Sierra Nevada del Cocuy

Trekking in the Sierra Nevada del Cocuy in Colombia

My buddy Jeff and I headed out to a remote corner of Colombia to visit the Sierra Nevada del Cocuy in the Colombian Andes.

It is a beautiful, rugged, remote, and wild piece of mountain scenery. One that I had actually been wanting to visit for a number of years, ever since first hearing about it.

I finally made it, and it was as beautiful and impressive as I expected.

What I didn’t expect however was to be so hammered by altitude.

I was also just coming off a cold that had been hounding me for more than a week, but here we were, this was our opportunity to visit.

Sierra Nevada del Cocuy

There are beautiful alpine lakes, high snow capped mountains, and spectacular plant life like the frailejon bushes.

I was still struggling with coughing and weak lungs when we ventured up to camp at 13,000 feet and dayhiked to around 14,500 feet (most likely my highest point to date).

Plans didn’t unfold as I had originally hoped, given my cold, as well as the news that we received upon arrival that the entire area east of the passes was closed to hikers, apparently due to problems with the indigenous population and complaints that foreigners were leaving trash behind and degrading the pristine lakes and water supplies.

Too bad.

A photo essay of our journey can be seen below along with specific travel logistics, costs, etc.

Travel Logistics

Getting to El Cocuy is NOT an easy task.

Bus from Bucaramanga to Capitanejo 55.000 pesos left at 7pm and arrived 4am via Cootrans – 9 hours

Upon arriving to Capitanejo, we were informed that we *just* missed the bus to El Cocuy, the next one wasn’t until that evening. After some conversing back and forth, they thought of another plan–a bus heading to Soata…

Bus to Soata from Capitanejo and la officina de correo. One hour 5am to 6am. 5.000 pesos via Cootrans – 1 hour

Bus from Soata to Cocuy for 15.000 pesos. Supposed to leave at 7am with CootraDatil. Actual departure 720. Arrived in the town of El Cocuy 11:30 am – 4 hours

75.000 pesos per person and nearly 18 hours total travel time after leaving Bucaramanga, thus not counting the hours we spent waiting for the first bus to leave. Be sure to try and call ahead or ask beforehand about departure times so you don’t waste time waiting around if you choose to just show up at the station.

In the town of El Cocuy

We were approached by a climbing/trekking guide immediately after exiting the bus. We told him we’d think about it, but he referred us to his friends hotel right off the main square: which was called Casa Vieja for 10.000 pesos per person per night.

That afternoon we ventured to the National Parks office in town in order to get our permit for the park and offer our plans. We paid 50.000 per person (yes, the gringo price) which is considerably more than the latest report we read online… Which means it will also probably cost more whenever you make it there in the future.

Day 1 

In the morning you can catch a ride with the morning milk truck which departs from the town square at 6am (later, in reality, but get there at 6am) and costs 10.000 per person. Got off at La Cueva at 8:30 and began hiking up the road to the park.

* Alternatively you could pay a taxi approximately 80.000 pesos to drive you up there, or you could walk the 4+ hours.

It was a three hour hike to the Lago Pintado camp where we hung out at Plazuela and tried to acclimate to the elevation for the rest of the day.

Ritacuba Blanco comes into plain view. - Sierra Nevada del Cocuy Colombia

Ritacuba Blanco comes into plain view.

A small farm located alongside the hiking trail. - Sierra Nevada del Cocuy Colombia

A small farm located alongside the hiking trail.

Pan de Azucar and el Pulpito del Diablo in the distance. - Sierra Nevada del Cocuy Colombia

Pan de Azucar and el Pulpito del Diablo in the distance.

Welcome to Parque Nacional Natural El Cocuy. - Sierra Nevada del Cocuy Colombia

Welcome to Parque Nacional Natural El Cocuy.

Hike into Lago Pintado. - Sierra Nevada del Cocuy Colombia

Hike into Lago Pintado.

Setting up camp near Lago Pintado. - Sierra Nevada del Cocuy Colombia

Setting up camp near Lago Pintado.

Pan de Azucar among the clouds. - Sierra Nevada del Cocuy Colombia

Pan de Azucar among the clouds.

Beautiful lakes near the camp. - Sierra Nevada del Cocuy Colombia

Beautiful lakes near the camp.

Frailejones scattered all over the area. - Sierra Nevada del Cocuy Colombia

Frailejones scattered all over the area.

Day 2

We left at 9am for a day hike and reached Paso Cusiri (4.410 meters) at 12:30pm. Hung out up top for a bit before heading back to camp by 3pm. It is a beautiful and high pass.

More lakes on the trek to Paso Cusiri - Sierra Nevada del Cocuy Colombia

More lakes on the trek to Paso Cusiri

Hiking among the frailejones - Sierra Nevada del Cocuy Colombia

Hiking among the frailejones

Spectacular views as we climb up the pass. - Sierra Nevada del Cocuy Colombia

Spectacular views as we climb up the pass.

Jeff on the trail up to Paso Cusiri. - Sierra Nevada del Cocuy Colombia

Jeff on the trail up to Paso Cusiri.

Interesting geologic formations. - Sierra Nevada del Cocuy Colombia

Interesting geologic formations.

Looking up toward Paso Cusiri. - Sierra Nevada del Cocuy Colombia

Looking up toward Paso Cusiri.

4,410 meters, about 14,600 feet above sea level. - Sierra Nevada del Cocuy Colombia

4,410 meters, about 14,600 feet above sea level.

Roiling clouds on the otherside of the pass. - Sierra Nevada del Cocuy Colombia

Roiling clouds on the otherside of the pass.

Victory shot at the top of the pass. - Sierra Nevada del Cocuy Colombia

Victory shot at the top of the pass.

Paso de Cusiri, 4,410 meters. - Sierra Nevada del Cocuy Colombia

Paso de Cusiri, 4,410 meters.

Panorama from Paso Cusiri. - Sierra Nevada del Cocuy Colombia

Panorama from Paso Cusiri.

Unique vegetation abounds. - Sierra Nevada del Cocuy Colombia

Unique vegetation abounds.

Hiking back down to camp. - Sierra Nevada del Cocuy Colombia

Hiking back down to camp.

Cairns are pretty prevalent and trails are well marked. - Sierra Nevada del Cocuy Colombia

Cairns are pretty prevelant and trails are well marked.

Another panorama of the area below Paso Cusiri. - Sierra Nevada del Cocuy Colombia

Another panorama of the area below Paso Cusiri.

Frailejones and lagoons. - Sierra Nevada del Cocuy Colombia

Frailejones and lagoons.

Beautiful area along the west side of the range. - Sierra Nevada del Cocuy Colombia

Beautiful area along the west side of the range.

Day 3

We left camp at 10am hike up the moraine in the direction of Pan de Azucar we kept going until we felt like turning around, then dropped into the moraine to visit the two little lakes, which are absolutely gorgeous, one of which even has a sand beach. Back at camp at 3:15pm.

Hiking along the moraine below Pan de Azucar. - Sierra Nevada del Cocuy Colombia

Hiking along the moraine below Pan de Azucar.

Pan de Azucar. - Sierra Nevada del Cocuy Colombia

Pan de Azucar.

Parched earth. - Sierra Nevada del Cocuy Colombia

Parched earth.

The lakes and water right below the mountain. - Sierra Nevada del Cocuy Colombia

The lakes and water right below the mountain.

Sandy beaches at the base of Pan de Azucar. - Sierra Nevada del Cocuy Colombia

Sandy beaches at the base of Pan de Azucar.

Another shot of the sandy beaches alongside the lake. - Sierra Nevada del Cocuy Colombia

Another shot of the sandy beaches alongside the lake.

Day 4

Heading out of the park.

9:30 departure from camp and reached the park gate at 11:30am. The dumb part about leaving at that point is you really have no options to get back to town if you aren’t out by early morning to get the milk truck.

So we just ended up walking and walking down the road toward town. We walked for an hour then miraculously got a ride back to town from some people working in the area (an hour drive or six hours of walking).

More scenery on the hike out of Cocuy - Sierra Nevada del Cocuy Colombia

More scenery on the hike out of Cocuy

A small farm and ranch on the way out of the park. - Sierra Nevada del Cocuy Colombia

A small farm and ranch on the way out of the park.

One last shot of Pan de Azucar and El Pulpito de Diablo. - Sierra Nevada del Cocuy Colombia

One last shot of Pan de Azucar and El Pulpito de Diablo.

Pretty shot of the scenery on the hike back to town. - Sierra Nevada del Cocuy Colombia

Pretty shot of the scenery on the hike back to town.

Just a note of warning: many things are closed on Saturday afternoon in the town. We couldn’t get food, let alone Internet.

To leave we were headed back toward San Gil and opted to go through Tunja to get there. Another option if you are venturing to this remote part of Colombia.

Gear Thoughts

I used my Ti-Tri Caldera Cone and alcohol stove for the first time at these altitudes (13k+ feet) and everything went fine, though it obviously took a little longer to boil. I took my Aeropress backpacking for the first time ever, which was kind of cool. I pre-ground enough beans for our time out there. Temps are cool at night and blazing during the day time–I appreciated having my MontBell Light Down Parka on this trip, and significant sun protection as well.

No gear problems to report. Perhaps the most significant problem I encountered on this backpacking trip was the issue of food… They just don’t have the same sorts of things I am used to in the grocery stores in the states. We made do with top ramen, pastas, cans of tuna fish, and those sorts of things, but it was less than ideal. Where can I found Mountain House? Hah.

Trekking in the Sierra Nevada del Cocuy in ColombiaAlso, side note, during the LONG trip in, I made a point to read Mark Horrell’s travel diary / book of his trip to Cocuy. Be sure to check it out if making the journey: Cocuy Sniffing in Colombia: Walking one of South America’s classic treks, available from Amazon.com

But yeah, amazing place, that you must make a point to visit in your lifetime. I hope to make it back there to visit El Pulpito del Diablo and reach the summit of Pan de Azucar.

Colombia Travel Tips

Colombia Travel Tips

Important tips and resources for planning an amazing trip to Colombia, based on my years of traveling and living in Colombia.

Instructions

  1. Book a cheap flight to Colombia with Momondo, or better yet, start travel hacking so you can fly for free.
  2. Plan a rough itinerary and how long you will spend in each destination. Use an itinerary planning service for custom recommendations and/or pick up Lonely Planet Colombia.
  3. Work a little every day to teach yourself Spanish, you'll want to know as much as possible before you arrive.
  4. Book cheap accommodation in advance, at least for the first destinations -- For hostels use: Booking, for cheap hotels use: Hotels.com, for apartments use: Airbnb.
  5. Reserve your on the ground tours and activities through Get Your Guide.
  6. Purchase travel insurance for Colombia with World Nomads to protect yourself from illness, injury, and theft while in Colombia. VERY important. And be sure to read my article: "Is Colombia Safe?" for my honest opinion and safety tips.
  7. Sign up for my free emails about planning a better trip to Colombia, and be sure to check out my comprehensive guide about traveling to Colombia.
  8. Learn more money-saving tricks with my top budget travel tips.
  9. Put together your Colombia packing list.
  10. Enjoy this incredible country!

Notes

I hope this helped you plan your travels in Colombia! I know it can be a struggle to find accurate and on the ground information when traveling to a new place like Colombia, which is why I started writing so extensively about it!

If you have any questions about Colombia, budget travel, or anything else shoot me an email at ryan@desktodirtbag.com.

(I love getting questions! That is how I get ideas for my blog posts and what to write about!)

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Trekking in Colombia - Sierra Nevada del Cocuy

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Ryan

Author, Writer, and Head Honcho at Desk to Dirtbag
Ryan is an author, adventurer, perpetual wanderer, and self-proclaimed dirtbag (but that might not mean what you think). Originally from Seattle, he headed to Washington D.C. where he spent five years working for Congress before heeding the call of the wild. He set out truck camping to road trip across the American West. Since then he set out traveling to Colombia, drove across all of Central America, and also wrote a best selling book: Big Travel, Small Budget. He just finished driving his old truck across all of South America. Follow the adventures on social media or read more about me.

Comments 4

  1. Avatar

    Hi,

    Is this trek still open? Reports I am reading online say the entire park is closed.

    I am heading to Colombia in 2 days (for 2 weeks) and wanted to do a nice trek (unguided) of 5-7 days. Any other recommendations?

    Zach

    1. Avatar Post
      Author

      Reports always seem to be that is partially closed. Reality seems to actually be different on the ground, but your mileage may vary.

      Cocuy, Tayrona, and Nevados are some of the most popular parks for outdoor activities.

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