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This spring, Departures reported that Colombia’s largest, most biodiverse and most inaccessible national park would open to tourists for the first time this June: But only to those who admire the dramatic jungle landscape from the air.Covering 17,000 square miles formed by distinct biogeographical provinces whose landscapes include Amazon rainforest, sacred tepui tabletop mountains and savanna, Chiribiquete National Park (known in Colombia as Parque Nacional Natural Serranía de Chiribiquete) is home to uncontacted indigenous tribes. It was also one of four sites added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 2018.
So why has access to Chiribiquete — which translates as The Maloca of the Jaguar — been granted now?
Iván Macías, director and guide of Colombia Oculta (one of just 19 tour operators that begin tightly controlled flyovers this month), told The Points Guy that, “Besides being the largest national park in Colombia, Chiribiquete is a very sacred site.”
“It’s been highly restricted up until now because five indigenous tribes who don’t have any contact with the outside world live there, and the National Natural Parks System [a government agency] takes great care to look after these groups. It’s also a highly biodiverse sanctuary, an unexplored corner not just in Colombia but in the whole world; it still holds a lot of secrets for humanity.”
Remote, and almost impossible to access by land, Chiribiquete’s airspace has been tightly controlled for many years by the AeroCivil [Civil Aviation Directorate]. Four years ago, tour operators were able to start seeking permission from AeroCivil to fly over the park. But the number of flights escalated quickly, Macías said.
“A plan was never established to control these flyovers, and that concerned the National Natural Parks System, who have the uncontacted tribes’ best interests at heart. Imagine if you were a member of that tribe, who had chosen voluntary isolation, and you suddenly see a plane flying above you. It would be pretty unpleasant. And that is the reason flyovers have been so controlled.”
“AeroCivil declared the park a prohibited parameter for commercial flights and only allowed . army or tourist flyovers — but only once permission has been granted by the National Natural Parks System.”
That body then stepped in to create much-needed regulation, and it took two years to create a plan that authorized flyovers in a controlled, small-scale way. “My company undertook the National Parks-organized course in order to comply with operations, and flyovers are now approved in this way,” he explained.
The first official Chiribiquete National Park flyover — which is already fully booked — takes place on June 8, which Macías is thrilled to guide. Nineteen tour operators have joined forces to offer other flyovers between June 27 and Jan. 31, 2020 — 11 of which are run by Colombia Oculta.
Day-long excursions depart from Bogotá and include an informative talk that highlights the 75,000 cave paintings and petroglyphs found in 60 rock shelters discovered at the foot of the tepuis, thought to be the world’s oldest. The jaguar, a symbol of fertility, prominently features in these depictions. On board the high-wing Cessna flight, selected for the best views possible, visitors can see the tepui table-top mountains: sacred temples that played their part in the creation of the planet, according to the indigenous tribes. Park flyovers last one hour.
Given Chiribiquete’s remote location and tightly monitored airspace, these approved flyovers are your only opportunity to see a sliver of this unexplored and unique landscape.
Feature photo by GUILLERMO LEGARIA/AFP/Getty Images.
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