Today I would like to introduce one of the places I like most in Colombia. It’s still far from being a really touristy place so I thought making a little guide to get there would probably help other travelers wanting to get away from the beaten path.
To resume :
Bus from Bogota’s bus terminal or from the “Portal del Norte” to Tunja – 15.000COP (5US$) – 3 hours
Bus from Tunja to Sogamoso – 7.500COP (2.5US$) – 1 hour 30 minutes
Minibus from Sogamoso to Mongui – 3.800COP (1,30US$) – 1 hour
Starting from the main square in Mongui, hiking to the Paramo de Oceta and coming back to the same square – Free – Between 4 and 8 hours depending on the conditions and your rhythm.
Guide that you can find in Mongui – 50.000COP total (17US$) (optional)
Accomodation in Sogamoso – Room starting from 20.000COP (7US$) around the terminal
Accomodation in Mongui – Room starting from 70.000COP (23US$)
As you can see, the expenses are very low for this hike, so enjoy before tourists start to flock in the village and eventually the hike becomes a national park with an entrance fee.
If you’re interested in knowing more about my experience and how to do it, you can read the following article.
It is an original and nice hike to do. It will take you a day or two if you decide to camp there. Paramo is the name given to an ecological system found only in the Andes, between 3000 and 4000 meters above sea level. It seems that the area was controlled by the FARC and various revolutionary groups some years ago, which explains the lack of tourists there, but safety isn’t a problem nowadays.
The journey begins in the peaceful area of Boyacá, known in Colombia as a region full of history and a key site of the Colombian Independence. On average, the altitude is over 2,000 meters above sea level, and even up to 5,300 meters in the National Park “El Cocuy”, one of the highest summits of the Cordillera of the northern Andes. The region is very well-connected by buses commuting to Bogota, the capital of Colombia, as being located a little further south.
Between Bogota and Tunja, the capital of Boyaca, the bus ride takes about 3 hours from the main bus terminal. There is also another terminal in the north of Bogotá, called “Portal del Norte”, which is easily accessible with the “transmilenio”, the transportation system of Bogota. I advise you to go directly there as it is a good way to save time and it is more accessible than the main bus terminal. You will find buses to Tunja every 5 minutes, and the journey should last from 2h-2h30 from “Portal del Norte”. We paid 15,000 COP (5US$) for the trip with a “low-cost” company.
From Tunja you can take a bus to almost anywhere in the region! So we used this city as a base to visit the area, leaving a bag in the hotel where we stayed. Many people prefer to visit the colonial town of Villa de Leyva, about 1 hour and 7000 pesos (2,33US$). But instead we headed towards the east and the city of Sogamoso, a journey that took us 1h30 and costs 7500 pesos in the minibus that go directly to Sogamoso. Another option for those looking to save (or who are not aware), there is a bus that connects the two cities for 7000 pesos with the company Libertadores. The inconvenience? It is not direct and I do not recommend it unless you have the time. If you do not want to stop in Tunja, you can find buses that go from Bogota to Sogamoso, but they will make a break in Tunja anyway.
Sogamoso is not an unforgettable city, but it is probably one of the cheapest city I visited in Colombia, directly in front of the terminal there are multiple restaurants, in one of which the almuerzo (lunch) costs only 4000 pesos (1,33US$), including soup, main course and the juice of the day! A 10-minute walk from the terminal you can find the central square, with a rather nice church. That’s pretty much everything in terms of touristic attractions in the city.
But the journey is not over yet, because from Sogamoso you still have to take a bus (the last one I promise) that goes to the village of Mongui, which marks the beginning of the hike! The bus leaves from the same terminal, and it seems to me that only two companies go there, for the same price. Mongui is located at 2,800 meters above sea level and is a very peaceful city. The journey takes almost 1 hour, costs 3 800 pesos (1,30US$) and starts early in the morning (6am), and there is a bus every 20 minutes (that is what they told me, but I believe it’s closer to every 30-40 minutes) and the last bus is coming back from Mongui at 7 pm.
Another important factor to take into account is accommodation. There are very few solutions in Mongui and they are usually quite expensive. You will find it hard to find a room for less than 70.000 pesos (23US$), which is quite expensive for Colombia. We stayed in Sogamoso, in a hotel just opposite the terminal for 40,000 pesos in total (13US$) which was quite comfortable for two people with hot water and a good internet connection. The hotel was called “Hotel Valparaiso”. You can certainly find a room at 25,000-30,000 pesos in the same area, there are many options around the terminal. The last option is to camp directly in the Paramo de Oceta. I met two people who had just spent the night there, but it must be rather cold at this altitude, so plan some equipment!
Anyway, the bus will drop you at the central square of Mongui, where you will find a tourist information center and also a travel agency “Mongui Travels”. You cannot miss them, because even the tourist information center strongly recommended me to go see them.
A guide costs about 50,000 pesos (17US$) in total for the hike but prices may vary depending on the season. It is recommended to do it with a guide, but also quite possible to do it without. I chose the second option so here are some tips:
– First from the central square you will have to climb the stairs and from there it’s always straight until an obvious sign telling you to turn left. It is the only sign of the trail, after that you will have to manage everything by yourself or almost … Do not hesitate to ask the farmers if you can speak a little Spanish, they were always smiling and seemed ready to help me. During the first part you’ll go through the village, climbing gradually via the road. You might encounter motorbikes, 4×4, horses …
– Secondly, when you are out of the village that’s where things get complicated and I’m not sure if I took the easiest way, I went straight through some fields and it was probably not the optimal path but thanks to a little help from the local, I found myself on a road. Ultimately I landed on a trail that led me all the way up! Orientating once you’re out of the village is definitely the hardest part, so feel free to ask if you come across someone but when you pass this stage everything becomes quite clear.
– Third, you’ll reach a plateau where the vegetation begins to change and even if there is no real path, the direction becomes clear enough, you just have to go to the weird plants you probably have never seen before, the frailejones.
This is the moment when you enter a magical and unreal world. Temperature starts to drop and the ground becomes damp, there you are! Welcome to the Paramo of Oceta. Continuing on the plateau and passing once again some small barriers delimiting the private properties, you will have two choices, to climb to the top of the small hill or to go down. Be careful because after it is a cliff no matter your choice. I went down a little until the cliff, from where I could discover a huge black lake below, fed by a small waterfall. Quite unique as a landscape, especially when no one is at the same time surrounded by this unique vegetation.
That’s the moment to enjoy the view, relax and be proud, because you made it! You can start to go back on the same way once you’re done.
I advise you to hire a guide according to your budget, less freedom but by reading the comments of other travelers it seems that a guide actually adds value thanks to their explanations and knowledge of the surroundings. Particularly recommended if you do not speak Spanish or if you don’t feel like struggling to find the path.
I hiked with city shoes, it is doable if you don’t mind having your feet wet.
It was not so cold when I was there, despite a fairly thin rain at the top so not having equipment was not a problem. But went once again through comments of other people who climbed it can be chilly up there so it’s better to plan a bit, especially at this altitude things change pretty quickly.
How long do you need to hike? Well it really depends on your pace, I like walking and I’m not crazy about taking breaks, so in 4 hours and a half I had gone up and back down to the village, leaving around noon. It seems that the tours with guides take about 8 hours.
PS: There are no shops on the road, so stock up on what you think is necessary in Mongui, or even in Sogamoso. You cannot find much water up there, I found and drank some from a stream, but don’t count on it since it’s a bit out of the way.