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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.