The Parque Nacional Natural (PNN) Los Nevados is the third most visited nacional park in Colombia with a surface of 380km². It was established in 1974 and is located in the centre of Colombia, in the Andean region, more precisely in the departments Caldas, Quindío, Risaralda and Tolima.
About 7 volcanos are in the area, the highest is the Nevado del Ruiz with more than 5 300 meters. The landscape at 3 000 metres of altitude has been shaped by glacier and volcano activities.
The PNN Los Nevados contains one of the most important biodiversity hotspots of the Andes, called Páramo. Throughout the year, the climate is very humid and plants specialised themselves to capture the water in the air. Temperatures in this biotope range between 2 and 15•C. The Páramo biotope (including the Sub- and Superpáramo) goes from 3000m to over 5000m.
More than 69 bird species live in the Páramo biotope, some are very endemic and rare to see. In the whole PNN los Nevados there exist more than 1200 plants, plenty of bird species and big mammals like the Mountain Tapir, Puma and the spectacled bear.
One of the special plants of the PNN Los Nevados is the Espeletia, commonly known as frailejón or fraylejón.
This plant is in the family of the sunflowers and the most important plant in the Páramo biotope. The trunk of this plant is thick with plenty of hairy leaves. It grows less than 1 cm per year (this means: a plant over 2 meters is more than 200 years old!). Marcescent leaves are protecting the plant from cold.
The flower is yellow and looks like a tiny sunflower. The plant is taking the water out of the passing clouds and is an important water reservoir in this biotope and for the region.
Another special plants in the nacional park is the waxpalm (Ceroxylon quindiuense), which grows in the humid forest at the lower altitude of the Los Nevados park, between 2 000 and 3 000 meters above sea level. It is an endemic species.
The tree is in the family of the palms, can get over 45 meter high and can reach an age of more than 200 years. The trunk is covered in wax which was used for candles in the 19th century. The wax was also used to turn clothes water-resistent and to oil the sails of ships. The waxpalms are protected since 1985 by the goverment and they are the nacional tree of Colombia.
Importance of this biotope: Besides the fact that the biotope Páramo is the habitat of several endangered and endemic species, it is also a huge water reservoir. The plants, which are specialised to take the water out of the fog and clouds, are saving plenty of water and recharging the creeks in the area.
Risks for this special biotope today are: Climate change, introduction of new plants, deforestation, agriculture, pasturing and clearings with fire.
3 - days Trip in Los Nevados - Andean scenic trek, culture and traditions
In order to visit this special biotope and to climb up for the first time to an high altitude over 4 000 meters, we booked a 3-day trip with Paramo Trek.
The trip was expensive, compared to other activites on our trip, but we wanted to have an experienced guide on our side when we walk up that high for the first time. At the moment it is the low season in Colombia, therefore we were alone in the group. Most of the other travellers are booking a trek to climb up to an higher altitude.
Therefore we had enough time on our way, time for talking about the traditions, the nature, the people and as well time to observe and photograph birds. Our guide was Sebastian (on the photo left), a 26 years old Colombian who really loves his job and hiking around in the mountains. He knows a lot about the nature and Colombia and spoiled us with plenty information.
We started our trip after a huge breakfast in the village Salento in the Cocora Valley, which lies at an altitude of 2400m. Right at the beginning we observed an Andean Condor passing. The Condor is a common bird in the Andes but rare to see in the PNN Los Nevados and Colombia. It is as well the nacional bird of Colombia.
The Cocora Valley is mainly pasture landscape with waxpalms and changes later to cloud forest. The first kilometers were to get to know each other. After the first stop, Sebastian explained us the rules in the park, we prepared our hiking poles and started to climb up the mountains.
Day 1: First ascent
On the first day, we climbed up to 3500m where we stopped at the Finca "Argentina".
We weren't alone at the finca, a group of 15 other people stopped there as well and prepared themselves to climb up to the volcano in the next days. The night was cold but we were happy to be in a 3 bed room with plenty of blankets.
On the way up, we passed several bridges and "Don Javier", who we crossed first when he came down with his horses and later when he climbed up. It was impressive to see how he was guiding the animals on the small trails, each one of the quadrupeds carrying more than 80kg on their backs. Don Javier is living with is wife and children at the Finca and is hosting mountaineers since a long time.
In total, we hiked more than 9 kilometers the first day, with an altitude difference of 1670 meters. Unfortunately, I had problems with the altitude, after we arrived at the finca. I was heavily sick.
Day 2: Reaching 4 000m !
On the second day, the altitude sickness was gone and we were ready to walk up to 4000m.
At the beginning, we were lucky enough to spot an Andean Condor again. The way up was hard and would have been difficult to find without a guide. On the way there were plenty of birds and we tried to make enough stops in order for me to avoid getting sick again. One of the stops was really interesting, it was in front of an old volcano which had exploded many years ago and had created the valley and the landscape.
Afterwards we climbed up to 4000 metres. The way was, for us being quite unexperienced hikers, hard and the high altitude was difficult to manage.
Nevertheless, we were happy as we arrived on the top! The surrounding view was wonderful and I was speechless in front of the amazing landscape of the Páramo. On top, our guide had a gift for us: Colombian Chocolate with the inscription that we had reached the 4000 meters, the goal of our trip.
Unfortunately, the many stops with enough water and snacks, the slow tempo and coca leaves didn't avoid that I got altitude sick again. At least this time it was only headache.
Afterwards, we had the option to hike to a Laguna or volcano rocks but because of my headache we decided to walk to the next Finca.
The host family of the Finca "La Playa" welcomed us very well, like the family in the other Finca, with Agua Panela (hot water with sugar cane). Because I wasn't fit enough for the special trips, we arrived early at the finca and had enough time to relax and to enjoy the amazing landscape.
In the evening, our host family was cooking typical Colombian food, which means rice with beans and meat. We played cards with other French and Canadian mountaineers before we went outside to enjoy the awesome landscape with starry sky.
For the night, I shared a bed with Laura in a 8 bed dorm. It was freezing cold, I guess about 0•C or maybe colder. We slept with 4-5 layers of clothes, big socks, gloves, wooly and three blankets but we still froze. Not even Greenland was that cold. The night was horrible and we were happy to get up in the morning.
Day 3: Long descent
Besides the altitude sickness, the hike during the first two days had been easy. The last day was hard.
All the way we had ascended during the last two days had to be descended now. That day, we hiked about 20 kilometres with an altitude difference of 2200 meters.
We started the hike again with the sightning of two Andean Condors. The first part in the Páramo was easy, but after that, the way changed and was muddy and slippery. We found plenty of orchids on our way and old indian graves.
We were happy as we arrived in Cocora Valley and saw the taxi which was waiting to pick us up.
As we arrived at our hostel, we wanted nothing more than a hot shower and a bed to sleep. Unfortunately, the shower was shitty. No pressure and cold water made it horrible to shower.
I almost forgot to say something about the village we stayed at! In total we were in Salento for 4 nights, a tiny but lovely village in the Quindío department. The village is 24km away from Armenia and has an estimated population of something over 7 200. It lies at an altitude of 2 000m and has an average temperature of 15•C.
The village is a bit touristic, but we loved it anyway. The streets were full with Colombians and tourists who walked in the colorful streets and went windowshopping in all the artesanal shops. Our favourite restaurant was the "Brunch" and the Café "El Tejadito" where you can order a tasty, hot Maracuya juice with pineapple, herbs and cinnamon. We also met 4 other people from Luxembourg there.
We can now claim that in total, we have met 1/100000 of the residents of Luxembourg!
The trip with Paramo Trek to over 4 000m altitude for the first time was an awesome experience.
We were happy we did it and proud we reached our goal!
Unfortunately, I was a bit sick because of the altitude but anyway the landscape and the nature in PNN were amazing.
The landscape was a new world for us.
The little village Salento was nice too! We loved this place and enjoyed to walk in the streets and to visit all the little shops.
If I post all the photos of the birds we saw during our trip, there would be not enough space on the website. It was a lot!
Highlight of the trip was definitely the Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus) which I had missed in 2013, in the Andes of Cusco, Peru. It is the national bird of Colombia and the Andes. A sighting of this bird is rare in Los Nevados.
Another awesome bird is the Long-tailed Sylph (Aglaiocercus kingii) which was sitting down in a branch very close in front of me. I was flashed and the bird was too fast. It was impossible to take a picture.
Thanks a lot to our guide Sebastian and to Laura, who helped me spotting the birds and who had enough patience.
Same same but different view