Estoraques National Park
GPS: 8.220748, -73.2383795
After seeing just one photo of this national park on Instagram, we modified our route to stop here. The park reminded us of a mix between Joshua Tree National Park in California and Zion National Park in Utah: Joshua Tree because of the rocks, and Zion because of the dizzying hikes. The striking formations look like the rocks themselves melted and froze like candle wax, though their otherworldly shapes were merely the product of erosion.
As an added bonus, this national park is rarely visited by foreign tourists, so we were free to explore the quietude of the high desert all on our own. From afar, we expected to hike around the formations; we were pretty stoked when we found out you can actually get on top of them.
As you ascend, you’ll pass a number of cuevas which you can climb into. The silty dirt was very fragile.
Although a sign at the front of the park states that guides are required, there was no one at the entrance when we arrived, so we were able to explore the park on our own.
Cost: Free entrance + parking $3,000 COP
When to Go. If you want the park to yourself, try for a weekday. On the weekends, the parking lot fills up with Colombians who have come for the day.
Playa de Belén
The little town of Playa surprised us with its charm. Don’t be fooled by its name: there’s no beach here. White-washed houses, each one with a collection of bright flowers, amidst the backdrop of rock formations jutting up from the ground, make for many photography opportunities. Its a festive city, during Christmastime, they decorate the hills and plaza with nativity characters.
Where to Stay
Finca Hotel Casa Real
GPS: 8.219263, -73.234197
We were told about this place from the parking attendant in the national park. He pointed out a house with a blue roof in the distance. Although the road leading up to the house was not on any of our mapping apps, we probed around until we arrived.
A friendly Colombian family owns this beautiful ranch, with a patio that looks out onto the national park. Although frequented by Colombian travelers, they told us that were the second extranjeros to find the place.
We were given a tour of the ranch, which contains a morado orchard (similar to a passionfruit), chickens, pigs, plantain trees and a manmade lake with tilapia fish and a turtle. The lovely, old ranch-style house has comfy rooms each with their own bathroom. They have secure parking in their grass front yard. Big rigs will be able to pull in.
Cost: $80,000 COP for a room with two beds, including breakfast
Getting to Playa Belén
We made the two hour drive from Aguachica through the mountains. During the time we visited, there was significant road construction, requiring us to wait in long lines to pass the road work areas.
Full disclosure – we haven’t taken the bus. But we’ve been told that you’d want to reach Ocaña, from which you can take a bus to Playa.