The sun sinks into the savanna with streaks of orange and red that catch the fearsome outline of a jaguar and, further afield, herds of cattle tended by some of Colombia’s most talented horse men and women.

This is llanos orientales, ‘eastern plains’ in English, and it is one of Colombia’s most enchanting, culturally rich and biodiverse areas.

The llano colombiano is a natural barrier between dramatically different landscapes, with the Amazon rainforest to the south and the Andes mountains to the west. It is part of the Orinoco River watershed, which accounts for much of its natural beauty.

The area is famed as much for its stunning sunsets as its diverse wildlife, including the jaguars that roam vast corridors of jungle and savannah and live alongside the herds of cattle that are a vital part of the region’s culture and economy.

Occupying more than a quarter of the Colombian territory, with just a small proportion of its human population, the llanos orientales is known for its endless savannah, stunning sunsets, colorful rivers, and other natural marvels.

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An unparalleled ecosystem

This region is one of the world’s most important ecosystems. It has two marked seasons: rainy and dry. Its climate is intertropical savannah, which means it’s hot, except in the high plains, which have a milder climate.

The llanos is home to an incredible range of wildlife, with more than one hundred different species of mammals and more than seven hundred bird species.

During the rainy season, from May to October each year, part of the plains are flooded with up to one meter of water. This converts their forest and grasslands into temporary wetlands, attracting around seventy different species of water birds.

Here we consider some of the many things to do in the llanos orientales, including endless opportunities for ecotourism and adventure tourism thanks to its incredible fauna and unique landscapes.

The world’s most beautiful waterways

No trip to the llanos orientales would be complete without admiring the famed “River of Five Colors” or the “Liquid Rainbow”. These are the names given to waterways in the region that have the Macarenia clavigera plants growing on their riverbed.

This plant turns the water into a sea of pink and red and creates stunning scenes when combined with the natural yellow, green, blue and black of the waters here.

The most famous example, and that which gives the plant its name, is Caño Cristales, a tributary of the Guayabero River in the Serrania de la Macarena in Meta.

The plant is also found in waterways in the neighboring Casanare department.

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Go on safari in Colombia

There is such an abundance of wildlife in the llanos orientales that it is possible to go on ‘Colombian safari’ here, taking an open-topped jeep out onto the savanna in search of jaguars, anteaters, giant otters, capybara (the world’s largest living rodent) and the ominous anaconda, as well as a vast range of birdlife.

The region’s savannas are naturally flat, which makes them easy and comfortable to navigate with a 4x4 and Casanare in particular is dotted with eco lodges that offer safari trips, birdwatching, river walks and trips, and other activities.

Visitors to nearby Guaviare can also swim with wild river dolphins that live and play in a large lagoon in the department. These creatures are naturally curious, and like to nudge against tourists’ legs, knees and arms as they swim.

Try being a cowboy or a cowgirl for the day

The llanos orientales is home to thousands of cowboys and girls – in Spanish “llanero/as”- who maintain a tradition that stretches back hundreds of years. Most tour operators, including those operating out of Villavicencio, offer visitors the chance to learn about this culture and even try milking, lassoing and herding cattle for themselves.

Horseback riding tourism is also very popular. People in the region consider riding second-nature. From negotiating wild rivers to herding cattle on the plains, this is one of the best places in the country to go horseback riding.

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Savor the region’s food, art and music

The famous ternera a la llanera, barbecued veal, is the region’s most celebrated dish and a popular one across Colombia, perfected by the people of the plains who have lived at one with their cattle and cattle culture for centuries.

In terms of art, it is worth hiking out to the various places in the region where it is possible to access and enjoy indigenous rock painting, including Cerro Azul in Guaviare. These painted figurines offer an insight into the lives, beliefs and culture of the region’s various indigenous groups.

Last, but definitely not least, the music and folk dancing of the llanos orientales is some of the most famous in all Colombia, especially the rhythms of joropo, the region’s signature genre that is played with a small, traditional guitar, maracas and a harp.

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