Nature & Indigenous Culture: José Alfonso Ovalle Explains Why Caquetá Is A Must-Visit Region of Colombia
Finance Colombia was present at The Vitrina Turistica, the annual travel industry event organized by the Colombian Association of Travel and Tourism, or ANATO. Colombia’s travel and tourism industry association. The Colombian department of Caquetá was also in attendance, promoting tourism to the rural, sparsely populated destination, with an offering of both natural beauty and indigenous culture.
Executive Editor Loren Moss spoke with José Alfonso Ovalle from the Nativos travel agency in La Montañita, Caquetá to learn more about why visitors should make the trek to Caquetá.
Finance Colombia: Why do visitors have to go to Caquetá?
José Alfonso Ovalle: It’s a department rich in biodiversity; in this department, three of the five natural regions of Colombia intersect: we have the Amazon region, the Orinoquía region, and the Andean region.
The convergence of these three natural systems makes us rich in biodiversity, so each one, with its natural riches: cascades, rivers, canyons… it gives us the natural opportunity to prove to our own citizens and to foreigners what we have. We have large bodies of water, as well as indigenous communities, boat rides in the river.
Caquetá is a Colombian travel destination where the Amazon, Orinoco & Andes regions all converge.
Finance Colombia: Ok, so that river, which would it be?
José Alfonso Ovalle: This is the Orteguaza river, which flows into the Caquetá river, and the Caquetá river flows into the Amazon river. In Brazil, the name of the Caquetá river switches to Río Negro. But for us, it’s the Caquetá river, or Japurá. That’s the river. All this river. Caquetá is full of history, yes? Well, the rubber (latex), Casa Arana, all of these things from its colonization, and from history, the conflicts, that we can’t deny. All of that is part of history, and we have some very interesting packages; birdwatching is very important, you can imagine.
In a department that because of its geographical location, the number of birds in one hour, (if one travels) a two-hour distance we are already looking at other types of birds, because of that geographical location, and what we were saying before about the natural regions in this department. Each municipality has its attractions. We have made some packages here that we are selling, all from the same agency; our interest is to show Caquetá as it is. You can do these activities with any of the agencies. So we are going to send you this information.
Finance Colombia: And if someone wants to visit Caquetá, how can you get here? Tell me about the connectivity.
José Alfonso Ovalle: Caquetá is in the southern region of Colombia. We are, as far as road connectivity, on the highway and terminals: there are buses and companies that take you directly to Florencia, the capital, at about 550 km. Passing through Neiva, Florencia. By air, we have airlines such as Satena, Easyfly, Avianca.
So all these companies make their flights daily, some more than three flights each. Over there, internally, there’s ground transport, river transport, aerial too, depending on the distance. Because Caquetá has the biggest natural national park in America, which is the Chiribiquete, Caquetá owns 75% of it.
Finance Colombia: Tell me about that, because from what I understand visiting it is prohibited.
José Alfonso Ovalle: It’s prohibited to get into the park through the side of Caquetá, but there are flights, and by air you can enter, to protect the biodiversity in the park. It’s a park that on a global level is one of the biggest, most beautiful and enigmatic in the world. It has biodiversity with flora, fauna, and cultural too, you can find some of the oldest cave paintings in the world.
The idea is to take care of that, to preserve it. Wherever there is human intervention it’s going to destroy the cultural richness, the natural richness, and everything. The idea is to preserve it. That’s a regional, national, and even global matter. Because it’s a heritage of global nature.
Finance Colombia: Yes, it’s famous. You can’t get in here without permission. But I imagine there are other parks and other places if someone wants to see nature, where they can see it.
José Alfonso Ovalle: Yes, yes you can. There are a lot of reservations and attractions, you can still find national flora and fauna. There’s contact with the indigenous communities, you can get to them, do activities with them, get to know some of their culture, some of that mystery that is held within the jungle, coexist with the traditions and knowledge of these peoples.
Finance Colombia: What’s the correct and respectful way if someone wants to visit these villages?
José Alfonso Ovalle: I believe it’s the respect for their culture. They themselves, in their talks, tell us what they like and what they don’t. I think that someone that goes into someone else’s house, acquiesces to the conditions of the owner of the house. As with any place, if you go to a house, and you offer red wine, for decency and everything I take it, they don’t like it when people don’t take the things they offer.
They don’t like when visitors are not careful, when they take what they haven’t been invited to take. There are a lot of things they don’t like. But regardless, they are very nice. Even though they are in the forest, they have studied, they have professionals among them, and they are the ones that have opened the space so we can do tourist activities with them. So it’s very interesting.
Finance Colombia: Excellent. And the agencies, I imagine it’s wiser to go to Caquetá with an agency that can manage everything and take care of everything.
José Alfonso Ovalle: Yes, it’s better, for everything. It’s better because with the agency, you have someone responsible, to guide you, to take you. You could venture on your own and come back disappointed because things don’t go the way you want them to, and the destination is a disaster for you.
Finance Colombia: You get lost in Chiribiquete! [Laughs.]
José Alfonso Ovalle: Right, you get lost. Or in any other park, because Caquetá is a very large territory. It’s the second or third biggest department in extension, so the idea is that there are professional guides, most of us are certified professional guides, and we are in the different spaces.
Finance Colombia: Excellent. What’s your name and your position? How can readers contact you?
José Alfonso Ovalle: I’m José Alfonso Valle, I’m a professional guide, and I’m part of the tourism corporation of the department of Caquetá, and co-owner of the travel agency Nativos.