Trek through Colombia’s most famous mountain area. Climb up a glaciated volcano, hike through a páramo and cloud forest, and see all three of the national park’s snowy peaks. Be astounded by the variety of plants, birds and landscapes in this beautiful Andean environment.
Activities and trip highlights: • Use mountaineering techniques to climb up Nevado de Santa Isabel (no previous mountaineering experience required) • Trek through a páramo, a unique environment of glacial lakes and succulent plants • See all three snowy peaks of Los Nevados: Santa Isabel, El Ruiz and El Tolima • Hike through a cloud forest full of exotic birds and flowers • Sleep in quaint mountain farmhouses and get a taste of Andean farm life • See Valle del Cocora, home of the tallest palm trees in the world
Overview: “Los Nevados” refers to Santa Isabel, El Ruiz and El Tolima, volcanoes that are each over 4900 meters (16,076 feet) high and perennially covered in snow and ice. This national park is remarkable not only for having glaciated mountains in the tropics but also for its variety of ecosystems and rich biodiversity. Just below the harsh frozen environment of its highest peaks Los Nevados has the extremely fertile páramo. No English word exists for “páramo” because they are found only in Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador. Located at elevations of about 3000 to 4000 meters (9840 to 13,120 feet) these humid areas are like sponges, absorbing moisture from the high mountain atmosphere and storing them in succulent plants. Many animals also live in these zones. The páramo of Los Nevados is home to frailejones (cactus-like plants that are said to resemble friars), rabbits, eagles and Andean condors.
The cloud forest of the park begins where the páramo ends, at just under 3000 meters. There the climate remains cool and moist but squat succulents give way to towering moss-covered trees. A white shroud permeates the forest and gives it an air of mystery that would be eerie were it not broken by birdsong and bright colors. In biodiversity Colombia is first in the world in birds and second in flowers and the cloud forest of Los Nevados explodes with both. The forest is also full of Colombia’s national tree. The palma de cera (wax palm) are the tallest palm trees in the world and have wax covered trunks that can grow up to 60 meters (200 feet) long.
In this adventure you traverse Los Nevados from north to south, hiking 41 kilometers (25.5 miles) and crossing three departments. You’ll trek through all of the park’s different environments and enjoy spectacular sights every step of the way. You’ll climb Nevado de Santa Isabel and get views of the other two snowy peaks, El Ruiz and El Tolima. You’ll cross icy streams, take breaks at mountain lakes and pass waterfalls tumbling down from sheer rock cliffs. Exotic plants and birds such as the colchon de agua (water cushion) and mountain toucan will welcome you to their home during the day and at night you’ll be the guest of Colombian families in their farmhouses. This trek will let you experience the beauty and diversity of Los Nevados National Natural Park to the fullest.
Itinerary: Day 1: Travel through the Coffee Region Day 2: Climbing Santa Isabel Volcano Day 3: Otun Lake and the Páramo Day 4: Tolima Volcano and the Cloud Forest Day 5: The Wax Palm Forest and Cocora Valley