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A three day trek in the Parque Nacional Natural de Los Nevados, Colombia

COLOMBIA | Saturday, 28 January 2006 | Views [13373] | Comments [11]

A river crossing on the descent.

A river crossing on the descent.

 We did this trek in January 2006 and it is a good introduction to trekking in the High Andes. The route takes you from the wonderful Wax Palm valley of Cocora, through the Cloud forest and up to the unique Andean mountain environment of the  Paramo. Following the route is very straightforward as the paths are well waymarked with direction signs and marker posts to tell you where you are. In addition there is also an excellent 1:40.000 map, “Reserva Natural Zona Alta Rio Quindio y el Parque Nacional Natural de Los Nevados” which you can buy in Salento or borrow from Tim at the Plantation House Hostel in Salento. You don´t need a guide for this trek.

Overview

We did this trek over three days breaking the journey at Estella de Agua on the first day. On the map it may look as if you can get to Primivera in one day and I´m sure it´s possible but it will be nine hours on constant uphill walking (1300 meters of climb) in often difficult conditions. Do not under estimate the effects of altitude which will slow down your progress. Breaking the trek at either Estella de Agua or Acime will help you acclimatize and make the whole trip easier.

What to take. Firstly there is no electricity anywhere on this trek so one essential is a torch. Primavera is at 3680 meters so it is cold most of the time but especially as soon as the sun sets. You will need to have some warm clothing, a fleece jacket and a wooly hat at least. Don´t forget a change of dry clothes for the evening. If you have a sleeping bag – take it. The Paramo is a high level wet land which means that the going underfoot is always wet and the state of the paths (depending on how much rain there’s been) range from muddy to swamp A good pair of boots are essential. If you only have a pair of trainers you may want to reconsider this trek..  Some of the Colombian trekkers do this trip in Wellington Boots which you can pick up quite cheaply. They are uncomfortable to wear for long periods and give little ankle support. At the end of the day you are just as likely to end up with wet feet.

Food. Most of the Fincas will provide some simple meals, which are very cheap. Anything else you want to eat, lunches, snacks etc you will have to carry yourself as there is nothing for sale up there. You should also take food for at least one main meal in the evening (Pasta for example) as you can not guarantee that food will be available.

Accomodation. This is very simple, in dorms with communal washrooms. As there is no power don’t expect to be up late. You will get blankets but no sheets. The night we spent at Primavera there were nine of us in one room which including two guys who had pitched their tent in the corner. It will really help if you speak some Spanish, as none of the people in the Fincas speak English.

Security. Check with Tim on the security situation before setting off. Both the Army and FARC patrol this region and you may meet both, but unless the security situation changes drastically this should not deter you. This trek is very popular with Colombians who would not go up there if it was not safe. 

Route Descriptions

Heights are given in meters (3456m). The heights are always given on the marker posts and are described as POST. Walking Times are as we covered them on the ground (20 mins). The map also has an outline route description with walking times. A lot depends on the conditions on the day, when we did this trek it was at a particularly rainy time, so you may cover some legs faster than we did. On the map some points are marked with numbers in grey inside a circle. These relate to numbers on marker posts put there by CRQ (the local state authority). These numbers are on a white background and have CRQ on them. Many of them are missing so we only list them where they are obvious. They are indicated in the text as (23).

The Trek up to Primavera – Day One

Salento to Corocora. You need to take a Jeep from the Parque Central in Salento to the start of the trek in the Corocora valley. The first one goes at 0730, get there early or you won´t get a seat and will have to hang off the back the whole way. The journey takes about 40mins and costs 4500 pesos.

Corocora. (2390m) There is collection of restaurants here, some of which are open for breakfast. The trek starts just after the main group of restaurants on the right hand side of the road (as the jeep lets you off). There is a large board with local information just as you go through the gate. The track goes steeply downhill, beside the trout farm, to a stream with a bridge crossing it.

Corocora to Acaime. The route now goes up Rio Qundio river valley, you should be looking up the valley towards the forest. The Wax Palms are scattered on the hillsides around you. It is 45mins walking through farmland until you reach the edge of the Cloud forest. As you head upwards you will cross the river five times on bridges in varying states of sturdiness. The path then climbs up to a junction (one path continues up to the Finca of La Montaña, and a road); you turn right and follow the signs to Acaime. The route crosses the river one more time. Follow the yellow signs to Acaima, which should bring you in below the main house. Time from the Forest edge to Acaima, One hour.

Acaime. (2770m) For 2000 pesos you can get a drink here. Try the Drinking Chocolate, you also get a lump of home made cheese with it. They have a couple of hummingbird feeders which provide great entertainment. There and back makes a good day walk. They do have some accommodation here but we have no details, check with Tim.

Acaime to Estrella de Agua. Ask for directions to get back on the path. The path now climbs steeply for one hour to path junction (leading to the Finca of Las Mirlas) where there is a GATE (3140m). At one point there is a junction with a signpost to a Mirador. Unless you want to visit the Mirador, turn right and continue up the hill. From the gate, the path contours along the side of the river valley, undulating as it goes. At one point you will have to detour around a landslide. The forest gives way to meadow land as you approach Estrella. Time from the GATE to Estrella, One hour and 15mins.

Estrella de Agua. (3170m) This rather futuristic building (picture on the front of the map) is a Biological Research Station, but it’s possible for trekkers to stay here. They have 25 beds in dorm rooms at cost of 10000 pesos per person, blankets provided. There is no electricity but there is gas for cooking and a kitchen, which is equipped with (massive) pots and plates, so you can cook food for dinner. The caretakers house is behind the main building, and he will have to open up for you. He can also provide a simple breakfast for the morning (cost 3000 pesos), arrange the night before. There is also a simple building behind the caretakers house where you can ‘camp’ if you have your own kit. This is a good place to stop on the first day.

Estrella de Agua to Primavera – Day Two

Estrella de Agua to the Paramo Romerales. From behind the caretaker’s house the path crosses a stream, on the other side there is a path junction, you are taking the right hand path leading up the hill. After 10mins you should reach a bridge that crosses the river. From here the path climbs steeply on a muddy path (cut up by horses) until you come to a junction. POST (3330m) (11). Time from the bridge to the Post, 35mins. Turn left uphill. The path here is less muddy. You should also notice a change in the vegetation as the forest becomes more scrub like with fewer large trees. After one hour of climbing from the junction you will reach a distinct Vegetation boundary, the start of the Paramo. Here there is a POST, Paramo Romerales (3590m) and information on boards about the ecosystem.

The Espeletia.

The tree like plants you can see scattered across the landscape belong to a group of 100 species called Espeletia, which are part of the Sunflower family. They range from the tree like plants you can see, to shrubs, to very small plants that are lying at your feet and they have all adapted to living in a tropical mountain environment. This group only lives in the Northern Andes Mountains, and are not found south of central Ecuador. The largest examples can grow up to 5 meters tall and live for almost 100 years. They have adapted to cope with frequent frosts and high levels of solar radiation, the dead leaves on the stems provide insulation, while the dense hairs on the leaves may help keep the plant warm as well as protect against UV. The large rosette arrangement of leaves of top of the stem is a form of planet design that has developed independently in other high mountain habitats around the world, from Africa to Hawaii. If a model works for one environment, nature uses it again.

The Paramo Romerales to Primavera. Follow the path uphill for 10mins until you come to a junction. POST (3630m) (13). Go right, signposted to Lag. El Enconto. The going now is very hard and muddy, after 30mins you should reach a saddle where there is a Paramos signboard. From here is another muddy 20mins walk to a POST (3700m) (14), which is the boundary marker between the two regions of Quindio and Tolima. The path now heads into a valley, 20mins hard and muddy walking brings you to a simple bridge across a stream, the Puenta de la Tierra. A short distance on you will find the bridges market POST (3690m) (15). From here the path becomes a little indistinct and there are wooden arrow posts in the ground to show you the way. Basically you are heading uphill, up the stream valley and staying on it´s left side as you look uphill. Near the head of the valley the path curves around to the right. You are heading for a POST which is at the bottom of a distinctive hill you can see over to your right. The POST (3800m) (16) is at a major path junction. Walking time from the Bridge post to here is 30 mins.

Turn right, the path will seem like a motorway compared to what you have seen before . Follow it down for 30mins, passing some fences on the way, to Primavera. 

Primavera. (3680m) This is a simple Finca and a working farm, you will be sharing the place with dogs, pigs and chickens. Sticklers for hygiene take note. Accommodation is in double bunks and blankets are provided. The family provide simple (but very good) meals on their wood fired hearth. A bed costs 5000 pesos, while dinner and breakfast are 4000 each. Arrange the meals when you arrive. There is no power and no phone. Beds are allocated on a first come first served basis, but it is the sort of place where they will squeeze you in somewhere. Its cold up here and some people hang out in the kitchen for most of their stay. All the water is cold of course but this is not the sort of place where you will be wanting to take a shower. You can use Primavera to explore further, walking to Laguna el Enconto for example or even to the top of Nevado del Tolima (5221m), although you would need a very early start and be well equipped and acclimatized to do that. 

The Return.

The easiest way to get back to Cocora is to retrace your steps are return the way you came, it´s mainly downhill and you should get back in six or seven hours hard walking, so make an early start. Those of you with a taste for adventure may like to do what we did and return down the Quebradas Cardenas valley via El Bosque. This is a difficult route with a lot of mud and a couple of river crossings but you do pass through some lovely countryside, the cloud forest especially. In Spanish a Quebradas means a gorge or stream, on this route, river would be a more realistic description.

Primavera to Cocora via El Bosque – Day Three

Primavera to El Bosque. Follow the path you arrived on, back to the POST (3800m) (16) at the path junction under the distinctive hill. This will take you 40mins as it´s mostly uphill. From here follow the path through some boggy ground for 15mins until you reach a POST (3760m) above Lag. La Virgin, which you can see in a hollow to the south. From here the path become indistinct but you should be able to follow it to the edge of a crest where the path is very wide. Here is descends steeply and is very muddy before heading off across swampy ground. Keep a close eye on the most worn parts of the trail as the route becomes indistinct in places. You will be doing a lot of hopping from dry patch to dry patch. After 50mins from leaving Lag. La Virgin the path enters a small canyon/gully on the edge of the Vegetation boundary between the Paramo and the scrub like forest. 15mins further on you should reach a POST (3540m) (19). The route descends steeply on a very muddy path which makes for slow going. After 1hour 30mins you should reach El Bosque.

El Bosque. (3190m) This is a Finca where you can get a hot drink. It also has accommodation and although we didn’t stay there, it looked very clean and welcoming and had a pleasant aspect. If you’ve had enough already it would be a nice place to stop.

El Bosque to the Quebradas Cardenas river crossing. Ask directions at El Bosque to rejoin the path which now descends down to a small river which you cross on a simple bridge. On the other side you now climb steeply through meadows to a POST (3190m) (22) signed posted to Cocora 7.4km. From El Bosque to the Post takes 40mins. From here the path is easier although somewhat undulating and passing through some lovely countryside before it descends steeply (muddy) into a reentrant. Here you will have to cross the Quebradas La Mina which feeds into the Q.Cardenas in the valley below. There is no bridge here and you will have to wade through. The stream is not wide but the water is fast moving so get across as quick as you can. The day we did it a group of walkers were roping themselves up as a safety measure and we did the same. From the Post to the stream crossing takes 1hour 15mins.

From the crossing the path climbs up to a POST (2910m) at a path junction. 20mins. From here it is a slow descent – more mud, 40mins, to a GATE and a POST (2700m) which is signposted to Cocora 3km. 20min more descent brings you to the next river crossing.

Quebradas Cardenas River Crossing to Cocora. The Q. Cardenas is wide here and there is no bridge so again you will have to wade it. There are a couple of logs across half the river but they are not wide enough to walk across with safety, although you may try crawling. The way to tackle this obstacle is to wade in, face upstream, then edge across using the logs as a brace against the force of the water. In the middle is an ‘island’ of rocks and vegetation where you can take a breather. The second half of the river is fairly shallow and the water is not moving as fast as on the first stretch so you should have no problems wading across. The day we did was after heavy rain and the river was a torrent, so it should be easier when you attempt it.

Across the river you have a 5min walk uphill to a POST (2610m) . From here you have a fairly easy 30mins walk through forest as the path gradually descents back to the Q. Cardenas.

You have to cross the river again here but this time there is a bridge. However it has no handrail and is slippery. It is also very high above the river which at this point is fast flowing over rocks, so the consequences of a slip are bad. For this reason we recommend you do as we did and crawl across. To add to the delights the bridge is held together with barbed wire, so watch your hands and knees. On the other side you will have a bit of a scramble before reaching flat ground. After a short distance you will reach a road which crosses the road at a FORD. Don’t worry, you don’t have to wade across again, as just downstream and hidden by trees, is a very serviceable bridge which you can just walk across. Head up the road and over a rise and you are back in the Cocora valley with just an easy walk back to the village with the Wax Palms all around you. Time from the ‘crawling’ bridge to the centre of Cocora (2390m) 20mins. Have a nice meal, drink lots of beer, you’ve earned it.

Tags: Trekking Route Descriptions

Comments

1

Hi Graham

Plse ignore previous post...hadn't explored your website well enough. Very comprehensive notes!!

Val

  Val Nov 27, 2006 9:52 AM

2

Dear Val,
Good luck with your trip, the route above is quite tough in parts but very worthwhile. If you do the trek it would be good if you could post any changes.

Will

  Will Nov 27, 2006 6:13 PM

3

Hello
I did the same road.
Excellent!!!!! no words to describe it.
If anybody needs an advice, just email me.
Bye.
Santiago.

  santiago May 30, 2007 9:49 AM

4

i would like to do the trek, i would fly in to Armenia from NYC. Can you tell me best way to get to the beginning of this trek from Armenia. Name of Towns, landmarks, etc. thank you kindly

  bart Jan 13, 2011 11:59 AM

5

Just was there 2 weeks ago. We went from Corcora to the Finca Argentina and back down on horseback. Javier at Argentina is a lovely man. We were told not to go to El Bosque, that there was nothing there, so that finca might have closed down.

  Maria Apr 11, 2012 12:29 PM

6

Thanks for the post. It was very helpful. Here are some updates:

My girlfriend and I have just recently done the trek. It was great, although we had lots of rain and therefore a lot of mud in the Paramo as well. Rubber boots would have been nice. We camped one night at Estrella de Agua and stayed the other at Primavera (which is imo the better finca), although you can make it to Primavera in one day if you start early.

We also did the loop and went back via El Bosque. There is no finca there anymore since FARC burnt it down in 2007. However, there are no security issues with FARC or similar groups there anymore.

We had no problems with river crossings (even without rubber boots), although there was a lot of rain the day and night before. There are either some sort of bridges or you can jump from stone to stone to cross the rivers. It's also being used (and therefore sort of maintained) by locals. We can really recommend going back that way, it's very beautiful and took us 6,5 hours including breaks.

Met on the second day people that did the trek with a guide from Trocha y Montaña in Salento. We walked together with them for the rest of the trek. The guide's name was Mauricio and he's really nice and knowledgable!

One last thing - the map that is being mentioned in the post is hard to get. We couldn't buy it anywhere in Salento and asked at several places. Fortunately, the couple that lives at Estrella de Agua had it and let us take some photos. You can purchase a tourist map of the park for 5000 pesos in Salento which has most trails as well. However, it also has some errors and includes trails that don't exist anymore or misses newer ones :(

Enjoy :)

  Christoph Aug 19, 2012 3:27 PM

7

hi there

my girlfriend and i completed this trek two days ago.

we were told it was very dangerous to go without a guide because it gets extremely foggy up on the paramo and you can get lost for days. several people told us different stories of people getting lost, one of several european hikers getting lost for nearly a week.

after hearing this, we hired a guide from paramo trek. the guys at trocha y montana as an outfit are not to be trusted, we were told by several people.

it was expensive at nearly 100 usd per day per person and we were told we could do the trek in two days, making primavera the first day instead of camping at estrella de agua. we were told it would take 7-9 hours to get to primavera. it took us 13 and was quite bad. it was extremely muddy and rainy and quite difficult. i am an experienced hiker but my girlfriend was not. i suspect i could have done it in 10 hours but it still would not have been fun.

we stayed at primavera, arriving in the dark, which was quite dangerous as it was so muddy and slippery up there. the next day we came down the other side of the mountain past finca argentina y el bosque. it was completely dry but it still took us 12 hours. again, because of my girlfriend's lack of experience, i think i could have done it in 9 or 10, but it is a long day.

All in all, go with a guide. don't want to get lost. they don't call it the valley of the lost for nothing. bring a cell phone as many parts of the mountain get signal.

don't try to do it in 2 days unless you really love powering through, are highly experienced, and masochistic. to do it in 3 days as described above is great, just make sure to bring a guide, as it is usually foggy and they know the way.

  angus Jan 15, 2014 3:19 PM

8

Please be aware, Alejandro Ospina from Trocha y Montaña shop is a well-known con artist. I was one of the people who have fallen prey to his scams. Knowing Knowing that I was not planning to come back to Salento, he sold me a "used only once" tent that was in terrible condition unfit for use, and at an exorbitant price to boot! After a terrible night in the páramo I came back to confront him and he responded by skipping town until I left Salento! Various people from hostels and businesses later told me of his bad reputation. Please avoid this man and his business!

  Nico Dec 31, 2014 7:04 AM

9

We recently completed this exact hike in 2 days without a guide with no issues whatsoever. The trails are easy to follow, there seems to be a lot more sign posting since 2006. Bridges are now in place over most of the smaller streams also. We completed The valley to Primavera in 7 hours and Primavera back to The valley via El Bosque within 5 hours. Certainly I can see how bad weather could impact on the difficulty of the hike but overall with some rain it was relatively straightforward. We were told similar things as the people above but I feel it would be very difficult to get lost. Overall a physically taxing but rewarding hike.

  Alex Feb 25, 2016 8:41 AM

10

Thkanks for this blog, a great hike and it saved us heaps of money by doing it without a guide.

Just a short update on the trek that we just finished in two days. There is no accomodation or food at estrella de agua, therefore you have to hike up all the way to primavera, or stay at the kolibri house butmthat is just 1,5h from the start. It took us 8 hours. Primavera is fine, basic accomodation, and it can get quite cold up there.

On the way back, the path to el bosque is perfectly fine, less muddy than the ascent really and there are bridges in place. Just dont expect food or accomodation at el bosque, because there is no building anymore as you can read in one of the earlier comments. Way down took us 6,5 hours.

  Jessam May 23, 2016 9:09 AM

11

We did part of the trek in November 2016. Just a short update on the situation. We got only as far as Estrella de Agua unfortunately due to enournous amount of mud we were not able to continue further. However even if we had high gum boots it would be very difficult to get to Primavera. It took us 4,5 h to Estrella and supposedly it is another 5 h to Primavera from there. Probably the situation is better in dry season. Nevertheless you cannot sleap in Estrella, only in Primavera.

  Magda Nov 19, 2016 1:18 PM

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