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.
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.
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.
DAY 2: 8.17 miles (13.1 kilometers), 3,950 feet (1,203 meters) gained, 2,025 feet (617 meters) lost
Day 3 | Laguna La Leona - Finca El Jordan
We woke up after a very restless night at Laguna La Leona to see all the mountains around us glowing in the early morning sun.
Even though we got almost no sleep on night two due to the incredibly uncomfortable cold temperature, we left Laguna La Leona ready to take on another beautiful day in the mountains. The only problem was, we couldn’t find the trail.
After scouring the hillside next to the lake (where our offline map said the trail was) we figured the trail either never existed or was now completely overgrown due to lack of use. Either way, we were on our own in finding a suitable route around the lake and down towards the next valley which hopefully would be a bit easier to hike through.
An hour or so later we finally found a somewhat clear trail (with lots of cow hoofprints). Once we reached that we started moving much quicker. Which was good because by mid-morning Madalyne was starting to feel pretty sick, likely due to a mix of the high altitude (we camped at just over 13,000 feet/3,962 meters) and the lack of sleep. Luckily, most of the trail would be either flat or downhill and hopefully pretty clear to follow from there on out.
INSIDER TIP: along the way from Laguna La Leona and Laguna Negra, the next large body of water on the trail, make sure to stop off at Piedra Perez, a massive rock outcropping that is home to wild parakeets.
Eventually, you will leave the paramo biome and head back into a more lush, green environment. This is also where you will likely see your next human settlement: Finca Bocaseca.
The trail crosses the fincas property, before climbing up a hill and then dropping back down into a large, lush valley. Keep following the singletrack trail as it makes its way through the forest. By now it is all downhill and pretty easy going.
Soon enough you will start to see more fincas and people, not to mention lots of cows and horses. This valley is also a great spot to see birds and even tapirs.
You will eventually reach the main trail (it is clearly much wider and more used than the other trails), which follows the Quebada River. This is the trail you will take all the way out to El Cedral.
Finca El Jordan, which might just be the prettiest place on Earth, is located along the river. We definitely recommend staying here on your third night. There are nice beds, hot showers, and an absolutely stunning view of a double waterfall. Plus, the woman who runs the finca is very nice and makes a mean tinto. Cannot recommend this spot enough.
But maybe one of the best things about Finca El Jordan, besides the stunning view of a double waterfall (see above), is the high chance of seeing wild tapirs. For the best opportunity to spot the somewhat awkward looking ungulates, make sure to scan the surrounding hillsides just around dusk and dawn. While we were staying at the finca we saw a pair of tapirs slowly making their way across a large meadow about 300 yards away.
GOOD TO KNOW: it cost each of us 35,000 COP to stay at Finca El Jordan: 20,000 COP for a bed and 15,000 COP for breakfast (we made our own dinner).
DAY 3: 6 miles (9.65 kilometers), 2,825 feet (861 meters) lost
Day 4 | Finca El Jordan - El Cedral
On the morning of our last day in Los Nevados National Park we woke up to a blanket of fog over the surrounding lush green mountains. The double waterfall behind the finca was now barely visible, as were the two tapirs, which we had first observed the night before.
We sat around the small, warm kitchen with a group of other travelers that had arrived not long after us. Between bites of fresh homemade cheese, toasty arepas and scrambled eggs we talked about each of our experiences in the national park and why it was so surprising that we had not seen any other trekkers.
Because, though Los Nevados National Park is the third most popular in Colombia, it still doesn’t see nearly as many travelers and trekkers as you’d expect. The northern part of the park near Nevado del Ruiz is said to be more popular with tourists, but even then we expect it to be nowhere near as high as the national parks we have visited in the USA (cough Yosemite and Rocky Mountain National Park).
We left Finca El Jordan with mixed emotions. On one hand we were excited to reach the end and finally be done carrying our heavy backpacks - not to mention get a nice helping of fresh fruit - but on the other hand we weren’t ready to be out of the mountains. We knew once we made it back to town we would surely miss the fresh air, the scenery, and the incredible landscapes.
But in the end, we had to almost sprint down the trail in order to make the 11:30 bus back to Pereira (the bus only comes at 11:30 and 3:30). Which, in our opinion, was a somewhat lame way to finish our experience in the mountains.
INSIDER TIP: the final stretch of the trail is quite muddy and even becomes a bit of a stream in some parts. Be prepared to slip and slide on the way down.
We made it to the trailhead in El Cedral at 11:22 and already saw the chiva bus waiting for us. In no time at all, we pulled off our backpacks, ordered a quick tinto at the small café and hopped on the bus. An hour and a half later we were pulling into the bustling metropolis of Pereira.
DAY 4: 7.22 miles (11.6 kilometers), 3,525 feet/1,074 meters lost
By the time we made it back to our apartment in Armenia we were absolutely exhausted. Our hips, knees and calves were super sore from all the climbing, while our shoulders were in knots from carrying the heavy backpacks.
But did we regret the adventure? Of course not. Even when the trail was super tough we still enjoyed every second of our time in Los Nevados National Park and we 100% would do a similar trek again.
If you are looking for a true outdoor adventure then we cannot recommend trekking in Los Nevados National Park enough. The scenery is absolutely incredible, while the ability to just get away from everything and focus on being present in nature is super nice. While we have trekked in many other national parks we honestly left Los Nevados feeling like this park truly was one of the best. And the fact that it is so devoid of travelers and tourists (and frankly any infrastructure) in our opinion only makes it even more special.
\\ Good to Know
| While we didn’t have to deal with any rain, we have heard that is usually not the case. Therefore make sure to bring some sort of rain protection gear for you and your bag (trash bags work great in a pinch).
| If camping, make sure to bring cold weather-approved gear (especially sleeping bags and pads). We camped up at 13,000 feet and it got very (very) cold at night.
| Or if you have the funds, consider staying at the fincas. You will not only lighten your load by not carrying camping gear, but you will also get to meet and talk to locals that call the park home (and sometimes other trekkers).
| You do not need to bring a water filter with you (we didn’t). Instead, just make sure to fill up at the fincas and/or drink the water that is coming down directly from the glaciers above. The water you will see is super clean and as long as you are smart about where you are getting it from you shouldn’t have an issue.
| Wear proper footwear. Seriously, the trails are muddy, especially in the lower elevations. Be prepared to get your shoes wet and slip and slide around on some of the rocky areas.
LIKED IT? PIN IT!
READ OUR OTHER COLOMBIA GUIDES
LOS NEVADOS NATIONAL PARK | Everything to Know About Trekking Without a Guide
SALENTO | Ultimate Guide to this Amazing Mountain Town
COCORA VALLEY LOOP | Everything You Need to Know About Hiking the Loop
FILANDIA | Why You Need to Add this Town to Your Must-Visit List
CARTAGENA | Ultimate Guide to this Colorful, Caribbean City
GETTING AROUND COLOMBIA | How to Ride the Buses of Colombia
WHY WE CHOSE TO SLOW TRAVEL IN COLOMBIA | And Why You Should Too!
WHAT IS SLOW TRAVEL | Everything You Need to Know (+ Simple Tips)
HOW TO BE A MORE SUSTAINABLE TRAVELER | Simple Ways to Be a More Environmentally Friendly Traveler
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