What to do at El Cocuy National Natural Park in Colombia
Precious glaciers, snow-capped peaks and paramo ecosystems are some of the jewels to find at El Cocuy National Natural Park in northeastern Colombia. Mountain climbers and nature lovers will love paying a visit to this huge mountain range that is a water producer and biodiversity haven.
In this post, you will find all the information you need to know to visit El Cocuy National Natural Park in Colombia, such as how to get there, what you can do in the park, where to stay, how much it costs and some recommendations for your trip.
Discovering El Cocuy National Natural Park
Colombia has lost 63% of its glaciers in 50 years, according to IDEAM. This means there will be no glaciers in the country in some years if the trend continues. Meanwhile, the Eastern Andes is the privileged home to the largest glacier mass in Colombia: The Sierra Nevada de Güicán, El Cocuy and Chita.
In an area of 25 km long by 4 km wide, about 25 snow-capped peaks stand out on the top of two mountain ranges! The peaks go from 4,800 m (15,748 ft) to 5,330 m (17,486 ft) above sea level, and the renowned ones are Ritacuba Blanco, Pan de Azúcar, Pulpito del Diablo, Cóncavos and Güicán. The temperatures in the park range between 0 °C (32 °F) and 20 °C (68 °F) with a characteristic cold climate.
El Cocuy National Park preserves ecosystems such as glaciers and paramos, as well as high Andean forests – seen in the valleys among the imposing mountains, and moist forests found in the Araucan foothills. Unfortunately, the climate change, livestock breeding and forest clearance (logging) are putting pressure on the protected area.
This marvelous park is guarded by the U’wa indigenous peoples. These have traditionally inhabited the Eastern Andes range and now fight for the conservation of their sacred territory and culture. Fun fact: U’wa means ‘smart people who know how to talk’.
El Cocuy – with its 306,000 hectares, is one of the National Natural Parks open for ecotourism in Colombia. All of them offer unique experiences in the world’s second-most biodiverse country!
How to get to El Cocuy NNP
There are three land routes to access the tourist area on the western side of the park:
440 km – approx. 11 hours following the route Tunja – Duitama – Santa Rosa – Cerinza – Belén – Susacón, until reaching Soatá. From there, you can follow the Tipacoque or the Boavita routes that lead to El Cocuy or Güicán.
8 to 12 hours. Get to the town of Málaga, then to Capitanejo – El Espino – Panqueba and finally El Cocuy or Güicán.
From Llanos Orientales
10 to 12 hours on the route Yopal – Sogamoso –Duitama –Belén – Soatá and from there, El Cocuy or Güicán. Or 8 hours on the route Tame, Sácama, Chita until El Cocuy.
From El Cocuy and Güicán, it takes about 2 hours to get to the main entrances of the park on unpaved roads, in regular condition, suitable only for campers and 4×4 vehicles. You can get by a private car, a shared taxi or public trucks that leave from El Cocuy square every morning. The 3 access points are Valle de Lagunillas (on the south), Hacienda la Esperanza (at the center) and Ritakuwas (on the north).
What to do in El Cocuy National Natural Park
Hiking and Trekking
Hiking is the most exciting activity in El Cocuy Park. You can hike only until the glacier edge along 3 trails: Ritacuba, Laguna Grande de la Sierra and Lagunillas – El Pulpito del Diablo. This activity allows you to admire majestic landscapes with Frailejones, imposing mountains and crystalline water bodies.
- Ritacuba Trail goes from the height of 4,000 m (13,123 ft) to the glacier edge of the peak called Ritacuba Blanco. The round trip is about 13.8 km.
- Lagunillas – El Pulpito Trail goes from 4,000 m (13,123 ft), starting just above the cabin Sisuma and ends in the glacier edge of the Pulpito del Diablo peak.
- Laguna Grande de la Sierra Trail starts in a place known as Cuchumba and ends in the glacier edge of the Cóncavo snow-capped peak. This is the longest and hardest trail (21 km/13 mi).
Expert mountaineers can do rock and snow climbing as well as high mountain trekking.
There used to be multi-day treks in El Cocuy, but negative environmental impacts caused by tourists and concerned indigenous inhabitants resulted in the closing of various hiking trails. Now you can only do one-day hikes.
At different points in the park, you can gaze at 25 stunning lagoons including Laguna de la Plaza – which drains in the shape of a waterfall, and Laguna Grande de los Verdes – which stands out for its flashy color.
Along the trails, you may spot white-tailed deer, tapirs, the endemic lizard Stenocercus lache and the double-banded false coral snake (Erythrolamprus bizona). The cougar also inhabits the park but it is quite difficult to find.
El Cocuy Park is an Important Bird and Biodiversity (IBA) which means it is a key spot for bird conservation. Some of the species that inhabit the area are the Andean condor, the endangered Northern Helmeted Curassow (Pauxi pauxi) and the hummingbird Shining sunbeam (Aglaeactis cupripennis).
Where to stay in El Cocuy National Park
Staying in El Cocuy NNP is not allowed. However, you can find cabins managed by locals at the starting points of the hiking trails. They offer accommodation and meals.
Best time to visit El Cocuy National Park
The dry season occurs from December to late January, but this is also a peak season for national tourists so the park or the tourist services may be crowded.
El Cocuy NNP Entrance fees
The entrance fee to El Cocuy National Natural Park varies depending on the nationality and age of the visitors. These are the entrance fees for 2020:
- Colombians, resident foreigners and tourists from Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru (ages 5 to 25): COP 21,000
- Colombians, resident foreigners and tourists from Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru (over 25 years old): COP 36,000
- Non-resident foreigners (over 5 years old): COP 73,500
- Children under 5 years old and Colombians over 65 years old have free entrance presenting their IDs.
What you should consider when you visit El Cocuy National Park
- You must purchase an all-risk policy for entering and staying in the park.
- You must make your reservation and payment one month in advance.
- You must register and attend the introductory talk at the registration offices in El Cocuy or Güicán before entering the park. Here you can hire your local guide.
- The entrance to the park is from 5:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. and return is from 1:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. No tourist should be in the park after 6 pm.
- Remember that the park is a sacred territory for the U’wa indigenous. Therefore, visiting the eastern side of the park and entering the indigenous reserve is prohibited.
- Wear cold weather, waterproof clothes in layers (so you can peel off when necessary). This includes hiking boots or rubber boots since the trails can be muddy.
- Use sunscreen! Even if you think you don’t need it because it is cloudy. Also, a pair of sunglasses is advised.
- Bring enough water – at least 2 liters per person per day.
- Beware of altitude sickness! Apart from hydration, sun protection and proper clothing, you need to take your time and keep your rhythm during the ascent. Regular rests and arriving in a high-altitude town some days before the trek are advised too for acclimatization. If you feel bad, descend immediately.
- Due to physical demands and altitude, the hike is not recommended for people with physical disabilities, heart or respiratory problems.
Some prohibitions: Feeding, bothering or hunting animals, throwing any garbage, pets, horses alcoholic drinks and drugs, guns, stepping on, sliding on or touching the snow, the entrance of children under the age of 10, people with physical disabilities, heart or respiratory problems, pregnant women or senior adults.
- Album Jet Vive la Aventura Colombia – Parques Nacionales Naturales de Colombia, National Geographic, Compañía Nacional de Chocolates
- Natural National Parks
About the authors.
Ana María Parra
Current content writer for Sula. Modern Languages professional with emphasis on business translation. Interested in cultural adaptation of written and audiovisual content. Passionate about knowing new cultures and languages, tourism and sustainable living.