Thanks to our friends at Off2 Colombia for this article and the pictures as well as their exploratory work of Colombia.
Colombia has been fighting its reputation abroad for years and is currently undergoing a resurgence as one of the hottest travel destinations on the planet. Even so, trekking may not be the first thing you think about when someone mentions the country.
Not for long.
Colombia is a trekker’s paradise for several reasons. It’s most obviously the baffling diversity of the place that lends itself to exploration on foot. Thanks to its position (near the equator but circling the Andes mountain range) Colombia boasts snow-capped mountains, idyllic beaches, dense jungles, barren deserts and much more. In some treks, you’ll experience all that in one go.
But it’s not just the scenery. Colombia is second only to Brazil in terms of biological diversity, and is infinitely easier to explore. The country is also home to an incredible amount of indigenous communities, from the Wayuu in the country’s wild Caribbean summit to the Amazonian tribes that inhabit the southern climes of Colombia.
Trekking in Colombia is a world of discovery and opportunity and we’d always encourage you to speak to locals and explore new places, but here are 5 places you definitely need to check out.
Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta
Not many would expect snow-capped mountains to be visible from Colombia’s Caribbean Coast, but then Colombia is a country of surprises.
This region covers 383,000 hectares and is composed of two main peaks: the Simón Bolívar peak and Cristóbal Colón peak. Both reach an altitude of 5,770, making them some of the highest mountains to grace an ocean shore in the world.
To get to Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta you have to travel 42km on a dirt road to the San Lorenzo Experimental Station. The whole thing should take about an hour and a half. Expert trekkers can make their way close to the mountain’s peaks, but for those less confident fear not: easy routes still reward you with incredible views of the mountains.
For expert trekkers and mountaineers El Cocuy is the destination of choice. Snow-capped peaks dominate the skyline, while enormous glacial lakes stretch out into the horizon. The place is almost untouched and offers the explorer a huge amount to do and see.
There are a couple of ways to enjoy the mountains: day-trips or 6-day treks. For day-trippers the whole thing is set up perfectly since cabins line the parks boundaries. In just three hours you can hit the snow of the mountains, so it’s perfect for a morning ride before a hike.
For those wanting to take it in 6 days it’s trickier thanks to the altitude and other challenges, but if you’ve got the time and the will it’s one of the best treks in South America.
To get there you can take a bus from Bogotá (12hrs) to the town of El Cocuy. Once there, inquire for a guide according to your ability and requirements. The more people you gather for the trek, the cheaper it should be.
Be sure to go between December and March for a better chance of weather, with mid-December offering a better chance of clear skies.
The Lost City (Ciudad Perdida)
The Lost City (or Ciudad Perdida) is probably Colombia’s most famous trek.
Trekking Ciudad Perdida is like rediscovering what it is to explore. You have to navigate your way across rivers with no bridges, trench through mud-ridden undergrowth and scale awkward crags of rock. In the end though, with or without the beautiful Lost City at the end, it’s all worth it thanks to the incredible views of the Colombian jungle, the opportunities to swim in wild waterfalls and the chance to meet with local indigenous communities.
To get to Ciudad Perdida you need to book a tour in Santa Marta. Tours including a guide, food, accommodation and transfers cost €250, which is a standard price.
A video of the Lost City trek:
Cocora Valley is one of the most unique landscapes in the country and is a very easy trek for all levels. The area is dominated by the giant wax palm tree (which can grow up to 60 meters), the national tree of Colombia. The area looks a bit like if you were to plant thousands of giant palm trees in the middle of a Swiss valley. It’s pretty surreal.
You start in the nearby, picturesque village of Salento. Wake early and head to the village’s main square. There you can negotiate transport to the valley itself, which usually costs €3 and takes 20 minutes.
Purace National Park
Home to a stunning amount of biodiversity, snow-capped peaks and some huge volcanos, Purace National Park is an area of spectacular beauty but nonetheless one of the lesser-explored areas of the country. The park is home to steep canyons covered by dense and unusual flora as well as the Andean condors.
To get there you’ll need to take a bus from nearby Popayán and arrange for accommodation in the park itself, usually coming in at €11 for a cabin, which you’ll have to add to the parks €8 entrance fee.
Of course, it doesn’t stop there. We haven’t even mentioned the stunning 5,000 meter volcanoes found in Nevados del Ruiz national park; the amazing coastal treks that connect mangroves and the wild Pacific ocean ; nor even the oldest rocks in South America: the Cerros de Mavecure, uprising from the Amazonian jungles.
Colombia’s diversity means that trekkers of all levels and capabilities will find something that interests them, even if it’s just in a weekend away from Colombia’s bustling capital, Bogotá. Colombia should be on any trekker’s map, and yes, all these places are absolutely safe to go.
Trekkers, you may just have found your new paradise.