Hiking in the Sierra Nevada Range of Colombia: Day One
Last week I gave an overview of my six day hiking trip in the Sierra Nevada del Cocuy Range in Colombia.
Today and in subsequent posts I plan to provide a more in-depth look at the phenomenal scenery we enjoyed on a day to day basis.
The lush gardens (even at 2768 meters) of Hotel Brisas del Nevado in Guican our start point
The Sierra Nevada del Cocuy range offers some of Colombia’s best hiking. It’s a world class hike that nobody knows about. I first read a description about it in the Michelin Guide to Colombia.
Their description goes like this:
This region of extreme beauty, with waterfalls and clear blue glacier-fed lakes is still relatively unknown.
The words extreme beauty and unknown are what perked my interest. It took some digging but I eventually found a Colombian guide who spoke English. The rest as they say is history.
On Day One of our hiking trip we started from the small town of Guican – located quite literally at the end of the road accessible via a God-awful 14 hour bus ride from Bogota (or about a nine hour drive in a private car). We had been given the option of a 4 X 4 ride to get us up into the Sierra Nevada del Cocuy National Park or we could spend the better part of six hours hiking. Both John and I were ready to stretch our legs after sitting on our rears for fourteen hours the day before.
The official start of the hike at the edge of Guican
The hike started right at the outskirts of Guican. The plan was to hike for about four hours – up to a rendezvous point – where we would meet a driver who would take us into the actual park. Then it would be a 1 – 1½ hour walk along a road to a hostel.
Two things – I’ve never been so happy to sit in a car after a four hour hike – which tells you something about how hard it is to acclimatize to the altitude; and rather than tenting the first night we stayed in a hostel – Cabana Sisuma – and although cold – see your breath at dinner and in your bedroom cold – it was still lovely, especially since that was the one night that it rained.
The locals still get around by horse in the countryside
The hike initially takes you through the countryside where people farm and carry on much as they have for hundreds of years. There are lots of cows around and we ran into several people on horseback. The land through here is lush, green and full of flowers and exotic birds.
In the first hour we hike past homes accessible by foot or horseback only
Looking at Guican below – and off in the distance
Getting the eye
Bromeliads were everywhere just above Guican
Close-up of a bromeliad
By the time we reached our lunch spot we’d been hiking for three hours and I was already winded. Really all I wanted to do was sleep, but that would have to wait for a few hours yet.
Our lunch spot on Day One
Our meals on the trail were good - muesli and yogurt for breakfast, rye bread, cheese and tomatoes for lunch with bars and fruit, a welcome bowl of hot soup with salty crackers about 4 pm and a one dish meal featuring pasta for dinner. We’d finish with a cup of Mexican hot chocolate but no dessert.
Lots of colourful flowers around
Walking the road to our pick-up
Flower pots at the local church
When we finally reached our car and pick-up after only four hours of hiking I was ready to call it a day. Fortunately the last part of the hike just involved walking up a road – with little in the way of elevation gain and a lot of interesting and new vegetation.
But to say I was happy when we reached the hostel would be a gross understatement. I was thrilled to be done and wondered how I’d make out at even higher altitudes, especially as it was cold and wet when we finished for the day.
Our car and driver waiting to take us on the second leg into the National Park
Our first views into the park
Unusual vegetation once we’re in the park; these are frailejones
I never got tired of admiring these plants
Horses were used to transport our packs up to the hostel - but going forward it would be porters who would carry our load and not horses. In fact, effective February 1st, 2013 it’s only the native people that can use the horses in the park.
Heberto – one of our porters and John walking the last few hundred meters to our hostel
I don’t know the history of Cabana Sisuma – the hostel in the photo below but I’m sure it’s got some stories to tell – especially since much of this country was off limits years ago during the drug wars. We spent an interesting night there as there were two doctors – one an American and one a Colombian – who gave us lots of insight into the country.
Cabana Sisuma – on Day 2 under blue skies
Map of the range – which has a lot of peaks and glaciers (Guican is circled on the left – the hostel on the right)
We never knew how far we hiked every day. Distances were measured in numbers of hiking hours required and not kilometers. And although we could have figured out how many meters we climbed every day, we concentrated on how many passes there were, and not how high they were.
After our first day we had a taste of the mountain scenery but the really good stuff would unfold in the coming days.
Have you ever thought about hiking in the Sierra Nevada range in Colombia?
Other posts from the Colombia trip you might find interesting.
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