HERE IS A QUICK GUIDE ON EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT BACKPACKING SOLO (WITHOUT A GUIDE) IN THE STUNNING LOS NEVADOS NATIONAL PARK IN CENTRAL COLOMBIA.
We believe there are few things in life better than setting off on an adventure in a place you really don’t know much about. The excitement of pure exploration is completely palpable. That is why we were super excited to explore the magical Los Nevados National Park in central Colombia.
Home to mammoth mountains, crazy flora, and some of the last tropical glaciers in the world, Los Nevados National Park (also known as Los Nevados National Natural Park) is just teeming with incredible adventures. So if you are curious to learn more about how to explore the park on your own (aka without a guide), then you have come to the right place.
EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT SOLO TREKKING IN LOS NEVADOS NP
\\ Where is Los Nevados National Park
Los Nevados National Park or Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados covers 583 square kilometers and is divided between four different districts of Colombia: Quindio, Risaralda, Caldas and Tolima. Because of its size, there are numerous entrances to the park; including, from the famous Cocora Valley near Salento, El Cedral near Pereira, Juntas near Ibague and the Brisas Sector near Manizales.
But the Brisas Sector, which is located in the northern section of the park, is currently only open until the Valle de las Tumbas area due to Nevado del Ruiz's high volcanic activity (the Servicio Geológico Colombiano has declared it at Yellow Alert Level or Level III).
Otherwise, from the other main entrances to the park, you have the ability to hike in as far as you want.
\\ How to Get to Los Nevados National Park
The most common way to reach the park, especially if you are looking to hike by yourself and/or are not looking to explore Nevado del Ruiz, is to start in either Cocora Valley near Salento or at El Cedral near Pereira.
To start, take a Willy from the square in Salento, which costs 4000 COP per person for one-way (just tell them you are only going one way at the ticket booth), once in Cocora Valley you will likely have to check in with the National Park rangers. After that, simply make your way up the dirt road, past the second entrance to Cocora Valley until you reach the river.
When you get to the river, go to the right down a little trail (about 5 meters) until you find a wooden bridge about. You will know you are at the right spot when you see a large national park sign across the water.
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Start by hopping on a chiva (a large colorful wooden bus) from downtown Pereira. The main stop is here (the stop is right across from a large Exito supermarket).
The chiva will take you up to the trailhead at El Cedral. It will cost 5500 COP per person and take about 1-1.5 hours. At the trailhead (here), there is a small café selling food, a store, and a hostel. There is also a national park building - though there was no one there when we arrived.
💬 INSIDER TIP: the chiva leaves at 11:30 AM and 3:30 PM from the trailhead at El Cedral.
Another option - though one that is way less common - is to enter from the town of Juntas near Ibague. We have personally never made it to this entrance, but we have done a fair amount of research on it for it is one of the closest entrances to reach Nevado el Tolima (the closest volcano to Salento) as well as Termales de Canon, a beautiful natural hot spring at the base of Tolima.
\\ Why Visit Los Nevados National Park
Los Nevados is not only a beautiful national park, but also one that is incredibly important to Colombia and the rest of the world.
Within the park, glaciers occupy 4% of the area and belong to the three main volcanoes: Nevado del Ruiz (the highly active one), Nevado de Santa Isabel and Nevado del Tolima. The waters from these glaciers feed the rivers that originate within the park. In total, there are 10 basins and 19 streams of different sizes and characteristics. Of the ten basins, six flow into the large Magdalena River watershed and the remaining four flow into the Cauca River watershed.
The park's rivers supply water for 2 million inhabitants in the region, including coffee, rice and cotton crops in the surrounding departments.
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Similarly, the Otún wetland system, found near the central area of the park, was declared an internationally important wetland by the Ramsar Convention in 2008.
Now that is just the importance of the glaciers and water within the park. Similarly, within Los Nevados you can also find many unique and often endemic plants and animals. Including plants such as, the highly popular wax palm, which is found at lower altitudes (especially in Cocora Valley), and the frailejones, a somewhat comedic-looking plant that grows in the páramo biome (see photo below).
In terms of animals, you might also have the opportunity to see yellow-eared parrots, Fuertes's parrots, rufous-fronted parakeets, Andean condors, mountain tapirs, spectacled bears, northern pudús (the world’s smallest deer), cougars and white-eared opossums. And if you are really lucky, you might catch a glimpse of a buffy helmet-crest hummingbird, which can only be found in the páramo region of the park.
Finally, and this should really go without saying, the park is 100% worth exploring because it is just drop-dead beautiful. For much of the trek, you will likely be entirely alone out in the wide expanses of the páramo, a biome that feels like an alien planet, or making your way