Feb 18

The Top 10 Treks in Colombia: from Andes to Amazon

Lost City Colombia

 

Trekking in Colombia can be a great way to see another side of the country, and to escape the noise and (let’s face it) pollution of several of the big cities – going on a trek in Colombia will get you into the countryside and allow you to get a glimpse at the true diversity of Colombia. That’s whats great about trekking in Colombia: the treks listed here are located throughout the country, not just centered on the mountainous central departments. You can take a trek through the highest coastal mountain range on earth, Caribbean coastal deserts, or Amazonian jungle, in addition to some excellent Andean trekking as well. So, without further ado, here are the Top 10 Colombian treks

 

Lost City Trekking
Trekking to the Lost City

 

1. The Lost City

It just wouldn’t be a list without the Lost City on it – this is Colombia’s Inca Trail: a multi-day trek that is fast becoming a right of passage for South American backpackers, on account of it’s (relative) obscurity, stunning jungles setting, and, of course, that ancient city at the end of it! The trek can be done in 4 or 5 days (I did it in 5 so as to spend more time relaxing in the picturesque rivers and spotting the jungle’s birds; if you’re someone who gets impatient, aim for 4), and is organized by a few different tour companies in Santa Marta – in high season they leave daily, but throughout the year the departures are staggered: one company will be leaving when you want to, so just call ahead to reserve your spot. This trek might be one of the most beautiful in Colombia, but it’s also the trickiest – 25+ miles of trekking, a lot of it uphill, in the sticky, close heat of the jungles of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. Trust me though, it’s well worth the aching legs and sweat-stained clothes…

Top Trekking Tip: This is a two-parter – avoid high-season if you can: apparently this year’s December/January treks were incredibly overbooked, and new regulation is clearly needed. Also: pack incredibly light – one small day-bag with a change of clothes should be enough…you’ll smell, but so will everyone!

 

El Cocuy
El Cocuy

 

2. El Cocuy National Park

Colombia’s other big trekking loop is about as different to the Lost City as it gets! El Cocuy National Park is Colombia’s biggest selection of snow-capped Andean peaks, and is gratifyingly undervisited by travelers – the 5-day circuit’s status is somewhat confused at this point: they’ve closed it for several years, but people are reporting that guides are starting to allow the trek again; call in advance to check. This incredible 5 days through high Andean paramo, alongside glacial lakes, and past some of the most impressive peaks in Colombia remains one of my best travel experiences – just my me and my friend, our guide, and millions of stars at night. If you can’t do the 5 days, then stay at the cabanas on the edge of the park and spend a few days hiking around the nearby trails, or scale one of the big peaks…

Top Trekking Tip: visit El Cocuy in early/mid December – pre-high season for the crowds, but still with a great chance at sunny days. That being said, bring really warm clothes, the nights get bitterly cold here..

 

Puracé National Park Colombia
The long and winding road…through Puracé National Park

 

3. Puracé National Park

Another spectacular Andean National Park, Puracé is located a few hours from Popayan, in Cauca department, in Colombia’s southern Andean region – home to a diverse array of wildlife, including the best chance you have of seeing Andean Condors in Colombia, and Spectacled Bears, Puracé can easily be visited on a day-trip. On a good day, weather-wise, you can climb the Puracé volcano, or you can simply trek the 25-odd kilometers along the rough-track encircling the park. Expect foggy days, but outstanding payoffs: the paramo landscape seems bleak, but conceals a staggering array of life. You can also see surreal hot-springs and hidden waterfalls along the trail. It’s an early start from Popayan (you’ll need to take the 5:30am colectivo), but totally worth it for the nature, the hike, and the solitude – I didn’t come across another soul during my visit…

Top Trekking Tip: bring lots of snacks and water – there’s nowhere along the route with anything like that for sale…in fact, there’s basically nowhere along the route at all!

 

visit the cerros de mavecure
Enjoying my birthday atop Mavicure – worth the hike for sure!

 

4. Cerro Mavicure & Cerro Diablo

These two shorter hikes are easily the most obscure and off-the-beaten-track hikes in Colombia – the Mavecure Hills are a collection of giant granite monoliths, towering over the Inirida River, a few hours upstream from Guainia department’s capital, also called Inirida. This jungles department, Colombia’s least populated, straddles the Venezula border, and is home to some of the country’s most surreal and spectacular sights…and also, some of the least known and visited. Of the 3 iconic hills, only one can be climbed – the smallest, Mavicure. The hike takes a couple of hours, and can be a little tricky on the calves! However, the view over thousands of miles of jungles, river and hills, is truly worth the sweat! It’s breathtaking! There’s another hill, known as Diablo, hidden away behind the biggest ones that is well-worth climbing as well for the alternative angle it offers on the jungles and the other Mavecure Hills: this one’s a bit more intense and tricky, but still only takes 3/4 hours round-trip from El Remanso, the local Puinave indigenous village. If you want a truly off-the-beaten-track Colombia travel tale, take the trip to the Cerros de Mavecure…

Top Trekking Tip: Climb Mavicure Hill at dawn: it’s much cooler so you can take your time and enjoy the hike a bit more; plus, the dawn light gradually illuminating the jungle and the rock-faces of the other two hills is simply remarkable…

 

La Chorrera Waterfall Colombia
Approaching the falls

 

5. La Chorrera Waterfall

One of the easier hikes on this list (I sort of differentiate between trekking and hiking: a hike takes a few hours, a trek takes a few days!), and one of the most easily accessible from a big city: just a couple of hours from Bogota, is Colombia’s tallest waterfall, and it can be reached on a lovely hike through farmland and cloud-forest, in just a couple more hours. The walking is pleasant and relaxed, and only features a couple of uphills; however, the altitude can be a big tough, so take your time with it! La Chorrera may lack the sheer intensity of El Cocuy or the Lost City, but it’s a great way to get out of the noise of the city for a day, and experience another side of life in Colombia.

Top Trekking Tip: it might seem like it’s just next to Bogota, but the trail here can get muddy and difficult to hike on, so wear appropriate shoes!

 

Providencia Colombia
See, it’s not so high (but that’s really the Pico, so keep dreaming!)…

 

6. El Pico, Providencia

This is a nice little hike, and makes the list because it’s also another delightfully obscure, but rewarding one – El Pico, or The Peak, is the highest point of Providencia island, one of Colombia’s most spectacular Caribbean settings. At just 360m, it’s not a vast peak or anything, but the Caribbean heat, and the fact that you start the hike at sea-level, makes it a tricky one nonetheless. The walk takes in Caribbean jungles, and the reward is a fantastic panorama of the beautiful island, and it’s stunning blue waters and offshore reefs. It might not be a traditional coastal activity, but make the time for a trip to the Peak when you’re in Providencia…

Top Trekking Tip: start nice and early and bring lots of water!

 

Cocora Valley Colombia
Cocora Valley

 

7. The Cocora Valley

Another one that absolutely has to be on any lists regarding trekking in Colombia: the Cocora Valley hike, a day-trip from the lovely pueblo of Salento in the Coffee Region, is a classic Colombian trek. This one should take about 4/5 hours, but’s it’s nice to take your time to better appreciate the natural beauty of this iconic place, home to the endemic Colombian national tree, the Quindio Wax Palm. Beginning in gentle pastoral land, before entering Andean cloud forest, the hike passes by the hummingbird sanctuary of Acaime, before cresting a ridge and returning along the valley, surrounded by the giant palms trees. It’s a truly surreal and unique hike, and is not one to be missed!

Top Trekking Tip: Take a packed lunch so that you don’t have to rush back in a hungry hurry…

 

Pueblito Tayrona ColombiaPueblito Tayrona Colombia
Indigenous settlements in Tayrona

 

8. Pueblito, Tayrona National Park

Just to get from the entrance to your campsite in Tayrona requires a nice little 2-hour hike (I’ve heard people call it a trek, and it definitely isn’t!), but the really fun walk happens when you’re already inside: this two hour uphill slog to the ‘mini’ Lost City of Pueblito is definitely worth making the time for on a visit to Tayrona – the uphill scramble up a massive stone path, made up largely of boulders hewn into the earth, offers the chance to see birds, monkeys and bats, and the reward is the lovely architectural site of Pueblito, which is also the home of a small Kogi indigenous family. It’s not quite the Lost City, but the hike to Pueblito is still a worthwhile Colombian hiking experience.

Top Trekking Tip: as always, rise really early – you’ll avoid the heat, see more monkeys, and beat the ‘crowds.’

 

Parque Nacional Chicaque
Parque Nacional Chicaque

 

9. Chicaque

This lovely little natural park near Bogota is home to a vast array of birds and mammals, all hidden within some beautiful protected cloud-forest. The best way to enjoy hiking in Chicaque is to spend the night there, either in the well-appointed lodge, or in a tent. The park is full of nice trails through the forest, to various sights, such as a lake and waterfall. The entrace ‘road’ is actually the best place to observe many of the gorgeous bird species, and it’s quite a hike too! Especially the exit, where you have to walk some 2 hours uphill to get out of the deep valley where the lodge is located. It’s a heart-pounding hike, but well worth it for the nature and the out-of-the-city experience…

Top Trekking Tip: stay overnight in the park – there are lots of trails to explore, and the lodge is lovely!

 

Mocoa Putumayo Waterfalls
Not bad…

 

10. Fin del Mundo & Hornoyaco, Mocoa

I write a lot about my love for Mocoa in Putumayo department, and it’s a well-justified love! The best activities on offer in this little city, the gateway to the Amazon, all involve lovely hikes through the jungle to hidden waterfalls…the best two are the popular Fin del Mundo hike, to a series of interconnected waterfalls, and the less-visited Hornoyaco falls, a stunning cascade, deep into the jungle of Putumayo. Neither hike takes more than a few hours, but a visit to Mocoa for a few days can allow you to string these hikes together, making for a delightful hiking weekend in the jungles…

Top Trekking Tip: avoid weekend to keep away from the ‘crowds’ on the Fin del Mundo hike; also, order lunch at the entrace house for the hike, and enjoy eating as wild monkeys visit to feed on bananas.

So those are our Top 10 treks in Colombia: some of them long, some short; some convenient, some not-so-much! What they all have in common is that they’ll give you the chance to enjoy some of Colombia’s most diverse and beautiful places, and throw in some exercise at the same time! Naturally there are hundreds of other great hikes throughout Colombia’s rural regions, these are just some of the very best, and most diverse. If you have any other trekking tips for Colombia, please leave a comment below.

Chris

 

9 thoughts on “The Top 10 Treks in Colombia: from Andes to Amazon

    Chris on

    Which of these is the most easily accessible from Medellin? Or do you have any around there you’d recommend?

    We just trekked the Paramo del Sol and it absolutely blew us away. The views, the vegetation, the fauna—it was all mind-boggling. We can’t wait to check out more treks in Colombia.

    Speaking of which, Cerro Mavicure & Cerro Diablo sound right up our alley. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply

    Markus on

    Hi Chris,

    i would like to go to Colombia this year in August for climbing high mountains. Of Course i don’t want to go up there on my own, so are there organizations which offer mountain programs?
    Or is it possible to join some locals?
    What would you recommend me? How can i organize it?

    Thank you very much for any kind of help! 🙂
    Greetings from Germany

    Reply

      Chris on

      Hi Markus: there aren’t many high mountains that can be climbed easily in Colombia, but the main ones would be Nevado del Tolima and Purace volcano. The best organisation for climbing Tolima in my opinion is Truman Adventure (https://www.facebook.com/trumanadventure/) run by an experienced Colombian mountaineer with years of experience (he also owns a delightful little rural lodge near the mountain). The Purace hike is most easily organized through Park Life hostel in Popayan. Hope this helps,

      Chris 🙂

      Reply

    Mitch on

    Do you know anything about ruta del condor? I cant find much about it at all.

    Reply

    Elizabeth on

    Hi Chris – I’m planning a trip to Colombia in August, which I know isn’t ideal for hiking, but I’m wondering if you think any of these will be doable in August? Or will it be too cold/ rainy? Thanks so much!

    Reply

      Chris on

      Hi Elizabeth,

      The majority of them are definitely doable all year round, really the only one I would say is unlikely to work is El Cocuy, and perhaps the weather in Purace might not be ideal either (although I hiked there during a wet February, and although it was misty and cold it was an invigorating 25km nonetheless!). Otherwise there’s no reason (other than the heightened chance of some rain) which should stop you doing most of them. If you don’t have a problem with packing a raincoat and maybe getting a bit wet on parts of the hike then there’s no other reason I can think of. On the coast and in the jungles especially you stand a good chance of heavy showers in August (but you do all year round in the tropics) but it won’t ever be cold. And actually, in the central Andes for hikes like the Cocora Valley, the average rainfall isn’t too bad in August, it starts to get heavier again usually in September.

      All that being said, experts are currently predicting a period of heightened rainfall later in the year as the ‘La Nina’ weather phenomenon replaces ‘El Nino’ (which had made the country unusually dry), so to try and predict the state of the weather is really a bit futile sometimes! My advice would be to not miss out on the Lost City, Pueblito if you’re planning to visit Tayrona, the Cocora Valley, and one of the day-hikes from Bogota. And also not to let things like ‘average rainfall charts’ put you off things – I have traveled all over the country, in all months and seasons, and have virtually never been unable to do something or visit somewhere due to rain. This is the tropics, it’s generally short and heavy!

      Thanks for your comment and if you have any questions about anything else relating to your trip then please get in touch,

      Chris

      Reply

    Miriam on

    Any advice on reliable sources of security information or protest-related closures for these treks? I know Purace is frequently affected but I’m never sure how to get information for other areas. Thanks!

    Reply

      Chris on

      Hi Miriam,

      The best way is to contact popular hotels or hostels in the town from which the trek begins. The only treks here I know of to have been affected by closures are El Cocuy (still closed as of the past 3 months) and Purace (which, as far as I know is open). Contact ParkLife Hostel in Popayan for up-to-date info on Purace. Hope that helps and thanks for your message,

      Chris

      Reply

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