We provide a guide to Parque El Cocuy, which is a hidden gem national park in Colombia with glaciers that hasn’t yet been discovered by many foreigners. This national park is located between the departments of Boyacá and Arauca in Colombia.
Parque National Natural (PNN) El Cocuy is a massive park that is about 1,181 square miles (about 300,000 hectares) in size and was established in 1977.
Most of this park is made up a diverse ecosystem known as the páramo. This park is a glacially formed, neotropical system of valleys, plains, snowcapped mountains and mountain lakes.
The park includes the largest glacier zone in South America north of the equator with more than 25 snow and ice peaks within two mountain ranges. But the glaciers in the park are diminishing and park officials believe the glaciers will be gone in 20 to 30 years.
The park has 15 peaks that are at least 16,400 feet (5,000 meters) high. The highest is Ritacuba Blanco at 17,486 feet (5,330 meters). And the park’s most famous landmark is a rock formation known as Púlpito del Diablo (Devi’s Pulpit), which is at 16,797 feet (5,120 meters).
In addition, there are over 150 lagoons in the park. This very large park is popular for hiking, mountaineering, camping and climbing.
More About Parque El Cocuy
From about 1985 until early this century, Parque El Cocuy was occupied by ELN guerrillas until the Colombian army moved in and established a base in the mountains and regularly patrol the trails.
The park is now considered safe and the number of visitors grew from less than 100 in 2003 to reportedly over 12,000 in 2015.
Also, in the park you will find a sacred territory for the Uwa indigenous people. The area of the indigenous reserve in the park is closed to tourism, which is why traveling to the eastern side of the park is prohibited.
Visiting the Park
In the park there is a complete Güicán to El Cocuy trek that takes six to seven days. Plus. there are some shorter trails including:
- Ritacuba Trail, which reaches the edge of the Ritacuba Blanco glacier.
- Laguna Grande de la Sierra trail, which leads to the edge of the Pico Cóncavo glacier.
- Lagunillas Trail, that ends at the emblematic Púlpito del Diablo Peak.
There is no special experience required but park officials recommend previous trekking experience and visitors be in good health.
Due to physical demands and the altitude, minors under 10 years old cannot enter the park. Also, we don’t recommend the climbs for people with physical disabilities, heart or respiratory problems, pregnant women or senior citizens.
Park Entry fees in 2020:
- Colombians up to 25 years old – 21,000 pesos
- Colombians over 25 years old – 36,000 pesos
- Foreigners – 73,500 pesos
Before entering the park protected area, all visitors must purchase rescue and assistance insurance for the duration of the stay in the park. Insurance can be bought in El Cocuy and Güicán municipalities
In addition, all visitors entering the park must register in person at one of the park offices and receive an obligatory introductory talk to ensure appropriate behavior and minimize impact to the ecosystems in the park. Park offices:
- El Cocuy: Calle 5 # 4-22. Monday – Sunday, 7am – 11:45am and 1pm – 4:45pm. Tel: (57 8) 789 0359
- Güicán: Transversal 4a # 6-60. Monday – Sunday, 7am – 11:45am and 1pm – 4:45pm. Tel: (57 8) 789 7280
Don’t forget to check back in with the park office after your visit to the park or they will launch search and rescue operations.
How to Get to Parque El Cocuy
There are buses from Bogotá to the El Cocuy municipality, which is a pretty colonial village and is the most traveler friendly entry point to Parque El Cocoy with several hotels.
Take a bus at Terminal Salitre de Bogotá to the El Cocuy municipality. The buses leave daily at 4:00 a.m. and they take about 10 hours to arrive and the trip costs about 60,000 pesos.
When to go? The only period of reasonably good weather in the park is normally from December to February. The rest of the year it is rainy with snow at high altitude and the highest passes in the park. Keep in mind the weather can change frequently and be prepared for cold weather and rain.
Where to Stay?
The pueblo of El Cocuy has preserved its colonial history with white buildings and green trim. There are several small hotels in this pueblo.
We recommend Hotel Casa Museo La Posada del Molino, which is a 220 year-old renovated colonial mansion. It only has seven rooms but it provide a nice colonial atmosphere.
Another recommended hotel is Hotel Casa Muñoz located on the town square in El Cocuy. This is a newer hotel with comfy rooms with TVs.
All park visitors must be completely self-sufficient with their own supplies and food. You should bring all your own high-mountain trekking equipment including:
- A good tent
- Sleeping bag rated to below 50 °F (10 °C)
- Waterproof clothing
- Good hiking boots
- Gas stove
- Food and drinks
Note you cannot buy camping gear at the El Cocuy or Güicán pueblos near the park. But you can find camping gear being sold in big cities in Colombia like Bogotá and Medellín.
If you don’t have camping and trekking gear you will be limited to short, one-day walks from the base that will just give you a small taste of what this mountainous park offers.
The starting points for hiking in Parque Cocuy are the archival pueblos of El Cocuy and Güicán. The most popular option is to start at Güicán, as the hike from here is easier. But El Cocoy is the more popular pueblo to stay in.
Medellin Guru’s Guide to the National Parks in Colombia
Medellin Guru so far has only covered four of the 60 national parks in Colombia:
- Parque Tayrona: A Popular Park on the Coast Known for its Beautiful Beaches
- Parque Los Nevados: A Popular Park with Snowcapped Volcanos and Glaciers
- Isla de la Corota: The Smallest National Park in Colombia
- Parque El Cocuy: A Hidden Gem National Park in Colombia with Glaciers
We plan to cover additional national parks in Colombia that are worth visiting.
The Bottom Line: Parque El Cocuy – A Hidden Gem National Park in Colombia with Glaciers
Parque El Cocuy is a huge national park with amazing views with all its snow-covered peaks and lagoons. But the park hasn’t yet been discovered by many foreigners due to being of the beaten path for foreign tourists visiting Colombia.
Even though travel is essentially banned during the quarantine in Colombia, we plan to cover some of the best national parks in Colombia. So, readers will find out about the tremendous diversity in Colombia and also know about parks that are worth visiting when travel resumes.
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