6-day journey to Vichada 

Sep. 02, 2021 - David Atack 

It was that time. The time to say goodbye. After six days in Vichada in north-east Colombia, our adventure was at an end.

We gave Carlos and Rusbell – our Vichada based guides - a fist bump and a sideways hug and off we went – back to Bogota! 2 hours later, with equal parts joy and sadness (those mixed feelings you experience at the end of a trip of a lifetime) we said goodbye to Karol, our DE UNA Colombia Tours guide. How did it all go by so quickly?

6 days earlier…  

Remote Colombian frontier towns are not everyone's ideal location to start a dream vacation, but for my son Alex and I, it was. Puerto Carreno, Colombia on its north-eastern border with Venezuela was to be the start and end point of a 6-day journey to El Tuparro National Park on the Orinoco River - during flood season. After an early morning flight from Bogota, we began the day with a light breakfast of hot fish soup and warm arepas.  We took a leisurely boat tour around the river system; the confluence of the Bita, the Meta and Orinoco, spotting river dolphins and exotic birds. Under the hot midday sun, Alex caught his first fish in Colombia - a piranha. Was this an early sign that his dream of catching exotic South American fish would be met? As it turned out - yes! The trip was a 16th birthday gift to Alex, delayed by 18 months due to COVID. That’s a lot of time to look forward to a trip! 

The next day began early. We all piled into the four-wheel drive, me, Alex, Karol and the local crew, 8 in total! After 10km on paved roads we took a sharp left turn down a red clay dirt road and off we went into the wilderness of the Los Llanos. We passed remote local farms (fincas) dotted across the wide open savannah, cut by the occasional narrow gulley filled with rain water runoff. (photo) The water feeds into rivers of course, and the first we had to cross required a short ferry ride. The ‘ferry’ (a metal pontoon pushed along by an outboard motor) arrived and gave us passage across the flooded river basin of the Rio Mesetas. Rusbell (our local host and tour operator partner to DE UNA) by now realized that Alex was a fishing fanatic and encouraged him to try for his first Pavon (Peacock Bass)! It wasn’t to be on this river, but we knew many more opportunities lay ahead. 

Natural beauty   

Within a few hours the landscape changed, the open plains gave way to bands of lush green forest  – the Amazonas region. The change also marked the end of our 4-wheel drive portion of the journey. We’d arrived at the Orinoco River. A much needed lunch of fried fish and cold drinks awaited. Then it was time to get in the boat down river – off to La Tambora, our first overnight base for the trip! 

By now we'd realized we were travelling in an area of incredible natural beauty, inhabited by warm friendly people who were delighted to share their love for the region and country. We knew we were in for a trip of a lifetime! The next six days did not disappoint.  

Alex fishing

El Tuparro National Park 

El Tuparro is a place that we’ll never forget. The point where the mighty Rio Orinoco and the Rio Tomo meet is a place of extraordinary power and beauty. The swirling river acts like a giant mirror – reflecting the jungled banks and shimmering sky. At dusk on day 3 – the golden hour for fishing - the stage was set for Alex to catch the fish of his dreams – the payara (vampire fish in English). It did not take long, "it's a big one"  he yelled, then his rod bent, and his reel buzzed wildly as a fish bit and ran deep with his lure. The fight was on! Soon after a helping hand from Carlos, our stoic fishing guide, Alex landed a 7lb payara - his dream fish. A quick photo with Alex and the fish was returned to its majestic home. (That photo got more than 2k likes on Twitter!)

There’s not room in this short blog to express all the amazing times we shared as father and son on this trip. Friendly locals, thunderous river rapids, scenic hikes across untouched backcountry, swims in crystal clear pools, bird watching, and incredible fishing! Was it rugged? Yes. Was it luxurious? Yes. Was our translator and guide Karol amazing? Yes. Was it an adventure we’ll never forget? Yes. Will we return to Colombia? Yes!!