In 2019 my friends and I decided to climb one of Colombia’s highest peaks, the Nevado del Tolima. At the time, this was going to be one of the longest and hardest hikes I had ever done. Hiking up a mountain for 4 days and climbing up to 5270 meters above sea level would be a huge challenge. Knowing the dangers of it and how big the Parque de los Nevados is, we decided to go with some experts. We reached out to Paramo Trek and took the guided tour with them. The experience was unbelievable! They took us through the best parts of the park, constantly provided us with amazing meals, and made sure our experience was unforgettable. 

Fast forward to 2023 – Kendra and I would be traveling to Colombia where we could both work and explore the country. It was at this time that we decided to once again reach out to Paramo Trek to see if they had any big hikes we could do. We got to talking and before we knew it they proposed a new route that they were just starting to test. On paper, it all sounded perfect. The reality of it is, trips sometimes don’t turn out as expected. There are a lot of different variables that come into play. If there is one thing I’ve learned from all the different hikes I’ve done, is; you need to be comfortable with things not going according to plan

After getting our hopes up with what we thought would be an amazing hike, we learned that the Volcano del Ruiz (1 of the 3 peaks in el Parque de los Nevados)  was now active and on red alert. This change resulted in our original plan to hike from Murillo to Salento taking a drastic change. We were no longer able to enter the park or submit Tolima at that.

It was at this point that Paramo Trek came up with a plan B. They diligently organized a new itinerary that would have us hiking every day and exploring parts of Colombia we otherwise wouldn’t have seen.

Kendra and I took a bus from Bogota to Libano, where we got picked up by one of our guides (Cristhian) and were driven to Murillo. A small town close to the national park with an overpopulation of stray dogs but a traditional Colombian town that still has its old values and beliefs instilled in it.  We went to Murillo Travel, the perfect and only restaurant open past 8 p.m. We talked with our guides about the different options for the next few days. After a few hours, we finally managed to get all the details ironed out and were ready for the next day.

Murillo, Colombia

The following 6 days included food, lodging, guides, transportation, and every other detail you could imagine. 

Day 1:

We met at the restaurant at 7 am and started hiking. The hike began with an intense climb followed by a huge descent. We went from 3200 meters, all the way down to 2300. After a few hours of descending, we finally reached our destination. An unreal hiding jungle full of wax palm trees and nice hot springs. We had lunch there and hung out for a bit, prior to climbing out of the valley. An 850-meter climb that seemed a lot harder than it should have. Probably because we were still acclimating. We ended the day back at the restaurant with another great meal. 

Day 2:

Once again we met at the restaurant and left Murillo. This time with all our stuff packed in a car, we would be driving to our next hiking spot. Once we finally arrived at the trailhead we were already at 3600 meters above sea level. Like every hike in Colombia, this one would require a lot of climbing. Around 400 meters to be exact. 

We hiked to another hot spring, although these weren’t really “hot” they did make up for it with the different colors of the water and rivers around it. The trail continued past the hot springs until finally reaching the “Laguna de Corazon”. A heart-shaped lake surrounded by frailejones (A native plant to the paramo ecosystem). We lopped back to the trail and continued all the way down until we ended up at the car again. We finished today’s activities by driving 5 hours to Salento on a road surrounding the mountains. 

Day 3:

Day 3 would mark the beginning of our 4-day trek through the mountains that border the national park. The day started by taking a Willy from Salento to Valle del Cocora. After the 20-minute ride, a check-in with the park rangers, and putting our packs on, we were off. The day consisted of going up for an extremely long time. It was a 13km hike with an elevation gain of 1500 meters. Throughout the day we made sure to stay really hydrated since the elevation really starts getting to you. We finished the day reaching the farm “Buenos Aires”. These huts are small farms where the local people live. They provide lodging and food for all hikers passing through. 

Day 4: 

The original plan was to continue to climb, reach Chispas Pass, and loop back around to Buenos Aires, where we would stay a second night before leaving for our next location. The morning looked promising, with clear skies and good weather, but unfortunately, that didn’t last long. The paramo ecosystem has a tendency to change weather very fast and very often. By the time we made it to our first ridge, after a 500m climb, we noticed the clouds coming in. Before we knew it, we were engulfed in a massive rainstorm and couldn’t see anything past 10 feet. We set up a provisional tarp and decided to try to wait it out. After an hour, we noticed it was getting worse, and that’s when we made the decision to turn back—scrambling downhill through the muddy trail until finally reaching the farm. 

Day 5: 

The weather persisted. The day was a bust. It’s in these types of situations that you realize how little control you have over things when you’re in the mountains. It continued to pour for the next 20 hours, with intense winds and non-stop rain. The weather forced us to bunker down in the farm. With constant warm meals and hot tea, I guess it’s not the worst situation to be in. 

Day 6:

This would be our last day hiking and expectations were high. We woke up at 4 am and the first thing I did was go outside to check the weather. The wind was strong but the skies were clear and the day looked promising! We began our ascend, the same one we tried 2 days ago. Feeling refreshed from our rest day, we continued to hike, making it to Piedras Gordas’s lookout point. We made it just in time for sunrise. Surpassing all expectations we had of it. With unreal views and perfect weather, we continued to hike around that area, summiting another peak, before starting our descent.

It’s on the way down that you realize how much you have climbed. Our knees began to hurt and we started feeling the effects of hiking every day on our bodies. It was at this time that Cristhian and Felipe pulled the last little detail and surprised us with a delicious picnic and some wine to help us get down to Salento. Concluding our adventure. 

Key take-a-aways

1) Paramo Trek: They are a local company that works in a way that complies with all the rules and procedures. They make sure to provide the best service/experience to all the clients while also helping the local businesses and supporting environmental and social movements. This was my second time working with them and I was blown away by everything they did. Adapting to every situation as best as they could. First, the park closed a few weeks before our trek, causing a change in our original plan. Second, our itinerary constantly changing due to severe weather. They made sure we were comfortable and that we were able to have the best experience given the circumstances.  

2) Travelling responsibly: With the National Park closing due to dangerous conditions, a lot of local tourism has suffered, but they continue to abide by the rules. There has now been a few cases of people, tourist, entering the park and getting lost. This only causes more stress and delays in the aperture of the park. I guess what I’m trying to say is; when you travel to a remote place, keep in mind that there are things bigger than you. If something is closed, it’s for a reason. Yes, It sucks not being able to do what you planned, but I’m sure you’re itinerary can be modified and the trip can still be fun. 

Overall, our experience was great! If you get the chance to visit Colombia, make sure to make time and go to el Parque de los Nevados.