Finally I got the chance to travel to the natural reserve Hato Aurora and ecolodge Juan Solito in Casanare. With an area of 17.000 hectars it is an “open” zoo and similar to the Pantanal in Brazil.
Since 20 years the family has been conserving the reserve and 8 years ago they opened the ecolodge Juan Solito which provides accommodation for 40 pax by now. It is a true paradise for nature lovers and birdwatchers will feel in heaven here! About 350 bird species, around 20.000 capybaras, deers, around 600 horses, 650 cows, crocodiles, anacondas and monkeys can be found in the reserve. Every day you can explore a different part of the reserve by doing some nice hikes, going by jeep or canoe along the river or horseback riding.
Even pumas and jaguars have been registered in the reserve Hato Aurora but of course it is very hard to spot them. Jorge, one of the eight brothers, is obsessed with the idea to see the jaguar one day. In 2009 they started to take pictures and since then they have registered 19 different jaguars. At the moment they have 31 installed cameras – in 2014 they even installed 106 cameras in the area to trap the jaguars. They have started to give them names according to the fur pattern in order to be recognized by others as well and also to prevent that others kill them.
Julio is the brother who takes care of the animals and food production. In his finca near the ecolodge Juan Solito you can find trees of mangos, oranges, avocado etc. Furthermore he has a chicken house where the eggs are produced and he is taking care of the horseback riding. He shows you how to catch a horse with the lasso and saddle it afterwards. Nelson manages the whole operation of the reserve. He actually is a multi-talent as besides that he also draws paintings of the daily farmers’ life and composes “llanero”-music and of course sings himself and plays the typical instruments together with his brother Julio. Of course, they gave us a presentation of their music skills while we were there!
From December to April (dry season) you can go with a private charter flight directly from Bogota to el Hato Aurora. The other possibility of getting there is taking a plane to Yopal and from there go by a 4×4 vehicle to the reserve which takes another 4-5 hours.
Our trip was definitely an adventurous one! We took a small private aircraft to el Hato Aurora and landed on the green runway in the middle of nowhere! Julio took us around with his jeep to see the variety of animals of the reserve. Then we had a delicious lunch in the main house of the Hato Aurora served by their mom. In the afternoon we picked up some cameras of the jaguar trapping to see if a jaguar had passed in the last month around there – unfortunately we did not get to see this impressing animal!
Then we continued our tour around the reserve looking to find an anaconda! The brothers and Giovanni, one of the guides, went along the wetlands as they know the special places where it is probable to find this majestic animal. After just a couple of minutes they actually found an anaconda and got this huge heavy animal out of its nest for us! To be honest I was pretty afraid but once they got the anaconda out for us, it was just interested in returning to its place. After this amazing experience we were heading to another place to see the beautiful sunset!
Afterwards we headed on to the ecolodge Juan Solito where we spent the nights. The rooms are spacious amd provide everything basic that you need! Furthermore there is a nice space with hammocks and wooden furnitures where you can relax! And Magaly prepared us delicious food in Juan Solito!
The next morning we got up very early to go for a hike around the reserve to observe the wildlife and just enjoy the beautiful countryside! In the afternoon we took a ride along the river and made a stop at another finca where the little girl Liliana got us some fresh oranges from the top of the tree. Actually we were pretty amazed how simple these people live in the middle of nowhere!
At night Julio and Nelson gave us a presentation of their musical skills playing the guitar, harp and singing the typical “musica llanera” composed by Nelson personally! The following day we enjoyed another nice walk in the rain forest of the reserve looking for howler monkeys! The loud noises were pretty impressing! Afterwards we needed to change our plans a bit as the rainy season welcomed us and therefore we were not sure if our private charter could land and take off easily on the green runway. So an adventurous 4×4 jeep ride through mud, ponds and pure off the beaten track awaited us inside the reserve for 2 hours and then it took another 2,5 hours to get to Yopal where our pilot was waiting for us to take us back to the capital city.
I can definitely recommend the reserve Hato Aurora and its Ecolodge Juan Solito for all nature lovers and travelers that are looking for amazing off the beaten track destinations. And if you look for some time to spend there as a volunteer or English teacher – that’s a place where these lovely people will be happy to receive your support!
*Some photos have been provided by the Ecolodge Juan Solito – Hato Aurora / Julio A. & Nelson A. Barragan Plata.