Best Things to Know Before Visiting Los Nevados National Natural Park

If you are traveling to Colombia and like the combination of nature + adventureLos Nevados National Natural Park is your ideal destination. The park is of great ecosystemic value since it protects 3 of the glaciers left in the country, which reach heights over 5,000 meters above sea level. The views and feelings offered after tough treks are unlike others, so it is an authentic journey in Colombia. 

In this post, you will find all the information you need to know to visit Los Nevados 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 Los Nevados National Natural Park 

Los Nevados is one of the National Natural Parks in Colombia and consists of a volcanic complex formed by the snow-capped peaks Nevado del RuizNevado de Santa Isabel, Nevado del Tolima and the paramillos of Cisne, Santa Rosa and Quindío. In the country’s Coffee Region, the Central Andes is home to 58,300 hectares (144,062 acres) of precious land with super páramo and páramo ecosystems, high Andean wetlands and Andean and high Andean forests.  

The park covers areas from 2,600 m (8,530 ft) to 5,321 m (17,457 ft) ASL – the height of Nevado del Ruiz. The second-highest volcano is Nevado del Tolima with 5,215 m (17,109 ft) and Nevado de Santa Isabel is third with 4,965 m (16,289 ft). The 3 paramillos range between 4,600 and 4,700 m (15,091-15,419 ft) ASL. Temperatures usually range between 3 °C (37.4 °F) and 14 °C (57.2 °F) with a characteristic cold climate.  

An issue to consider is that Colombia has lost 63% of its glaciers in 50 years, according to IDEAM. If this trend continues, there will be no glaciers in the country in some years, which is quite worrying. This is why Los Nevados National Park has an important mission to preserve 3 (Ruiz, Santa Isabel and Tolima) of the 6 glaciers left in Colombia. These provide drinking water to 38 municipalities in the departments of Caldas, Risaralda, Quindío and Tolima and benefit over 3 million inhabitants of the Coffee Region. Its water spring Laguna de Otún is the most important natural reservoir in the regiondeclared an internationally important Ramsar Convention wetland. Also, since these snowy mountains are actually volcanoes, natural hot springs can be found in several zones of the park. All of this makes Los Nevados a key point in nature conservation. 

How to get to Los Nevados 

There is access from the departments of Caldas, Risaralda, Quindío and Tolima. You can download an electronic or printable map othe Parques Nacionales website*.

*Go to the section ‘How to get there’. 

From Caldas 

The road from Manizales to Bogota leads to the sector Brisas. From there, visitors can only access the Valle de las Tumbas sector (4,400 meters above sea level) which is 5 km away. If you plan to reach the snow, this is not the route to choose since Nevado del Ruiz’s volcanic activity is on Yellow Alert (level 3)Make sure to always check the reports published by Servicio Geológico Colombiano regarding the activity of this volcano. 

If your destination is the edge of the glacier in Nevado de Santa Isabel or the Otún Lagoon, access from Villamaría or Potosí, respectively. 

From Risaralda 

From Pereira, on the road to La Florida, you get to the hiking starting point leading to the Otún Lagoon. The hike takes 7 to 9 hours along a bridle path, and after the lagoon, you can continue to Nevado de Santa Isabel. Otherwise, from Santa Rosa de Cabal you can get to the Potosí sector and then walk 3 hours to the Otún lagoon. 

From Quindio 

The Cocora Valley can be accessed from the village of Salento, near Armenia. The wax palm valley is another hiking starting point that takes 9 to 10 hours to La Primavera sector and Romeral paramo. From there you can reach Nevado del Tolima and the Cañón hot springs or, heading towards the village El Bosque, the Otún lagoon and Nevado de Santa Isabel. 

From Tolima 

Starting from Ibagué by road you get to Juntas, where vehicles can no longer continue and the 10-hour trail to Cañón hot springs and Nevado del Tolima. A longer hike (trek) to the same destination is expected from the village La Cascada, near Ibagué – it can take 2 days.  

What to do in Los Nevados NNP 

Hiking and Trekking at Los Nevados 

Trekking is clearly the #1 attraction of Los Nevados Park, with the possibility to climb to 2 of the snow-capped peaks (Santa Isabel and Tolima) or hike through paramos and lagoons. 

Nevado del Tolima Trek: The trek to the second-highest volcano of the park usually takes 4 days starting from Ibagué or the Cocora Valley in Salento. From the top, you can see the park and the Magdalena valley and be astonished by the beauty of the landscapes. This is one of the most demanding treks in Colombia because of its steep slopes, so you should be physically prepared to reach the snow peak. We, at Sula, have a trekking tour to Nevado del Tolima which will allow you to enjoy Los Nevados Park at its best. 

Nevado de Santa Isabel Trek: Getting to know the glacier of Nevado de Santa Isabel is a privilege since it has been victim of deglaciation in recent years, passing from 1.9 km2 to 0.5 km2 in 10 years and it is foreseen that it will no longer exist in a decade. So, you should hike Santa Isabel while you can. As said before, you can reach this snowy mountain from several points including Villamaría and Potosí (Caldas), Pereira (Risaralda) or the Cocora Valley. It takes 1 or 2 days to the summit.  

In the journey, at 3,950 m (12,959 ft) you find Laguna de Otún, which supplies Pereira aqueduct and is fed by the ice water flowing down Santa Isabel. The lagoon is surrounded by beautiful Frailejones (Espeletiaand shades of green that contrast with the crystalline blue of the water. 

Day-trips to Los Nevados Park are available for those who think reaching the paramo is enough. For the others, multi-day trips are the way to go. 

Wildlife observation:  You can find mammals like the mountain tapir (Tapirus pinchaque), northern pudú (Pudu mephistophiles), white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), the little spotted cat (Leopardus tigrinus) and puma (Puma concolor). There are also at least 20 species of bats, including insectivores, frugivores, and nectarivores.

Birdwatching: You can visit the park for bird watching from different departments, especially Caldas and Tolima (see tour). On the side of Caldas there are several places with facilities for birdwatching, where it is possible to easily observe high mountain birds. On the Tolima side, it is possible to visit the Nevado from the town of Murillo. On this side, besides the observation of high mountain birds, it is possible to observe the vestiges of the famous Armero avalanche occurred in the 80’s. The following birds stand out: The Buffy helmetcrest (Oxypogon stuebeli), endemic to the region and unique in the world, the Rufous-fronted parakeet (Bolborhynchus ferrugineifrons), Andean condor (Vultur gryphus), Brown-banded antpitta (Grallaria milleri), Andean Duck (Oxyura ferruginea), Paramo Tapaculo (Scytalopus opacus), Andean Lapwing (Vanellus resplendens) Golden-plumed parakeet (Leptosittaca branickii) among others.

Where to stay in Los Nevados NNP 

There is no hotel in the park, but some Fincas (farmers houses) where you can sleep in basic dormitories or tents outside the house. Locals also offer you good meals and hot drinks. The one thing to consider is that most times you have to shower with cold water. 

Best time to visit Los Nevados NNP 

It is recommended to visit Los Nevados National Park from January to February and from July to August since the weather is dry and less cloudy. This way you can avoid hiking muddy – and more dangerous, trails, while enjoying breathtaking views. However, paramo weather is unpredictable so you can have sun and then rain and fog. Beware of that. 

Entrance fees 

The entrance fee to Los Nevados 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 8,500 
  • Colombians, resident foreigners and tourists from Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru (over 25 years old): COP 16,500 
  • Non-resident foreigners (over 5 years old): COP 46,500.
  • Children under 5 years old and Colombians over 65 years old have free entrance presenting their IDs. 
  • Additionally, depending on the vehicle you enter to the park in, you have a different fee: 
    • Car: COP 6,500  
    • Van (Colectivo): COP 19,000  
    • Bus: COP 38,000  
    • Motorcycles are not allowed 

What you should consider when you visit Los Nevados Park 

  • Visitors must purchase an all-risk policy for entering and staying in the park. 
  • You must plan your visit to the park ahead of the intended date. 
  • You must be accompanied by an official guide of the National Park to enter the protected area. 
  • Remember that it is not allowed to enter the Nevado del Ruiz Volcano and don’t forget to check its status on the webpage of Servicio Geológico Colombiano. 
  • If you are camping in the park, make sure your equipment is suitable for high mountain environments. 
  • 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 doesn’t hurt. 
  • Bring enough water – at least 2 liters per person per day. 
  • Beware of altitude sickness! 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.  
  • Due to physical demands and altitude, the hike is not recommended for people with physical disabilities, heart or respiratory problems. 

Some prohibitions: Feeding animals, throwing any garbage, pets, alcoholic drinks and drugs, motorcycles, camping in prohibited areas, photos or videos for commercial purposes, the entrance of children under the age of 6, adults over the age of 70 and pregnant women. 


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.

Sara Colmenares

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.