The notorious reputation of Colombiaâ€™s mountains and jungles as the province of terrorists, armed revolutionaries, paramilitaries, drug cartels, and even ordinary kidnappers and thieves makes the very idea of venturing beyond Colombiaâ€™s cities seem brave and/or foolish. While a decades-long civil war has made many of Colombiaâ€™s rural areas dangerous, a high portion of Colombiaâ€™s breathtaking mountains are now safely accessible.
The most popular destination for foreign hiking enthusiasts, who make up 80 percent of its visitors, is the Sierra Nevada of Santa Martaâ€™s pre-Columbian Ciudad Perdida (Lost City), which was a secret to the western world until 1975. Located halfway up the mountainsâ€™ northern side at 1,000 meters (3,280 ft), it can only be reached on foot with one of three authorized tour operators, all based in Santa Marta and Taganga. The entire journey takes three days to walk up and two days to return. The agencies provide guide, food and hammocks. The risk of dangerous confrontations is about less than five percent, but there is a greater risk of malaria, so travelers are advised to bring repellent and wear long-sleeved shirts at night. The degree of humidity is also very high, and visitors to the Sierra de Santa Marta during the rainy seasonâ€”which runs from April to June, and later from October to Decemberâ€” have nicknamed it â€śthe Green Hell.â€ť
Also on the north side of the pyramid-like Santa Marta range, hikers can explore the trails at the San Lorenzo station of PNN Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. In the coastal foothills is Parque Tayrona, notable not only for its beaches, but for some pleasant hiking opportunities through jungle to El Pueblito, another pre-Columbian city. On the southwestern slopes of the sierra lies the town of Valledupar, from which many intrepid trekkers can hike to various isolated indigenous villages. The rest of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is inaccessible, due to security issues and the wishes of the native nations who consider those mountains sacred lands.
Further south, along the border with Venezuela, the Cordillera Oriental has the Sierra Nevada del Cocuy, and its Parque Nacional Natural El Cocuy at 4,000-meter (13,120 ft) altitude. The park offers treks lasting up to 10 days, as well as mountain, ice and rock climbing. This region is well guarded by the Colombian army, with no reported guerrilla activity. Continuing south along the Venezuelan border, the village of Puerto InĂrida offers rock climbing and hiking opportunities. Unfortunately, this area still is in the civil warâ€™s red zone.
Heading inland, BogotĂˇ is surrounded by mountains that offer many four- to eight-hour-long day hikes, as well as safe one-, two- and three-day treks. Other places to head to for multi-day hiking excursions are MedellĂn and Manizales, both of which border Parque Nevados. This is also a premier birdwatching area.
At the lower end of Huila Department is San AgustĂn with a Parque ArqueolĂłgico which is a rich repository of pre-Columbian culture. San AgustĂn is also a starting point for many hikes and treks outside the park area. The entire area is now well-patrolled. Professional guides can not only take you through the park, but through El Macizo Colombiano to the source of the RĂo Magdalena, a large river which stretches nearly the length of Colombia itself. The latter is a 4-5 day walking trip.
On the southern Pacific coast, Gorgona Island, which for 50 years served as a penal colony, offers the pleasures associated with an island, as well as many hiking paths. Boats going to Gorgona routinely depart from the port city of Buenaventura.
Hiking Info., Activity Info.