Our The Hidden Colombia Trek will allow you to experience and trek through the very best of Colombia’s undiscovered departments and national parks. We’ll also embrace much of Colombia’s traditions and culture through exploring Colombia’s traditional cities, towns and villages. This trip will allow you to trek the peaks of Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados and experience many of Colombia’s hidden highlights including adventuring to find the roof of Colombia, trekking through the outstanding Cocora Valley, conquering Colombia’s stunning volcanic landscape and roaming the coast to experience a trek through tropical forest, beaches and ancient ruins at Tayrona National Park with an idyllic Caribbean twist; all with wildlife viewing opportunities along the way.
Colombia is in the midst of a new era in its history. It has one of the top regional economies and is one of the most politically stable countries in Latin America. The significant improvement in the country’s safety has also positioned Colombia as a top travel destination that people from all around the globe are eager to discover. Colombia boasts the stunning Andes mountain region and the legendary Amazonian rainforest; the country is the second most bio-diverse country in the world. In terms of trekking in Colombia, there are an abundance of hidden spots to be discovered, where eager trekkers can roam Colombia’s remarkable variety of landscapes. The Andean Colombian wilderness can offer unique cloud forests, Mountain Rivers, valleys and canyons. Colombia also features its Coffee region which is a never-ending green carpet of vegetation of which encircles the remarkable valleys and peaks. Furthermore, booming cosmopolitan cities like Bogotá and Cartagena can impress anyone with their magnificent views, innovative architecture, rich culture, exceptional restaurants, and enthralling ambience. Colombia has it all: countless trekking opportunities, city life, stunning coastlines, some of the world’s most diverse landscape and wildlife.
The Hidden Colombia Trek – Itinerary
DAY 1: ARRIVAL IN BOGOTA (D)
Welcome to Colombia! Upon arrival in Bogota, we will be met at the airport by our local guide and transferred to our hotel. Our Colombia trip commences with a tour; we’ll be taken to see the underground Roman Catholic church – Zipaquira Salt Cathedral, uniquely hidden within the tunnels of a Zipaquira salt mine. Following an optional lunch in Zipaquira, our return to Bogota will be met with an afternoon visit to Cerro Monserrate; this mountain towers above Bogota and will offer us gorgeous views over the city. Our evening will consist of dinner back at the hotel.
Overnight – Casa Deco
DAY 2: EXPLORING BOGOTA (B)
No Colombian trip is complete without exploring Colombia’s capital city of Bogota. Today will be our Bogota exploration, starting with a morning visit to the Sunday Paloquemao market. A walk around the market will offer us the opportunity to view beautiful flowers and colourful fruit, as well as sample the local food.
This morning we will also be travelling through the winding streets of La Candelaria accompanied by a historian and living the stories behind the streets, plazas, cathedrals and street art pieces we will see along the way. Our guide will not only give us an insight into the country’s history and architecture, but also into Colombia’s political and economic revival. We will visit some of Bogota’s most important museums such as Botero Museum and the Gold Museum. At the end of the city tour, there will be an optional lunch in Bogota, followed by a chance to freshen up back at our hotel before the afternoon activities.
This afternoon we will be transferred to Usaquen Flea Market before taking part in an additional cultural tour of the colonial township. The evening will be at your leisure and dinner will be at a restaurant in Usaquen. Our wilderness adventure begins tomorrow when we will begin to discover the real Hidden Colombia.
Overnight – Casa Deco
DAY 3: COFFEE REGION – SALENTO (B, L, D)
Our day will commence with a transfer to El Dorado airport (1hr) for a morning flight to Pereira, located within the Colombian coffee region (‘The Coffee Triangle’). Upon arrival we will be transferred to Finca del Café in Santa Rosa de Cabal (40mins), for our morning coffee tour. Lunch will be provided at Finca del Café or in Santa Rosa, depending on your preference. A small tour of Santa Rosa de Cabal will also be included.
Following on, we will be travelling to the colonial/Andean town of Salento (1hr 30mins), before checking into our hotel. During the afternoon, we will be given a tour of Salento with it’s colourful buildings and craft shops, as well as an authentic coffee region walk (5km approximately) to the village of Boquia, along the route of the original ‘Camino Real’ or ‘Royal Pathway’, offering us beautiful scenery. Our evening in Salento can be enjoyed at your leisure before dinner at a local restaurant, with a traditional Colombian game of Tejo to add an exciting twist to our evening. There will also be an insightful pre-trek preparation chat with our trek leader to ensure we are fully-educated for our upcoming trekking adventures.
Overnight – Hostel Ciudad Segorbe (Guesthouse, not as the name ‘Hostel’ suggests)
DAY 4: COCORA VALLEY RESERVE (B, L, D)
After a good night’s sleep we’ll be picked up by private Jeep (US army surplus vehicles that ended up being a match made in heaven for the Coffee Region.). These open-backed Jeeps are typical of the region, known for their unbeatable horsepower when conquering steep mountain roads when piled high with coffee and ‘platano’ or plantain. The drive will take us eastward along the river Quindio basin and into the beginnings of the Cocora Valley which makes up part of the buffer zone to Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados. It is the sanctuary that protects a large remnant population of the national tree. Either side of the road you’ll see lush green pastures dotted with cows, farmhouses and large boulders, all adding to the postcard quality landscape. Soon enough we’ll arrive at the valley base. Green pastures and cloud forest cover the folds and mountains both of which are punctuated by the national tree – the Colombian Wax palm.
We’ll keep our eyes peeled as the palm is a common nesting place of the famed Yellow-eared parrot. We will be following the River Cardenas/ Rio Quindio route. This route will ford the river before the trail begins to hug and climb the side of this quite beautiful valley. A steep set of switch-backs will break us in perfectly on the first day, levelling out a little after, punctuated by short, steep descents and ascents. The overall trek today lasts around 10km and will take around 5hrs. Eventually, we will reach Don Javier’s farm, located at 3,476masl. The cloud forest of the Cocora Valley below is left behind as we ascend into a high-Andean forest surround, where the airs are much cooler, the vegetation becomes darker and the mountain tops begin to show themselves. Given its excellent level of conservation, high-Andean species such as Long-tailed Sylph, the local, rare (and tiny) Purple-backed Thornbill, Blue-winged Mountain Tanager, Grass-green Tanager, uncommon and beautiful Grey-breasted Mountain Toucan, noisy groups of endangered Golden-plumed Parakeet are all known to habit these valleys. If fortunate the immense Andean Condor can be seen soaring on a clear day.
Upon arriving at camp you’ll have a late lunch with time to explore the surrounding folds and mountain streams. We will pay a visit to Don Javer’s farmhouse and dinner will be at the camp just below the house. Jumpers and fleeces will be the order of the evening as it can get quite cold.
Overnight – Camping
DAY 5: EL BOSQUE (B, L, D)
Today’s trek is arguably the most visually stunning. A steep climb through elfin forest or ‘sub-paramo’ will start the day as we make our way along what is now the Cardenas Canyon. Up ahead, on a clear day the Paramillo del Quindio volcano and crater can be seen with its yellow-ochre sands which hark back to an eruption some 5,000 years ago which created the Cocora Valley some 2,000 meters below. We’ll enter the ‘paramo’ or high-Andean tundra of Colombia, an ecosystem recently classified as the fastest evolving on the planet. Extreme UV rays, wind, altitude and cold make everything up here very unique.
The climb continues to the ‘High of Bitterness’ which is today’s high point of the trek, located at @ 4,172masl / 13,688ft. This mountain pass which separates the River Quindio and River Otun watershed and stands at the top of the stunning Berlin Valley, is bitter indeed. Watch out for flocks of Andean Siskin and screaming groups of one of the park’s most famous residents – the endangered Rufous-fronted Parakeet which is endemic to this very small region of Colombia.
Descending this paramo valley to Berlin farm, closed in by sharp peaks and rocks is a memorable experience. Small mountain streams and postcard pastures intertwined with ageless trees and cows all come together. A last ascent will take us to El Bosque caldera’s look out point where a large basin surrounded by a sheer-rock horseshoe stands below. Among the pastures and trails lays our camp for the night, by El Bosque school, Risaralda department’s only difficult access school which serves the local village. Donations are welcome and some gifts will be given as part of our passing through. If time there’ll be the option to fish or take a walk around before dinner is provided at camp.
Overnight – Camping
DAY 6: LAKE OTUN (B, L, D)
Today’s medium level trek will start with a steep climb out of this extinct volcanic caldera. Once the initial climb is over you’ll be back once again in páramo, surrounded by yellow-brown, stiff grasses, frailejones and flowers of various colours – from deep yellow to clear purple (Arnica flowers are used for medicine) to blood red. Given the lack of insects at such altitudes, it really is a battle between plants to see who’s the brightest and most attractive – great for us visitors.
The páramo trails wind their way through ancient lava flows which make this landscape a collection of small hillocks, rocky outcrops, rises and dips, before you emerge out to the once large body of water called ‘Lake Mosquito’. This is now a dry lake bed, with grasses which have been taken over by cows. In the distance to the north, the first glimpses of the Nevado de Santa Isabel can be seen with its unique 3-domed structure and glaciated peak, its summit is forever shrouded in cloud.
Ahead a last climb will ensue before the serene Lake Otun emerges, measuring 2km by 1km this is one of Colombia’s largest high-altitude lakes and by its shores our camp will be waiting for lunch. A chance will be had to say hello to the park rangers who have a cabin here and preparations will be made for an optional afternoon walk to the ‘Azufrera’ or sulphur mine which is located nearby, a surreal landscape which is always worth the walk. Dinner will be at camp.
Overnight – Camping
DAY 7: CAMPOALEGRE (B, L, D)
After saying goodbye to the rangers at the cabin, we’ll set out on a very steady climb via an old disused road that leads out and up by the side of the lake. Panoramic views will be offered of the lake and its volcanic backdrop, with the ochre sands of the Paramillo del Quindio in the distance and the Nevado de Santa Isabel looming ever closer. At the high point we’ll look out for a family of the uncommon Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle – the paramo’s largest raptor.
A deviation will be made from the road into the so-called ‘Garden of Eden’ (Jardín del Eden) where 4-meter high frailejones dominate, they help make this a beautiful walk. We’ll be on the look out for puma and ‘Tigrillo’ (small ocelot-like cat) scat and deer may also appear. The páramo is the primary source of water for 70% of Colombians, acting like a giant sponge that gradually releases water during the dry seasons due to atmospheric pressure changes.
We’ll descend from the high-point for around 7km, mostly downhill along the disused road, making our way around the side of a large, desolate valley before we see the welcoming site of Campoelgre farmhouse where a nice lunch and evening will be waiting for us.
Overnight – Camping
DAY 8: Nevado de Santa Isabel & Conejeras (B, L, D)
Today will be an early rise to get our transfer to the Nevado de Santa Isabel summit trail head. Depending on how you feel, we’ll have the chance to just visit the glacier’s edge or make an ascent to the summit of the central dome. All equipment such as crampons and ice axes will be made available. The climb is straight up, past our previous high points and quickly into the ‘super-páramo’ an ecosystem above 4,400masl (14,435ft) that has flora that could be from another planet, ‘páramo fingers’ line the way as the surrounding landscape becomes more typically volcanic – grey rock, mist and evidence of past lava flows begin to dominate as the ascent continues.
After a few hours the glacier’s edge will come into view, a sight which will only last another 25 years or so. ‘Touching snow’ in Colombia is a very novel concept and here you’ll get the chance to do exactly that. After reaching the edge those who want to continue to the summit will have that option. Here, at the highest point of our Los Nevados trek and after 5 days of traversing the region, you’ll begin to understand that it’s these volcanoes that have given life and abundance in the valleys, slopes and hills below. At this spot on the highest massif of Colombia’s Central Andes you’ll be able to make out the distant (yet seemingly near) peaks of the Western Andes, across the River Cauca’s immense valley.
After descending via the same trail, our 4×4 will be waiting to take us down to Hacienda Termales La Quinta, where a final 1km walk will take us to the farmhouse, where comfortable rooms and a private hot-spring bath will be waiting to soothe sore muscles and bodies. Dinner will be had at the farmhouse, located in a quite magnificent valley, surrounded by cloud forest, pastures and stunning waterfalls.
Overnight – Termales La Quinta
DAY 9: TRANSFER TO SANTA MARTA (B, L, D)
This morning we will be making the most of our day and leaving our hotel reasonably early at 5am. We’ll be transferred to Manizales by car to check in for our flight to Santa Marta. From here, we’ll begin the next chapter in our journey, discovering the hidden beauty of the tropical Caribbean coast.
Once we arrive in Santa Marta we will be transferred to our beach hotel to check in and enjoy a late lunch. The afternoon will be reserved for us to relax and recuperate before continuing on with our trekking adventure tomorrow; the evening can be used entirely at your leisure.
Overnight – Finca La Jorara
DAY 10: TAYRONA NATIONAL PARK (B, L, D)
We will be leaving our hotel in Santa Marta at around 6am, for our 1hr transfer to Tayrona National Park El Calabazo sector to meet our guide. Our walk will begin at 8am and it will involve a hard-grade walk through tropical dry forest to the archaeological ruins of Pueblito Chairama. Once we’ve arrived at the ruins we’ll get the chance to observe them, take in the scenery and enjoy our packed lunch.
Following on from lunch, we’ll continue to follow the granite Tayrona pathway, along with some scrambling and beaches. This particular walk will be another hard grade walk due to the heat and the length of our walk of 16km with an approximate 580m ascent. Finally, we’ll get to descend to the gorgeous Cabo de San Juan beach and spend some time there before returning along the main route back to the park entrance. After the success of our tropical-based trek, there will be a 1hr transfer back to our hotel and private beach, where we can enjoy being on the serene Caribbean coast for the evening.
Overnight – Finca La Jorara
DAY 11: FINCA LA JORARA (B, L, D)
Today will be spent at our leisure. Our hotel is a remote and secluded private beach hotel that lies one hour away from Santa Marta, it’s located on a beautiful section of beach to the north of Santa Marta, surrounded by mountains and lush jungle, perfect for exploring which could be an possibility for today. In addition, there are a number of optional activities and expeditions that we can spend today experiencing including, mountain biking, local community visits, handicraft workshops with the local Kogi indigenous group, a foodie gastronomy tour of the Caribbean, River Don Diego tubing and wildlife watching ride as well as further trekking opportunities, amongst many others.
Overnight – Finca La Jorara
DAY 12: GOODBYE COLOMBIA (B, L)
Our final day on this Hidden Colombia Trek, you will have the morning at your leisure. Depending on the flight time transfer to Santa Marta airport for your flight to Bogota and your connection back to UK – You can discover more of the local sandy beaches along the stunning Caribbean shoreline or even indulge in a morning of relaxation before heading home.
You will then be transferred to the airport for your flight back home via Bogota.