Macoa: Beauty Amongst Tragedy

To many Macoa exists soley as a small blurb towards the end of their Lonely Planet Colombia guide. Though it occupys a small space in the guide books Macoa has a big heart that is more than worth your time should you choose to visit Colombia. Earlier this year Macoa suffered a catostrophic mud slide that killed more than 300 people. This tragedy unfortunately has repelled tourists in a time where tourism stands to benefit a community in need most. One can see from bridges the destruction wrot by the mighty mudslide. Cloths and parts of houses still sit along the rivers shore. A grim reminder of the power of mother nature. Many are saying the intense rains that triggered the mudslide are further proof of climate changes ability to intensify natural disasters. I am inclined to agree with this point of view and there are even some who say that local mining in the area has weekend the soil leading to the slide. That however, I will leave to real journalists.

 

Despite the horror of such a disaster life goes on. People are happy and welcoming and the nature is as beautiful as ever. I stayed at Hostel Dantayaco just outside of town next to El Fin Del Mundo. For starters the hostel was beautiful, hospitable, and attracted a good group of people. Both staff and guests were exceedling kind and you will have a great day adventuring or spending the day chilling in hammocks. Many tourists of all types visit the area. There are adventurers, bird watchers, and spiritualists all of which will expose you to knew ideas and a great time. Personally, my favorite part was venturing into El Fin Del Mundo. El Fin Del Mundo will cost  you only 3,000 pesos to enter and will lead you to 3 separate waterfalls where you can cliff jump and swim to your jungle hearts content. To top it all off is the final waterfall which is incredibly high and has a spectacular view of the city of Macoa. Fin Del Mundo is far from the only hike in the area but was certainly the most memorable for me.

 

Dont skip Macoa. You wont regret it.

Baños: Rocks and Rafts

Baños is located a short bus ride from Quito and should only take 3 hours. Baños is the perfect place to continue your journey as it is similar to San Gil Colombia in that it is a place for outdoor activities. 
Located along a stunning river Baños is an absolute treat to walk around. After walking around town chances are you will be hungry for some real Ecuadorian grin. I recommend going to the Mercado in the center of the city where you can get a huge lunch for 2.50$ or a fresh squeezed juice for just a buck. Or if you are a little more adventurous try some of the local guinea pig delecacy.


The town is littered with travel agency’s touting EXTREME activities which feels annoying when really they just rent bikes and organize tours that even your mom could get along on. That being said probably the most popular activity in Baños is the rafting. For 25$ (including lunch) this is an absolute steal. The rapids are reasonable but considering you could not get someone to drive you to the mouth of the river in the USA for 25$ this is a no brainer. Not only is it cheap but it is an absolute blast!
Unfortunately I was unable to do any climbing during my time in Baños. However, there is plenty to be had behind the Zoo. If you have equipment just ask for thfor Zoo and you will find some sport routes. Additionally, it is worth it to hike up to Casa De Árbol for a stunning view and a good time swinging!

After a long day rafting, climbing, or hiking it is worth visiting one of the many hot springs in town. The spring located under the main waterfall in town is open at night and has varying temperatures that left me feeling rejuvenated for the following day. 

Climbing Quito: Rocks at 2850m

If you are anything like me you loved Colombia so much you had to renew your visa after thirty days. I chose to cross the boarder with Ecuador and make a bit of a vacation out of it. And fortunately as always there is climbing. I began by taking the bus from Pasto to Quito, the capital of Ecuador.

Quito, the highest capital city on earth has a beautiful colonial side located in the old town and a more bumping nightlife to be found just outside. Located centrally, it is easy to get to the beach, mountains, or Amazon with just one bus!


There is plenty to see and to do in Quito. Visit the many churches and city square and visit the local market to get a full smash meal for just 2.50$. Oh yeah, they use USD in Ecuador which is nice and has an interesting story to it that can be learned by taking the free walking tour that’s leaves from the Community Hostel.
In addition to a cool cultural city Quito has quick access to some fun climbing spots. I met up with a guy from Mountain Project and we headed out to Sigsipamba.

Sigsipamba has a hand full of routes, most of them hard because they are overhung. Not only will you get nice and strong climbing here but it is shielded from the rain which was a god send because during my time in Quito it rained everyday. Sigsipamba is far from the only crag close to Quito but sadly it was the only one I had a chance to visit and I will hopefully adding the routes to MTN Project soon. 

Popayan: The White City

If you have been climbing in Colombia chances are you will eventually head south to visit Pasto (post coming soon). On the way to Pasto you will have the opportunity to visit the pristine colonial city of Popayan.


Popayan is know as “The White City” because of its white buildings. Why paint them white? It all has to do with an insect infestation from the colonial era which devastated the towns folk. These insects would bury themselves into the skin of their host and cause incredible itching so much so that the infected persons would use the cities coarse stone walls to scratch the incredible itch. Soon the town realized that they could kill the bugs with a chemical derived from chalk and painted all the buildings with it. Though the insects and chalk are no longer present the traditional white color for buildings remains.


            Photo: itching corner

There are many great activities to do on an off day in this quaint town. I recommend heading to National Park Purace or head to the thermals 30 minutes out of town and bike downhill on your way back.


Additionally, I recommend taking the free walking tour run by students which leaves from the main square at 10am. They guides are kind, knowledgeable, and funny. During the tour we even found about a free piano concert in the main theater that lead to a night of high class culture, which was refreshing after 9 months of a dirtbag backpacker lifestyle.


Popayan is a town worth stopping in for any traveler in Colombia. Whether it be a day or two or even a week this town will leave you wanting more colonial city exposure. 

Los Nevados National Park: Palms and Peaks

Los Nevados is a gigantic park located West of Bogota and is accesible from Salento, Manizales, and a few other small towns. It is a park of amazing natural beauty and kind hearted farmers.

 

My journey begins in Salento where I met up with my buddy Kurt who I used to volunteer guide with in Guatemala. Salento is a touristy cozy town located next to the park that boasts plenty of accomodating hostels. While relaxing in Salento make sure to go for a hike to the surrounding rivers, eat some of the deliciously cheap trout (trucha), and kick back with a beer at the main square. While Salento is deserving of a post all its own the true meat of Salento comes from the park Los Nevados.

 

The park is unique in my experience of Colombia because it is one of the few parks where no guide is needed (though they are very helpful). Kurt and I began our day early and left for Cocora Valley (the entrance to the park) from the main square at 8am. Transport was on the back of a jeep and cost about 3,000 COP (1$). There is a standard loop that many tourists do from the hummingbird area to the palm trees. Kurt and I opted for a more intense route.

 


We began by visiting the iconic palm trees first where we then proceeded to cross a few rivers and climb for what seemed like forever to Finca Primavera. It took us 7 hours to arrive at the finca where we were greated with amazing home cooked food and a cozy bed. The next day we explored the incredible vistas and waterfalls and ran into a guide at Finca La Playa who said he could guide us up the Tolima Glaciar.

 

Usually I am not one for guides but this was well worth the money because much of the route we made was done in the middle of the night. We left to scale Tolima at 1am in total darkness and rain. Tolima is the tallest volcano in the park at 5215m (around 17,000ft). After scrambling up light snow and a rock section we reached the Tolima glaciar where we put on our crampons, rope, and ice axes. The rain was clearing and the sun rising. We had an incredible view from the top and even were able to see one of the other volcanos in the park erupting. The weather window was perfect as it started to rain once we began our decent.

 

The downclimb was great because we could finally see the trail we had been hiking the entire time. We even past a point of great interest where we could see the left over tail from a plane that had crashed years ago. We returned to Finca La Playa around noon and took a nap and awoke just in time for dinner.

 

Our original plan was to hike the following day to Termales Cañon, camp, then hike out at Ibague the day after. However, it was raining so hard we decided to head back to salento. If you would like a detailed map for the trail all the way to Ibague I recommend this website. The trail down was absolutely soping wet and was more like skiing than hiking. The river was running so high that we used some folks passing buy on horse to help us get accross. All in all Los Nevados is an incredible park that we only scratched the surface of, as there are many hikes and trails in the area and one can spend weeks exploring these areas. If you would like to see a video of the adventure click here.

La Guajira: Milky Way Deserts in Colombia

When asked to imagine the typical countryside of Colombia few would picture a vast and brutal desert similar to that of the Australian Outback. La Guajira is a department (state) of Colombia located on the caribean coast that boasts salt, stars, and rough roads that will leave travelers exausted yet enamoured in the adventure that is La Guajira.

 

La Guajira has two main destinations, Cabo De La Vela and Puntos Galinas and a trip to both is required to fully enjoy this odity of a desert. First you must take a collectivo out toe Uribe which is the Wayuu nation Capital more or less. The Wayuu are the local indigenous group who live like modern Colombians in Uribe and in a more traditional livelihood further out in the desert. Once arriving in Uribe you need to ask around for a 4×4 transport because the roads are really rough. I was lucked enough to get a guy by the name of Alfonso who drove like a bat out of hell with a laugh as loud as his engine.


The first stop in the trip is in Cabo De La Vela, a rural town with little to do other than swim and kite surf which was also the landing site of the first explorers to South America . Amenities are basic; there exists little power and sleeping in a hammock under the stars will likely be your accommodation for the night. Go for a swim, soak up the sun and go for a hike in the neighboring hills.


While the views are pleasant it is a stark contrast to the rest of Colombia. The poverty of the Wayuu is extreme and saddening and many struggle with Spanish and live in shanty huts. People will likely beg for water/food and money and in all honesty you really should give them something. What is a bee 1,000 COP and some water to someone who is on vacation… anyway… the next will be in Puntos Gallinas the most northern part of South America.

After an early morning drive and a boat ride you will arrive in Puntos Gallinas in enough time to check out where the sand dunes meet the ocean. Truly the nicest and most dramatic beach I have ever seen. Relax in a hammock durrning the night and observe the Milky Way floating above your head. Speaking of the Milky Way Alfonso was kind enough to share a bit of a silly story about the Wayuu. The Wayuu nation is a part of Venuzela and Colombia and is the reason you will likely only drink Venezuelan beer there. The close connection memes that smuggling is easy and likely common. When I think smuggling I think guns and drugs however, Alfonso surprised me when he said it was more common to smuggle commercial goods like MilkyWay candy bars and other food items.


After returning the next day to Uribe with only one car fire and minor bruises from rally car driving we made our way back to Riohacha, ending our trip. All in all a trip out the desert is one you won’t forget so if you have time give it a go

Red Rock in Colombia 

The American west isn’t the only place in the world where you can find sandy red rocks to climb. Colombia is also home to canyons and deserts that may surprise you with their incredible beauty and extreme landscape. The area that is the most impressive is that of Chicamoca Canyon; very much the Grand Canyon of Colombia. 


Anyone can enjoy the dramatic cliff faces and sandy red stone but the thing that keeps climbers happy are the rocks of La Mojarra. Located only and hour from Bucaramanga these cliffs are a must if you are keen to climb in Colombia. Personally I was surprised such a place existed in Colombia especially one with 300+ well developed sport routes. 


One of the nicest things about La Mojarra is how easy it is to link up with other climbers. Personally I have been traveling without a rope or draws so I am dependent on meeting other climbs which can often be difficult when traveling in a foreign country but is easy at the climbing hostel Refugio Roca located at the top of the crag. This hostel has incredible accommodation situated on top of the Mojarra cliffs. After linking up with climbers and spending the day on the wall I would return each night to cook and hang out in the social space boasting hammocks and a warm atmosphere. If you get the chance do not miss this climbing area. It is more than worth a week or two of time.