Capital of the Department of Huila, Neiva is a hot, modern city on the east bank of the Río Magdalena. Surrounded by arid cattle plains, the snow-capped Nevado del Huila looms large to the west. It has a series of pleasant plazas and hosts the Festival Nacional del Reinado del Bambuco in late June/early July, which incorporates the fiestas de San Juan and San Pedro. A raucous affair, it involves Bambuco dancing competitions and various parades in which bikini-clad beauty queens float downriver on boats and up to 5000 (often) drunken women ride horses through the streets. It culminates in the crowning of a Bambuco queen.
Neiva was founded in 1539 when Belalcázar came across from Popayán on his quest for El Dorado. By the riverside a monument has been erected to commemorate Rodrigo Arenas Betancur's struggles in the fight for independence from the Spanish. The cathedral was destroyed in an earthquake in 1967.Around Neiva
A 30-minute drive south from Neiva is the pretty little town of Rivera, famous for its thermal springs. At the weekend it livens up with plenty of activity around its picturesque plaza and its a popular destination for locals wishing to escape the heat of Neiva.
The springs are 5 km north of the town. There are several options but the most popular,
Termales de Rivera
are set around exuberant tropical gardens.