When staying at the Cabanas Laguna Pintada, I noticed lots of people hiking up into the bowl of a nearby peak. Under normal circumstances, I would have had to go up to check it out but after such a long trek, I was too exhausted to even think about it. D was thinking more about a shower, albeit an icy one. I would like to go back to this area and...more
El Pulpito or the Devil's Pulpit is one of the standout features in El Cocuy National Park. It is visible from the Cabanas Kanwara. I had not really heard of the area prior to arriving in the park but soon found myself playing with the idea of a second trek. It would have only been about four or five hours up into the area from Hacienda La...more
The Cusiri Pass was a relatively easy one even though it topped out at 4500m. It was a very gradual incline and though a hot sunny day, it seemed to pass easily enough. I'm sure it was in part due to the fact we knew the end was near and the trail was certainly the most distinct of the whole trip. Yes, we knew for sure we would make it and this...more
I guess there were no more heartwarming sights on the entire trek than when we first laid eyes on Laguna de la Plaza. Not just because it was just as beautiful as proclaimed but because we knew that we would surely make it around the trek without getting lost. As most accounts put it, there was a very distinct trail from there back to civilization....more
Laguna Hoja Larga was a surprisingly pretty little lake and one I am sure we would have liked to camp at if we had been hiking from Laguna del Rincon rather than Laguna del Panuelo. Even with the closer start, it was around 3 PM when we got to this little jewel and it would have been easy to take another easier day but with our food supply...more
The hike to Laguna Hoja Larga was one of the nicer parts of the whole trek. First off, it was one of the easiest and secondly, it went through a nice strand of frailejons that also happened to be home to a few hummingbirds that made for a joyful stroll. Though we never got any photos of the elusive birds, we saw quite a few and heard even more.more
Coming down off the 4800m Castillo Pass, Laguna del Panuelo was one pretty sight. Though the water might have been questionable for drinking, its reddish muddy color made for great contrast against the predominantly blue sky that once again graced us with its presence. No, staying at Laguna del Rincon had not come back to haunt us and as mentioned...more
This is a trek of many passes and every one them is over 4000m. There were many hard ones but the Castillo Pass was by far the hardest. Not because it was the longest or most arduous in a stamina sense but because there had been a landslide of sorts that left it very much a rock scramble. Huge boulders had to be navigated and it was mentally...more
Laguna del Rincon is just reward after navigating your way through the Valle de los Cojines. This was originally one of our planned stops but the national park ranger we spoke to said it was a very nice place to camp, much better than the next lake up in the chain. He seemed to know what he was talking about and even though it was clear when we...more
One of the keys of using such a stove is dehydrated food. These not only cook much more quickly but are much lighter to carry. A third and often overlooked benefit is the ease of cleanup. These are not very easy to find in Colombia and you would need to be in a big city. Prices are also likely to be higher than if you are coming from North America...more
The small restaurant that is part of the Cabanas Kanwara complex was not the hopeful warm refuge we had hoped for. It was one thing to pay fairly high prices for the meals but sitting in what was basically a very cold stone enclosure amounted to little more than a remote mountain hut, which I guess it basically is! The food was actually pretty good...more
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!
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...more
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...more
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...more
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.
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.
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.
There isn't a lot of wildlife on the trek around El Cocuy and most of it is subtle and doesn't jump right out at you. That's why seeing these two wild horses was so special. Well, wild might be a romantic term as they are truly feral horses, wild surely today but descendants of domesticated horses. That said, when you see one, they look pretty wild...more
Frailejóns are an increasingly rare and beautiful plant endemic to the páramo areas of Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador. With succulent hairy leaves, they survive well these high altitude largely arid areas that are less than perfect for most living things. They are one of the main reasons El Cocuy National Park was formed as potato farming has...more
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.
We were blessed with unusually fine weather in a place noted for fog, whiteouts, rain and wind. My inability to make it through the night without peeing was finally rewarded with thousands of stars so close I could just about touch them. I still swear my recently passed away Mom was the one especially twinkling star I saw each night, leading me...more
The trek? About 70 kilometers they said but it felt more like 200. That perception surely influenced by the fact that 95% of the hike takes place over 4000 meters and Colombians measure their distances as if across a flat plain. Take note, this is one terrain that is anything but flat. Doreen acclimatized well and I chugged along as well as I...more
Though you can visit El Cocuy National Park without doing a trek, this is a special and remote area. These are the kinds of experiences that are disappearing on our planet. If you are able and so inclined, take advantage of a true wilderness experience. Is it easy? No. Will you ever forget it. Not likely. Milk splashed only intermittently on my...more