Most people travel to Villavicencio for a taste of the Llanero culture. This city is the gateway to Colombia’s plains, or Los Llanos, which was previously off the tourist trail due to security concerns. Now safe once more, Villavicencio is a great place for exploring this rich cowboy culture, the wild natural surroundings, and the incredible beef and veal that hails from here.
The tropical grassland plains are home to a huge variety of untouched wildlife and a huge bird population. Visit a finca for horseback riding on a traditional ranch or learn how to milk and herd cattle. You’ll also be able to partake in lots of cultural tourism too, as you can watch Llanero traditions like the rodeo-esque sport of coleo and the folkloric dance of joropo.
Let’s have a look at the best things to do in Villavicencio:
1. Bioparque Los Ocarros
A zoo with wide open green spaces just three kilometers from Villavicencio, this is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the department of Meta.
Focusing on Colombian wildlife from the Llanero region, you’ll see toucans, armadillos, anacondas, monkeys, jaguars, and even crocodiles.
It’s a very unique and well-designed zoo with some animals allowed to roam freely sans cages.
In the middle of the park, you’ll find a lake with a large population of birds, plus fish that you can feed.
The zoo has a restaurant where you can grab a bite and local student guides who can give you more background on the animals.
2. Caño Cristales
It’s said to be one of the most beautiful rivers in the world, and Villavicencio is a great place to stop over if you’re visiting.
Located in the little village of La Macarena, Caño Cristales has been called “the place that escaped from paradise.” Depending on the time of year, the river appears to turn shades of pink, red, yellow, orange, blue and green due to an endemic aquatic plant that requires particular conditions to grow and flourish.
Often referred to as the “liquid rainbow,” this river is pretty tough to reach, requiring a plane, boat, hike, and a guide in order to enter the park.
3. Parque Fundadores
One of the nicest parks in the city, come here for a stroll along the pathways, a little exercise on the public equipment, or to let your kids play in the playground area.
There are interesting statues and sculptures all around, a fountain, park benches, a nice area for coffee, plus plenty of grass and shade for reading a book or lounging.
Check for events at the park because sometimes the city holds live music, festivals, and cultural or gastronomic events here.
4. Plaza Los Libertadores
The main square of Villavicencio, this plaza is almost always buzzing with people moving around town and families hanging out.
With lots of shops and places to buy food and drinks nearby, it’s a fun place to have a seat with a snack and people watch while you’re surrounded by pigeons and palm trees.
Bordered by the city’s church, Nuestra Señora del Carmen, you can also have a peek inside or take photos of the colorful facade.
Whether you need an ice cream cone, a shoe shine, or a bank, you’ll find it in this charming epicenter of the city.
5. Explore Los Llanos
As the “Gateway to the Plains,” Villavicencio is the perfect place to gear up for your journey into this lesser-known area of eastern Colombia.
To see tropical grasslands, cowboys, and miles of prairies, plan a trip to visit a finca or book a tour and head out into one of the smaller villages.
Whether you’re into adventure sports like mountain biking, caving, and rafting, outdoorsy stuff like horseback riding, fishing, and hiking, or just want to do some incredible birdwatching, Los Llanos will satisfy your desires.
It’s home to more than 1,000 species of native wildlife, several rivers and reserves, and ranches that are equipped to accommodate tourists in this wild part of the country.
Aventur Eco Tours comes highly recommended no matter what you want to do.
6. Miradores Piedra del Amor y Buenavista
Just a short drive away from the city, take in the fresh air and incredible views of Villavicencio from these two viewpoints.
Head up into the mountains where the air turns cooler to Buenavista, the first viewpoint and the easiest to access.
Bring drinks and sit on the couple’s’ balcony to admire the scenery.
Further along, about 10 to 15 minutes up the road, you’ll find the second viewpoint, Piedra del Amor, which is owned by a local artist.
In addition to funky sculptures and artwork, there are tables, chairs, and a place to purchase food and drinks.
It’s a popular spot to watch the sunset as the city lights up beneath you.
7. Ride Horses at a Finca
You’re in the land of the Colombian cowboy after all, so why not hone your horseback riding skills while you’re here? Just outside of town, you’ll find fincas with skilled guides, excellently trained horses, and miles of wild terrain for riding.
Whether you’re a complete beginner or have some horsemanship experience, the owners of beautiful fincas like Campo Ecologico Gramalote and Hacienda Marsella can have you set for horseback riding in no time.
Take shorter trips through the prairies and the bush to waterfalls, or experience the daily llanero chores around the ranch like cow milking and herding.
8. Experience Llanero Food
In Villavicencio and the surrounding plains, one of the most traditional ways to prepare meats is by roasting them over an open fire.
Be sure to partake in this barbecue-style feasting while you’re here in Colombia’s cattle farming mecca.
Another popular regional dish is mamona, or slow roasted veal, so add that to the list of meats you’ll need to order! A favorite local spot that’s also a hit with tourists is Asadero El Amarradero del Mico just outside the city where they prepare grilled meats and other typical Colombian dishes in a familial, open-air setting.
9. Tiuma Park
This vast tourist ranch about 20 minutes outside of Villavicencio has all of the Llanero activities you could possibly want to try, plus a little bit extra.
Of course you can go horseback riding, take nature walks, and learn how to herd cattle, but you can also take a buggy around the ranch to learn how it works, go ziplining, and float in a real “lazy” river nearby.
There’s camping, nice accommodation, and a restaurant onsite, and they also offer cultural activities like traditional folkloric dance during the evenings.
There’s no entry fee – you just pay for those activities you want to do at this “theme park” centered around the Llanero culture.
11. Watch Some Joropo Dancing
Another important part of Llanero culture is the traditional and folkloric music and dance of joropo.
During the dance, couples imitate a bullfight and the woman charges at her partner.
During the International Tournament of Joropo in late June and early July, thousands of couples flock to the city to take part in joropo dance contests.
There’s also singing, music, a beauty contest, and colorful events in the streets during the festival.
During other times of the year, tourists can visit Parque Las Malocas for dance classes to practice joropo.
In the nearby area of Restrepo, you can find dance schools as well as joropo shows and demonstrations at Llanero restaurants and ranches.
12. Nightlife: Los Capachos and Chivas
Despite its laid back rural vibe, Villavicencio has one of the biggest and best nightclubs in Colombia, the famous Los Capachos.
Go drink and dance with some local cowboys here on the weekends – it draws partiers all the way from Bogotá.
You can also hop on a colorful chiva party bus and ride around town having cocktails and listening to loud music before ending the night at a bar or club.
It’s the quintessential Colombian experience, even if it seems a little tacky – that’s part of the fun.
13. Vereda El Carmen
A mix of hiking trails and waterfalls just outside of town toward, Vereda El Carmen is a great place to get some exercise, immerse yourself in nature, and go for a refreshing swim.
Pack your bathing suit and some water, and head out to see some of the lush wilderness.
There are flowers, monkeys, and hanging bridges along the trails, as well as places to stop for breakfast, fruit, juices, sandwiches, and cakes.
Take a car to get closer to the start of the trail or walk from the edge of town near Altagracia, depending on your stamina – ask a local for the starting point! Bring good shoes, as the path is made up of paved areas, loose stones, and dirt.
14. Minas de Sal de Upín
Located in the picturesque neighboring village of Restrepo, you can visit the Upín Salt Mines to learn about the salt-making process and the history and culture of the local salt industry.
There are tours and walks to teach you about the mine’s past, and you can do an ecological trek through the tropical forest past the Quebrada Blanca and old mines.
Visitors can also float in the therapeutic salt pool and enjoy the relaxing and curative powers of salt – it’s like floating in the Dead Sea. This town is the salt capital of the Meta Department and they even hold a Salt Festival here in December.
15. Pozo Azul
A unique Colombian experience, check out this combination of an asadero restaurant and balneario.
A balneario is a bathing club, so yes, that means you can order a big steak grilled over open flames and eat it in your swimsuit beside the pool.
There are multiple swimming pools and water features here, and it’s a popular spot for families and groups of friends to come hang out for the day, drink beers, swim, and have fun while they feast.
You’ll see the huge pieces of cow roasting on spits over fire pits, but you can also order traditional sausages, beans, rice, arepas, and whole fried fish from the llanero kitchen here.