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There's even more nightlife in the town of El Cocuy than there is in its namesake National Park but make no mistake about it, you won't be disappointed with what there is unless you just don't like nature. The skies were so clear you could literally touch the stars and the sunsets generally spectacular like this one at Laguna del Panuelo.
Dress Code: Wear something warm, it gets cold after dark at 4300m!
Written Aug 29, 2010
Though you can find most things in big cities in Colombia, some things will be hard to find like dried foods for trekking and fuel for your stove. Of course, you can't really bring the latter on the plane with you so you'll have to make due with what is there. Other things, like camera equipment and memory cards will be in big cities but likely at higher prices than you would find them back home, at least if you live in Asia or North America. Don't expect to find much in the town of El Cocuy as it is a very small town. We had to walk out of town just to get some gasoline for our stove!
What to buy: We brought Mountain House dried food with us as we've had bad experiences trying to buy lightweight food for trekking in South America, even in the big cities. If you were coming from Ecuador, you can get white gas for your MSR stove there but not sure how easy it would be to get it over the border! Bring all camera gear with you too. Don't forget a good wide angle for getting those huge panorama in and a tripod comes in very handy for low light situations like shots at dusk and dawn.
What to pay: I find shopping online best for purchases like this. I do check things out in "real" shops but when I compare the prices online I usually wind up buying there.
Written Aug 29, 2010
If you are going into the park, even for just a day, this is the place to pay your park entrance as there is nowhere to do it in the park itself. This permit is constantly going up and was 34000 COP (about $17) when we were there in early 2010. It is considerably more for non-Colombians and compared to everything else in the country is very expensive by local standards but if at least some of this money helps to maintain this magnificent park it's worth supporting. The infrastructure in the park is not all that extensive and there are private businesses run in the park so it's easy to feel this is extortionate but don't let that distract you from enjoying your visit.
Written Aug 29, 2010
Luggage and bags: A good quality backpack can't be underestimated. When you are carrying a third of your weight over 4000m+ passes for over a week, you're going to feel the difference. Invest in something decent if you want to enjoy your trek.
Clothing/Shoes/Weather Gear: Good quality boots and socks are something else not to scrimp on. 70 kilometers is a long way to walk. Dress in layers quick drying layers and always bring good rain gear. Though we did not need it on our trek, we were lucky and they came in very handy as wind breakers.
Toiletries and Medical Supplies: When at high elevation, remember the sun is even stronger. Bring plenty of sunscreen and don't forget to use it.
Photo Equipment: A wide angle lens is great for landscapes and a zoom a must for animals and can double as a macro for fair flora shots. Go with something fairly light. My rig was over 7 lbs and I use a small Canon Rebel. Many of the bigger DSLs weigh more than that without the extra lenses. Unless you have people carrying your stuff, leave the big stuff at home.
Camping/Beach/Outdoor Gear: A good quality tent is a must in this harsh terrain. It is your only protection in an otherwise barren landscape. A good quality sleeping back is a lifesaver and a good mat will not only make you more comfortable but also keep you warmer too.
Miscellaneous: A lightweight camp stove is something to not leave out for weight reasons. If you get cold, a hot beverage might be the difference between life and death. Doing a trek alone is never a good idea but finding the right person is not always easy. Thanks for my lovely wife for putting in the amazing effort to do this and for being so understanding for starting it on our fifth wedding anniversary.
Updated Sep 2, 2010
Backpacking is a great sport and while El Cocuy is not for beginners, it offers a great wild and secluded area for those with some experience.
You will need to carry everything you need for the trip with you and also everything back out. A good backpack makes that easier so don't scrimp on that part of your equipment. Make sure to get one that fits your body too. We are all different and so are the packs. Get yourself a good pair of waterproof boots and break them in before the trip. Thick cushiony socks are a blessing when hiking long distances over rock terrain. When you buy boots, wear the same socks you plan on hiking in so they fit together. We never hike in shorts. We prefer very light long pants which dry easily and provide protection from not only the sun but also bushes, rocky surfaces, and biting insects. Likewise, a light long-sleeved short helps up top. Synthetic layers are the key to keeping warm and dry. Rain gear is essentials no matter how dry it is when you start. It can rain at any time, especially in the mountains. Long underwear is great for chilly mornings and evenings if you plan on spending any time out of your sleeping bag. Warm hat, warm hat, warm hat, warm hat. Don't forget one.
What types of food should you be carrying? Dried food is the lightest though it comes at a cost. We find Mountain House to make a good product. It is not gourmet food but it's tasty enough, light to carry and very easy to prepare. You basically boil water, pour it into the plastic pouch the food comes in and close it for ten minutes. We eat some nuts while we're waiting for extra protein. The two-serving pouches from Mountain House are a bit meager. It might be enough for two small people but when you are carrying so much weight over passes, you need more calories. We generally add some starches to the pouch to flesh them out: instant mashed potatoes for the stews and instant rice for Asian style meals. We follow up the meal with a liquid soup like ramen noodles which provides warmth, liquid, sodium, and also helps clean out the cup we just ate our meals from. Breakfasts are either cereal bars or oatmeal. Tea is easier to deal with than coffee and hot chocolate seems to taste great in the mountains on a cold morning. It's also less to carry back as wet tea bags can get heavy. You will need a small camp stove as fires are not permitted nor practical for cooking in the backcountry.
Equipment: Bring a sleeping bag appropriate for the temperatures you will be sleeping in. If it will get down to 0F, don't count on staying warm in a 32F bag. I cannot stress how important a good sleeping mat is. It will go a long way in keeping you warm and comfortable: two things you do want after a long day of backpacking. A good quality tent will round out what you need to be comfortable in the mountains. Get a light one but one big enough for the number of people who will be sleeping in it. We find we need a three-person tent even though we are just two people. It's a bit heavier but we enjoy our time in the tent more with the extra space.
Written Aug 29, 2010