You might get here by some type of motor transportation but once in the park, you will be getting around on foot. The trek is about 70 kilometers and that sure seemed like an underestimation when we did it. It's not flat and it's all high altitude, in fact all over 4000m. This is not an easy stroll so be sure not to overestimate your abilities. For much of the trek, we felt like we had but now that we did it, we'll always be glad we did.
While it is possible to either walk back to El Cocuy at the end of the trek or to make your way to yet another refugio to wait for “el lechero” the next day, we decided that eight days without a shower was enough for us. So, we walked to Cabanas Herrera, an hour or so away from Cabanas Pintada where we spent our last night of the trek. It would have been another four hours or so to the nearest hospedaje or hacienda where we could have spent another night, and that were on the milk truck route for the next morning. It would have also been walking on a road, not a true trail and at this point, it didn't seem worth it. At Cabanas Herrera, you can arrange for a four-wheel drive back to town. They call one in town so it takes a while for them to get up there to get you but you can have something to eat there or just hang out which is interesting enough. It's a real Wild Wild West kind of place and full of atmosphere. Actually, if you could just spend the night there and the milk truck would come get you, it would be worth staying a night but it's just not the case. It is also another option rather than staying at Cabanas Pintada like we did. Though not as pretty an area, it does have a very cool feel to it. It would make walking to Hacienda La Esperanza or La Capilla easier too if you did not want to shell out the money for the four-wheel drive. It was a whopping 80,000 COP ($40) for the jeep. This can be for as many people fit reasonably in but there wasn't anyone else around that day so we had to pay the whole thing. It was very jarring ride over a very unforgiving road. The price is pretty understandable once you are on the road. The vehicles must take an incredible beating. The ride is very pretty and you get great views of the mountains. It takes about an hour and once in town seems very worth the money!
Getting to the town of El Cocuy is a long journey in itself but getting into the park proper is where the real adventure begins. The cheapest way is to take a local bus to Guican, the “other” gateway town of the park and from there to walk to one of the refugios which will take you the better park of a day. This will certainly be good for acclimatization purposes as well as giving your legs training but it will also take time and effort. When you have a long trek ahead of you, adding an extra day might not be the most appealing. You can also hire a four-wheel drive vehicle and driver to take you to any number of starting points but this is pricey. We did wind up doing this at the end of our trek as we were too tired to try walking out and did not feel like adding an extra day to the trip which it would have surely done. Perhaps most interesting and surely the most befitting way to start is to catch a ride on “el lechero.” This milk truck does a circuit to various dairy farms in the hills and it just so happens they are very close to various refugios which makes them perfect for trekkers on a budget trying to access the trek.
The only catch is they head out very early and don't go right to all refugios so you will have to do some walking most of the time. Oh, did I mention they aren't all that comfortable either? Since they are traveling so early in the morning and you are at high elevation, be advised it is quite cold so dress accordingly. Of course, we had all our trekking gear with us but it's not easy to get to them while you are in transit. Luckily, we had our hats out but regrettably not our gloves which would have come in handy to hold onto the metal railings of the truck, much necessary on the moving vehicle unless you have a “seat.” The seats in question are whatever you can find or place down to sit on. Doreen got tired after a while and was very cold so wedged herself in close to the milk container but unfortunately got quite a bit of milk on her during the trip.
The price of the trip had doubled since the printing of our guide so 10,000 COP (about $5) each but still the cheapest way up to Cabanas Kanwara. What we didn't realize was how long it would take which was about 4 hours. It is very heartwarming and interesting to go from farm to farm and see the kids and families coming out with their metal pails of milk but four hours of it is more than you'll need in a lifetime and we were very happy to get off the truck. Once off, you have to walk a good hour, all very much uphill to the cabanas so you will get a little acclimatization in even using “el lechero.”
While getting to El Cocuy is not particularly difficult it is time-consuming and for those with little affection for long winding bus rides, perhaps not the most pleasant endeavor. Eleven hours is not an insanely long trip, not by Colombian standards. This is after all one very big country and if you take into account the mountainous nature of its terrain, it's even bigger. This very topography also makes for a very winding trip that can get even those with strong stomachs feeling a bit queasy at points.
We took a very comfortable Concordia bus from Bogota for 45000 COP (around $22) each. We opted for the day bus which left at around 7 AM to avoid even the slightest chance of bandits on the once dangerous route. This was probably overcautious but coming all primarily to do this trek and not accomplishing it was something I did not want to do. It was supposed to take 11 hours but it stretched to about 14 due to one of the mountain passes being closed due to a landslide. This was obviously not the most pleasant situation and more importantly brought us to town very late without a room, in the dark. Suddenly, the night bus was looking a lot better. I think if I was to do this again, I would definitely take the night bus to arrive early in the morning which would make getting a room much easier.
Buses leave from Bogota's main bus terminal which is a $10 taxi ride from La Candelaria. You could get there via the TransMilenio but at that time of the morning and carrying a full pack of gear, you'd have to be very broke or brave to do so. Arriving in El Cocuy is much simpler as the town is quite small and you are let off in the main square, close to the few places in which to stay.