One of the main hubs for trekking in Colombia is the touristic coffee town Salento. It is a perfect base to make a day hike to Valle de Cocora with its famous wax palms or explore Los Nevad0s on a multi-day trek. although tourism is booming in Colombia, the hiking scene in Salento is still rather small in comparison with what Los Nevadas national park has to offer. we went on a 4-day hike in Los Nevados to discover Colombia’s paramo and wax palm trees. other famous hiking trails in Colombia include ‘the lost city’ near Santa Marta in the Caribbean and the area around Bucaramanga.
We arrived in Salento a colorful touristic town surrounded by green mountains. The town is prepared for all types of travelers including those who want to go hiking in Los Nevados. There are a lot of tour operators that organize one- or multi-day hikes to Valle de Cocora and Los Nevados. But we are not the types that want to go on a guided tour. We enjoy to bring our own food, our own camping gear and to find the perfect spot to pitch our tent to watch the stars. With a guide around you all the time the hiking experience would just be different. Here is our experience from our hike Los Nevados without a guide.
Can you hike Los Nevados without a guide?
Our experience is that hiking to Paramillo del Quindio in Los Nevados and its surroundings can be done easily without a guide. The trails are straightforward and most of them are clearly indicated on GPS apps like OSMand and maps.me.
But when we arrived in Salento and told others about our hiking plans, people warned us that it would be dangerous to go hiking Los Nevados without a guide. Together with the weather conditions, – there was quite heavy rainfall in April -, we started doubting our plans. We tried to get more information on routes and safety, but all the Colombians told us the same. “You cannot go hiking in Los Nevados without a guide”. Nobody was providing clear information about why, except that we could get lost. We met other hikers that just came back from a trek in Los Nevados and they also found the trails easy and straightforward. We thought, we traveled all the way to Salento, we should at least give it a try. If we feel unsafe, we can always turn around.
Map and GPX Colombia’s Los Nevados and Valle de Cocora
*Download GPX on IOS devices can be done via safari.
Distance and length Los Nevados trek
- 55 km
- highest point: 4600 m
- 3-4 days
Start & finish of the Los Nevados trek
- Most people start and finish the hike from Cocora. From Salento plaza, it takes a 30-minute drive in one of the iconic Willies jeeps to Cocara. The taxi ride from Salento to Cocora is already an adventure on its own!
Day by day route description Los Nevados Colombia
Day 1 Valle de Cocora (2400) – Finca Buenos Aires (3500) // 12 km, 1100 meter elevation gain
The first day we walked mainly through cloud forests. The route itself is not very technical but mostly challenging in terms of distance covered and altitude gained. The route goes up from 2400 to 3500 meters where we camped at Finca Buenos Aires. There are not a lot of possibilities to pitch your tent on this route because it is all steep or full of trees. There is one other option where you can sleep: Finca Argentina. It is 2.5 km before Finca Buenos Aires. We stopped here for a coffee, but if you have the time and energy to continue to Finca Buenos Aires it is worth it. The location and views are just better there! Here you finally reach the point where you climbed out of the forest and can enjoy some spectacular views.
Day 2: Hike on the Paramo // route: 12 km and 1100 meter elevation gain, highest point: 4600m
From Finca Buenos Aires there are two roads to Paramillo del Quindio. According to the hosts at Finca Buenos Aires the route on the left, which goes up the mountain is easier and more beautiful, so we followed their advice. Day 2 was all about the paramo. The paramo is a typical ecosystem, a high altitude wetland. It is full of Frailejones plants. This plant captures moisture from passing clouds and releases it through the roots into the soil. The paramos are true sponges and purify the water. Less than 2% of the area in Colombia is covered by paramos but produces 85% of the Colombian drinking water. Just a few minutes after leaving Finca Buenos Aires we saw the first Frailejones. We took our camera to take a picture of this special plant. But after another 200 meters walking these plants are everywhere! There are so many of them that you almost cannot imagine that the plant is endangered.
We arrived around midday at the valley of Paramillo del Quindio. We found a perfect spot to pitch our tent in the valley. A crystal clear stream is running through the Valley, the source of the Quindio river. We had lunch and continued the last climb up to Paramillo without all our gear. Our navigation app indicated a road to Quindio Norte and Paramillo del Quindio. The route to Paramillo del Quindio looked quite technical and we had difficulties to find the path. We opted for the Paramillo Quindio Norte. The views and colors of the mountains are breathtaking. On the summit, you can walk over the crest. The valley on the other side, Valle de Condor, is a green sea of trees and lakes. After spending some time at the summit, we descended back to our camp spot. We prepared our dinner, enjoyed the stars and tired but satisfied we went to bed at 7:30.
Day 3: Hike from Paramillo del Quindio to Acaime hummingbird sanctuary // 21 kilometers, mostly downhill.
The first part of the path looked quite easy. It seemed like a flat plane from a distance. However, we found this part to be the most difficult part of the route because it is a swamp area. We jumped from bright green moss – it is dense and you can stand on it – to another lump of green moss. After some zig-zagging and one miss-step, which resulted in a hip-deep plunge in the swamp, we finally arrived at the side where the path was clearly visible again. From here we followed the main trail, although it is not indicated on the GPS. It brings you to the top and you will walk on the mountain crest, again with Frailejones everywhere!
We arrived at Finca Primavera at 12:30 and decided to continue our road down back to the valley. Along the road, we met some hikers that started that morning in Cocora Valley and we could see from their shoes and outfit it would be a muddy descent. Because of the rain, this route from Finca Primavera to Cocora Valley was of such a bad condition we were not even going 2 km/hour. It was a muddy and tough descent. Although it was not our initial plan we stayed at Acaime hummingbird sanctuary. There is an option to pitch your tent inside the shed or opt for a dormitory. You will not get disappointed with the number of hummingbirds (colibris) flying around. We chose the dormitory because we were incredibly tired of the long and tough day. Some cute yellow bluebird, which is apparently very territorial, was knocking on the glass all evening and morning. A nice way to wake up!
Day 4: Hummingbirds and Valle de Cocora // Route: 8 km
From the hummingbird sanctuary, the paths were more accessible again. We took a detour to the ‘mirador de las palmas’. You have to pay 3000 pesos per person because it is private property. But it is worth it. It was a relaxing walk through wax palms and we shared the road with other tourists. We caught a jeep back to Salento and were happy and satisfied that we hiked the Los Nevados without a guide!
Tips for hiking Los Nevados without a guide
- The road up from Valle de Cocora to Finca Argentina/ Finca Buenos Aires is steeper but the quality of the trail so much better compared to the route Valle de Cocora – Finca Primavera. If you arrive in Salento in the rainy season, you might want to consider to walk in and out of Los Nevados via this route.
- We prefer to walk with hiking poles. In particular with these muddy roads, it helped us a lot. For 30.000 pesos you can get them at a small shop in Salento
- The camp spot at ~4200 meters near Paramillo del Quindio is also marked on OSMand and maps.me. It can be quite windy and temperatures can be below zero degrees, so a good tent and sleeping bag is a must.
- This route is quite demanding in terms of elevation gain. Be aware of the signs of altitude sickness and what to do.