Writing about how to visit Mocoa in Colombia’s southern Putumayo department has become somewhat of a hobby and passion of mine – I have written blogs about hiking to the Fin del Mundo waterfalls, visiting the Paway Amazonian Ecological Center, and explaining the 10 reasons why you absolutely have to visit Mocoa. Why am I so passionate about showing people the magic of Mocoa? Well, it’s a truly beautiful and undiscovered little gem in Colombia’s southern jungles, where the Andes meet the Amazon (those river waters you’re swimming in, they’ll join the Amazon soon enough), that is slowly beginning to shrug off it’s dangerous reputation – people are slowly but surely coming around to the opportunities for tourism on offer here. At the same time, it’s still satisfyingly off-the-beaten-track enough for travelers to enjoy that feeling of adventure when they visit.
But what exactly is there to do in Mocoa? Plenty as it happens! Here’s the Top 10 things to do in Mocoa, Putumayo, and how to go about doing them:
1. Hike to the Fin del Mundo waterfalls
The big one, both figuratively and literally: Fin del Mundo is the waterfall hike that everyone who comes to Mocoa simply has to do – a one hour hike through some gorgeous, lush jungle to arrive at the lovely river pictured above. It already seems pretty enough, but follow the river along and you’ll come to 3 equally beautiful waterfalls, with warm, deep swimming holes. The final prize is the amazing point when you reach the top of an 80m waterfall dropping deep into the jungle below. On a clear day you can see Mocoa in the distance, and the more adventurous can take the small, underused path to the right (as you look towards Mocoa) which will take you down to the base of the falls to see it from a different angle. Take the road from Mocoa to Villagarzon and get out when you see the signs for Fin del Mundo on your left: hike down towards the river, cross the bridge and follow the path on the left. Then just pay your 4.000COP entrance at the small house on the hike up and you’re in…just make sure to enjoy it!
2. Learn about Amazonian wildlife at the CEA and Paway Centers
These animal welfare and rescue centers are both run by the CEA (or Centro Experimental Amazonico), and are designed to protect endangered and rescued Amazonian wildlife, as well as educate the public on the animals and insects native to Colombia’s jungles. They are very different places: the CEA is a vast space, containing several lakes and an expansive path system linking the cages of the various animals (it’s also free: just turn up and wait for a walking tour to leave); Paway, on the other hand, costs 8.000 COP and is much calmer and smaller – it also contains Chonta, a Brown Woolly Monkey who is open to playing and sitting on guest’s heads! Both are worth visiting, but if you have to choose…choose Paway, if only for the monkey!
3. Visit Hornoyaco falls
A visit to Mocoa is basically a water-based experience: the sheer number of rivers and creeks flowing around the Mocoa area means that the main activities in Mocoa focus around river, waterfalls and swimming in them! Hornoyaco, along with Fin del Mundo, is one of the real highlights of any visit to Mocoa – a huge waterfall deep in the jungle that has a truly adventurous scramble down rocks and muddy paths in order to get there. It truly feels like the Lost World once you arrive, as you dive into the deep pool and look up at the huge trees and cliffs all around you. If you have time to visit more than one waterfall in Mocoa, make this one of them!
4. Swim in the Rio Afan
It’s not all about huge, jaw-dropping waterfalls in Mocoa though; many of the activities are also a little calmer and more relaxing than the likes of Fin del Mundo or Hornoyaco – the Rio Afan canyons are a great place to spend a lazy afternoon lying on rocks, diving into the river and taking a long leisurely swim. The hike starts across the bridge in the San Agustin neighborhood of Mocoa: cross the bridge and turn right, then follow the path along the river until you reach the second bridge: this bridge spans the river canyon. Take a left before the bridge; but be warned, this is a very dicey trail, along some slippery, sheer drops. The reward though is a hidden little river, and some top notch jumping rocks – I mean, look at the air I’m getting below!
5. Discover the real Fern Gully at Canalendres
Remember that film ‘Fern Gully’? Where the incredible, lush jungle paradise is hidden away from the eyes of man (until man gets all deforest-y and has a go at chopping it down anyway…): Mocoa has it’s own little version of that – Canalendres. Cross the same bridge that leads towards Hornoyaco waterfall (see No. 3), and take the little dirt track right where the bridge ends on the left; follow this track for about 15 minutes until the path leads down to the left towards a small river. The first little, shade-dappled jungle pool seems lovely…but follow the river upstream, clamber over some rocks and you come face-to-face with something approaching paradise! A large, deep, clear pool, with a flat rock at the side for lying in the sun, and a waterfall feeding it; Canalendres is a tiny hidden paradise deep in the forest…Fern Gully style!
6. Go birding with a local guide
Being basically part of the Amazon basin, Mocoa is an amazing place to discover some truly unique and special wildlife that can be hard to find or access elsewhere – one particular highlight is the amazing array of tropical bird species that call Mocoa home: a morning birding can produce a remarkable array of parrots, toucans, tanagers and hummingbirds that will amaze even the most amateur nature enthusiast. Local guide Harold is an excellent person to take you out looking for Mocoa’s birds: knowledgeable and passionate about his department, he’ll make sure you have a great time birding in Mocoa.
7. Come face-to-face with wild monkeys
Perhaps birds aren’t that interesting to you…but everyone loves monkeys, right?! Right! And Mocoa is an amazing place to spot several species of wild monkeys, including the rare Pygmy Marmoset (the world’s smallest true monkey), Squirrel Monkeys, and the seemingly ubiquitous Saddle-backed Tamarin. The best place to see the Marmoset and the tamarins is the little house that serves as a visitor center at the start of the Fin del Mundo hike: order yourself a late (fresh fish) lunch from the house for your return from the waterfalls and then just wait for the monkeys to turn up at the banana tables in front of your lunch spot: they aren’t really afraid of people and will happily sit there while you watch them and take photos (and sometimes take bananas from your hand)!
8. Visit the Mandiyaco Canyons
Take a bus back the way you (probably) came, north towards Pitalito, and after just under an hour you’ll come to the Mandiyaco river. From there it’s just a 15 minute hike along the edge of the river to the Mandiyaco canyons, where the river has carved out some impressive, surreal-looking rock formations through the deep waters of the river. Swimming should be done with caution, as the canyons can conceal some pretty tricky currents, but the area is worth a visit simply for the impressive appearance of the canyons themselves.
9. Relax by the Rumiyaco River
The best hostel in town, the Casa del Rio, is outside the urban area of Mocoa, set in front of the Rumiyaco river: it couldn’t be much more convenient for a refreshing swim in the river. Just grab some swim trunks and walk 15ft from the front door! On weekends this is a popular hangout spot for Mocoanos, and you can grab a delicious sancocho lunch from the nearby restaurant while you enjoy the cool, deep waters. It’s perfect for a lazy afternoon…
10. Visit Villagarzon and the Salto del Indio
Hop on any bus heading south out of Mocoa and you’ll get to Villagarzon in about half an hour: this small town doesn’t have much to recommend it in and of itself, however the road on the way to the town marks the point where the mountains end and the view over the distant jungles and plains of the east opens up: hop out of the bus just outside of town to enjoy the view, knowing that it basically won’t be interrupted for thousands of miles. In Villagarzon you can also hike for an hour to reach the rarely visited Salto del Indio waterfall…if you haven’t already has enough waterfalls by now that is!
So there are the Top 10 things to do in Mocoa, Putumayo. If you have any more questions about visiting Mocoa or what to do there, please leave a comment below. Or follow the blog, as I mentioned, I’ll almost certainly write more about this seldom visited part of Colombia…