Those visiting Colombia, and especially Bogota, have a unique opportunity to visit a rare ecosystem only found in this corner of the world, the paramo. The paramo is characterized by being above the treeline, but below the permanent snowline in tropical and semitropical climates. Found only in the Northern Andes (primarily Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, & Peru), the paramo landscape is otherworldly, dotted with uncommon shrubs, grasses, and rosette plants, and inhabited by a variety of fauna including the culpeo (paramo wolf), deer, bears, a variety of insects, and 69 species of birds. Near Bogota, there are two national parks where visitors can experience the paramo: Sumapaz National Park & Chingaza National Park. Only having time to visit one, I opted for Chingaza National Park and the Lagunas de Siecha, as it is a bit closer and easier to manage with a day trip (NOTE: Chingaza is a massive park, and this post only highlights one small area).
For all options, make sure you get an early start. It was rumored that only 40 people were allowed into this park entrance a day, yet the day we went, there were more than 40 when we arrived and they still let us through. But to be on the safe side, and to enjoy the day, plan to arrive at the park entrance by 9 - 9:30.
1| Join a Tour that will bus you over from Bogota and guide you through the park. A recommended tour outfitter is Andes EcoTours (a full day tour will run you about $70/person). This is a good option to avoid any hassles and to just enjoy the scenery.
2| Rent a car. Although this is an easy option, the roads at the very end of the drive are rather rocky, so make sure you are comfortable driving in that environment and have insurance for any damage. Follow the signs for Lagunas de Siecha in Chingaza.
3| Take a bus from Calle 72 & Carrera 13 (6000 pesos or approx $2 each way) in Bogota and hop off in the small town of Guasca. Here you either need to wrangle a guide or find someone to drive you the 30 mins to the park entrance. We were able to find a truck and negotiate a drop off and pick up for 10,000 pesos or approx $3.50/person each way.
After parking or getting dropped off, walk up the road about 10 minutes. After passing a pine tree blip, you will come out to a grassy area with a wooden cabin on your left. Stop in the cabin to register and pay the entry fee. For non resident foreigners (aka me), the fee was 42,000 pesos or approx $14 per person. There are bathrooms here as well, so be sure to use them before beginning your hike.
Follow the obvious path from the cabin up the hill and you will begin to see the scenery and plant life change. The beginning of the hike is the most difficult as it's mostly uphill / the altitude (the hike begins at 3200 m) will likely you affect you some. Take plenty of breaks and stay hydrated.
Along the pathway you will begin to see various plants, including the frailejones, perhaps the most famous of the paramo foliage. Frailejones, purportedly from the sunflower family, have soft fuzzy leaves and grow only at high altitudes.
Meandering along with a bit of up and down you will pass each lake, the first named Fausto, the second Americas, and the last and largest Siecha. Siecha is the perfect spot to stop for lunch or a snack. Enjoy the blue waters, the unique plant life, and the dramatic rocks jutting up across the lake while you re-hydrate.
After lunch, hike up the hills for stunning panoramic views of all three lakes and the surrounding landscape. Whenever you're ready, follow the trail back down to the starting cabin. The roundtrip hike plus plenty of breaks for water and photography and a leisurely lunch took us about 3-3.5 hours. Take whichever method you used to arrive at Chingaza back to Bogota.
THINGS TO BRING
1| Layers! The day we went was relatively warm, but if you hike up the hills and pause to enjoy the scenery you will likely feel chilled. Layers are the way to go.
2| Hiking Boots - the path is rocky in some areas and there is quite a bit of up and down, so sturdy shoes or hiking boots are recommended.
3| Bring food, snacks, & water - there wasn't much in the way of food purchasing options near the park. Be sure to bring snacks and items to tide you over for lunch.
4| Camera - The paramo scenery is truly one-of-a-kind, you will most definitely wish to document it!
5| Go with fun people - If you don't opt for the guide option, getting to this hike takes a bit of "go with the flow" so go with positive, easy going people (my group of four was awesome btw).
RECOMMENDED CHINGAZA ESSENTIALS