LEARN MORE ABOUT OUR OWN PERSONAL EXPERIENCE TREKKING THROUGH LOS NEVADOS NATIONAL PARK FOR FOUR DAYS WITHOUT A GUIDE.
We didn’t know exactly what to expect from trekking in Los Nevados National Park in central Colombia. Even though we have had plenty of experience backpacking and hiking in numerous other national parks - mostly in the USA - we didn’t know if Los Nevados would be set up the same way. In the end, Los Nevados was definitely not like the national parks we had explored before. But in a way, that almost made it more special.
Here is a quick rundown of our own personal experience trekking in Los Nevados National Park, and some of the things we learned along the trail that might be helpful for other adventurers looking to explore the national park themselves.
TREKKING IN LOS NEVADOS NATIONAL PARK
First a disclaimer: this article is very much going to be about our own personal experience trekking in Los Nevados, so if you are instead just looking to find out more about trekking and hiking in the park in general - including information on entrance fees, guides and where to go - we suggest checking out our article, “The Ultimate Guide to Trekking in Los Nevados National Park”.
When we decided to slow travel in Armenia, a city located in central Colombia in the department of Quindío, we knew we wanted to spend a couple of days exploring the nearby national park of Los Nevados. The only problem was we didn’t know really anything about the national park, including any regulations or rules we needed to follow, and more importantly, if there were actually any trails for us to explore.
In the past, we have visited national parks in various countries that didn’t really have much to offer in terms of established trails, routes and maps. We definitely expected Los Nevados to be similarly set up. Luckily, we were mostly wrong.
Los Nevados is actually a relatively popular national park for people to explore, often on their own two feet. And if you stick to the lower elevations of the park you can easily find some established trails that will take you to waterfalls, fincas (farms) and viewpoints.
Once we figured all of that out, our route planning went into overdrive. We were looking at all kinds of maps, studying the terrain and deciding on what biomes we exactly wanted to see. In the end, we decided to explore the dense lowland forests, the paramo, and, if we were feeling really good, maybe even head up into the super paramo - a biome that reminded us strongly of Mars.
INSIDER TIP: we found the apps Komoot and Gaia to be the best places to figure out our route. Plus, you can download the Los Nevados National Park area on both apps so you have access to the map even when you are offline.
One thing you need to know is that there are a surprisingly high number of route options to do within the park. It really all depends on how long you want to trek, your fitness level and what you want to see.
For us, we knew we had four days to trek, we knew our fitness levels were pretty high and we knew we wanted to see the paramo biome because it just looked so foreign to us (plus maybe some tapirs). Therefore we decided to hike from Cocora Valley near Salento to El Cedral near Pereira with a quick stop-off at the super paramo biome near Laguna La Leona.
\\ Our Route
Start: Cocora Valley
End: El Cedral
Distance: ~ 29 miles/42 Kilometers
Time: 4 days
Day 1 | Cocora Valley - Finca Argentina
The hike out of Cocora Valley is very well-marked but also very steep. Much of it is through the thick forest, which makes it a great spot to spot numerous birds (the park is famous for its high number of bird species) and maybe even a mammal or two (this biome is home to tapirs, spectacled bears and mountain lions).
INSIDER TIP: in Cocora Valley you will likely have to check in with the national park rangers. They will ask you for information on your route, how many days you plan to be in the park and if you have the right gear. Read more about the national park regulations here.
To start the hike, keep walking on the road out of Cocora Valley until you reach the river. From there walk about five meters up the bank until you see a wooden bridge. Once across the bridge, turn right onto a singletrack trail (not left onto the wide road). This is the trail you will take for the rest of the day.
EXPLORE MORE | EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT HIKING IN COCORA VALLEY
The dirt trail winds its way through the forest and mostly along the Quindio River. There will be a few more river crossings in the first couple of kilometers but all of them will have a bridge or log to use (if you don’t see one right away keep walking up the bank).
This trail does eventually reach a point where it gets quite steep and slightly eroded out. As long as it hasn’t rained too much previously it will be passable, just slightly more challenging. This is also where you might see some of the locals riding their horses either back up to their fincas, or down to town.
Altogether, the hike from Cocora Valley to Finca Argentina is just over 5 miles long (8 kilometers) but climbs 3,175 feet in elevation (968 meters). Even though it is a relatively short distance it is definitely tough. Be prepared for steep inclines and mud. Also, it is important to point out that you are hiking at elevation: the trail starts at 8,240 feet and ends at 11,261 feet up at the finca. Therefore make sure to bring plenty of water, take your time and if you start to feel sick (headachy, dizzy, nauseous) consider heading back down to lower elevations.
We showed up to Finca Argentina just as the sun was starting to set so we were very happy to be invited in for a nice hot tinto (coffee with panela/sugar) and some dinner. And, even though we had a tent with us, we decided to spend the night in one of their dorm rooms instead (the main dorm room held 8-10 bunk beds).
Altogether spending the night at the finca cost us 25,000 COP for the bed and 12,000 COP each for dinner.
DAY 1: 5.66 miles (9.10 meters), 3,325 feet (1,013 meters) gained, 150 feet (46 meters) lost
Day 2 | Finca Argentina - Laguna La Leona
This day was by far the most challenging. While we already started at over 11,000 feet, we ended up climbing up to over 15,000 feet (or about 4,225 feet/1,287 meters uphill). Even though the distance wasn’t crazy long, by the time we reached Laguna La Leona, where we planned to camp for the night, we were absolutely exhausted.
Now to be fair, we decided to take a more circumnavigate route to the top of Paramillo del Quindío (a popular destination and a great spot to see the super paramo biome), instead of the more straightforward route of sticking to the valley and then climbing up the scree field to the top.
From Finca Argentina you will first head up to Finca Buenos Aires, which was empty when we were there except for a couple of chill dogs and a very friendly cat. Now this cat, which we nicknamed Tinto, will likely follow you for the next hour or so, even when you start to hike up and away from the finca. While we eventually started to get worried Tinto wouldn't be able to find his way home after hiking for an hour or so, we found out later this cat is a real heart breaker and likes to follow trekkers for a while (crying the whole time) before speeding away back home.
Once you pass Finca Buenos Aires you will still have a trail to follow but it will begin to peter out and become more of a cow path. This is when having a downloaded or offline map is very handy.
Similarly, about half a kilometer up from Finca Buenos Aires you will reach the edge of the paramo biome. Now is the time to say goodbye to the thick forest until you reach it once again on your way back down to El Cedral.
Now, the paramo biome is very interesting. The main plant in the biome are frailejones, which look like a mix between a desert yucca like the ones you would find in the American Southwest, and an alien spaceship. You will begin to see hundreds of them all over the landscape. And for the most part, they will be the only plant you see until you reach the bosque (forest) once again.
INSIDER TIP: if you don’t want to keep climbing and instead want to stick to a more level trail, consider changing course and instead head towards Finca Berlin, which sits just over a ridge from Finca Buenos Aires.
From the top of the first ridge past the finca you can actually see your end goal: Paramillo del Quindio, an epic, colorful-looking mountain at the end of the valley.
While it looks like a colorful, striped mountain, the Paramillo del Quindio is actually an ancient volcano that erupted and became a crater. And once you get to the top and start to look around the ridge, you can clearly see evidence of past volcanic activity. The landscape at the top is totally otherworldly and incredibly beautiful. If you have the physical skill and the energy we highly (highly) recommend making this your ultimate goal.
EXPLORE MORE | THE BEST NATIONAL PARKS IN COLOMBIA
Once you reach the top of the Paramillo del Quindio you will be able to see Laguna La Leona down in the valley below. While it looks close, due to the rough landscape, expect it to take another hour at least to reach the lakes edge.
The trail down mainly follows a dried-out wash, which does eventually lead you to a stream that has super clean water available for drinking. Once you reach the stream, you have to mostly bushwhack until you reach the lake itself (be aware that it is a bit soggy in places).
We ended up camping about 200 feet from the edge of the lake on a nice flat spot near a small stream. One of the best things about this area of the park, is that even though the lake and the surrounding area are absolutely beautiful, you likely will be alone. Actually, once we left Finca Argentina we didn’t see another human until midday on Day 3.