El Cocoy

To think that I almost skipped this park because of it's out of the way location is just crazy... Wow, that would have been a great shame.

BUT i have to say it was a lot of effort to get to!!It was not only the length, or the conditions of the routes that clearly are not the most frequented roads in this country, that surprised me, but also the change of temperatures, vegetation, people and architecture along the road. It took us (Anthea, Phil, Jordan and I) almost 12 hours on a bus from Bucaramanga to the small town of Malaga, it was suppose to be a 6 hour journey but because of a landslide (1.5hour wait) two flat tires (around 2.5 hours all up) and an dangerous and underdeveloped road we were extremely delayed. From here we were supposed to bus to Capitanejo but we were so late there were no busses so we ended up catching a taxi. We finally found someone that was willing to drive us the 45 min journey and were on our way out a town when we were delayed yet again. A massive digger was stuck in the middle of the road and no-one could pass by. After about 20 minutes we managed to find a taxi van on the other side on the breakdown that was able to take us and and a few others...

We finally arrive at around 7pm - much to late to catch the bus to El Cocuy so we decided to stay the night at a small local hotel. By this stage we were exhausted but we managed to get some cheap burgers and feel asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillow!!! The following morning we woke up to an incredible view of the mountains after spending 10 minutes walking through the entire town and trying to find a bus we realized our only real option was to taxi the final two hours of our journey... We had a pretty awesome taxi driver and it only ended up costing us $150,000 about $75. We finally arrived around 11.30/12pm to the small village of El Cocuy, around 30 hours after we left our first destination, at 2750 meters above sea level, it had extraordinary views of the mountains all around. It is a very charming village but before we could explore we first had to find a hotel and sort out a tour for the following day up at El Cocuy National Park. After this was done we had some dinner and walked around the town then it was time to get some sleep so that we could get up early the following day in order to be able to get on the small mountain routes up to the national park in front of the milk carriages! We found a nice hotel, with a patio, a nice-sounding fountain that puts you sweetly to sleep, and supposedly haunted by ghosts.

The following day we were up with the roosters at 5am, ready for some hiking! We headed down to the main part of town to get the milk truck... The mountain road was amazing, and quite dangerous. There were occasionally houses and people watching cattle but most of the way was just lined with stone and grass. After about an hour we got off the truck and started our two hour trek to our Cabana Herrera. We finally arrived about 10am.

To acclimatize (the huts were at 3800m) and to explore, we went on a small hike up to the lagoons. There were four successive lagoons, all with a different color and we reached up to above 4000m. The landscape of El Cocuy was the highlight. I have never seen such strange cactus-like plants. They are called frailejons I was told that they grow only a centimeter a year... pretty amazing. Walking around the lagoons took us till mid afternoon. Of course on our way back it started to rain and it was COLD!!!! When we finally reached the Cabana there was no hot water and no heating in the houses.

We tried to have a little nap to warm up and unfortunately missed lunch... by 5pm we were all starving having only had granola at 5am this morning and a few snacks. We were told dinner would not be until around 7.30pm so we ended up raiding the kitchen for a bit of the lunches leftovers. By 7pm after a few rounds of cards we were ready for another dinner and were spoiled with a massive soup, beef, rice, plantain ( my absolute favourite) and a little dessert!! Over the afternoon the weather had only got colder and we cold see our breath at the dinner table. Therefore it was of course mandatory to sleep in warm clothes and hope not to wake up in the middle of the night having to pee! ;o)

For breakfast we had exactly the same thing as we had the day before for dinner: a massive three course meal soup, bread, hot chocolate, cheese, eggs and coffee. It was a good way to start the day. When we started our journey to touch the snow, we had a local guide with us and another couple of guys that had trekked with us the day before. One was a Opera singer and was planning to video himself at the snow line. I have to admit it is completely different walking at altitude to anywhere else. The moment you go a bit fast you can't breath and it takes a lot of effort to keep your breath under control. The boys had headaches a few times of the two days and struggled a bit more then the girls. After several hours of walking up Pan De Azuca, through massive rocks and up huge mountains we finally saw the snow! The weather was a bit foggy so we had to wait a while to see PĂșlpito del Diablo, but finally the cloud settled for a bit and we were able to take some photos. It was beautiful, i have never been in awe of anything like i was on this hike. After spending about an hour in the snow we started our hike back down which was A LOT easier for all. Overall it took us about 6.5 hours - not to bad for our first altitude hike. We decided to stay one more day at the Cabana and the next morning we got the 4wd down to El Cocuy.

That night we got to the bus station around 5.30pm which was just in time to get on the night Bus to start our journey to San Gil. This bus was to take around 8 hours and at 1am we arrived in Tunja a small university town where we had to change buses to get to San Gil. Our next bus left at 3am and took about 5 hours. I have to say we were all pretty happy when we finally arrived in civilization.

I asked one of the locals how many tourists they get in the area per month and he told me only about 20-30 a month! It is hard to believe that most tourists miss this beautiful place- but the lack of tourism has also made El Cocuy a true hidden gem and I feel so privileged to have been able to visit such an "off the beaten path" location thank you Anthea for taking us on this extreme adventure!