Despite being one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world, Colombia is a country that continuously falls under a hiker’s radar. Home to 59 national parks and protected areas, challenging high-altitude treks, and an extensive trail system, Colombia stands poised to claim its rightful position on every hiker’s bucket list.
Admittedly, Colombia never made it on my personal hiking bucket list until recently. The true catalyst for sparking my initial interest was my partner Marcelo, who is originally from Colombia. His childhood memories and stories of his personal experiences in the mountains kindled a curiosity within me. Before long, my curiosity ran rampant and we planned a six day adventure throughout the Colombian Andes(Opens in a new window) alongside Páramo Trek.
Our six days were nothing short of challenging. The ascents were long and steep, and the weather was a constant battle; though that is what to be expected when hiking in Colombia’s high-altitude environments. The terrain and weather only added to the sense of victory we felt every time we reached a summit, saw a sunrise after an intense storm, or laid our heads to rest after a full day of hiking. From staying with locals in their mountain homes to learning about the intricacies of the páramo ecosystem we were hiking amongst, trekking in Colombia delivered a rather rich experience.
I personally believe everyone should experience the Colombian Andes if possible. In doing so, you’ll experience a unique type of beauty and cultural immersion that is hard to replicate anywhere else in the world. For hikers looking to experience stunning landscapes, diverse ecosystems, local hospitality, and challenging trails, here’s why you should consider Colombia as your next hiking destination.(Opens in a new window)
1. There are a variety of unique accommodation options
For those who prefer day-hikes and would like to stay based in a nearby town, there are a handful of small mountain towns that cater to these types of adventures. Towns like Salento and Murillo are perfectly placed amongst the mountains, providing travelers with options to stay in simple, trendy, and/or luxurious hostels. These vibrant towns eagerly welcome travelers and provide a safe place to rest after a long day of hiking. Not to mention their colourful streets are lined with cafes, restaurants, and artisan shops – perfect for tasting Colombian cuisine and purchasing a few souvenirs prior to completing your adventure.
For those seeking a deeper immersion into the Andean wilderness, backcountry camping is the best way to do so (and something I highly recommend!). Pitching a tent beneath the stars and falling asleep to the sound of the wind rushing over the tops of the mountains is a truly rugged experience. Though one must be prepared to experience treacherous winds, rain, and unpredictable tropical storms if camping in Colombia’s páramo.
A unique facet of hiking in this particular region is the opportunity to stay in fincas. Fincas are small huts in the mountains that are lived in and run by local Colombian families. If completing a multi-day trek in the Andes, chances are you will stay in a handful of fincas. These families, who live and work amongst the mountains, open their homes to hikers. They provide a place to sleep, traditional meals, and warm showers. Not only do they provide the basic necessities for travelers passing through, but they also offer authentic insights into the lives of those who call the mountains their home.
2. You’ll experience a wide range of diverse ecosystems and microclimates
When trekking into the Colombian Andes, you’ll typically begin your journey in a tropical rainforest. The rainforests are infused with a symphony of sounds, from the rustling of leaves and the chatter of birds, to the distant hum of rivers rushing off the mountains. Sunlight filters through the dense canopy, casting colour and shadows on the trail’s soft floor. Amongst the dense forest, young wax palms compete for sunlight, while the ones who succeed tower above the canopy, stretching up to 60 meters in height. Below the trees, delicate orchids and mosses thrive, and the air is thick with the earthy scent of damp soil. It’s a rather enchanting experience prior to entering into higher elevations.
High-Altitude Páramo Ecosystem
If you choose to climb higher, a gradual transformation unfolds as you enter into the heart of the páramo ecosystem. As the temperature grows colder and the air becomes thinner, the rainforest gradually gives way to vast open spaces. Here, the world takes on a different character – the expansive skies and muted colours of the high-altitude flora create a backdrop where the frailejones are brilliantly showcased standing in their congregation. As you continue to ascend, clouds often cloak the scenery, veiling the landscape with a delicate mist that adds a mystical element to the hike.
3. There are trails that cater to every fitness level
For seasoned hikers hungry for an adrenaline-fueled adventure, the Andes deliver. Colombia is home to some of the most impressive high-altitude treks in South America. In particular, Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados is a hot-spot for high-altitude trekking, with its snow-covered volcanic peaks and challenging trails attracting hikers, climbers, and seasoned mountaineers from around the world.
Beginner - Intermediate Trails
But it's not only about the thrill of conquering extremes. The beauty of this region's trails lies in their inclusivity. The Andes offer a gracious introduction to hiking, providing paths that gently wind through more accessible landscapes. Leisurely trails that weave through rainforests, as well as moderate trails that bring hikers into the páramo are widely accessible.
4. The Colombian Andes is a haven for foodies
When hiking throughout Colombia, you can expect to dive into a flavourful journey through local cuisine. These culinary experiences will not only fuel your bodies, but it will also deepen your connection to the Colombian Andes and those who call it home.
When beginning your journey in town, you will have the opportunity to try several Colombian staple foods and dishes, including my favourite, the arepa. Made from maize and often paired with cheese or savoury toppings, these delicious pockets of goodness are a great way to fuel up before a big hike.
When resting at camp and in the backcountry, prepare to be lavished with delicious snacks and meals by your guides. Páramo Trek made sure to have us stoked with snacks, many of which were made by local Colombian companies. They also prepared lunches for us along the trail, complete with native fruits, meats, cheeses, and breads. On our final day in the mountains, our guides surprised us with a bottle of wine and a makeshift charcuterie board. Such a treat!
When staying in fincas, hikers can expect to enjoy traditional farm meals, including potato soup, fried plantain, and different meats. These meals, designed to fuel farmers with the nutrients they need to tackle strenuous farm work, also adequately fuel hikers for long days spent on the trails.
5. You’ll experience the mountains through the eyes of a local
Though hiking with a local trekking company isn’t required, it is something I highly recommend when exploring this region of the world. During our six-day adventure, we hiked alongside Páramo Trek, which enriched our experience tenfold.
Local trekking companies, staffed by experienced guides who call these mountains home, offer far more than just a route through the trails: they serve as interpreters of the land, sharing not only their deep knowledge of the area but also rich history, culture, and traditions of the mountains. Their intimate connection with the local communities fosters a sense of respect and responsibility, ensuring that your journey aligns with ethical and sustainable practices. Hiking with these local experts transforms the adventure into a holistic immersion, where every step becomes a lesson, every sight a revelation, and every moment a celebration of this remarkable corner of the world.
6. You’ll meet people from around the world
Hiking in the Colombian Andes, you’ll share the trails with a vibrant mix of individuals. Whether it’s fellow hikers from around the globe, each with their own tales of adventure, or the warm-hearted residents of nearby towns, the people you meet become an integral part of your journey. The interactions with both locals and other hikers blend seamlessly with the natural beauty, weaving unforgettable memories that make hiking in the Colombian Andes a truly exceptional adventure.
Need more convincing?
Check out my short film about our six-day adventure in the Colombian Andes, Into the Páramos.(Opens in a new window)