombia’s most spectacular – and rarely visited – pre-Hispanic archaeological sites are the ancient cave paintings found around the jungles of Guaviare department. These beautiful, blood-red images were painted nearly 10,000 years ago. The main sites here are Cerro Azul and Nuevo Tolima.

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