Parque Nacional Los Nevados Without A Guide
The clouds blanketing the trail through Parque Nacional Los Nevados for the last ten hours had finally started to recede; revealing the top of the snow-capped…wait a minute; is that a hawk flying through a rainbow or am I hallucinating?
I was definitely not hallucinating. This spectacular view was my reward for having hiked ten hours from Valle de Cocora through the pouring rain and knee-high mud to reach the Tolima Volcano on the Los Nevados Trek. Locals and the Colombian government had advised against hiking in the high plains alone, but since when has a grand adventure ever abided by the rules.
This post is a guide to hiking from Valle de Cocora into Parque Nacional Los Nevados without a guide and how to make it there in one piece.
The Los Nevados Trek
The Los Nevados trek is three-day / two-night trek into the Cordillera Central of the Colombian Andes and part of Parque National Los Nevados; one of Colombia’s most beautiful parks. Starting at 7,545ft (2,300m) above sea level, walking amongst giants in Valle de Cocora; the trail leads four hours down a dense, rocky path through the forest.
The Dense Green Forest
The trail runs alongside the milky brown waters of the Quindío river; crossing it a few time via rickety wooden bridges and the occasional swinging vine; that is if you’re feeling adventurous.
The Quindio River
Continuing uphill you will run across a few signs saying PNN Los Nevados which means you’re headed in the right direction. One sign will read Acaime. This is a hummingbird sanctuary that offers lunch and a place to sleep if you started your day a little late.
Forgoing the sanctuary; your next stop will be Estrella de Agua.
Welcome to Parque Nacional Los Nevados
Estrella De Agua
A small house sitting at 10,662ft (3,250m) above sea level and five miles into the trek; Estrella de Agua marks the entrance to Los Nevados National Park.
The owner of the establishment is a stern woman who would prefer you speak perfect Spanish. She’ll offer you some hot aguapanela (sugar cane water), and you should take her up on it as it is an excellent energy boost for the trials that lie ahead.
Estrella De Agua
The path leaving Estrella de Agua is the point where things get significantly worse. Those trials I mentioned earlier, come by way steep uphill switchbacks consisting entirely of knee-high mud.
Travel Tip: When planning your trek to Los Nevados, make sure to watch the weather and choose a time when the area hasn’t seen rain for a few days. This may not be possible depending on the time of year, but you will thank me as the trail turns into; for lack of a better word; complete Sh*t when it rains.
What The Crap?
Trudging uphill through the bog for hours and losing your shoes a couple of times in the soup will make you want to just sit down and quit. This isn’t even the kind of trail I wanted to hike; you’ll tell yourself. Where in the hell are those beautiful Colombian Highlands that I saw in the pictures online?
Don’t give up just yet. You are about to reach the part where things change drastically for the better; in terms of scenery that is.
Finally Breaching Timberline
The Colombian Highlands
The trees finally start to clear as you feel a cold breeze sweep across your sweat-drenched body. Congratulations! You have made it to the Colombian highlands and the best part of the trek.
If you’re lucky and the sun is shining; find a patch of green grass to take a snack break and soak in all the warmth you can. Trust me you’re going to need it.
It’s Snack Break Time
Be sure to watch where you sit though. There are all kinds of mean little highland plants that won’t take a second thought about lighting you up.
Come Closer; I Won’t Bite
After you’ve gathered some warmth and energy; it’s time to get moving. You don’t want to linger around too long as you have a long way yet to travel and the night approaches fast with frigid temperatures following suit.
The trail will continue to test your will with thick mud in every direction, but the views from here on should strengthen your resolve. Your next destination will be a border crossing of sorts.
The Department Of Tolima
A Shaky wooden post covered in moss with three plaques is the marker for the border between the Colombian departments of Quindío and Tolima. The department of Tolima covers over 14,000 square miles and makes up a significant portion of Los Nevados National Park.
Beautiful Highlands Plant
You will be hiking in the Tolima department for the remainder of the trek to the volcano with the matching title. Knee-high plants and shrubs will be the only thing around as you walk across the empty landscape.
The Empty Tolima Landscape
Hopefully, by the time the sun starts to hang low in the sky, you will be getting close to Finca Primavera. One of only two sleeping options in this part of the park; it will be a much-welcomed sight.
Finca La Primavera
The Fincas Of Los Nevados
Deep in the Colombian highlands and quite frankly, the middle of nowhere; there are only a few options for places to stay.
Finca La Primavera – Located 12,467ft (3,800m) above sea level and nine miles into the trek; this will be your closest option for accommodation in Los Nevados National Park. A dorm bed will cost 20,000 COP or $7 USD, with a meal costing the same. Finca La Primavera books up with tour groups fast, so it might be who of you to call +57-312-211-7677 beforehand to make sure you have a bed and a meal once you arrive.
Beware: It is worth mentioning that the woman who runs Finca La Primavera is an absolute nightmare. She doesn’t take kindly to anyone traveling without a guide. The only reason that I stayed there is that I was out of daylight and it was getting cold. It took me half an hour of standing right next to her as she ignored me, for her to finally give me a room; no meal included of course.
Finca Aquilino – Just twenty minutes further down the trail and 12,140ft (3,700m) above sea level; Finca Aquilino is a much better option if you want a friendly smile greeting you upon arrival. A dorm bed and a meal will cost the same 20,000 COP or $7 USD. Again it would be a good idea to call +57-321-284-7975 ahead of time.
Los Nevados Day Trips
Staying for an extra day at one of the fincas will allow you to get out and explore some of the best parts of Los Nevados National Park. The easiest being Laguna El Encanto; a small alpine lake at 13,054ft (3,980m) above sea level and one mile from Finca Aquilino.
Located further down the trail on the backside of the Tolima volcano is Termales de Canon. A large hot spring sitting at 12,795ft (3,900m) above sea level and nine miles East of Finca Aquilino.
During some adventures, the day just does not agree with you. Such was my luck when I tried to venture further into Parque Nacional Los Nevados.
The Adventure Ends Here
Don’t Become A Statistic
Now I know I said that no adventure became a memorable one by sticking to the rules. You just have to know the difference between bending the rules a bit and being completely ignorant. I waited a half day for the dense fog to pass, but it never did; so I stayed put.
One of the main reasons so many of the truly great adventures in this world are guide required nowadays is because some guy or gal overestimated their gusto and got lost or died on the trail. So please, please do not become a statistic in the highlands of Los Navados, ruining it for future travelers trying to find their own slice of adventure.
Which Way To Go?
The trek back in the morning was the same as before. You can see why the Colombian government warns hikers not to travel in groups of less than three. The trail is so destroyed in some areas that any way you turn looks like it could be the path to safety.
I would think it a bad idea to hike into Los Nevados without a buddy or guide if you haven’t had much experience trekking unmarked trails before.
Travel Tip: I can’t stress enough how important it is to have a map on your trek through Los Nevados. The best, of course, being an offline map app that tracks you via GPS so that your chances of getting lost are next to none.
What To Pack For Los Nevados
The weather varies widely and can change at the drop of a hat in Los Nevados National Park. You will be sweating your butt off in the forest then freezing once the sun goes down in the highlands. Here are some of the basics needed for a few days trekking into one of Colombia’s most beautiful parks.
- Day Pack
- Hiking Shoes
- Rain Jacket / Poncho
- Warm Jacket
- Spare Socks
- Extra Batteries
So does this seem like your type of trek?
Are you addicted like I am, to the pain and struggle that comes with any true adventure; or am I just strange?