Dominating the Cordillera Central, jaw-dropping Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados gives hikers a glimpse into some of the most stunning stretches of the Colombian Andes. Reaching dizzying heights of up to 5,321m (17,457 ft), tough multi-day treks are rewarded with paramo-dotted hills, glacier peaks, and epic cloud forest views. Read on to find out everything you need to know before exploring one of South America‘s most celebrated national parks systems.
Choose your entry point wisely
There are several access points and hiking routes in Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados, each one offering quite a different experience in terms of time and difficulty – so choose wisely!
For experienced hikers looking for a real wilderness experience, you’ll want to consider the multi-day treks to the park’s second highest volcano, The Nevado del Tolima (5,215m, or 17,109ft). Tolima can be accessed through the Valle de Cocora or Ibagué, the capital of the Tolima department (note: the latter route is slightly more challenging, and there are no supplies or accommodations, so you’ll need your own tent, food, and equipment).
If you’re short on time or aren’t a confident hiker, a day trip to Nevado del Ruiz (easily accessible on an organised 4×4 tour from Manizales) and Nevado de Santa Isabel is your best bet.
Exploration of Nevado del Ruiz is limited
If you’re wondering why the above suggests experienced hikers should go for the second-largest peak, that’s because the largest of the volcano chain, Nevado del Ruiz, is currently under strict restriction due to increased volcanic activity.
For safety reasons (an eruption in 1985 killed 22,000 people), access is only permitted between 8 am and 2 pm and visitors are required to stay in their cars at all times, making this an unpopular option for hard-core hikers and adventure seekers.
You’ll need a guide
Whichever route you decide to go for, one thing’s for sure: you’ll need an experienced guide. Whilst people have been known to venture off alone, it’s officially compulsory to have a guide registered with Parques Nacionales.
Be warned: routes here aren’t very well signposted and can sometimes be difficult to navigate, particularly if bad weather comes in. So, even if you’re an experienced hiker, tackling Los Nevados is definitely more fun with a local guide.
There’s no public transportation to the park
If you’ve arranged to meet your guide at one of the entrances to the park, bear in mind that there is currently no public transport to get you there, so you’ll have to arrange your own wheels. Most hikers choose to start their hike from the Cocora Valley, as this is easy and cheap to get to thanks to the many willy jeeps toing and froing from nearby town Salento.
January and February are best
January and February see the best hiking conditions in the Nevados, as the weather is dry, bright, and warm. Having said that, if ice-picks and crampons are your thing, then plan your trip for either October and November or from March to May.
Accommodation and food are limited
With only a few remaining family-run fincas, accommodation and hot food options inside the park are thin. If you don’t have a tent, your only options are Finca El Jordán, Finca Berlin, Finca Primavera, Vereda El Bosque, and El Cisne. Make sure you call ahead of time to reserve a spot.
Watch out for altitude sickness
During your hike in Los Nevados you could reach heights of over 5,000m (16,404 ft), so – particularly if you’re new to high-altitude trekking – make sure you keep an eye out for any key symptoms (nausea, shortness of breath, headache, etc.) and always follow your guide’s advice.