How I Ended Up in a Mountain Range in Remote Colombia

By Leigh McAdam

It was sometime in May last year when my husband and I decided we should book a trip – somewhere, anywhere for the following winter on our airline points. We live in Calgary and as much as I like snow and the outdoors, by February I long for a break that includes sunshine and more hours of daylight.

I got on the computer and started typing in dates that would correspond to when we‘d like to go. Arizona was gone. So was anywhere in California. I looked further afield. Forget Europe – it wasn’t warm enough. I hit on Bogota, typed in the dates and voila.

Bogota, Colombia it was.

Fast forward to October and it was time to start contemplating what our trip to Colombia would actually look like. I did mention I like sunshine but I’m fussy. I don’t want it too hot either. Many tourists to Colombia end up in the Cartagena area – a city with a UNESCO site or on the beaches but a check of the temperatures put both of us off.

Medellin – sounds like a very nice city but I’m just not that into cities.

The coffee district – now that looked promising with lots of fincas to visit and a hike among the wax palms – but the logistics of getting there were initially off-putting.

And the Choco region sounds out of this world with its pristine rain forests, an abundance of marine animals, incredible birdlife (Colombia has more bird species than any other country on the planet) and a rugged coastline. But we decided that we’d save this area for another trip.

"Beautiful sight of a mountain lake in remote Colombia"

Mountain lake in Remote Colombia

Then the Sierra Nevada del Cocuy – a remote mountain range close to the Venezuela border caught my eye. And the Michelin Guide gave it three stars – as good as it gets.

After hours of research I uncovered a local trekking company – but I was still nervous about the area. It was definitely off limits during the drug wars and I wasn’t sure about the reliability of the company. But any photos of the mountains I saw were so enticing that we decided we just had to go.

"The sort of scenery you see on the bus ride from hell"

The sort of scenery you see on the bus ride from hell

And so we did. Getting to the starting point – the town of Guican – involved a 14 hour bus ride from hell.

"Incredible blue to this lake"

Incredible blue to this lake

But fortunately it was worth it. The six day trek defies description. The trails took us through some of the most beautiful, remote, mountainous country on the planet – filled with hanging glaciers, turquoise coloured lakes and very unusual vegetation.

"Colorful and unusual vegetation on a hiking trail in Colombia"

Unusual vegetation that looks like coral

And it was sunny, the days were warm and there was more daylight than in Calgary.

"Waterfall coming off the largest lake on the trek"

Waterfall coming off the largest lake on the trek

Note: Throw away any misgivings you might have about traveling to Colombia. The drug wars are long over. There is a strong military presence in the cities – as a deterrent – and the locals we spoke with were happy about it. I found the people friendly and never felt unsafe. If you’re in a big city use common sense and ask the locals what areas to avoid.

"Ran into this horse carrying a load of potatoes. It was led by natives - on their way to a very remote mountain village"

Horse carrying a load of potatoes led to a very remote mountain village

About the author:

"Leigh McAdam"Leigh McAdam is an avid world traveler. She craves adventure and the odd wildly epic day. Her ongoing project is a book – 100 Quintessential Outdoor Adventures in Canada.

Blog: HikeBikeTravel
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Photos courtesy of Leigh McAdam

10 thoughts on “How I Ended Up in a Mountain Range in Remote Colombia

  1. Jody robbins

    Stunning pictures and a great account on travelling in this exotic country. People have such misconceptions about many places in the world. It’s refreshing to hear a first hand account of how worthy Columbia is to visit.

  2. John

    Our trip to Columbia was about filling in the blanks. I had been to Venezuela a couple of times and we had been to Ecuador but what about Columbia. We had a bit of trepidation beforehand but that rapidly vanished. The customs people were welcoming and efficient. All our encounters were friendly and we rapidly felt at ease. Having some Spanish definitely helped. The gold museum (get the head sets) in Bogota was awesome. We did a great bike tour in Bogota and learned stuff we never would have otherwise. For the hearty our trek is highly recommended. All in all give Columbia a try. You will probably be pleasantly surprised. We are going to go back!

  3. jill

    WOw! We spent 1 month in Colombia and never even made it there…. it looks gorgeous!! Have you been to Huaraz, Peru? If not, that could be your next destination. Beautiful mountain ranges (3 of them) side by side.

    1. Leigh

      I have been to Huarez and hiked the Cordillera Blanca with my husband, a friend, our donkey driver and two donkeys for 10 days. There were similarities between the two trips but both are different enough to warrant doing on their own. BTW it only cost $40/day for the 2 donkeys & the driver though we provided all his food and he could eat!!

  4. Just One Boomer (Suzanne)

    I am so happy to see Colombia emerging from it’s years of hell under domination by the drug cartels. I studied there in 1974, right before it’s descent into murderous madness. It is a truly magnificent country with many kind, generous people. I really need to schedule a return trip. I won’t be brave enough to try your hike, so thank you for sharing your beautiful photos.

  5. budget jan

    I love the random selection process. Last year we did a housesit in Spain and then planned a holiday around it, and it was one of our best yet. The scenery on your Colombian hike looks superb, and it is good to know that the drug wars are a thing of the past.

  6. Christina Austron

    Great to read this and look at your stunning photos – I too enjoy the more remote places and have traveled widely, but not yet to Colombia! Looks like a good one, as South American third trip planned for 2014.

  7. Ashley Faulkes

    Ok, that looks awesome. I missed Columbia on my South America trip (pity it seems) but now i have a reason to go back. Spanish speaking, friendly, and great mountains! thanks for bringing this to my attention

  8. Annie@GreenTravelReviews

    “Note: Throw away any misgivings you might have about traveling to Colombia. The drug wars are long over. There is a strong military presence in the cities – as a deterrent – and the locals we spoke with were happy about it. I found the people friendly and never felt unsafe.”

    This is such a joy to hear as my view of Colombia is a bit tainted by media exposure of drug wars etc, I get a bit concerned when thinking about going there, but I’d love to travel around South America. Thanks for sharing your experiences!

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