This Underrated Destination In South America Has Miles Of 12,000-Year-Old Rock Wall Art

What's the first thing that comes to mind when you think of South America? Is it the glimmering sands of Brazilian beaches? The glacier views of Argentina's southern region? Or maybe it's the bucket list-worthy mountains of Peru? With so many beautiful South American destinations to explore, it's hard to try and pick out a must-see. But between the popular tourist spots, there's one underrated place that doesn't seem to be on many traveler's radars just yet: the mile-long rock paintings of Colombia's Amazonian region.

Known as "pinturas rupestres", these incredible drawings — which depict animals, shapes, and scenes from daily life — date back 12,000 years and cover more than eight miles of rock wall inside the jungles of Guaviare, in the southern area of the country. Once controlled by the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) — which meant the site was technically inaccessible due to safety reasons — Guaviare has since flourished after the armed group and Colombian government signed a bilateral ceasefire peace treaty in 2016. This ultimately made it easier for researchers to scout the surrounding jungle and uncover even more ancient paintings.

Today, Guaviare is a thriving destination that's easily accessible by car or plane, and equally safe to visit. Most tour companies and organizations that offer trips there operate directly out of the capital, San José del Guaviare, and have seen significant growth thanks to locals who traded up their work in the illegal cocaine industry for farming, tourism, and wildlife conservation initiatives.

Visiting the paintings in Raudal del Guayabero

From Bogotá, budget airline Clic Air operates direct flights every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday into San José del Guaviare. The trip takes just over an hour, and a return flight costs between $120 and $170. Alternatively, you can also make the same journey by land. This takes about eight hours and bus tickets cost about $24 for a one-way trip. Once in San José, there are two main points you'll want to set your sights on to see the paintings: Raudal del Guayabero and Cerro Azul.

To visit Raudal del Guayabero you'll need to get in touch with a local tour operator who can arrange the boat and jungle excursion for you. For under $100 per person for a private tour, you'll have an entire day out cruising down the river — where you can spot the elusive Amazonian pink dolphins — and visiting a local community that's now dedicated entirely to tourism and conservation efforts. The trip also includes a jungle walk that leads to a single wall of millenary paintings, as well as a hike up to a series of viewpoints, lunch with the locals, and a refreshing waterfall visit before you're taken back to your accommodation.

Exploring the famous Cerro Azul

Then there's Cerro Azul. Home to the largest collection of well-preserved paintings, it's split into three sections or "panels": the main panel, the second panel, and the "Panel of the Tapirs". Located about an hour and a half from town, entrance to the protected area is accessible via 4x4 vehicle through a series of unpaved roads. Once you've made it to the official sign-up office, admission to Cerro Azul costs $5 per person, as well as an additional $21 for a local guide (this is a requirement) that'll take you into the jungle. Alternatively, you can also sign up for a tour — like the one offered by Geotours del Guaviare — that'll take care of all the logistics for you.

The entire loop is about three or four hours long and takes you to see the three main panels through the densely forested jungle. As you make your way there, make sure you also keep your eyes peeled high above your head for a glimpse at the wooly monkeys — or "churucos" — as they swing between the branches.

Along with this, the walk also guides you through a pitch-black cave where, legend has it, young men from local tribes were sent alone to prepare them for their transition into leadership, and a path leads up to a viewpoint with sprawling views of the jungle below your feet.