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With three ranges of the Andes, the coastal mountains of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and the Amazon rainforest, Colombia has plenty of fantastic hiking opportunities for those travellers who like to get out and about in nature. From multi-day treks to ancient ruined cities, to shorter trails through the Andean cloud forest, here are the 11 most epic hikes in Colombia.
The Cocora Valley hike is arguably the most popular hiking experience for travellers in Colombia. Hikers depart from the incredibly popular little coffee town of Salento, before enjoying a long hike through farmland, cloud forest and evergreen woodland, and arriving at the eerily surreal Cocora Valley, home to hundreds of examples of the tallest palm trees in the world, at up to 60 metres (200 feet) in height. It’s not an expert-level hike, but you’ll need to be moderately fit and bring plenty of water.
Purace is a beautiful, high-altitude National Park in southern Colombia, just a couple of hours from the lovely city of Popayan. It is possible to climb the Purace Volcano, but this can be tricky without professional equipment, a local guide and the right weather (which can be rare). Luckily, there is a beautiful trail through the lower sections of the park – around 20 kilometres (12 miles) – passing by natural hot springs, waterfalls, Andean lakes and paramo landscapes. It’s also one of the best places in the country to see Andean condors.
This is the ultimate Colombian trekking experience! The Lost City, or Ciudad Perdida, trek is the Inca Trail of Colombia, and attracts far fewer tourists than Machu Picchu. A four- or five-day trek over 47 kilometres (29 miles) through the coastal jungles of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains, including some pretty hairy river crossings thrown in for good measure, the Lost City is an endurance test, but a worthwhile one. And, of course, at the end, you get to enjoy exploring one of South America’s greatest archaeological treasures.
A beautiful waterfall hike in the jungles of Putumayo department, the Fin del Mundo hike is another one that is not especially well known to travellers in Colombia. It’s not a long walk really, but the intense jungle heat makes it tougher than you would expect. The reward of crystal-clear pools and thunderous waterfalls surrounded by rainforest, birds and colourful butterflies should be more than enough compensation. The hike culminates in the 80-metre (262-foot) Fin del Mundo (‘End of the World’) waterfall.
Hiking around Tayrona Park is always enjoyable: if you rise early you can enjoy the forest and beach trails virtually alone, with nothing but monkeys and birds for company. But for a solid bit of exercise, you can’t beat the entrance hike from Calabazo. This hike passes through the ancient Indigenous ruins of Pueblito before descending, across giant boulders, to the picture-perfect beach of Cabo San Juan. It can take at least 4–5 hours, but it’s a more exciting way of entering the park than the main gate, for sure.
El Cocuy is one of Colombia’s most beautiful off-the-beaten-track Andean gems: 3,000 square kilometres (1,158 square miles) of glacial lakes, snowcapped peaks and rocky valleys. The entirety of the park was closed for several years, but it has been partially reopened this year and visitors can now enjoy almost 50 kilometres (31 miles) of hiking on three separate trails. Reaching the snowline is sadly no longer permitted, but hiking in El Cocuy is sure to be a stunning experience for those travellers who make the effort to visit.
Easily the hardest hike on this list, summiting the 5,276-metre (17,310-foot) Nevado del Tolima requires a high level of fitness and a solid dash of determination. This is no mere ‘hike’; it’s a three-day trek at high altitude, culminating in a hike across a glacier with crampons and ice axes. It’s not for the fainthearted, but is amazingly rewarding for anyone who has ‘climb a volcano’ on their bucket list.
Another completely off-the-beaten-track hike, the Mavecure Hills are three giant rocky hills in the heart of the eastern jungles of Guainia department, on the border with Venezuela. Getting there isn’t easy – you’ll need to fly from Bogota, then take a canoe a couple of hours down the Inirida River – but the hike up the smallest of the three hills, culminating in a breathtaking 360° panorama of hundreds of miles of rivers and jungles, is bound to be an experience you’ll never forget.
This is probably the shortest hike on this list, at only around two hours of walking time, but that doesn’t take away from its beauty. The old Camino Real (‘Royal Road’) passes through the Suarez Canyon from the lovely colonial village of Barichara to the smaller, but no less pretty, village of Guane. It can be devilishly hot in the middle of the day, so try to start this hike nice and early, and don’t forget that water bottle.
This glacial peak in Los Nevados National Park is one of the last remaining snowcapped mountains in the central range of the Colombian Andes. Sadly, due to recent volcanic activity, its nearby cousin, Nevado del Ruiz, is currently inaccessible. However, hardy hikers can still enjoy the experience to crunching snow underfoot on a hike up to the (unfortunately receding) glacier of Santa Isabel. It’s a three-hour hike, uphill and at altitude, and it gets punishingly cold too, so dress warmly!
La Chorrera is Colombia’s highest multi-drop waterfall at 590 metres (1,936 feet) and is reached via a lovely 6-kilometre (4-mile) hike through farmland and cloud forest. And the best part? It’s less than two hours from Bogota, so you can enjoy a good countryside hike before returning to a comfy hostel bed in the capital on the same day.