After the coastal heat and the city time, in Panama and recently Cartagena, we mutually decided it was time to break Pedro back in to camping mode and head for the mountains. We set our sights for Parque Nacional Natural El Cocuy. Three days later we finally made it. The first driving day out of Cartagena was our 4th wedding anniversary. We left a little later in the day than anticipated and we learned our lesson (again?) when we got stuck in the dark in a truck stop town in the middle of nowhere Colombia. Google Bosconia if you want to bookmark a good place to never spend an anniversary, or a night for that matter. The evening was only redeemed by the AMAZING street side dinner of patacones, beer and perfectly grilled chicken breast, made extra great by the friendly owner who gave us free dessert and apples for our journey. The following day we found ourselves in the larger city of Bucaramanga. We found great, secure parking and a room near the market to prep for the week ahead of camp time.
From Bucaramanga the drive to the town of El Cocuy took us around 13 hours. The road was all over the place, with stretches of perfect pavement for 5 minutes at a time quickly turning to the slowest crawling over rocky dirt roads, including literally having to wait for an excavator to clear us a new path after a rock slide. Luckily I didn't have to keep my eyes on the road and could enjoy the dense fogged valleys, the brillant purple trees, and all the small towns with churches towering out of the hillsides. Overall, Pedro (and Eric) were not pumped on the timing, the altitude or the ridiculous 200 miles but at 7:15 pm on Sunday we pulled into the sleepy little town. We woke up to beautiful views and a large breakfast at our hotel, which was a quaint, three room house sitting above the town. That morning Eric and I walked into El Cocuy to stretch our lungs and to gather the last of the supplies. We also had to purchase our park entry and mandatory safety insurance for a mountain rescue if needed. It cost us $7,000 COP per person per day we hiked, which was a great benefit for the just in case situation. For this being a remote area the park did a great job working with the town and the tiny ranger stations, being aware of where it’s few visitors were camping and hiking.
Our first stop once in the park was Kabanas Kanwara. They have a perfect place to camp, with views of multiple peaks and sheep that wander around throughout the day. There were other people staying in the little A-frame cabins on the property who were going on two day, guided treks up to the peak of Ritacuba Blanco, which sits at 5330 meters. Since we were not super interested in donning crampons and crossing the glacier, we planned to make it to the snowline. The first evening the altitude was bearable but camping at 13,000+ feet meant headaches, heavy breathing, and super slowness, of body and mind. The following morning, whether we were ready or not, we grabbed our pack and warm clothes for the hike up to snowline. It might have been because it was the first day, or the perfect weather conditions, but this was our favorite hike we ended up doing. The valley was beautiful and just kept getting deeper as we went. Funny enough, we could see Pedro the entire hike, although only a spot at the end. Uphill was an understatement, especially when you’re moving your body upwards at 15k feet. It was slow going for the last bit, but we were so happy to make it to the top. In total it was 7 hours, 4 up and 3 back. That evening we were exhausted, but enjoyed a hot meal and soaked in the intense darkness and incredible stars. We shared a well-deserved beer after reaching our 16,000+ feet mark and fell asleep by 8:30 pm.
After our two days at Kanwara we decided to head over to Hacienda La Esperanza for our last two evenings. Instead of going straight there, we drove to the trailhead for Laguna de los Verdes to walk and stretch our legs. We knew we didn’t plan to make it to the lake and just enjoyed lunch by the river with the sunshine and views of the valley. After the strenuous first day we figured 2-3 hours of moving was good enough for us. On our way back through the valley we had some of the clearest views of the peaks yet, including the elusive, usually fog covered El Pulpito del Diablo. Around 4 pm we arrived and set up camp at Esperanza.
Hacienda La Esperanza has been in the same family for four generations, over 200 years according to the younger son who mainly runs the place. His father was the man who originally greeted us and quickly gave us the tour of his home, including his collection of irons (one gasoline powered), sheep quality ribbons, cowboy apparel (for photo ops), family photographs and a Japanese thermometer. Our planned hike out of the hacienda was up to Laguna Grande de la Sierra. Unfortunately, we did not make it to the lake but still enjoyed it as our last hike in the park. The weather, after three perfect days, decided to take a turn, sending us rain, wind and snow straight to the face about an hour from the top. Wet and freezing we sadly turned back. Our personal rationalizations about “the poor visibility anyway” were met when we heard stories that evening from people who had been an hour or two ahead of us.
We left the park on our 5th day and made our way back to the same place we stayed the first evening in El Cocuy. With a decent price for the great accommodations, beyond friendly owners and good food, it was a perfect stop to prep for our long drive out of this area. Anna even packed us sandwiches for our drive and took photos with our casa carro for the website. Our next stop is Medellin. Pedro needs some general maintenance and repairs and since we didn’t take the time to stop earlier, we need to take the time now. Overall, we absolutely loved our time in the national park. Our hikes were beautiful and difficult and camping was just cold enough that you weren’t miserable but bundled. The weather, besides that one day, could not have been better and the scenery was breathtaking. Also, we reached a new milestone of making it to 16,000+ feet! We’re not going to lie, it was a pain in the ass to get there but it was so worth it.