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Tierradentro: Where underground temples live

In the Colombia’s Cauca Inza area, there exists a national archaeological park that is shrouded in mystery due to its temples that are not on land, but are under the ground; which are also referred to as the typical hypogea. This site is referred to as Tierradentro. Here, not only these temples are unique, but the way to reach them is also a rare one to be seen – via the west’s spiral staircases that stretch until 8 m. Once you descend, you first reach a major chamber that is logically connected to other chambers wherein you will find carcass. So, it is assumed that the entire site is a funeral or a ceremonial complex. Talking about the walls of the hypogea (singular hypogeum) that itself means underground (hypo means under and gaia stands for Earth in Greek) structures, you will encounter the geometric as well as anthropomorphic patterns that are adorned in the shades of white, red, and black. Besides these underground treasures, on land, you might find some scattered pottery, states, and fabrics mainly because a lot have been robbed away from here before declaring it as a park.

Nestled at 100 km from Popayan, the latest Tierradentro ruins date back to the 6th to 9th centuries AD, but the oldest ones belong to the period of 1st century AD. Interestingly, the ruins were excavated in different periods and so they are dispersed across the sites like the Avocado Hill, Alto de San Andres, El Tablon, Alto de Segovia, and Alto del Duende. Whatever you see here no matter on which site, is believed to be created by the pre-Columbian settlement that lived here during the 1st century. The mystery still remains as to who where people and why they built these hypogea, but one fact has been widely accepted that the designs with the details seen in the sculptures somewhat match with the San Agustín culture’s motifs.

Tierradentro ruins
Tierradentro ruins

While you take a tour of Tierradentro, you will spot some 35 tombs that rest under the amazing hilltops. It is exactly this location under the hills that has made these temples more mysterious whose secret is yet to be known. And even for the tourists, it is still rare location that is of great watch! Adding some adventure to this trip, one has to undoubtedly hike amidst the scenic terrain that is the home of these puzzling beneath-the-hill cave-like graves, which is now a World Heritage Site.

Other cultural highlights

I would recommend you to come here on a Saturday when you can also explore the nearby town’s Inza market. This is where you can know about probing Paez Indian culture. With this, do also plan for a small expedition of the mountains that are the addresses of the worthy Indian hamlets. In these villages, savor the special flavor of a drink called guarapo along with the dish of hongos (mushrooms), but only with the company of trusted friends. Lastly, end your trip with a bird watching walk.

Come here for at least a week that is easily spent at any of the plenty hotels nearby.


8 am to 4 pm.

Museums: A great way to start

At the entrance to Tierradentro, the two museums need to be explored first before the site. This is because you will have a better view of what is Tierradentro.

Entrance fee

Yes, this is to be paid at the museum – $2.5 – with the validity of 2 days.


Tierradentro is explored only on foot right from the bus stop where you alight for reaching the site, if you are coming by bus. So, ensure that you have enough stamina. In case, you have some kind of ailment that obstructs you from walking, go for a horse ride at the cost of $2.5 that too for per 60 minutes.

Reaching Tierradentro

If you are in San Andres De Pisimbala, you can comfortably reach the site in just 30 minutes and that too by a walk. Otherwise, take a bus from the capital Popayan, which will somewhat 6 hours for completing its journey.