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.
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.
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.
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:
- Cabaña Coconuco is located 4,3 kilometers away from the park entrance.
- Hacienda Pisoje is located 7 kilometers away from the park entrance.
- Stay in Popayán, there are plenty of options in this fantastic city, such as Hotel Dann Monasterio, the Hotel Boutique Confort Suite and the San Martin Hotel.
In the facilities of Natural National Parks, it is possible to find cabins for groups of no more than 7 people.
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.
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
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