Hiking El Cocuy National Park

El Cocuy – Alto de la Cueva – Hacienda La Esperanza – Laguna Sierra de la Grande – Alto Bellavista – Hacienda La Esperanza – Guican – El Cocuy

We spent several days in El Cocuy, the town, planning the logistics of hiking the whole loop in the park. It is illegal to hike the loop because of issues with the indigenous U’wa, making the Northeast side of the park off-limits to outsiders. The entire loop takes at least 5 days to finish on a healthy pace passing glacial melt lakes and grand views of snow-capped mountains along the way. Add to that the image of the alpine tundra more popularly known as páramo and its just too good to pass up.

We’ve heard conflicting reports both on the internet and tourists who recently visited. It’s hard to pin down if the park rangers are totally strict with enforcing the off-limits rule or not. Some that we talked to said they were only checked upon entry, some upon exit. I wish the park rangers are more consistent so we can plan around it without any surprise.

Our initial, solid plan is to ride all the way to the trailhead(Cabañas Herrera) along Rio Lagunillas bringing 6 days of food, leave the bikes and start the hike. It seems easy to execute but the more we ask around town, the more it gets complicated. The hiking part is not an actual loop but more like a half circle. Most trekkers doing the 5-6 circuit start in Cabañas Herrera in the south entrance and arrange a transport pick-up(espresso) on the other end, Cabañas Kanwara, to bring them back to either Cocuy or Guican.

As for us, we have to hitchhike to retrieve the bikes if we intend to leave it in Cabañas Herrera. The other option would be to pay for an expreso from Cabanas Kanwara, which I expect to stiff-arm us into paying really high. The remedy to this mental gymnastics is to leave the bikes in El Cocuy altogether and take the milk truck(lechero) that makes its daily round the fincas to pick up milk jugs. That will result to us not being able ride the dirt road loop that connects Guican and El Cocuy though because that’s the exact route the milk truck will pass.

We paid the entrance fee and the corresponding insurance to the park without any concrete plan made. We left El Cocuy hauling all six days worth of food and let the altitude and our bodies dictate what we should do.

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We left El Cocuy late not needing to catch the lechero that leaves town at 6 in the morning
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We pass fincas along the road, oxygen-deprived air make it slow going. It took us until early afternoon to reach Alto de la Cueva
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We rode downhill until we reach the ranger station near Hacienda La Esperanza. We camped near Hacienda La Esperanza, a hostel, just a walk away from the trailhead.

On our way up to Alto de la Cueva, we found out from trekkers going down that the Rio Lagunillas park entrance is closed so we head instead to Hacienda La Esperanza.

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Our ULA ultralight backpacks finally seeing the light of day once again. We’ve been carrying these around since Utah. Of course we used it in Mexico and Guatemala. I’ve been mulling over whether to send it back to Toronto but we see more multi-day treks in the new future.

 

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Bikepackers moonlighting as trekkers. We brought 5 days of food so we can hangout in perpetual up at Laguna Grande de la Sierra

 

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Baaah! The trail is well-marked but we somehow made a detour dead-ending in a finca
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Once we’re back on the trail, the mountains started showing off
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And soon we encounter the paramo of Northern Andes

 

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And more paramo as far as the eyes can see

 

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It’s a magical place with labored breathing in between steps
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High-altitude flora bright and beautiful
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Otherworldly
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We’re not even on top yet.

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Dang taking a moment to savor the experience

It’s a 4-hour hike to the campsite with multiple pause along the way. No point rushing to reach the campsite as soon as possible.

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I can die now thank you
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My morning view…
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…While having tea
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In between “relaxing” on thin air, we hike around aimlessly. We did some scrambling too on our way to Alto Bellavista
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To get a nice view of the lake, Laguna de la Plaza, on the other side

 

 

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Hit the sack. Her pastime.

After four days up in the Laguna Grande de la Sierra, we finally break camp with another day of food to spare.  We were going to stay another night but trekkers started trickling in due to the closure on the other park entrance. We did have a glorious 2 nights out alone in the lake.

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Reunited with our steeds we left in La Esperanza. We continued to Guican, the other town near the El Cocuy National Park
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Last view of Nevado El Cocuy. Great times.

Route info:

We paid 57.000COP for the park entrance fee plus a mandatory insurance which is 7.000COP for each day you are in the park. The insurance office is a block away from the park office in El Cocuy. It’s a very straight forward affair.

If you’re spending multiple days in one of the cabañas, be aware they are not inside the park boundaries so don’t include that when you pay for the insurance.

There’s a store in La Capilla which is a stone’s throw away from the junction going to La Esperanza but I’m not going to depend on it. We passed there twice but it was closed both times. All of the cabañas serve meals but expect twice the price as what you’ll find elsewhere. I recommend to stock-up on food in El Cocuy or Guican.

As of April 2016, roads going to the National park is closed due to the on going issues with the farmers and the U’wa.

If you’re planning to visit the park, this website can help.

You can view the tidied up track here.

Now stop staring at your computer and go out and ride!

 

 

 

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