Visit the Smallest Protected Area in Colombia: Isla de la Corota Flora Sanctuary

The Isla de la Corota Flora Sanctuary, which from a distance looks like the shell of a large turtle about to emerge from the water, is located in the north of Lake Guamués or Laguna de la Cocha, in the department of Nariño in southwestern Colombia. It is a beautiful island full of orchids as nowhere in the whole in the country.

In this publication you will find the information and recommendations you need for your visit to the smallest protected area in Colombia.

Discovering Isla de la Corota Flora and Fauna Sanctuary

La Cocha Lagoon, where is placed Isla de la Corota, is a wetland of international importance declared by the Ramsar Convention, for more information about RAMSAR sites in Colombia click here. The lagoon was formed by tectonic movements and later filled with water from the paramos and surrounding areas. Placed in the middle is Isla de la Corota island, formed million of years ago by volcanic activity, standing out as an immense tortoise shell.

La Cocha Lagoon is the second largest in Colombia and one of the largest in the Andes. Learn more about the lagoons and lakes of Colombia in our entry Top 11 Lakes of Colombia: From the Andes to the Amazon.

Isla de la Corota has a total area of just 0.16 km² and is part of the jurisdiction of the municipality of Pasto, the capital city of Nariño, located in the town El Encano, where El Puerto is located, a picturesque pier surrounded by lodgings and restaurants whose specialty is the preparation of rainbow trout.

The sanctuary is part of the Andean insular lacustrine forest ecosystem, which leads to the formation of a very humid forest and its thermal floor is also very cold, which is why there is constant rainfall in this sector. The oval island is surrounded by a fringe of reeds (Schoenoplectus californicus) and although it is the smallest protected area in the country, it is part of the important and complex environmental system of the Cocha Lagoon.

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Cultural Importance of Isla de la Corota

Isla de la Corota is the smallest protected area in the country, for being a wetland of great importance, it is part of the complex environmental system of the Laguna de la Cocha. Its recognition is not only due to its natural value, but also to its cultural and historical value for the indigenous people and traditional doctors.

The island is a source of energy recognized by Putumayo’s indigenous people and traditional doctors. It also has a chapel that is an important pilgrimage site for Catholics, especially during the Feast of the Virgin of Lourdes.

How to get to Isla de la Corota Flora and Fauna Sanctuary

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 2-hours ride to El Encano Town. At El Encano take an extra 20- minutes boat ride to Isla de la Corota Flora Sanctuary.

What to do in Isla de la Corota Flora and Fauna Sanctuary

You can take a boat tour through the waters of La Cocha, and enjoy hiking and birdwatching activities. Enjoy the nature that embellishes this place. Once there, you will find the Sanctuary has a 500-meter long trail that crosses it from side to side through the dense forest. You will find typical trees of the Andean forest, as well as orchids and ferns that complete a beautiful natural picture.


For hiking lovers, this Sanctuary has the El Quiche Trail (550 m, medium difficulty) that crosses the island from north to south through a dense forest of cold thermal floor, and the La Torota Trail (200 m, low difficulty), which allows observing the aquatic ecosystem with its diverse species.

El Quiche trail

It has a distance of 500 meters of medium intensity, where you can tour the island from north to south and visit the beautiful viewpoint where you can appreciate the beauty and immensity of the Laguna La Cocha along with the sounds of birds.

La Totora Trail

This trail has 200 meters of low intensity, where you can appreciate the aquatic ecosystem as well as visit the sanctuary’s resident and migratory bird sanctuary. Totora refers to the reeds (Schoenoplectus californicus) that surround Isla de la Corota Sanctuary

Fringe of reeds (Schoenoplectus californicus) around Isla de la Corota Sanctuary

Sanctuary of the Virgin of Lourdes

On the island there is also a Sanctuary of the Virgin of Lourdes, where devotees go to pray and serves as gathering for thousands of believers that annually come to pay their respect to the Virgin.

Birdwatching and Wildlife Observation

Despite the sanctuary’s size, it has an important presence of birds. There is a variety of species that live there, such as sparrows, cockatoos, and blackbirds, among others. There also inhabit three species of bats and one species of wild mice. The sanctuary has a record of 77 bird species, 22 of which are aquatic species and the remaining 55 are terrestrial.

Slate-colored Coot – Fulica ardesiaca at La Cocha Lagoon

Also, depending on the season in which you visit the sanctuary, you will be able to see migratory birds.

You will also find a great variety of butterflies and 8 species of amphibians belonging to the Pristimantis genus.

Orchids Tour

Moreover, the sanctuary has 341 species of flora belonging to 87 families, including bromeliads, anthuriums, ferns, mosses, lichens, and orchids. In the case of orchids there are 36 species that can be seen on your tour.

Where to stay in Isla de la Corota Flora and Fauna Sanctuary

Around La Cocha lagoon it is possible to stay according to your preferences. Available accommodation options include the  Sindamanoy Hotel, In Vereda El Puerto, 370 meters from the sanctuary’s shore, with a Swiss architecture offering single and multiple accommodations.

Best time to visit Isla de la Corota Flora 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 is when it rains the least, with an average temperature of 14º C (57 ºF).

Isla de la Corota Flora Sanctuary Entrance fees

The entrance fee varies depending on the nationality and age of the visitors. The transportation service from El Puerto has a cost of $35.000 round trip in handmade boats.

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.

What to consider before visiting Isla de la Corota Flora and Fauna Sanctuary

  • Wear warm clothes, gloves and scarf, comfortable shoes, preferably closed, tennis shoes or boots without high heels for the El Quiche trail.
  • Avoid consuming food or beverages of any kind during the tour on the trail.
  • The use of electronic devices that produce noise and disturb the tranquility of the place is prohibited.
  • Since the La Totora trail also serves as a dock for visitors to disembark, it is very important to be careful with children during the tour since there are only handrails on the inner side of the trail.
  • Be careful with personal objects (bags, clothes, cell phones, cameras, etc.); the administration is not responsible for objects left in the protected area.
  • Only walk along the marked trails; going into the forest causes impacts that go against the conservation objectives.
  • The entrance of pets or domestic animals (dogs, cats, etc.) is prohibited because of their natural behavior, they create impacts on the little fauna in the forest, we recommend looking for alternatives to not include them in your visit.

Some prohibitions

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

  • Castro J, Jojoa R, Delgado D, Villarreal M F (2020). Avistamiento de aves en el Santuario de Flora Isla de la Corota. Parques Nacionales Naturales de Colombia. Occurrence dataset accessed via on 2021-06-30.
  • Parque Nacionales Website
  • SITUR Nariño
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.