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Parque Nacional Natural Sierra Nevada De Santa Marta - National Park - Colombia

On a clear day the snow-streaked peaks of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta can be seen from the city of Santa Marta. This cordillera is the highest coastal range on the planet and only 45 kilometers (27 miles) from the sea. Its three crown jewels are Pico Cristóbal Colón (5,775 m. / 18,942 ft.), Pico Bolívar (5,775 m. / 18,942 ft.) and Pico Codazzi (5,375 m. / 17,630 ft.).

Much of the area—383,000 hectares (946,413 ac) of it—are protected lands, the Parque Nacional Natural Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, spread out between Magdelena, Guajira and Cesar Departments. It is the birthplace of 30 rivers. Wildlife like jaguar, mountain tapir, condor, páramo deer, paujil and mountain parrot inhabit the forests. About 30,000 people of the Arhuaco, Kogi, Kankuamo and Wiwa indigenous nations also call this home.

Most of the Sierra Nevada is closed to outsiders. The deeply folded terrain of the Sierra Nevada is no place to go alone. Still some deep recesses of the mountain range is a “hot zone” with coca cultivation and cocaine processing labs (especially on the Santa Marta side of the range), plus the perseverance of a few guerrilla and paramilitary forces. Likewise, the indigenous are fiercely protective of these mountains, which they consider sacred land, and resent outsiders intruding into its depths.

There are, however, several places we can visit, including Ciudad Perdida of Teyuna and the research station at San Lorenzo, which is the only access point into the national park itself (Entry: Foreigners $10.50; Colombians: adults $4.50, children $2.25; persons under 5 years old or over 65 years, free). The San Lorenzo station has hiking trails that allows visitors to observe wildlife, visit archaeological sites and get to know the region's indigenous people. San Lorenzo also has two 18-person cabin-dormitories (low season $13 per person per night; high season $18).

Contact the national park office in Santa Marta for more information about the station's services, and a list certified guides and independent drivers to San Lorenzo (Calle 17, 4-06. Tel: 5-421-3805, E-mail:


National Park

Getting There

Public transportation for various villages on the northern slopes of the range leaves from Santa Marta’s market area on Calle 11.

For information on independent drivers to the San Lorenzo research station, visit the National Park office in Santa Marta. Some tour operators in Santa Marta and Taganga offer excursions into this part of the Parque Nacional Natural Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. Also, it may be possible to find a guide in Palomino to take you there.

The Southern sector of the park is accessible from Valledupar, where several indigenous villages are easily reached.

Price Description:

Entry fee into the national park is: Foreigners $10.50; Colombians: adults $4.50, children $2.25; persons under 5 years old or over 65 years, free.

Lodging in the cabin-dormitories costs: low season $13 per person per night; high season $18.

Relative price: Mid-Range

Travel Skills: beginner/easy.

You Need to Bring:

Bring along insect repellant and mosquito net; a yellow fever shot is necessary. Food and water (or water purification drops, or filter). If planning to cook in the cabin-dormitory kitchen, bring along propane gas or your own campstove (all other utensils are provided).

Currencies accepted
Colombian Peso

By Lorraine Caputo

Upon re-declaring her independence at age 29, Lorraine Caputo packed her trusty Rocinante (so her knapsack's called) and began...

12 Jul 2011

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