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El Cocuy National Park


Colombia's premier trekking destination is quite certainly El Cocuy National Park (Parque Nacional Natural El Cocuy). An unsafe region in the past, it's safe to visit now (though Eastern parts of the park are slightly more sketchy - you won't go near here though) and international tourists and trekkers are starting to discover the stunning scenery and trekking routes. South America's current trekking mecca is Torres del Paine in Chile and other regions of Southern Patagonia - give it ten years or so, and everyone may well be talking about Colombia's El Cocuy as the most scenic place for trekking in South America.  Non trekkers will enjoy visiting just to admire the scenery.

The Sierra Nevada del Cocuy contains 21 glorious peaks, most of which are higher than 5000 metres. The dramatic landscape consists of snow clad peaks, towering waterfalls, glaciers (rapidly melting unfortunately) and beautiful, crystal clear lakes. The indigenous U'wa people still live heare, somehow etching out a living. There's an abundance of flora and fauna that includes deer, spectacled bears, puma, ocelot, tapirs, eagles and condors.

The best time for trekking in El Cocuy National Park is from December to February/March - the weather is normally good during these 3 months, whilst the rest of the year it's often rainy and/or snowy. As with everywhere in Colombia, during the domestic tourism high season (late Deceamber, first 2 weeks of January and Easter Week) it can get very busy around El Cocuy.

El Cocuy National Park is the ideal destination for extended trekking trips in Colombia. The main starting points are the scenic villages of Guican and El Cocuy.

The colonial village of El Cocuy (altitude 2750 metres) is the most commonly used entry point to the National Park. There's a dozen or so hotels in total - the best option being the very reasonably priced colonial La Posada del Molino, alternatively you could try Hotel Casa Munoz. A couple of buses depart to/from Bogota every day (11 hours). Alternatively, it's about 15 hours by bus to Bucaramanga (change in Capitanejo).

Thirty minutes further on from El Cocuy is the U'wa village of Guican (altitude 2950 metres) - this is the usual starting point for hikes into the National Park, though not as scenic as colonial El Cocuy. There's a couple of direct buses every day from/to Bogota daily (12 hours). There's a handful of simple hotels in Guican, the better of which include Brisas del Nevado and Hotel El Eden. There's no ATM in town, though there is one in El Cocuy.

Trekking in El Cocuy National Park

The most popular hike is the clockwise circuit from Guican through the park and ending in El Cocuy, which takes about a week to complete. If that fears you out, there's shorter day hikes that can be taken using Guican or El Cocuy as a base (keep reading for some ideas). Guican is the best base for the week long circuit hike as it's easier if you start from there - however you might prefer to begin the hike in El Cocuy, and end a week later in Guican.

Having spent a night in Guican, you'll need to hike to one of a variety of cabanas on the edge of the Park to acclimatize for a further night. The best option is Cabanas Kanwara (tel: (0057) 311 231 6004) which is where the clockwise circuit begins, otherwise try nearby Posada Sierra Nevada (deepest into the Park) or Hacienda Pena Blanca.

If starting the week long circuit in El Cocuy, head onwards to La Capilla Hospedaje, Cabanas del Pulpito or Cabanas Herrera (deepest into the Park, on the Southernmost borders). Head into the park proper from any of these refugios.

Lazy folk (or those wanting to save their energy for the tough trek ahead) can charter their own private vehicle to these cabanas/refugios for about 100,000 pesos (US $50) or so. Intelligent folk can get up before dawn and hitch a ride (for a nominal fee) on a milk van that will probably be heading up towards these refugios - they leave before dawn (check locally).

Whichever cabanas you end up at, chill out for the night whilst acclimatizing - this will be your last taste of civilization (however rustic) for the next 6 days or so...

Practical Advice for those Trekking El Cocuy National Park

Remember that this isn't an easy trek, and that bad weather can appear at any time. No people live along the trekking route, and there's nowhere to stay. You'll be sleeping in a tent (hopefully a warm one) and you'll need to be carry your own food and cooking equipment.

You'll need to bring some serious camping equipment - and don't expect to find any on sale anywhere vaguely nearby. First and foremost, you'll need a tent that can withstand very cold night time temperatures, plus a serious sleeping bag. You can buy basic food in El Cocuy or Guican, but for anything non-basic bring it from Bogota.

Guides aren't necessarily required for the hike - if you find yourself a decent map, and are an experienced and adventurous hiker, you should be able to do the El Cocuy circuit trek alone. Remember that bad weather (snowstorms and very high winds) might appear at any stage, so you should be a seriously experienced hiker to attempt going without a guide. It's far more sensible to go with a guide - the cost is normally about 50,000-80,000 pesos a day, split amongst a group of people this really isn't much (finding groups to share guides with locally isn't so hard). You can also hire a horse and it's handler for a similar price if you don't want to lug your rucksack around with you (recommended at this altitude). It's very easy to sort out guides locally in either El Cocuy or Guican, if you want to book in advance try Colombia Trek.



Park Del Cocuy
Park del Cocuy, Colombia.


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