Guide To Hiking El Cocuy National Park in Colombia

El Cocuy National park Colombia hiking trekking sierra nevada del cocuy

El Cocuy National Park is one of the best places to visit in Colombia for trekking and breathtaking outdoor activities.

After spending several months traveling through Central America’s hot jungle during our Pan-American Highway road trip, we were craving some mountain adventures. Soon after arriving in Colombia, we ventured into El Cocuy National Park for an incredible week of hiking and camping.

Parque Nacional Natural El Cocuy (also known as Sierra Nevada del Cocuy), is one of the last places in Colombia where visitors can witness glaciers in person and go on incredible treks in the high alpine mountains.

If you’re considering a visit to El Cocuy National Park, here is all you need to know for trekking at this mountain destination!


Table Of Contents:


El Cocuy National park colombia open for hiking
Hiking at El Cocuy National Park.

Best Trails At El Cocuy National Park

There are three treks that you can hike at El Cocuy National Park:

All three hikes are very challenging and take around 8-10 hours to complete. Each of these three treks reaches an altitude of around 15,000 feet with quite a lot of elevation gain.

Some people get very sick from the sudden altitude change. It’s highly recommended to take it easy for the first few days upon arriving at El Cocuy town to adjust to the altitude.

Keep in mind that no overnight camping is allowed anywhere within the park. All visitors must start the hikes before 9 am and be out of the park before 4 pm.

Laguna Grande Hike El Cocuy National Park Colombia
Beautiful view at the end of the Laguna Grande de la Sierra trek.

Most people who visit Sierra Nevada del Cocuy National Park opt to do the Laguna Grande de la Sierra hike. It has the most diverse terrain and it leads to several gorgeous blue glacier lakes.

After taking a day or two in between for rest, many visitors also do the Púlpito del Diablo trek. This hike leads to a viewpoint of the unique El Pulpito rock formation.

The Ritacuba hike is the most technical option so most people skip this one.

On our trip, we did the Laguna Grande de la Sierra hike. Due to soreness, bad weather, and altitude sickness, we decided that one hike was enough.


Requirements For Hiking At El Cocuy National Park

To hike at Parque Nacional Natural El Cocuy, there are a few requirements that you will need to get done upon arrival in town:

  • Arrange a local guide. A local guide costs 130,000 Colombian Pesos ($33) for a group of up to 6 people. A guide is required for each trek and needs to be arranged before you can get the park entrance permit.
  • Get a park entrance permit. The entrance fee costs 61,000 Colombian Pesos ($15) per person. The cost is the same whether you choose to do one hike or all three.
  • Get life insurance. Life insurance costs 7,000 Colombian Pesos ($1.50) per person and is required for each day you plan to hike. You won’t be issued a hiking permit without it.

All three things need to be arranged in El Cocuy or Güicán towns which are located at the base of the mountain.

Getting caught without a permit can lead to some serious trouble like getting arrested or having your travel visa revoked.

There are park ranger booths before you enter the hikes that check for these requirements. You won’t be allowed to pass unless you can show proof of all three.

El Cocuy is one of the most expensive National Parks in Colombia. Unfortunately, the strict requirements and lack of information prevent most people from visiting El Cocuy Park.

On the upside, the trails are empty and you can count on being the only hiker out there unless you go during their busy season in December or January.


El Cocuy National park colombia trek
Beautiful landscapes at El Cocuy National Park in the Andes Mountains.

Getting Around El Cocuy National Park

If you don’t have a private car, getting around El Cocuy National Park can be very challenging.

To reach the mountain area, most people catch a ride with a milk truck from El Cocuy or Güicán towns. The milk truck leaves once a day very early around 5-6 am and costs 10,000 Colombian Pesos ($2.50) per person. It’s a rocky ride that takes over 2 hours but is the cheapest option.

Unfortunately, the milk truck often gets to the trailhead too late. Many guides won’t let you start the hike past 7:00 am because you won’t be able to finish the trek in time. If you’re planning to take the milk truck, you will likely need to spend the night before your hike in a cabin by the trailhead.

Motorcycle rides and taxi rides can also be arranged from downtown El Cocuy or Guican. These cost a lot more – around 50,000-100,000 Colombian Pesos ($12-$25).

A motorcycle and a taxi travel much faster than a milk truck. If you catch a ride with a motorcycle or a taxi, you can do the hike the same day.

The guides will meet you at the cabin or at the trailhead to start the hikes at 6:00 am to exit the park by 4:00 pm. The treks take around 8-10 hours to complete and are very strenuous.

One of the main reasons why most people don’t finish the hikes is because they start too late and have to turn around before reaching the destination.

We chose to drive up the mountain the day before and stay at one of the cabins near the trailhead so we don’t miss the hiking window.


sierra nevada del cocuy guican national park trekking
Views along Laguna Grande de la Sierra Trail.

Where To Stay For Visiting El Cocuy National Park

After arriving in El Cocuy town, most people stay at one of the downtown hotels for a day or two while taking care of all the requirements and permits before heading up into the mountain.

Search for the best El Cocuy hotels here!

Once you have everything arranged, you can head up into the El Cocuy mountain region and stay at one of the cabins while adjusting to the altitude. This will also allow you to be much closer to the trailhead.

Before leaving El Cocuy or Güicán towns, be sure to stock up on food for your stay. There are no food stores in the mountains so you’ll need to bring your own.

a guide to el cocuy national park in colombia
Hiking through rolling hills in lower elevations while adjusting to the altitude.

Where To Stay For The Laguna Grande De La Sierra Hike

The trailhead for the Laguna Grande hike starts right behind the Hacienda La Esperanza cabin. Most people doing this trek stay at Hacienda La Esperanza the night before.

The beds at this cabin cost around 30,000 Colombian Pesos ($8) per person without food and around 60,000 Colombian Pesos ($15) per person with food. This includes dinner the night before the hike and breakfast the day of the hike.

Before heading up to Hacienda La Esperanza you will need to contact the cabin owner Sergio and book a room directly with him. If you don’t do this ahead of time, you might be turned away if the owner is not there. His contact information is listed on the La Esperanza Facebook page here.

If you want food to be included in your room, you will need to let Sergio know ahead of time so he can arrange for the food to be brought from the town of El Cocuy. The mountain cabins don’t have any food stocked and everything needs to be brought from downtown El Cocuy in the milk truck the day before.

We were camping in our Promaster Campervan outside the cabin and had brought our own food. But if you’re backpacking, you will need to arrange room, food, and transportation ahead of time.

Sierra Nevada del Cocuy National park Colombia
Snow-capped peaks at El Cocuy National Natural Park.

Where To Stay For The Púlpito del Diablo Hike

If you’re planning to hike the El Pulpito del Diablo trail, the best place to stay is at the Cabañas Guaicany Lodge near the trailhead.

The rooms at Cabanas Guaicany cost around 30,000 Colombian Pesos ($8) per person without food and 60,000-90,000 Colombian Pesos ($15-$23) per person if you want breakfast and dinner included.

This lodge was our favorite place to stay because the owner was super welcoming, made us a nice fireplace at night, let us use his kitchen for cooking, and even made us complimentary coffee in the morning.

One challenge is that Cabañas Guaicany Lodge is a mile away from the El Pulpito trail and it’s all uphill. You’ll need to hike that extra distance in the morning to the start of the trailhead and back after finishing it.


places to visit in colombia el cocuy national park
El Cocuy is home to a variety of unique landscapes.

My Experience Hiking Laguna Grande Trail

On my visit to El Cocuy National Park, I hiked the Laguna Grande de la Sierra trail. Aside from the 16-mile-long Lake O’Hara Hike in Canada, this is one of the toughest hikes I have ever done.

The change in altitude along with the high elevation gain and rough terrain made the Laguna Grande hike a challenge, but the views along the way were so worth it!

To hike the Laguna Grande trail I met my guide Martha at 6:00 am outside La Esperanza farm where the trailhead starts. Martha’s family has been in the mountaineering and hiking business for generations and she also owns the top-rated hostel El Caminante in downtown El Cocuy.

She was knowledgeable about this area and kept a great pace throughout the hike ensuring our group made it to the end point and back in time.

Once we met up with our guide we started hiking up through local farms passing cows, goats, and sheep along the way.

el cocuy national park trekking in colombia
Views along the Laguna Grande de la Sierra trail.

At first, the terrain consisted of endless rolling green hills as far as I could see. As we hiked on and kept climbing, the views kept changing.

We passed pine trees, a waterfall, and a mossy, rocky landscape that reminded me of the scenery from my trip to Iceland.

The last section of the hike was the most challenging due to the high altitude and cold winds. We kept pushing through and after hiking 6 miles we reached the end of the trail.

Laguna Grande Hike El Cocuy National Park in Colombia
Gorgeous alpine lake at the end of the trail.

The hike ends at Laguna Grande Lake but hikers can also keep going a bit further up to the snow line. Although it’s illegal to touch the snow or hike past it due to local regulations, hikers can still go up to it.

El Cocuy National Park is one of the last places to see snow and glaciers in Colombia so it’s a rare, special experience!


sierra nevada del cocuy national park colombia tour
High winds at 15,000 feet in elevation at Laguna Grande.

What To Wear At El Cocuy National Park

The weather at El Cocuy National Park can change pretty drastically so it’s best to layer up and pack warm rainproof clothing.

Here’s a list of clothing items that I highly recommend wearing to ensure your hiking experience is comfortable:

  • Waterproof hiking boots. The terrain can be pretty muddy and rocky so you’ll want to wear a good pair of hiking boots. My favorite are these hiking boots by Vasque because they are comfy, lightweight, and waterproof.
  • Warm wool socks. The last portion of the hike was very cold and our toes felt it first. Wear these wool socks to keep your toes warm during the hike.
  • Rain jacket in case it starts raining during the hike. These hikes are very long so you don’t want to get caught on the trail in the cold rain without a waterproof jacket.
  • Thermal shirt. I ended up wearing two thermal shirts because it was extremely cold at the summit.
  • T-shirt or tank top. A portion of the hike was sunny and hot so you’ll want to wear a light t-shirt or tank top underneath.
  • A pair of leggings or waterproof hiking pants. I have been using these Glyder leggings for years now and I love them!
  • A beanie and gloves to keep you warm from the wind.

el cocuy national park sierra nevada del cocuy colombia
Valle de los Frailejones at El Cocuy National Park.

What To Pack For The Hikes

Besides wearing comfortable clothing, here are some other things that I highly recommend bringing along on your hikes at El Cocuy:

  • Refillable water bottle. My personal favorite is this Hydroflask one. There aren’t any animals that live this high in the mountains so water can be refilled directly from creeks along the hike without filtering it.
  • Lunch and snacks. The hike is around 8-10 hours long so you’ll want to bring along plenty of snacks like nuts and fruits and something to eat for lunch like sandwiches.
  • The early portion of the hike is very sunny so pack along sunscreen that you can reapply during the hike.
  • Most of us got runny noses from the wind so pack along some tissues.
  • Emergency items such as a first aid kit, foldable knife, and a headlamp.

I also brought along my Sony a5100 camera to capture photos on the hike. I love this camera because it’s super small so it doesn’t add too much weight.

This is one of the most affordable cameras for beginners so I highly recommend it for those starting in photography and blogging.


best places to visit backpack colombia el cocuy national park
Laguna Grande de la Sierra was one of our favorite day hikes in South America.

Sierra Nevada Del Cocuy National Park is one of the most diverse and beautiful parks in all of Colombia.

Although the constant changes in park rules and strict requirements don’t make it easy for tourists to visit this park, its stunning landscape makes it a worthwhile detour.

The community that runs this park is pretty small and tight-knit so once you make your way to El Cocuy or Güicán towns, there will be plenty of friendly locals that will help you figure out exactly what you need to know to do these hikes.

The Colombians in this area are some of the nicest folks we’ve met on our trip and made our visit to El Cocuy National Park very enjoyable.


Ready for an adventure in Parque Nacional Natural El Cocuy? Check out these awesome hotel options in El Cocuy:

  • Hostal El Caminante – our favorite hostel in downtown Cocuy owned by our guide Martha. It’s also the highest rated on Booking.com.
  • Pinares Del Carrizalito – this hostel offers beautiful views overlooking downtown Cocuy and is also rated as the best value hotel in the area.
  • Cabana Hotel Eco Turistico El EDEN – known for its relaxed vibe and great service this hotel is a guest favorite.

Do you have any questions about visiting El Cocuy National Park or hiking this area? Leave me a comment below!


Looking for more South America travel inspiration? Be sure to check out these posts next:

This post is written by Laura Sausina. Hi, I’m the founder of the Fun Life Crisis travel blog and I’ve been traveling the world for the past 7 years. Here I share my experiences and tips to help 100,000 people a month turn their travel dreams into reality! Read more about me here.


Pin It For Later!


Some of the links used in this blog may be affiliate links. At no extra cost to you, I may earn a small commission when you book through these links which helps support this blog! Thank you!


7 thoughts on “Guide To Hiking El Cocuy National Park in Colombia”

  1. Hi great article, one thing is not clear to me: how do you and your guide go back to El Cocuy after your hike? can’t you set up the transportation with your guide also for the morning?

    1. Everything including food and transportation is arranged when you hire a guide in the town of El Cocuy. Since most people we’ve met do 2 of the 3 hikes, while you’re in town you should arrange the first transportation up to the cabins the day before your first hike, the transportation from the end of the first hike to the cabin by the trailhead of the second hike (probably the same vehicle that’s taking your guide back into town), and the final transportation back down into town after your second hike (again, probably the vehicle also taking your guide back into town). The transportation part of it is by far the most confusing part but your guide should be able to plan and arrange all of this for you when you hire them.

    1. Hey,

      We just asked around when we got to El Cocuy. We ended up going with our guide Martha who also owns the El Caminante Hostel in downtown El Cocuy. She was really awesome, super friendly and led us at a quick pace.

      We arranged the tour as soon as we got to El Cocuy but we did give ourselves a couple of days to adjust to the altitude before attempting the hike.

      Good luck!
      Laura

  2. Hey!

    Thanks for this article. Is it your sense that it would be easy for a solo traveler to join up with another trekking group or would I have to hire a guide one my own?

    1. Hey Jeremy,

      We joined up with 3 other people to do the hikes when we got to El Cocuy. One traveler we just met on the street and another couple we linked up with from the Pan-American Facebook group. The town is super small so it was pretty easy to locate other travelers interested in doing the trek.

      Laura

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *