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.


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.