What to Know Before Visiting Puracé National Natural Park

The name “Puracé” comes from the ancient local dialect “Quechua”, and stands for “mountain of fire”. This name was assigned to the Puracé National Natural Park. This park is located in the Andean Region of Colombia, southeast of the city of Popayán. Its main attraction is the Puracé volcano, one of Colombia’s most active volcanoes.

Discovering Puracé National Natural Park

Puracé National Natural Park is located in the central mountain range of the Colombian Andes. In the southwest of the department of Huila and nearby the archaeological park of San Agustin.

Its area of 830 km2 is shared between the departments of Cauca and Huila. Inside the park is the Puracé Volcano, which is one of the most active volcanoes in Colombia.

Moreover, the volcanic chain of the Coconucos, known as Serranía de Los Coconucos, also originates in Puracé and it’s comprised of 12 volcanoes; the most notable being the so-called Sugar Loaf (5,000 m), the Purace (4,780 m) that is the only active one, and the Coconuco (4,600 m).

Thus, the place is full of more than 50 lagoons and because of its volcanic nature, hundreds of “Sulphur” springs, which can be visited along the natural reserve.

Purace is also well known because 4 of the most important rivers in Colombia are born there: Magdalena, Cauca, Patia, and Caquetá.

The park has a great abundance of ecosystems, including paramo, super-paramo, snow, and rainforest. Endangered plant species such as the Colombian pine, oak, and wax palm are part of the protected area.

How to get to The Puracé National Natural Park

Bogotá – Popayan Route

Take a 1.5-hour flight from Bogotá to Guillermo León Valencia Airport (PPN) at Popayan city. From Popayan, take an approximately 5,5-hour ride to Puracé. Once at Puracé you should take an extra 40-minute car ride to the administrative center of Pilimbalá.

At Pilimbalá, first register at the National Natural Park checkpoint to access Puracé National Natural Park. At Pilimbalá you can enjoy some food at local restaurants, thermal pools, and the beautiful fauna and flora.

Bogota – Cali Route

Take a 1-hour flight from Bogotá to Alfonso Bonilla Aragón International Airport (CLO) at Cali city. From Cali, take an approximately 1,5-hour ride to Puracé (233 km). Once at Puracé you should take an extra 40 minutes car ride to the administrative center of Pilimbalá.

The trip continues the same from this point, as in the previous alternative.

Andean Condor

What to do in the Puracé National Natural Park

This is a place impregnated by the indigenous tradition of the region. There, everything is intimately linked to the creator gods, mother nature, and life.

Hiking and Trekking

Hiking is the most exciting activity to do at Puracé National Natural Park. You can hike through 5 trails:

Puracé volcano crater trail

The day starts at 4:30 a.m. with hot drinks and energy bars. The hike is approximately 2 hours long. The crater is 4,673 meters above sea level, and the trail is considered of medium difficulty. During the hike, you will be able to appreciate small glacier lagoons and snow-covered volcanic ash deposits.

Coconucos crater trail

Covering a distance of approximately 6 km over the volcanic chain, this trail allows visiting 6 extinct craters of ancient volcanoes and dry lagoons with volcanic ash. The hike is 6 hours long.

The Buey (Ox) Lagoon

After hiking for 20 minutes you will have the opportunity to see a spectacular lagoon with dimensions the size of an old volcanic crater. There you can have contact with orchids, birds; this area is full of native species such as bears, deers, and rabbits.

Whitestone trail

Take a 20-minute walk to Pilimbalá, a beautiful viewpoint to check the marvelous Andean Condor (the world´s largest flying bird). You may have to wait a few minutes to be able to observe the flight of this beautiful bird.

Birdwatching and Wildlife Observation

Observing a great variety of wildlife is possible on each of these trails. If lucky, you could come across mammals such as bears, otters, deers, pumas, and the paramo tapir. Regarding flora, the Colombian pine (Podocarpus oleifolius), oak, (Quercus humboldtii), wax palm (Ceroxylon spp) and tree fern (Cyathea spp) are abundant.

Note that this area is home to more than 200 species of orchids, a natural wonder not be found in any other part of the world.

Purace is also one of the places you can observe the Andean Condor in Colombia. It is a recommended and also complementary destination if you are on a birdwatching tour in Valle del Cauca or Narino.

Hot Springs – Lakes and Volcanoes in Puracé-Coconuco

Visit the Puracé Volcano and the Laguna Andulvio (San Rafael)

The imposing volcano is linked to the Andulvio lagoon. This couple (volcano and lagoon) are children of the Puraceños. The lagoon means the place where the nymph of the waters lives, goddess of the locals.

San Antonio Waterfall

Near the town of Puracé the dark Vinagre River rushes, after having traveled from the slopes of the Puracé Volcano, through rocky and canyoned areas forming a beautiful waterfall. It is so-called because, according to indigenous legend, Saint Anthony appears there during Holy Week. It is also believed that when visiting the waterfall, singles can make a wish to find the partner of their dreams and the wish will be granted.

The condor of the Andes

Known as the “lord and master of the heights or messenger of the sun”, a symbol of freedom and purity. In the indigenous reserve of Puracé, for more than twelve (12) years the repopulation of the species has been advancing. You can make sightings along the majestic canyon of the San Francisco River, commonly known as the refuge of the condor of the Andes.

The Ox Lagoon

Located in the southeast of the municipality of Puracé, ancestral territory of the Kokonuko Yanacona people. It is immense, in the summer season it is seen in the blue sky, surrounded by places and abundant native vegetation; it is called the Ox because the older ancestors say they have seen an ox in the lagoon.

For the indigenous people, the lagoon is the woman of the Pan de Azular volcano, mother of the Kokonukos Yanaconas tribes, who today live in the Paletara Valley. There, the majestic and virtuous Cauca River also begins to make its way, which runs its first kilometers through a peaceful landscape of paramo.

The Green Lagoon (Laguna Verde)

Located to the north in the indigenous reservation of Paletara. A charming place colored by the presence and influence of green algae, the greenish-yellow of the mosses and lichens with the shade of blue water, and accompanied by streams of sulfur water, offering a polychrome landscape of rapture.

Thermal baths of Casa Quinta

Thermal water loosening, located in the indigenous reservation of Paletara. With 22 degrees Celsius, this place is an ideal scenario for recreation, rest, but above all to meet with the spirit of life and appreciate the goodness that nature offers us.


Consisting of three beautiful lagoons, located north of the Andulvio Lagoon. There you can see the Torrent Duck.

Candelaria waterfall

Located in the village of Santa Leticia, Bella Vista, the waterfall is formed by the precipitation of the Candelaria River, giving rise to a fantastic fall of more than 100 meters high. In this place, the Pijaos and Augustinians worshipped the Sun God and the Moon God.

Where to stay in The Puracé National Natural Park

In the Puracé sector, it is possible to find different hotels for individual accommodation. Suggested choices are:

In the facilities of Natural National Parks, it is possible to find cabins for groups of no more than 7 people.

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 a residence permit, and tourists from Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru (ages 5 to 25): COP 5,500
  • Colombians, foreigners holding a residence permit, and tourists from Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru (over 25 years old): COP 11,500
  • Non-resident foreigners (over 5 years old): COP 27,500
  • Children under 5 years old and Colombians over 65 years old have free entrance presenting their IDs.

What to consider before visiting Puracé National Natural Park

  • Book your reservation in advance with authorized ecotourism operators.
  • Wear suitable clothing for cold weather, rubber BOOTS, waterproof
  • Take reusable bottles along to store water;
  • Pets are forbidden to enter the protected area.
  • Limestone formations in the caves are not to be touched;
  • Keep away from making any marks on trees, stones, or infrastructure available.
  • Noises or sounds that disturb the environment are not allowed.
  • Return ALL garbage you generate during the tour with you and dispose of it at the waste disposal sites.
  • Admission of children under 5 years old, pregnant women, people with heart or respiratory conditions is not recommended.
  • To make any of the tours inside the park you must do with an authorized and certified guide.
  • Avoid taking night walks on the trails.
  • Do not bring firearms or sharp edges into park facilities.

Some prohibitions:

Feeding, bothering, or hunting animals, littering, pets, horses, alcoholic drinks and drugs, making bonfires, throwing cigarette butts, burning garbage, felling, and capturing wildlife.

  • Colombia Natural Parks System Website.
About the authors

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

Where to see the Andean Condor and the King Vulture in Colombia?  

Like the orchid is the Colombian national flower and the Quindio wax palm the national tree, Colombia has a flagship bird: the Andean Condor In this post you will learn about the main features of this iconic bird, of its relative the King vulture, which is also sought by birders, and where to see condors in Colombia. 

The Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus) 

This large scavenger bird belongs to the family Cathartidae and the genus Vultur, with no subspeciesIts wingspan can top 3 meters (10 ft), which makes it the largest bird in Colombia and the largest flying bird in the world -taking into account its average weight of 11 kg! Its name originates from the Quechua word kuntur. 

Although it is considered a national symbol, it is locally uncommon in Colombia. Actually it is listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN and as Critically Endangered in Colombia.

Andean Condor

The original population of the Colombian Andes is extinct, now what you can see there are introduced individuals. However, the largest native population is found in Santa Marta and Perijá ranges, to the north of the country. 

The Andean Condor takes to the air by mid-morning and soars over some high zones of the Andes range and Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, reaching heights of up to 4,800 meters above sea level. You can find it perched on cliff edges in search of dead farm animals and in small groups, feeding on carrion of large carcasses.

Its bald head -males with a comb- may not be the prettiest, but its white ruff and white patches on its wings give the Andean Condor a majestic look. Seeing a flying condor is a great spectacle but it takes a bit of luck. 

The King Vulture (Sarcoramphus papa) 

Although not as mighty as the Andean condor, the King vulture is also sought by birders due to its distinctive colored head. Unlike the condor, this smaller scavenger inhabits tropical lowland forests below 2,500 meters above sea level and perches in the canopy.

It is more visible by mid-morning, when it undertakes its flying journey to search food. The King vulture is usually spotted in pairs and when it gets to a carcass, it displaces other lowland vultures -the ‘king’ moniker must have had a reason! 

The King Vulture (Sarcoramphus papa) – Casanare

The King vulture has an eye-catching look. Its body and flight feathers are half white to gray, half black. The bald head is colored in yellow, orange, blue, purple or red tones and the beak boasts a noticeable orange fleshy caruncle.

It inhabits most of Colombian territory, except for the Andes range, a part of the Pacific coast and the northern Guajira. However the Sarcoramphus papa is difficult to spot. 

Where to See Condors in Colombia 

Now that you know more about this impressive bird, you may be wondering where to see condors in Colombia. There are few spots where Andean condors can be spotted, read on to find more about them. 

Puracé National Natural Park

Southeast of Colombia, near the city of Popayan, Cauca, is this national park declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1979.  Puracé NNP comprises Los Coconucos mountain range with 11 volcanoes, including Puracé (4,780meters above sea level) which is the only active one, and Pan de Azúcar (5,000 meters above sea level), the highest of all.

This place with steep canyons, river sources and lagoons is the best-known destination for watching condors in Colombia. There is a small population of Andean condors, together with hummingbirds, bluebirds, ducks and birds of prey.  

Three indigenous reserves belonging to the Kokonuko community are found in the region: Paletará, Coconuco and Puracé. They act as park rangers of Puracé and offer tourism services aiming to raise incomes for the conservation of the park and the condors that live there.

There are only 3 condors in the reserve -a pair and their offspring, which made part of the reintroduction program of the Andean Condor in Colombia in 1989. The worrying fact is that the couple has not had any more offspring in the last 20 years. 

For now, they can be seen approaching a big rock that serves as a feeding station every few days, after a member of the community leaves a modest offering such as chicken bones. This means you cannot always see condors here, although the natural beauty of the park is worth exploring.

To ensure their preservation, the community monitors the condors with tracking devices and provides environmental education during the tours. 

Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta

Of course the world’s highest coastal mountain and a Colombian landmark would also be home to the majestic Andean Condor. This mountain is separate from the Andes range, is located just 42 km from the deep blue Caribbean sea and reaches a height of 5,775 m in its highest snow-capped peaks Bolívar and Colón.

It is part of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta National Natural Park, which you can visit to enjoy ecotourism activities such as birdwatching, hiking and trekking, wildlife and flora observation.

Thanks to its huge biodiversity and cultural heritage, the Santa Marta range was declared Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site by the UNESCO in 1979. 

Minca, Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta

Like Purace, this great mountain is an indigenous ancestral territory, this time heritage of the Kankuamo, Kogui, Wiwa and Arhuaco ethnicities, descendants of the great  Tayrona indigenous civilization.

A trip to the National Park is an experience on another level that allows you to get in touch with the cultural heritage of the country, get lost in the lush forest and be awed by the biological richness of this natural reservoir.  

Of the nearly 150 condors currently estimated in Colombia, some 120 individuals are present in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the rest have migrated to other zones in the country. 

Serranía del Perijá

The 295 km long Perijá mountain range is in Colombia’s northern region, in the plains of the department of Cesar, and reaches Venezuelan territory.

You could consider it as the last extension -or the beginning- of the Andes. However, it has such distinctive features that it has been deemed as a unity in itself. Perijá is really close to the Santa Marta range, just 25 km away. 

Cerro Pintado, Perijá Mountain Range, Manaure, Cesar

Nearly 541 species and subspecies of birds have been found in Serranía del Perijá, including Brown tinamous, Cocoi and Great blue herons, hummingbirds, macaws, parrots, and birds of prey and scavengers such as eagles, the snail kite and the King vulture 

Manizales – Los Nevados Natural National Park

El Nido del Cóndor is an eco-lodge founded in 2017 in the Andes range, 17 km from Villamaría, Caldas, on the route to Nevado Santa Isabel. A plateau surrounded by two rivers and the typical green landscape of the Coffee Axis is where a pair of Andean condors nest, on a cliff edge.

This lodge is committed to sustainable practices from its building materials, energy sources, to its resources and waste management.

Also, the wooden building has a 360° landscape view!  Here, you will be able to see not only the pair of condors that soar over the canyons that make up the plateau, but 150 bird species approximately, including bird of prey, the Chestnut wood quail, the Yellow–eared parrot and the Black-and-chestnut eagle. Mammals such as the Crab-eating fox, armadillos and the mountain paca can be spotted too.  

See condors overflying the region from the comfort of your room’s balcony at this one-of-its-kind eco-lodge south of Manizales! 

Páramo del Almorzadero, Santander 

There are about 15 Andean condors in Paramo del Almorzadero, in the municipality of El Cerrito, Santander. These are 5 to 70 years old and represent approximately 30% of the national population.

Paramo del Almorzadero is a stunning ecosystem with 7 lagoons that originate several gorges, which then act as tributaries of the Orinoco river basin. Also, it has important endemic flora species.

The buffer zones of the paramo have been affected by peasant agriculture, since this is the only activity that locals have for subsisting.  

This place is not well-known in the tourism sector, nor has an adequate infrastructure for developing large tourism activities, there is only a not easily accessible high-mountain shelter called El Salto that takes care of the native condors.

However, for the Global Big Day 2018, 20 people were privileged to visit the paramo shelter at 3,400 meters above sea level to see the condors that nest there. Local farmers, governmental entities and pro-animal foundations made a deal for the protection and conservation of the national bird in this region. 


Learn more about Colombian birds field guides here.


About the author.

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.