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EXPLORE OUR ULTIMATE ADVENTURE GUIDE TO HIKING IN COLOMBIA - ONE OF THE MOST STUNNING AND ADVENTUROUS COUNTRIES IN THE WORLD. THIS GUIDE INCLUDES EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW, INCLUDING THE TOP PLACES TO GO, WHAT TO BRING AND THE TOP 5 HIKING TRAILS.
While Colombia might be more well-known for its colorful culture, cuisine and history, where we believe the country truly shines is in its stunning landscapes. Seriously, if you want to really discover this gem of South America then you need to head out on the trails, for hiking in Colombia is truly an incredible adventure.
We were lucky enough to spend over six months in Colombia and during that time we tried to get out and explore as much as possible. Including, heading out on many different single day and multi-day hikes - oftentimes in the breathtaking Los Nevados National Park - home to multiple volcanoes and snowcapped peaks (as well as some of the last tropical glaciers in the world).
Hiking has always been one of our favorite ways to explore a new place, for it pushes you to get out of your comfort zone, see various landscapes and oftentimes, gets you pretty far off the beaten path (which we obviously strive to do as much as possible). If you are looking to explore all of the magic that Colombia holds then we cannot recommend heading out on at least one hike (luckily we have 5 great ones below).
For if there is a country that really shines when it comes to hiking trails and hiking regions, then Colombia might be it. With its large array of unique and beautiful landscapes, incredible biodiversity and overall safety, Colombia is a paradise for people looking to partake in everything from easy day hikes to overnight backpacking trips to multi-day treks.
Below is everything adventure travelers need to know about hiking in Colombia.
YOUR ADVENTURE GUIDE TO HIKING IN COLOMBIA
\\ An Overview of Hiking in Colombia
Below is everything an adventure traveler needs to know about hiking in Colombia, including the best times to hike, overall safety and Colombia's various regions - each of which is of course full of exciting adventures.
THE BEST TIMES TO HIKE IN COLOMBIA
In our experience, the month of February was one of the best times to head out for a hike in the Andes mountains as well as along the coasts. During this time of year you can still expect a bit of rain, but overall, you are more likely to have sunny skies and nice temperatures.
Another good option when looking at the best time of year to hike in Colombia is the months of August (especially late August) and September. Both of these months are kind of the shoulder season so you can also expect relatively warm temperatures and less rain overall. Plus, unlike in February when crowds can still be quite high after the holidays, you can expect far fewer people on the trails during these two months.
☁ RAINY SEASON: April - May and October - November
☼ DRY SEASON: December - January and July - August
HOW TO NAVIGATE COLOMBIA'S HIKING TRAILS
Overall, we would say navigating the hiking trails in Colombia is pretty easy. For the most part, the trails will be well-marked and well-trodden, especially in the popular national parks like Los Nevados and Tayrona.
But with that being said, we would still recommend having some form of offline map with you when heading out on the trail, especially if you are doing it without a guide (more on that below). There are a couple of offline map options available, including some of our favorites maps.me and Gaia GPS. Both of these mapping apps can be downloaded ahead of time and both tend to be pretty accurate for hiking trails (Gaia GPS is especially good at tracking backcountry hiking trails in Colombia).
When we decided to hike in Los Nevados National Park for four days without a guide we made sure to have our route planned and downloaded on the two apps above as well as on another adventure tracking app Komoot (which was recommended to us by a Colombian friend). All three maps helped guide us along the trail, especially in the areas where the trail was somewhat hard to follow due to mud and overgrowth.
❔ GOOD TO KNOW: there is also the option to use the popular hiking app Alltrails while exploring Colombia. We tend to use this app while exploring the United States but found that it was a pretty solid mapping option in South America too.
HIKING IN COLOMBIA | IS IT SAFE?
Safety is usually the biggest concern when heading out on a hiking trip - no matter where you are. And in Colombia, a place with a history of being unsafe, that fear only multiplies. So let us be the first to tell you: Colombia is incredibly safe - especially out in the wilderness (including in the mountains and along the coasts). In fact, we found ourselves feeling more safe hiking around the high mountains of Central Colombia (in Los Nevados National Park specifically) than we sometimes did back in the USA.
Below are some of the biggest safety concerns that you need to be aware of when planning to hike in Colombia:
If you are planning to do a hike up in the high Andes mountains it is quite likely that you will reach some pretty high elevations. Therefore it is important to know how to deal with adventuring at higher elevations - most importantly, how to recognize signs of altitude sickness and how to help someone (and yourself) if you do start to feel sick while at higher elevations.
The most common signs of altitude sickness are: headache, feeling sick (nausea) and being sick (throwing up), dizziness, extreme tiredness, loss of appetite and shortness of breath. These symptoms, though possible during the day, usually are worse at night. Some of the best ways to counteract altitude sickness - which can occur anytime you spend a decent amount of time above 2400 meters (7,800+ feet) - is to slow down and focus on acclimating (especially if coming from much lower elevations, like the coasts in Colombia), to drink lots of water, to avoid climbing more than 500 meters (1,640 feet) in one day (especially in the beginning), and to eat higher calorie but lighter meals.
💬 INSIDER TIP: even though the two of us have spent years hiking around at higher elevations, both of us experienced pretty bad altitude sickness while hiking in Colombia. Seriously, even if you feel like your body is prepared for adventuring around at higher elevations, you still need to be aware of the symptoms and dangers of altitude sickness. Because nothing sucks worse than having to hike with a massive headache.
WEATHER AND WILDLIFE
The weather can change really quickly in Colombia - from warm and sunny one minute to a full blown downpour the next. Depending on where you are planning to hike, the dangers from weather can range from blistering hot heat that can cause heat stroke to dense fog that hinders your ability to find your way on the trail.
While it can sometimes be tough to plan for every type of weather, we would say a good rule of thumb is to plan for the worst case scenario and to take steps to counteract any possible negative weather. Here is what we mean: if planning to hike in the hot, humid Caribbean region (like the Lost City Trek) you will likely want to head out nice and early to beat the worst of the heat. You will also want to wear loose, breathable clothing that protects you from the sun's harmful rays but isn't stifling hot. Now, if you are instead planning to hike in the mountains, especially at higher elevations, make sure to bring good rain gear (a rain jacket, a cover for your backpack, etc.) and warm clothes for at night (it gets quite cold). Also, in the higher elevations the fog can be quite intense - to the point where you can easily get disoriented, therefore make sure to give yourself enough time to finish the hike in the daylight (night only makes this worse) and to have a good offline map with you (see our recommendations above).
In terms of wildlife, the most dangerous animals are not the big carnivores like bears and mountain lions (both of which are found in Colombia) but instead are quite a bit smaller and harder to see. For example, one of the most dangerous animals is the equis snake (aka the fer de lance). This venomous snake is found throughout the country and is known to often live near people (because that is where rodents live, which is its main source of food). Obviously, fear of this snake shouldn't keep you from hiking, but it is important to note that it is relatively common and sometimes deadly. Other dangerous animals that you might come across on the trail are poison dart frogs, scorpions, and spiders. While this might seem a bit nerve0-wracking, just know that in most cases, as long as you are smart and are aware of your surroundings, you should be fine and totally safe.
HIKING WITH OR WITHOUT A GUIDE | WHAT TO KNOW
By far one of the most common questions about hiking and trekking in Colombia is whether you can do it with or without a guide. The answer? It totally depends on where you are going (some hiking routes require a guide), how comfortable you are with the terrain and whether you yourself would feel more comfortable having a guide with you.
For us, two people who grew up hiking in the mountains of Colorado, we usually steer clear of going on guided hikes just because we like the freedom to choose how far we go, what speed we go at, etc. But with that being said, there are obviously some instances where we even find ourselves seeking out a guide for a specific adventure and hike.
For example, when we spent a week along Colombia's Pacific Coast we headed out on two guided hikes: one to El Tigre Waterfall and one on a night hike in the jungle. In both instances we were so glad we got a guide because a) it is quite likely that we wouldn't have been able to find and follow the trails on our own and b) we really enjoyed having someone tell us the history of the area and about the various animals and plants we were seeing along the way.
So the question of whether or not you need a guide usually comes down to what kind of experience you yourself want to have. Do you want to have the freedom to totally plan your own route, your own meals and your own itinerary or do you want to have someone do that for you? Do you want to learn more about the landscape from someone who knows it like the back of their hand or would you rather just walk through it and learn about the animals and plants later (or not at all)? Finally, do you think you are prepared and skilled enough to do these hikes (especially multi-day treks) without a guide, especially in a foreign land and likely in a totally different landscape?
Having a guide with you can be a lot of fun and a great way to learn about the various landscapes and biodiversity. We personally have enjoyed all of the guided hikes we have done and while we are still very much independent adventurers we are starting to understand the appeal of going on guided hikes.
OTHER THINGS TO CONSIDER WITH GUIDES
Choosing whether or not to hike with a guide isn't always an easy decision. Here are three more things to consider:
The Cost | Some guiding services can be quite expensive, especially if the hike is multiple days and includes lodging and food. Figuring out the cost of a guide vs what you would pay if you did it solo is a great way to make a decision (in our opinion).
The Gear | Are you planning to bring all of your outdoor hiking gear with you to Colombia? Maybe... maybe not. Another thing to consider when deciding whether to get a guide or not is whether you will need specific gear for the hike. Sometimes finding outdoor gear can be tough and relatively expensive, whereas a guiding service will have all of the stuff you need with them.
The Planning | Finally, the last thing you need to consider is whether you want to do all of the adventure planning yourself (including buying food, finding transportation and lodging, etc.) or have a professional do it for you. In our case, we actually enjoy the planning part so this is not an issue, but we totally understand that for other people this can be one of the toughest parts. If you don't want the stress, consider getting a guide.
COLOMBIA’S DIFFERENT LANDSCAPES AND REGIONS
THE ANDEAN REGION
This region covers the three branches of the Andes mountains found in Colombia (these are known as cordilleras): the Cordillera Occidental (western), the Cordillera Central (middle) and the Cordillera Oriental (eastern). This region is fantastic for hiking and trekking, coffee tasting, culture and history. Some of the most famous hiking areas are Los Nevados National Natural Park (home of the famous Valle de Cocora), El Cocuy National Natural Park, Chingaza National Natural Park and the area around San Gil and the capital city Bogota.
THE CARIBBEAN REGION (CARIBE)
This hot and humid region covers the area adjacent to the Caribbean Sea in the northern part of the country. This region is great for hanging out on colorful beaches, exploring the local marine life and partaking in various water activities (like snorkeling and scuba diving), learning about Colombia's turbulent history and heading out on some beautiful hiking trails. The most famous areas to hike in the Caribbean Region are Tayrona National Natural Park and the famous Lost City/Ciudad Perdida trek, both of which are located near the town of Santa Marta.
THE ORINOQUIA REGION
This region is part of the Llanos or plains landscape and is mainly located in the Orinoco river basin along the border with Venezuela. This lesser-known region is perfect for people interested in archeology and history, nature - the famous Cano Cristales river (or River of 5 Colors) is located here - swimming and waterfall spotting. Some of the most popular hiking areas are El Tuparro National Natural Park and Tinigua National Natural Park.
THE AMAZON REGION (AMAZONIA)
As the largest region in the country - it covers around 35% of Colombia - the Amazonia region is obviously part of the vibrant Amazon rainforest and home to some beautiful landscapes and lots of wildlife. The Amazonia region is awesome for wildlife spotting, nature-focused excursions and learning more about the country's indigenous tribes. For the most part, the majority of hiking will be done from the town of Leticia, which is located a riverboat ride away from Amacayacu National Natural Park.
❔ GOOD TO KNOW: another somewhat well-known hiking area is in the far northern part of the Amazon near the town of Inírida. The Cerros de Mavecure are three massive rocks that stick out of the dense jungle. While you likely cannot reach Inírida from Leticia you can from Bogota. You can read more about this unique and crazy landscape below.
THE INSULAR REGION
This lesser-known Colombian region is comprised of the islands in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, most notably the islands of San Andres and Providencia. This tropical region is great for water activities, relaxing on the beach and exploring the various cultures. While there are not a ton of trails on these islands, there are a couple of shorter walks that take you through the vibrant island landscape - including one up to the top of a small peak that affords you great views of the island and the surrounding ocean.
THE PACIFIC REGION (EL PACIFICO)
Colombia's other coastal region covers the area on the west side of the country along the rugged and rainy Pacific Coast. This region is awesome for animal watching, off the beaten path adventures, jungle hiking and relaxation. Due to this regions rugged landscape, most of the hiking is done either along the coast (near towns such as Bahia Solano, El Valle or Nuqui) or in the inland region off of the major rivers.
Former Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos once said, "biodiversity is to Colombia, what oil is for the Arabs". And after looking at how biologically rich this country is, you might also agree. Luckily, for the most part, the country is trying to preserve its rich biodiversity in national parks, reserves and other protected areas.
Just to give you an idea, Colombia is...
1st in the number of orchids, birds and butterflies
1st in the amount of rain - aka Colombia is the rainiest country in the world
2nd in overall biodiversity (behind Brazil, a country 10x its size)
2nd in the number of plants, amphibians and freshwater fish
3rd in the number of palm trees and reptiles (it is also home to the largest palm tree in the world, the wax palm)
6th in number of mammals
Colombia is home to roughly 63,000 different species, and of those 14% are endemic (aka only found in Colombia). The country is also one of 17 megadiverse countries in the world. A designation given to other countries like China, India, Australia, and the USA.
Many of the best hiking trails in Colombia will give you a great chance to see this biodiversity in person, including many of the country's colorful birds (like toucans and parrots), unique plant life (including frailejones) and various mammals (like tapirs).
EXPLORE MORE | FINDING A BIRDER'S PARADISE IN RIO BLANCO: WHAT TRAVELERS NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THIS NATURE RESERVE
THE BEST GEAR FOR HIKING IN COLOMBIA
Due to Colombia’s highly diverse landscapes, which includes everything from humid, Caribbean coastlines to one of the rainiest places on Earth, you need to make sure to pack items for almost all types of climates.
While this might seem like a lot, for the most part, you can get away with good, hardy basics. Below is a basic list of items to pack for a full-country adventure tour of Colombia:
| A rain jacket (we promise this will come in handy no matter where you are in the country; but more specifically if you are looking to explore the Coffee Region - Salento, Cocora Valley - or the Pacific Coast). This women's option is great.
| A light sweater, this is especially nice for nights spent high up in the Andean region. This men's sweater looks especially cozy.
| Moisture-wicking shirts, both long and short sleeved. You will be thankful you have these in the Amazon and along the Caribbean Coast (especially while hiking in Tayrona).
| A few pairs of active shorts, especially ones you don't mind getting wet or muddy. These lightweight women's shorts are perfect.
| A couple of pairs of warm pants or tights, for it can get quite chilly in places like Bogota and the Coffee Region.
| Sandals for those moments after you finish hiking for the day (your feet will thank you). These sandals pack down nicely and can easily be shoved in a backpack.
| Sturdy boots that can handle mud (because there is always mud) and slick trails, perks if they are waterproof.
| Bug spray, which is especially needed if you are planning to explore the Amazon and the Pacific Coast.
| Sunblock, even better if it is environmentally safe.
| A hiking backpack that is at least 30 liters in size. We have always used Deuter bags and can't recommend them enough (seriously, they withstand everything).
| A dry bag or something similar; it doesn