It remains one of Colombia’s great unknowns. An unchartered frontier of narrow canyons and forest-covered plateaus at the heart of the Caquetá and Guaviare departments. Known as Chiribiquete, this natural park region until August 2013 covered 12.990 km2 of rugged terrain, until it doubled in size last month to 27,808 km2 after the Ministry of Environment took the initiative to convert it into the nation’s largest park of the 58 currently protected.
Sprawling over 2.7 million hectares, President Juan Manuel Santos stated that the enlargement of the Chiribiquete nature reserve was aimed at preserving “life, sustainability and the well-being of the Colombian people and humanity.”
The decision to enlarge the park came after the Colombian government attended an international environmental summit. For Environment Minister Juan Gabriel Uribe, the importance of Chiribiquete is its incredibly rich and delicate biodiversity; and which will be protected from illegal mining and logging.
Almost three times the size of Yellowstone National Park, the Chiribiquete is home to 240 species of fish, 492 birds and some 900 plants. According to Colombia’s Academy of Exact Sciences, Physical and Natural, the Chiribiquete is an immense biosphere, which sustains life and has the capacity to offset the nation’s carbon emissions footprint.
Given its strategic location towering over two of Colombia’s main coca producing departments, Guaviare and Caquetá, the Chiribiquete has been rumored to be one of the command and control centers of the country’s oldest guerilla force, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC. Given its treacherous mountains, raging gorges and hard to find camps, visitors to the natural park have been few and far between. Even the most intrepid of anthropologists and botanists have needed to resort to the cavernous guerrillas for safe passage through this pristine parkland.
Given the on-going peace talks in Havana, Cuba, between FARC representatives and the official government negotiators, the expansion of the Chiribiquete Natural Park comes at a time when it might be possible for visitors to venture with specialized tour companies into the area. For scientists, there are huge untapped possibilities for the expansion of research into rare mammals and reptiles, including the discovery of poison frogs, jaguars and parrots.
The Chiribiquete has impressive waterways such as the Apaporis and Caquetá, which meander, from the Andes foothills towards the Amazon basin. The area is also the ancestral territory of the Carib, known for being fierce warriors and hunters. Today, there are traces of this ancient and lost culture as witnessed by many brightly-painted hieroglyphs on rock formations.