Colombia offers some of the best trails in Latin America and trekking is often at the top of the to-do list for tourists visiting the country. The mountain peaks of the Sierra Nevada del Cocuy (see opposite) are perhaps the most popular choice as they offer several routes that vary from enjoyable one-day climbs to a challenging seven-day mission. The views from the Nevada’s 20 snow-topped peaks are breathtaking and visitors will fi nd the glass-like lakes and rocky plateaus a euphoric reward to the climb. Los Nevados National Park off ers dry scrub plains, remote cactus-clad hills, waterfalls and hot springs (El Rancho). However, it is hard to believe you’re still in Colombia when you hit the glaciers at the summit of the volcano Nevado del Tolima, which stands at 5,215m above sea level.
For those on a stopover, or just wishing to stay closer to Bogotá, there are several superb hiking possibilities. Colombia’s multi-faceted environment oozes diversity; on a day trek, the plants alone off er a fi rework display of vibrant colours and shapes ranging from alien-like lumpinas plants to tiny, ghostly white orchids. As an alternative to the high-altitude hikes of Cocuy and Los Nevados national parks, a gruelling six-day hike to Ciudad Perdida (Lost City) in the Sierra Nevada offers a very different experience. The vegetation is tropical and the climb highly rewarding – the highest point on Ciudad Perdida is 1,200m. Instead of tucking up in a tent in thermals, you can sleep in outdoor hammocks or cabins, and your food is carried by porters.
Remember, long treks can be incredibly tough so it is imperative you seek professional advice before embarking, and for these types of hikes a guide is essential. The Dutch company De Una Colombia (see page 64), are hiking afi cionados and provide a wealth of information on trekking in Colombia. Specialist guides at De Una say the possibilities for custom-made tours are endless – and they themselves want to explore more of hidden Colombia. The company’s most popular trek is a five-day hike to Púlpito de Diablo (Devil’s Pulpit) at the top of Pan de Azúcar in Cocuy National Park. The campsite is located next to Laguna de la Plaza, one of Colombia’s most stunning lakes. The hike starts at 3,800m above sea level and ascends 200m on the fi rst day and 1,100m on the second, with 200m climbed with crampons. The trek provides a chance to climb the glaciers of Cerro’s de la Plaza and experience a De Una custom of diving into a freezing cold lake.
Parque Nacional El Cucoy
This 306,000ha national park was founded in 1997, stretching from temperate forests to snow-capped peaks and arid, desert land. Wooden lower plains rise to glacial terrain with alpine lakes. Lush valleys are home to waterfalls and rocky crags. Dominated by the Cordillera Oriental’s highest peak, Ritacumba Blanco’s 5,330m tip, Parque Nacional El Cocuy is regarded as one of Colombia’s most resplendent reserves. Indigenous Indian tribes occupy the western flank of the park environs and mountain trails are relatively easy to navigate with an experienced guide. Access points are the towns of Guicán and El Cocoy located approximately 230km of Bogotá where it’s possible to stock up on basic essentials ahead of an overnight stay in the park. Pack warm weather clothing and a thermal sleeping bag for camping as temperatures can drop to 0°C. An absence of on-site facilities means that you’ll need to bring all food and equipment. Hikers also need to stick to official trails and engage the services of an authorised guide – solo treks are not allowed. Age restrictions also apply, so unless you are under 60 and over ten it is unlikely you’ll be allowed in. Several tour companies offer trips into Parque Nacional El Cocuy, including many with a strong ecological focus – an important consideration given the park’s fragile status. According to the Colombian Institute of Hydrology, five major glaciers in the park that in 1983 were expected to last at least 300 years are now under serious threat. Measurements taken in 2006 suggest that they may all disappear within 25 years. Dwindling numbers of several species of the park’s rich abundance of wildlife are also a cause for concern, including eagles, spectacled bears and mountain tapirs. Items that pose a threat to the frailty of the ecosystem are also prohibited, so leave non-biodegradable plastic bags and aerosols behind.