Sierra Nevada del Cocuy

The Sierra Nevada del Cocuy is a mecca for hikers and climbers on high altitude in Colombia. This breathtaking mountain area in the national park is located in two departments, Boyacá and Santander and consists of two parallel north-south ranges about 30 km long, offering peaks of rare beauty, many lakes, big cliffs, waterfalls and literally thousands of
frailejone
plants. It is one of the most amazing geographical places in the whole of South America. In an area of about 30 km, there are more than 22 snowy peaks; it meets the biggest mass of snow and ice in South America north of the equatorial line. The snow peaks range from 4900 m to 5322 m of the Ritacuba Blanco, which is the highest one of the park. This park is simply THE place in Colombia for any high-altitude hiker or climber.

The park is accessible in the south from the small town of
El Cocuy
or further north from
Güicán
. Both towns are perfect start or end point for any hiking or climbing activity in the park. On the central square of El Cocuy you will find a miniature model of the mountain area. One of the most spectacular hikes in the park is walking from south to north (or vice versa), during which you will see a great part of what the park has to offer. It might seem to be an easy marked trail but it is highly recommend to go with a guide if you don't know the park as sudden changes in climate means visibility can unexpectedly drop to less than 10 m. You will need to know where to camp and where to get drinking water.

There is no accommodation in the park, so you will need to bring all equipment yourself. Basic food supply can be bought in El Cocuy or Güicán but otherwise you should bring your food from Bogotá. There is no need to bring ice axes or crampons. Temperature can drop below 0°C during the nights as most campsites are around 4000 m. A number of treks and hikes are available.

Ins and outs

El Cocuy and Güicán can be reached by direct bus (early morning or late in the evening) from Bogota (10-12 hours) with
Paz del Río
,
Libertadores
and
Concorde
for US$15. Coming from Bucaramanga, switch buses in Capitanejo. Around 0600 milk trucks leave the main plaza of El Cocuy. They can take you to the
Cabañas Guaicany
(the southern entrance of the park),
Finca la Esperanza
(for Laguna Grande de la Sierra) or to
Hacienda
 Ritacuba
from where it is about an hour's walk to get to the
Cabañas Kanwarra
.

When to go

It is best to avoid the peak holiday periods (the last week in December, the first two weeks of January and Easter week) as campsites can get very busy during these times. Dry seasons are December to April and July to August but even in those months it can rain or be very foggy. There has been no problem with safety in recent years.

Sights

La Laguna de La Plaza
is probab
ly the most beautiful lake of all those in the Sierra Nevada del Cocuy, surrounded by the snow tops of
Pan de Azúcar
and
Toti
in the west and Pico's
Negro
and
Blanco
on the east. Just below Pan de Azúcar you can see
Cerro El
Diamante
, a pointy rock that might remind you of a real diamante. During sunrise, the color of this rock can change from grey to yellow, gold, red and orange if you are lucky with the wea
ther.
Laguna Grande de la Sierra
is surrounded by the tops of Pan de Azucar, Toti, Portales, Concavo and Concavito and is a perfect spot as base camp to climb up to the summits of (one of) these peaks.
El Púlpito de Diablo
is an enormous, square rock with a shape of an altar at 5000 m. From El Pulpito you can continue to climb up to
the top of
Pan de Azúcar
(5100 m) overlooking Laguna de la Plaza on one side and Laguna Grande de la Sierra on the other side.
Valle de los Cojines
is an enormous valley surrounded by snow tops and filled with
cojines
(pillow plants), typical of the region.
Ritacuba Blanco
is the highest mountain of all (5322 m) and is not too difficult to climb. The views at the top over the Valle de Cojines and many other parts of the park is just stunning.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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