Hiking Parque Nacional Del Cocuy - Guican in Boyaca, Colombia

I was standing on the edge of Pride Rock overlooking a giant pillow of snow with icy mountains to the left and a giant glacier to the right. I was struggling for breath at 4,950m above sea-level, but that view, even for the 5 minutes we had before the clouds came in, made it all worth it.

Sierra Nevada del Cocuy (or Parque Natural Sierra Nevada del Cocuy Chita o Guican) is a national park within the Cordillera Oriental Mountain Range in the Andes Mountain Range in the North-Eastern Part of Colombia.

This is a long-form article about my experience hiking in Parque Nacional Del Cocuy, with the specific intention to help you visit this beautiful National park and go hiking in Colombia.

The article has been prepared to provide you with all the information you need plan your trip to Cocuy, Boyaca and hiking in Parque Nacional Del Cocuy - the Sierra Nevada. It has been broken into the following parts and you can use the talel of contents below to skip to the section that interests you most:

The Hike
- The Ritacuba Trail or ‘La Ruta Norte’

About Sierra Nevada
About Cocuy
About Sierra Nevada National Park
-History and Access Status of Cocuy National Park

Organizing your Hike
How to get to Cocuy, Boyaca
- From Medellín to Cocuy
- From Bogota to Cocuy
Where to stay in Cocuy
Hiking Options in the Sierra Nevada
- The Ritacuba Trail or ‘La Ruta Norte’
- Laguna Grande de la Sierra Trail or ‘La Ruta Central’
- Lagunillas / El Pulpito Trail or “La Ruta Sur’
Where to stay before your hike in the Sierra Nevada
Getting to the Fincas
My Recommendations
Preparing for your hike in Cocuy
- Finding a Guide
- Buying Insurance
- Registration
What to pack
Leaving Cocuy

*If you are interested in reading about my experience on the hike and seeing the conditions of what to expect then go to ‘The Hike’ section.
*If you are don’t want all the information and want to quickly plan your trip I recommend going straight to the ‘My Recommendations’ section.
*If you are planning on going to Cocuy and hiking in the Sierra Nevada the ‘Organizing your Hike’ section is for you.

The Hike

Hiking in Parque Nacional Del Cocuy

The Ritacuba Trail or ‘La Ruta Norte’

We didn’t know what we were getting into. It wasn’t planned. We got on a bus to Cocuy on a whim based on a few photos of we saw of snow-capped mountains in Colombia. “I want to go there” I said. 23 hours of bus travel later we were in Cocuy and organising our hike. For the details you can skip to the ‘organizing your hike’ section, but for now, all you need to know is that we hiked the Ritacuba Trail, and I would do it again.

The Ritacuba Trail is 13.8km round trip hike to in the northern most section of the Sierra Nevada National Park del Cocuy. It takes a total of 8 hours and has an elevation gain from 4050m to 4950m.

Below is an account of our experience hiking the Ritacuba Trail in the Sierra Nevada Del Cocuy:

7:00am - The trail starts of on farmland to the border of the National Park. The walk is fairly easy to begin, with mild inclines and descents.

7:40am - After 40 minutes of walking we reached the Frailejones landscape and begin our ascent. We climbed a relatively steep gravel path that had streams, rocks and vegetation all around.

9:20am - We arrived at a small alpine lake and continued climbing through Frailejones landscape, noticing there was less vegetation and more rocks present.

10:00am - The glacier was within sight. Clouds passed us by at times and blocked our views down and up the mountain.

10:15am - We arrived at the base of where the Ritacuba glacier once was before it receded up the mountain. What is left is the remaining rippling rock formations it sculpted overtime.

10:45am - Clouds covered us as we climbed up the rock path to the edge of the glacier. 

11:15am - We climbed up the rocky mountain edge. The rock formations were notably bigger. The air was also notably thinner. I was stopping more often to catch my breath.

11:30am - The clouds cleared as we arrive at the peak. A giant pillow of snow covered the valley and we could see all the surrounding mountain peaks - Picos Sin Nombres (5000m), Ita U’wa Norte (5,200m), U’wa Blanco (5,330m) and Ita U’wa Negro (5,300m). The Ritacuba Glacier sat to our right. We took our photos and soaked in the views.

11.35am - The clouds passed by again and screened all views. We stayed for an extra ten minutes in hope that the skies would open up again, but learnt from our guide Lidel that at this time (midday) they usually don’t. So we began our descent (11:50am).

3.00pm - We arrived back at Kanwara Cabanas. We walked from the peak to the base without breaks. A rainstorm caught us on our descent, leaving us very wet and unable to do any more hikes.

4:30pm - After changing into warm clothes and a quick lunch our driver took us back to Cocuy.

An incredible experience and highly recommended. I will be going back to hike in Cocuy, but better prepared to be able to do the remaining two hikes and hopefully multi-day hikes if they open the park up again.

The remainder of this article will help you prepare for your trip to hike in the Sierra Nevada Del Cocuy. All the information we didn’t have has been organised below.

About Sierra Nevada

About Cocuy

Cocuy is a small town 1.5 hours from Sierra Nevada Del Cocuy in the department of Boyaca. It has a strong and memorable visual identity with its mint green (to represent ‘hope’) and white (to represent ‘peace’) facades throughout the entire town.

The locals wear Brown ‘Ruanas’ (thick ponchos), which are typical to the region.

For accommodation options in Cocuy see - Where to Stay in Cocuy

About Sierra Nevada Del Cocuy National Park

Sierra Nevada Del Cocuy National Park is a pristine hiking destination within Colombia. The park itself is 306,000km2 and features beautiful paramo landscapes, waterfalls, alpine lakes and the following high snow capped mountains:

Pan de Azúcar (5120m) | Diamante (4800 m) | el Púlpito del Diablo (5100 m) | Toti (4800 m) | Portales (4800 m) | Cóncavo (5200 m) | Concavito (5100 m) | San Pablines South (5180 m) and North (5200 m) | Ritacuba Blanco (5330 m) | Picacho (5030 m) | Puntiagudo (5200 m) | Ritacuba Negro (5300 m) | el Castillo (5100 m) | Peak without name (5000 m) | Sirara (5200 m).

History and access status of Cocuy National Park

  • In 2014 the 5 day-trek was closed out due to environmental concerns from the indigenous tribes (the U’wa) and local farmers.
  • Later 2016, the entire park was set ‘off-limits’ for the same reasons and poor management of the trails.
  • In April 2017 parts of the park (3 trails) were then reopened to the public. The reopening is a six month trial, where studies are being undertaken for 6 months to assess the impact of tourism in the park itself.

Currently camping is prohibited in the park itself and you need to stay in either Cocuy or Guican or in a Finca outside the park itself. Previously you could do multi-day hikes and camp within the national park.

There are currently three trails open to the public, all of which have restricted numbers per day and require a guide.

The studies will finish in October 2017, where they will evaluate if the park is to be closed for good, if the three trails will remain open, or if they will open more of the park and allow multi-day treks.

Organizing for your Hike

How to get to Cocuy, Boyaca

If you want to hike in the Sierra Nevada del Cocuy-Guican you will need to travel to Cocuy or Guican via bus or ground transport as there are no airports. The quickest way is from Bogota, but I have outlined both options from Medellin and Bogota below:

From Medellin to Cocuy

To get to Cocuy from Medellin, take a bus from the Northern Bus Terminal to Tunja. At the Northern terminal go to the Omega Bus Company ticket station, which is booth number 18. Tickets cost 80,000COP. The Bus from Medellin to Tunja leaves at 9pm every night and takes 12 hours, this includes several stops.

To get from Tunja to Cocuy-Guican, you can get a direct bus. They run relatively frequently. We only needed to wait half an hour and we were ushered onto the next bus. The bus from Tunja to Cocuy costs 35,000COP and takes 9-10 hours. This also included several stops.

Alternatively you can fly or take a bus to Bogota and then take a bus to Cocuy-Guican. This will cost a little more but will save you up to 12 hours. See from bogota below.

From Bogota to Cocuy

To get to Cocuy-Guican from Bogota, take a bus with Expreso Paz Del Rio S.A Bus Company. Tickets from Bogota to Cocuy-Guican cost 45,000COP and depart with the following schedule (arrival time in brackets):

  • 5:00am (3:00pm)
  • 6:00am (4:00pm)
  • 2:00pm (12:00am)
  • 6:00pm (4:00am)
  • 8:20pm (6:20am)

The trip from Bogota to Cocuy-Guican takes 10 hours and stops a few times. With the above schedule I would recommend the 5:00am bus to ensure you arrive before the National Park Registration Offices, which close at 4pm. That way you will be able to get an early start and hike the next day, providing you have organized transport.

Where to stay in Cocuy

Before hiking in the Sierra Nevada del Cocuy you will most likely need to spend a night in Cocuy or Guican, as you need to register in the National Park Office before entering the park. Both Cocuy and Guican have National Park Offices and you only need to register yourself in one of them.

We stayed in Cocuy and would recommend the same. Cocuy is better prepared for tourists, by that I mean it has more hotels and restaurants, even though the numbers are limited. Personally, I found the town itself to be more interesting with its mint green and white facades.

Note: Restaurants are part of the hotels and the kitchens close at 8pm.

The names and contact details of the hotels in Cocuy, in which we stayed (1 night each) are below:

Hotel La Posada Del Molino
Carrera 3 No 7-51 Sector El Pino
Mobile: 312 352 9121
Mobile: 310 494 5076
Fixed: +57 098 780 0377
Facebook: www.facebook.com/posadadelmolino
*The hotel was full because it was ‘un puente’ (long weekend / public holiday) and we were given a cabana one block outside of town (two blocks from the hotel itself) for 90,000COP between 3 people. The Cabana had 5 single beds and hot water. I believe the standard price will be 30,000COP per person.

Hotel Casa Munoz
Carrera 5 #7-28, El Cocuy, Boyacá
321 2427461
*We paid 60,000COP for a room with two double beds (between three people).

Hiking Options in the Sierra Nevada

As mentioned in the ‘About Sierra Nevada Del Cocuy National Park’ section there are currently three hiking options in the Sierra Nevada del Cocuy. Each hike will take you to different areas in the National Park as outlined below:

The Ritacuba Trail or ‘La Ruta Norte’

Distance : 13.8km round trip.
Estimated time : 8 hours
Elevation Gain : 4050m to 4950m
What you see : The Ritacuba Trail starts at the most northern point of the park and is named such as you climb to the edge of the Ritacuba Glacier. If you make good time you can ascend further to the lookout point of Picos Sin Nombres (5000m), Ita U’wa Norte (5,200m), U’wa Blanco (5,330m) and Ita U’wa Negro (5,300m).

You can read more about the full trail here.

Laguna Grande de la Sierra Trail or ‘La Ruta Central’

Distance : 21.2km round trip
Estimated time : 10-12 hours
Elevation Gain : unsure
What you see : The Laguna de la Sierra Trail takes you to the centre of the park through the Valle de los Frailejones to the main attraction ‘Laguna de la Sierra’, which is situated in a valley and surrounded by mountain peaks. From here you will have views to ‘Cierra de la Plaza’ (4900m), ‘El Portillo’ (4900m), El Totti (4900m), El Concavito (5100m) and El Concavo (5200m).

Lagunillas / El Pulpito Trail or “La Ruta Sur’

Distance : 15.6km round trip
Estimated time : 10 hours
Elevation Gain : unsure
What you see : The Lagunullas / El Pulpito trail will lead you by ‘El Hotelito’ (4200m) and ascends to the snowline to view ‘El Pulpito Del Diablo’ (5070m) and El Pan de Azucar (5100m). From here you will have views to Lagunas del Pan de Azucar, El Totti (4900m), ‘El Portillo’ (4900m).

Where to stay before your hike in the Sierra Nevada

To ensure you make the most of your hike in the Sierra Nevada del Cocuy it is recommended that you stay at the Fincas before the trailheads. The Fincas and trailheads are an hour and a half from Cocuy or one hour and ten minutes from Guican.

You should organise to stay in the Finca that is closest to the trialhead / trek you want to do as organised below. Prices are shown where I noted them. As a rule of thumb expect to pay 45,000COP in Fincas close to the trailheads and 20,000COP further from trailheads.

The Ritacuba Trail or ‘La Ruta Norte’

This is the hike we did which you can read about here. We stayed at Kanwara (details below) in a Cabana and cost 45,000COP per person. That included firewood.

La Posada Sierra Nevada
311 237 8619
*La Posada Sierra Nevada is 20 minutes walk into the trek.

Kanwara Cabanas
311 231 6004
* Kanwara Cabanas are located at the start of the trailhead.
Meals: Breakfast 15.000COP, lunch and dinner: 25.000COP. no kitchen available

Penas Blancas
311 241 7115
*Penas Blancas is a half hour - hour walk to the trail head. Better to have them organise transport to the trailhead in the morning.

Laguna Grande de la Sierra Trail or ‘La Ruta Central’

La Esperanza
320 328 1674
314 221 2573
*La Esperanza is the closest to the trailhead of Valle de Los Frailejones

La Capilla
313 322 0593
*La Capilla is 1.8km from La Esperanza and the trailhead, which means you will either need to organise a lift to the trailhead in the morning or walk the extra distance. La Capilla or your guide will be able to organise that.
Prices: 25.000COP per person. Meals: kitchen available

Lagunillas / El Pulpito Trail or “La Ruta Sur’

Cabanas el Pulpito
3133099734
3134592553
Prices: 30.000COP per person
Meals: Breakfast 8.000COP, Lunch and Dinner 10.000COP

Guaicany
3105667554
* Cabanas el Pulpito and Guaicany are the closest accommodation options for the Lagunillas/El Pulpito Trail. They are also 5.9km from La Esperanza and the Laguna Grande de la Sierra trailhead, which means you will either need to organise a lift to this trailhead in the morning or walk the extra distance.

Getting to the Fincas

To get up to any of the fincas you can organise transport in a jeep (80,000-120,000COP) or you can take a ‘Lechero’ (Milk truck) from the town square in Cocuy at around 5am and 6am, which returns at 3pm. 

We organized transport with Pablo Lizaro from El Cocuy Mountain Adventure. You can contact Pablo on 320 410 8377. Pablo can also organise all guides and accommodation options if he is your driver.

My Recommendations

In order to make the most of your time in Cocuy, I recommend staying at three different Fincas to ensure you are as close to the trailheads of the respective trail.

The following itinerary is just an example but if you wanted to hike all three trails then you would need a minimum of 6 days, this means no rest days!

You can do the treks in the following order or change it, book all accommodation and organise transport before you arrive:

Before Arriving to Cocuy
Book accommodation for fincas (see below) and organise transport up and between fincas with Pablo Lizaro (320 410 8377) (Pablo can organise all guides and book accommodation for you in advance)

Day one

  1. Stay one night in Cocuy at Hotel Casa Munoz (321 242 7461)

Day two

  1. Organise a guide for the treks you will be undertaking. See finding a guide section
  2. Buy insurance for 3 days (7000 pesos per day) see insurance section
  3. Register to enter park at the Registration Office in Cocuy. See registration section
  4. Travel up to Kanwara Cabanas (311 231 6004) to acclimatise and stay one night

Day three

  1. Hike The Ritacuba Trail or ‘La Ruta Norte’ and return to Kanwaras
  2. Get your pre organised transportation to La Esperanza (320 328 1674) and stay one night

Day Four

  1. Hike Laguna Grande de la Sierra Trail or ‘La Ruta Central’ and return to La Esperanza
  2. Get your pre organised transportation to Cabanas el Pulpito (313 309 9734) and stay one night

Day Five

  1. Hike Lagunillas / El Pulpito Trail or “La Ruta Sur’ and return to Cabanas el Pulpito
  2. Get your pre organised transportation back to Cocuy and stay in Hotel Casa Munoz

Day Six

  1. Take bus back to Bogota (which can be organised the night before) see leaving Cocuy

Preparing for your hike in Cocuy

Finding a guide

You can find a list of guides on the wall at either of the National Park Registration Offices in Cocuy or Güicán, or better to organise before hand. Generally your hotels or the owners of the Fincas can organise guides for you, which means you could have a separate guide for each trek day.

The cost is between 100,000 -120,000COP per day, and each guide can take up to 6 people in their group.

Buying Insurance

You will need to buy insurance before entering the National Park del Cocuy. Insurance costs 7000COP per person / per day and you must buy insurance for you guide as well. If you have travel insurance then you will need to provide the documents.

Registration

Only after you have organised your guides and got insurance can you register yourself. The registration process entails a short introductory lesson and prices are outlined below:

  • Colombian Nationals over 25 years of age - 28,000COP
  • Foreigners - 55,500COP
  • Children and Students under 25 years of age - 13,500COP

The National Park Registration Offices are located below:

El Cocuy Registration Office:
Calle 5 # 4-22.
Mon – Sun, 7am – 11:45am and 1pm – 4:45pm.
Tel: (57 8) 789 0359

Güicán Registration Office:
Transversal 4a # 6-60.
Mon – Sun, 7am – 11:45am and 1pm – 4:45pm.
Tel: (57 8) 789 7280

What to pack

Sierra Nevada Del Cocuy is possibly the coldest part of Colombia. So prepare for the cold and wet weather. Below is a list of what to pack categorised into essentials and extras:

Essentials

  • Rain jacket
  • Fleece or down jacket
  • Hiking boots / waterproof boots
  • Quick Dry Pants of Waterproof pants
  • Warm Socks
  • Backpack
  • Water Bottle (you can fill up from rivers on the trail)
  • Snacks for the trail (nuts, cereal bars & granola)
  • Thermals (top and bottoms for sleeping at night)

Extras

  • Camera
  • Extra Batteries
  • Camera Charger
  • Walking stick
  • Sleeping Bag

*All Cabanas have mattresses and blankets so you don’t need a sleeping bag, but I would suggest thermals to stay warm.

*You can buy breakfast, dinner and lunch at most fincas so you don’t need to bring food. Some fincas have kitchens where you can cook at.

Leaving Cocuy

Buses leave from Cocuy to Bogota (45,000COP) and Cocuy to Tunja (35,000COP) daily. You can buy tickets at the Gacela Bus Company, which is facing the Main Square.

The Bus to Bogota or Tunja leaves Cocuy (9 hours) at:

  • 5:00am
  • 6:30am; &
  • 8:00pm

I hope you found this article interesting and helpful. Mum We Are Fine is all about traveling to unique and beautiful destinations then sharing my experience so others can do the same.

Please write me in the comment section below if you have any questions and I will do my best to answer them.

 

Looking to travel somewhere else in Colombia?

If you found this article interesting, perhaps you would like to know more about other travel destinations in Colombia?

Check out the travel guides below.

COCUY
COCUY
COCUY
Glaciers and Snow-Capped Mountains in Colombia
RINCON DEL MAR
RINCON DEL MAR
RINCON DEL MAR
The gateway to the San Bernardo Islands
JURADO
JURADO
JURADO
The last town on the Pacific Coast before Panama
TAYRONA
TAYRONA
TAYRONA
Hiking on the northern coast of Colombia
PUNTA GALLINAS
PUNTA GALLINAS
PUNTA GALLINAS
The most northern point of Colombia
LOS NEVADOS
LOS NEVADOS
LOS NEVADOS
Cloud forests and water generating ecosystems
TINTIPÁN
TINTIPÁN
TINTIPÁN
A paradise island with crystal clear waters
PILÓN DE AZÚCAR
PILÓN DE AZÚCAR
PILÓN DE AZÚCAR
Where the orange desert meets the turquoise sea
CABO DE VELA
CABO DE VELA
CABO DE VELA
A small fishing town with excellent kite surfing
VALLE DEL COCORA
VALLE DEL COCORA
VALLE DEL COCORA
The largest palm trees in the world
JARDIN
JARDIN
JARDIN
A place to unwind, drink coffee and visit a waterfall
FILANDIA
FILANDIA
FILANDIA
The hidden gem in the Coffee Region
BARANQUILLA CARNIVAL
BARANQUILLA CARNIVAL
BARANQUILLA CARNIVAL
The second biggest Carnival in South America
EL VALLE
EL VALLE
EL VALLE
Where the rainforest meets the sea

  1. Michael Reply

    Hi Anton.
    Fantastic website. Really helpfull for me planning my next trip…
    I am getting more and more exited about Colombia after reading your stories.

    1. Thanks Michael, I really hope you enjoy your time. Cocuy was one of my favourite trips within Colombia. That, La Guajira, Salento, Filandia and Chocó.

  2. Hannah Reply

    Hello! My names hannah, I’ve been thinking about doing a hike or two within He Sierra Nevada national park and I just wanted a few more details. What experience level do you personally have for hiking? And in order for me to hike the same hike as you (Ritacuba trail) is it necessary to have lots of experience? I’ve begun hiking as I started traveling ecuador and my most difficult hike personally was going up to the glacier in Cotopaxi national park. (I know it’s not that much) any advice you could give me would be great! Email me if you can !

    1. Hi Hannah, I have don’t a fair bit of hiking in Patagonia and here in Colombia. But I wouldn’t say I am a seasoned professional.

      On all hikes in Cocuy you will need a guide so you will be in safe hands. Altitude isn’t too high so it isn’t much of a problem. Having said that I would always recommend leaving early and taking it slow to ensure you acclimatise. The clouds set in a 12pm, so if you leave earlier you will be able to either take it slower or enjoy more time at the top. Win win.

      I will email as well incase you don’t get this.

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