"Milk Splash Blues in El Cocuy National Park" Cocuy by richiecdisc
Cocuy Travel Guide: 43 reviews and 69 photos
Long off limit due to a high concentration of guerrilla occupation, El Cocuy National Park had a bit of a mystical cult reputation for those wanting to explore its considerable charms but standing on the outskirts of this forbidden land. Though only established as a national park in 1977, the vast and varied park of over 1000 square miles has been the draw of human awe much longer with 15 peaks over 5000 meters, the largest glaciated region in South America above the Equator, and a diverse species of flora and fauna befitting its varying terrain from over 5000 to 600 meters. Ironically, no sooner did it gain national park status and visitation became impossible due to the aforementioned occupation.
Of course, places of such incredible beauty will gain notoriety no matter how remote and difficult to visit. Perhaps its inaccessibility is what helps create such strong desire in the first place but make no mistake, it is very much deserving of such a pilgrimage. While the lower plains of the eastern side of the park remain largely unvisited, the stunning mountainous area to its west is becoming increasingly popular due to its relative accessibility. This is partly due to a remaining questionable danger of guerrilla activity in the plains but also because of a lack of any infrastructure to make it a reasonably venture. Rangers say this is perhaps the most important part of the park ecologically with much of the flora and fauna the park is protected for so perhaps this isolation is a good thing.
The more renowned areas are indeed drawing more people each year despite average elevations of over 4000 meters and the difficulty of actually getting close enough to enjoy it. Park figures show that climbing its most renowned peak grew by nearly 6000% between 2003 and 2007. Even with such figures heralding its arrival, it was still only 6000 people and when you compare that to big name South American destinations like Machu Picchu or Iguazi Falls, it is still a relatively tourist-free place to visit. Let's not even talk about the Grand Canyon. With perhaps some considerable effort, you can escape all but the most hardy and have a true wilderness experience. This is something that is becoming increasingly rare on our crowded planet. Enjoy it while it lasts.
El Cocuy Natinoal Park was the reason I've wanted to visit Colombia since 2005 so it was a trip long in the planning stages but for various reasons, it never materialized until early 2010. With such little information out there on the trek and most of that very dated, it sounded like it was still so heavily glaciated that doing it without a guide was next to impossible. Compounding this with all the misinformation about the dangers of guerilla activity and it's no wonder few were venturing there. In 2007, a planned trip was again thwarted by poor timing. Our trip that year had to be in late summer and by all accounts, it is a very poor time to do the trek around the El Cocuy massif so we went to Ecuador instead. In early 2010, with a planned move to Germany in the wings that spring, we decided we just had to do it before moving from South Florida. It turned out our timing was perfect. With an El Nino year ravaging Peru with record rains and floods, Colombia found itself with one of the driest summers ever. Many of the national parks were closed due to danger of wild fires and in fact, El Cocuy was closed the day we started our trek. A day later and all our preparations would have been for nought but what was certainly not a good period for the park itself was a blessing for us as navigating the difficult trek was made much easier by the clear skies. As you will see from the photos, it looks and was quite idyllic.
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