How to do Cocuy in Colombia


 

Photo by Mario Nigrinis

Happy new year! Man, this is terrible! Seeing my last post reminds me that I haven’t posted anything for 4 months! The main reason is that OneChineseInColombia has been travelling quite a bit in Latin America. I only hope your holiday was as great as mine!

I have found Bogotá rather hot since I got back from Cocuy this week, perhaps because of the near-zero degree celsius conditions there.

Cocuy is an amazing place that deserves a visit from every single Colombian. It shouldn’t be a destination reserved for foreigners. Many places in Colombia have been visited by mostly foreigners and not Colombians until recently because of the country’s sad historical violent past. Actually when we went I was glad to see many locals braving the new terrain of their own country.

The bottomline is, just go. Its beauty certainly doesn’t need any elaborate description from me and no writing will do it justice anyway.

What I can do though, is share my personal experience so you can enjoy the trip as much as possible. I’m going through this starting with accommodation and gear because these are the two things you need to get right to make it a palatable trip. The real problem is dealing with the cold in Cocuy so once you sort these two out you’ll be fine.

ACCOMMODATION

I went for camping, which I don’t recommend because it’s just so f*cking cold that you need a shelter!! Stay at Sisuma. I had to stay at Herrera, which means doing 2 extra hours per day if you do day hikes from Herrera. Do day hikes from Sisuma will save you a great deal of legwork.

GEAR

If you really insist on camping, bring a subzero sleeping bag, and wear 2-3 layers of trousers. I had 4 layers on including 2 thermal tops and 1 fleece so my body was warm, but my legs only had 1 pair of thermal and definitely suffered from the cold that crept up on them throughout the whole night. Needless to say, gloves, wooly hats and wooly socks will be essential.

If you sleep this way, you may be warm enough, but that still doesn’t solve the problem of helada conditions in the páramo (very high lands) of Cocuy – which means you will wake up with a completely frosted tent. That makes the tent very difficult to pack and it will definitely weigh you down. So yeah, I strongly recommend going for the cabins.

For the sun, it’s good to bring a neck gaiter or a thin scarf for to cover up your neck/bottom of your face to brace the high altitude sun.

ROUTE

Go to the eponymous town El Cocuy, not Guican, if you want a more scenic hike. Guican is all about going to Ritacuba Blanco, the dramatic snowcapped peak. It’s a quick way to get to the snowline, so for those whose objective is to touch snow, it’s a good choice.

From the quiet town of El Cocuy, you will take a 1 hour ride to Herrera campsite and from there it’s an easy and beautiful hike to see Lagunillas, the little lakes (a 5-hour return hike). I suggest doing day hikes while based in Sisuma because it’s much easier, unless you want to rough it. Alternatively, you could do a trip that takes you to Laguna Grande on the second day, finishes off with the Valle de Frailejones and then ends at La Esperanza campsite. We were planning to do this but Cocuy’s high altitude condition is just too cold and brutal. We barely got through the camping conditions of a civilised campsite at 4,000m and we couldn’t imagine camping elsewhere that’s even colder and wilder at 4,500m.

ACCLIMATISING

If you are not a highlander it’s necessary to spend at least 3 days up there at 4,000 before your hike to get used to the altitude, successfully do the hikes and get most bang for your buck. My friend was in Bogotá (2,600m) the night before, then Herrera (4,000m) the next day, but she couldn’t get pass 4,300m during her first hike because of high altitude symptoms, which means she didn’t hike up to Pan de Azucar. If this is your goal then make sure you get 3 days of high altitude in your system well beforehand.

FOOD

I didn’t want to be eating Colombian food every day, like changua or potato soup for breakfast, so I brought my own food. They say that carbs help you get over the high altitude. I had porridge and banana for breakfast which was amazing for the freezing temperatures. Lunch was peanut butter, cheese or tuna sandwich. Dinner was pasta with spinach with powdered asparagus soup for the sauce. Basically comfort food that will get you going!

WHEN TO GO

Apparently December – February are the best months of the year because of the clear sky and dry conditions. This was true last weekend. I can’t imagine how much worse it could have been with rain and shit. Try to go during this time to guarantee great views and pics.

HOW TO GET THERE

Like many things in Colombia, the way to get there is not entirely straight forward if not somewhat encrypted.. You may have to buy tickets in advance at La Terminal Salitre from Fundadores (also called Paz De Rio) or Libertadores. This is a pain because the bus terminal is near to the airport. Or you can risk it and go 1 hour in advance as they have a few buses at each scheduled departure. The bus was found between modulo 2 and 3, at gate 117. I took the 8.20 pm bus and arrived in El Cocuy by 5.40 am, which was perfect to register with the park office, get gear and then head to the Park.

It’s essential to buy your return bus tickets upon arrival in town. Tickets are sold at Garcela, a shop next to Café Pulpito where the buses drop off. We booked the last seats on the 5.05 pm bus to get back to Bogotá for the last day of a long weekend. Ask your agent to get the return tickets for you well in advance. There’s nothing to do in the town so the 5pm bus will be perfect, arriving in Bogotá at 3am the next day for work.. Otherwise there’s also a bus at 8pm though it was a bit too late for me..

Before setting off to the wilderness, I suggest going to Posada del Molino, a bed & breakfast for their good COP 9,000 breakfast (fresh fruits, eggs & hot choc) and internet access. I also spent the afternoon there while waiting for the return bus ride.
REFERENCES

I found this website very useful to know the route.

When I got back, I found this good to know what to pack. Use Google Translator if needed..

I worked with Wilson +57 311 255 1034 & Luz +57 310 294 9808 to get transport/guide/gear separately. It depends how many people share the costs – the four of us went and it was about COP 400.000. A guide can take up to 6 people.

Alternatively it could be easier to work directly with the Sisuma people who will give you a slightly more expensive package at COP 500.000 peak season price.

Official Cocuy site by the government

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9 comments

  1. Very informative!

    1. Thanks! Any additional comments are welcome!

  2. This is great information! I thought you had to do a multi day camping trip and didn’t realise it was possible to do day hikes from a base to experience Cocuy.

    Colombia truly has so many incredible places to visit and after our Christmas holidays got derailed at the airport we took a road trip through southern Colombia. The little-visited ancient tombs at Tierradentro are astonishing and Sanctuary Las Lajas is stepping into a fairy tale.

    1. Hi ALittleCameo, thanks for your comments! Yes! The thought of being in the middle of no way 4,000m above sea level is really daunting! It’s much more tourist-friendly to go for a 3-day long weekend..! Actually that reminds me to add insider info on ‘how to get there’..
      I can’t believe you went to Tierradentro! I heard from my Colombian friends that that area is still not entirely safe? I can’t wait to see a post on that!

      1. Really? We certainly didn’t get that vibe. I thought the main reason for it being little visited is the rough road to get there, although major road building is under way to make a good road from. Popayán. It’s really very tranquil and the area is home to a number a indigenous communities. Worth going before the road is built making it easily accessible because we spent an hour going into 12 tombs where you can only fit 3 or maybe 4 people at a time.

    2. ALittleCameo, I just googled Las Lajas! I didn’t realise Nariño had a church like that?! I guess my friend will have to come back very soon! haha

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