The Best Hiking Trails in the Colombian Andes

Nevado del Tolima | © Chris Bell
Nevado del Tolima | © Chris Bell
Photo of Chris Bell
17 August 2017

Colombia’s Andes are divided into three separate ranges – the Western, Eastern, and Central Andes as they are known in the country – meaning that the region has more than enough hiking trails to satisfy all kinds of people. From tough, multi-day treks to mountain peaks to short trails in the heart of urban areas, here are the very best hiking trails in the Colombian Andes.

The Cocora Valley

The beautiful hike through the Cocora Valley, near Salento in the Coffee Region, is probably the most popular hike in the Colombian Andes for travellers. The focal point of the hike is the majestic Wax Palm trees, which, at up to 60 metres (197 feet), are the tallest palm trees in the world, but there’s a lot more to the Cocora Valley hike than that. The trek, which takes five to six hours, goes through lush farmland, a cloud forest, and a delightful hummingbird sanctuary before finally arriving at the breathtaking valley of the palms. It’s by no means an easy hike, so come prepared with good boots and plenty of snacks and water.

The unique wax palms of the Cocora Valley | © Peter Chovanec/Flickr

Nevado del Tolima

Probably the toughest trek in the Colombian Andes, Nevado del Tolima is a 5,276-metre (17,310-foot) volcano in the Los Nevados National Park. It is also one of the most beautiful snow-capped peaks in Colombia, and one of the few that people can actually climb. However, this trek is not for the faint-hearted: with three days of hiking at high altitudes involved, as well as crampons and ropes required to cross the glaciers of the volcano, it’s a trek which requires a guide, investment, and a good level of fitness. But it’s 100% worth the effort – how many people can honestly say they’ve scaled a volcano in the Andes?

Barichara to Guane on the Camino Real

Barichara is commonly known as the most beautiful village in Colombia, but there’s a lot more to do there than simply wander its lovely cobbled streets. Just outside of the town is a pretty little trail along a section of the nearby Suarez Canyon that arrives at the equally charming small village of Guane. The trail follows a well-maintained section of the old Camino Real, or Royal Road, and is a leisurely two-hour walk offering stunning views and beautiful birds and plants. The weather here is hot and dry, so try to start the trail early to avoid the midday sun, which can be punishing!

The trail from Barichara to Guane | © Chris Bell

Quebrada La Vieja

Hikers can enjoy one of the prettiest urban treks in Colombia from the Chapinero neighbourhood in Bogotá; the trail begins on the edge of a pleasant suburban area and winds up the steep mountainside through lovely pine forests and alongside small creeks and streams. For security purposes – the hike is adjacent to some slightly sketchy neighbourhoods – police are stationed along the route, but don’t let that put you off: the reward for the sweaty uphill hike of around an hour is a stunning view over Bogotá.

La Chorrera

A lovely day hike close to Bogotá, La Chorrera is Colombia’s highest multi-drop waterfall at 590 metres (1,936 feet). It’s also set in some truly stunning countryside: the hike passes through lush farmland and beautifully preserved cloud forest and also takes in a second waterfall, El Chiflon, which visitors can actually walk behind! Local tour operators Bogota & Beyond can arrange a hiking tour to the falls, which is advisable, as getting there can be a little tricky without your own transport. It’s a moderately difficult hike of about six kilometres (3.7 miles) – ‘moderately’ primarily due to the mud and altitude – so pack light and bring some decent boots.

Hiking to La Chorrera waterfall | © Chris Bell

El Cocuy National Park

El Cocuy National Park in the eastern Colombian Andes is one of the more off-the-beaten-track trekking destinations in the country, but it is also one of the most beautiful. Sadly, the park is no longer open for the classic five-day route through the picturesque mountains and glaciers, but it has recently been reopened to allow one-day hikes. There is a total of approximately 25 kilometres (15.5 miles) of trails in El Cocuy (and cabins outside the park for overnight accommodation), and hikers can enjoy stunning views of snow-capped peaks, glacial lakes, and Andean Condors soaring high above them.

Glacial lakes and snow-capped peaks in El Cocuy | © Chris Bell

Puracé National Park

Another high-altitude national park, Puracé lies in the southern Andes, not far from the lovely city of Popayan in the department of Cauca. More adventurous travellers can climb Puracé volcano (keep an eye on the weather forecast, though: it can be dangerous to attempt this climb with heavy cloud cover), or there are lovely trails to enjoy over the course of just one day. A particularly popular route is to take an early morning bus to the park offices and then follow the gravel road back for around 20 kilometres (12.4 miles), passing by natural thermal pools, mountain lakes, and waterfalls. It’s also the best place in Colombia to observe Andean Condors.

The Cristo Rey hike in Támesis

This hike is a beautiful one-day excursion from the pretty little town of Támesis, around three hours south of Medellin. High on a hill overlooking the town stands a Rio-style statue of Jesus, his arms outstretched over the majestic Cauca River valley beyond, and there’s an excellent 16-kilometre (10-mile) round-trip hike up to this viewpoint and back into town. Because the first half of the hike is completely uphill, this isn’t one for the unfit, but the rewards are excellent. Trekkers will come across ancient indigenous petroglyphs, fresh trout for lunch, a spot of caving along the way and, to top it all off, one of the most spectacular views in Colombia over the distant Cauca River.

The stunning view over Tamesis and the Andes from Cristo Rey | © Chris Bell

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