The Wonders of Galeras Flora and Fauna Sanctuary in Southwest Colombia

At the foot of the Galeras Volcano is the Galeras Flora and Fauna Sanctuary, its cliffs are excellent for the practice of extreme sports, mountaineering, paragliding and mountain biking.

Part of the sanctuary is located in a High Volcanic Threat Zone (Zona de Amenaza Volcánica Alta – ZAVA), as it is part of a volcanic complex.

The richness of the Galeras Sanctuary is reflected in the great variety of flora and fauna species in the páramo, high Andean forest, and Andean forest ecosystems. It also has lagoons and different water sources that supply the local aqueducts.

Have you ever dreamt to come close to the most active crater volcano in South America? in Galeras Flora and Fauna Sanctuary you can do it and discover much more!

Discovering Galeras Flora and Fauna Sanctuary

This sanctuary is located in southwestern part of Colombia, in the department of Nariño, and covers an area of 76.15 km².

The Sanctuary’s Role as a Water Supplier

In the Galeras Volcano Fauna and Flora Sanctuary, there is a hydrographic star that gives rise to about 125 streams, several rivers and four lagoons: Negra, Verde, Telpis and Mejía, and numerous ponds such as La Blanca, Sumatambo and La Trucha, which benefit the community of the seven municipalities that surround the park.

The 40 villages surrounding the sanctuary, local communities carry out different productive activities and depend on the water provided by the sanctuary. For this reason, they are committed to the sanctuary’s conservation and work together with National Parks to maintain it.

Moreover, because the sanctuary is located between Nariño’s two main watersheds: the Guáitara and Juanambú, protecting the páramo is vital for sanctuary officials.

Natural Attractions

Galeras Flora and Fauna Sanctuary is located at an altitude of 3,000 meters above sea level. The main ecosystems of the Sanctuary are cloud forest and paramo. The variety of topography and the diverse climatic conditions have allowed the development of a great diversity of flora.

The High Andean forest is located between 3,000 and 3,200 meters above sea, it is covered by endemic species such as the Encenillo (Weinmannia tomentosa). Then, the sub-paramo is found between 3,200 and 3,500 meters above sea level, where shrub and bush vegetation predominates, giving rise to mixed and colorful vegetation.

Finally, the paramo is found between 3,500 (3,600) and 4,100 meters above sea level, with a predominance of frailejones, and among them the endemic one Espeletia pycnophylla.

Galeras FFS as an Important Bird Area

The Galeras FFS is an Important Bird Area (IBA/AICA) recognized by BirdLife International, since Globally threatened species and Restricted-range species are present in the area.

The conservation actions carried out in the area correspond to those carried out by the Special Administrative Unit of the National Natural Parks System – UAESPNN.

Conservation responses – actions for key biodiversity include the environmental guide service and the ECOANDINO project, in which 800 families from the park’s surrounding villages participate.

The Galeras Volcano

Galeras Volcano. Picture by Ingeominas

With a height of 4276 meters above sea level, this majestic active volcano is 9 kilometers far from the city of San Juan de Pasto, and has allowed the city to develop at its feet for more than four hundred years.

It is considered one of the most active volcanoes in Colombia, and has more than three active craters in its internal cone, being one of the most important volcanoes in southern Colombia.

The native Quillacingas indigenous people called it Urcunina, which means “Mountain of Fire”, but its current name was given by the colonizers, who found its shape similar to large ships called galleys.

Pasto and Galeras Volcano 1869

This volcano is part of the Andes Mountain Range, located in the Pacific Ring of Fire, and its famous eruptions have thrilled locals and strangers alike. Its base is 20 kilometers in diameter and at the top there is a crater about 80 meters deep.

How to get to Galeras Flora and Fauna Sanctuary

Flight Bogotá – Pasto

Take a 1,5-hours flight from Bogotá to Antonio Nariño Airport (PSO) at Pasto city. Once at the airport, take an approximately 1,5-hours ride to San Felipe Sector. Once in San Felipe you must hike for 2 hours at medium-high intensity to the Galeras Flora and Fauna Sanctuary entrance.

Land routes

From Pasto, there is a surrounding road that connects the seven municipalities that have jurisdiction in the protected area linking Pasto with the towns of Nariño, La Florida, Sandoná, Consacá and Yacuanquer.

Telpis Sector

This is the only sector enabled for ecotourism; you leave from Pasto to the municipality of Yacuanquer (25 kilometers to the south), from here you can access through the San José, El Rosario and San Felipe trails (for about 5 kilometers) to the site where the hike begins to access the hut in the Telpis sector, with an approximate duration of 2.5 hours on foot.

Urcunina sector

This sector is closed to the public due to volcanic activity.

What to do in Galeras Flora and Fauna Sanctuary


Galeras Volcano

In this attraction you can enjoy the natural beauty that covers the Galeras Volcano, and from its small summits, a fabulous panoramic view of the so-called surprise city San Juan de Pasto.

Access routes: From the road of the ring road, which takes us to the repeater tower, and from there it takes approximately two hours on foot. Its access routes are from the road of the ring road, approximately 23 kilometers.

Telpis Trail

With 1.3 km, 2½ hours one way, and medium difficulty, the trail shows the importance of the high Andean forest and paramo. During the hike you will be able to observe wildlife typical of these ecosystems.

The main attraction is the excellent panoramic view of the high mountains, at 3600 meters above sea level, and volcanoes such as Chiles, Cumbal and Cotopaxi, the latter in the Republic of Ecuador. There are also wetlands and the beautiful lagoon of Telpis.

Lagoons at Galeras Flora and Fauna Sanctuary. Pictures by Parques Nacionales

Laguna Negra Trail

There is also a trail to Laguna Negra, located south of Galeras Volcano between the municipalities of Pasto and Tangua, at an altitude of approximately 3,450 meters above seal level.

To reach this place, take a 30-minute hike from Pasto through Filadelfia, until you reach the crossing to enter the lagoon, at approximately 9 km away from Pasto city’s exit.

Foso del Duende Waterfall

Also, in the San Felipe trail where the route to the sanctuary’s cabin begins, it is possible to make a small detour from the main road to visit the Foso del Duende, which is a small waterfall.

It is a small waterfall where legend has it that a goblin appears before nightfall and dances until he gets tired and goes into the well to swim, but ends up turning into a giant trout and getting lost in the waters of the Telpis River.

Birdwatching an Wildlife Tours

Constant monitoring has led to the conclusion that there are 166 species of birds, 36 families and 117 genera. Thraupidae is the family with the highest number of species (30), including Tangara heinei, Urothraupis stolzmanni, Butraupis montana; followed by the Trochilidae family (hummingbirds) with 22 species, including Eriocnemis mosquera, Eriocnemis derbyi, Chalcostigma herrani, Ensifera ensifera, Rhamphomicron microrhychum; and the Tyrannidae family with 15 species such as Mecocerculus leucophrys, Mecocerculus minor, Ochtoeca frontalis; and the Emberizidae family with 13 species such as Atlapetes pallidinucha, Phrygilus unicolor, among others.

Regarding to other animal grouos, The Galeras FFS is a perfect place to observe the Galeras rain frog and the Harlequin toad of Nariño, especially in the Telpis Lagoon.

You can also observe the typical fauna of paramos and high Andean forest such as deer, wolves, squirrels, rabbits, porcupines, some rodents, among others. The wolf (Lycalopex culpeus) is currently threatened, so it is important to protect the sanctuary and avoid illegal hunting.

As you walk through the sanctuary’s trails, you can see a large number of butterflies. There are 88 recorded species.

Scientific Tourism and Environmental Education

The exuberant nature of the protected area and its conservation status make it a suitable place for scientific research. In addition, as in all parks open to ecotourism, environmental education activities are carried out here by educational institutions or officials who introduce visitors to the park, its conservation objectives, services, and ecotourism activities.


The scenic beauties of the Sanctuary are the perfect place for this activity, although if the photos or videos have commercial or publication purposes, a permit must be requested from the National Natural Parks.

Where to stay in Galeras Flora and Fauna Sanctuary

Currently , the sanctuary does not offer lodging for travelers, the registration shelter only offers information service.

At Telpis sector, it is possible to find lodging in rural houses that offer lodging services. In any case, one day is more than enough to cover the complete protected area so travelers can start their journey from Pasto city.

Best time to visit Galeras Flora and Fauna Sanctuary

The sanctuary can be visited all year round, but since it is a cold climate it can rain almost every month. July to September are the months with the least amount of rain and a temperature is around 15º C (59 ºF).

Galeras Flora and Fauna Sanctuary Entrance fees

  • The entrance fee varies depending on the nationality and age of the visitors. These are the entrance fees for 2021:
  • Colombians, foreigners holding valid residence permits and tourists from Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru (ages 5 to 25): COP 5,500
  • Colombians, foreigners holding valid residence permits and tourists from Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru (over 25 years old): COP 5,500
  • Non-resident foreigners (over 5 years old): COP 10,500
  • Children under 5 years old and Colombians over 65 years old have free entrance presenting their IDs.

Bear in Mind…

  • The Telpis sector is the only one enabled for ecotourism, the rest of the sanctuary is inaccessible because it is under high volcanic threat.
  • Guided assistance is mandatory.
  • The Telpis sector is only open from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 m.
  • The entry of pets or domestic animals is prohibited.
  • The use of flash when taking photographs is prohibited.
  • Use of binoculars to watch animals’ behavior is recommended.
  • Bring along valid identification documents and health insurance.
  • It is recommended to be vaccinated against yellow fever and tetanus.
  • If you take specific medications, take them with you a personal first aid kit.

Some prohibitions

Feeding, bothering or hunting animals, alcoholic drinks and drugs, throwing cigarette butts, burning garbage, felling, and capturing wildlife.

If you want to know more about natural destination in Colombia, contact us in our Plan Your Trip page!

  • Colparques
  • Parques nacionales
  • BirdLife International (2021) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Santuario de Fauna y Flora Galeras. Downloaded from on 06/07/2021.
  • Portal Servicio Geológico Colombiano
  • Kahuari Travel
About the authors

Sara Colmenares

The current director of Sula. Doctor in Biological Sciences. Her main interests are to explore and understand the organism-environment interactions, taking advantage of emerging knowledge for the management and conservation of species and ecosystem services. She is currently working as a consultant in functional ecology, ecosystem services, and conservation projects in Colombia related to ecotourism and birdwatching.

Luisa Martin

Engineer, world traveler, amateur photographer, traveling blogger, and foody.