This post may contain affiliate links, for which we earn a small commission at no additional expense to you. Click here to read our Disclosure.
Many travellers flock to the picturesque town of Salento, located in the Coffee Triangle, for the coffee, colourfully painted town and the famous wax palms of the Cocora Valley. Salento is amazing and all of those are worthy of a visit. But, Salento is also a gateway to Los Nevados National Park offering some of the best trekking in Colombia, visiting the unique ecosystem of the area, volcanoes and glaciers.
- 1 About Los Nevados
- 2 3 Day Trek in Los Nevados Detailed Guide
- 3 Paramo Trek Review
- 4 About Salento
- 5 About Pereira
- 6 Colombia Trekking Packing List
About Los Nevados
Colombia’s boasts 59 National Parks, representing an impressive 14% of the country. Los Nevados National Park was established in 1973 and is known for its snow-capped volcanoes, glaciers, and paramo ecosystem. Most of the mountains in Los Nevados are volcanic and the highest, Nevado del Ruiz (5,325m) is best known for a catastrophe in 1985. Within the park there are opportunities to see many species of birds, danta (mountain tapir), condor and more.
For us, the real attraction was an opportunity to experience the paramo. The paramo is an alpine tundra ecosystem above the continous treeline and below the permanent snow line. The vegetation mostly consists of espeletia (frailejones), cactus-like shrubs that rise up out of the yellow grasses. The paramo is vital for the region as it acts as a water storage system, controlling the flow of water into the rivers that supply the farms, towns and cities of the surrounding area. The majority of the paramo ecosystems occur in the Colombian Andes, making Los Nevados one of the best hikes in Colombia.
What makes Los Nevados so spectacular though is the range of ecosystems that you trek through from the lower forest to the high Andean forest to the paramo and possibly onto glaciers. While trekking, you get to see the real Colombia, the incredible countryside, endless waterfalls and experience the warmth of staying in isolated fincas (farms).
There are many Los Nevados treks to choose, from summiting peaks to multi-day treks into the paramo. We are so glad that we found Paramo Trek, a company based in Salento, that offers Los Nevados hikes, along with other adventures. This is one of the best areas for hiking in Colombia and we are so glad we added this trek to our Colombia itinerary in 2023.
3 Day Trek in Los Nevados Detailed Guide
We contacted Paramo Trek a few weeks before our arrival in Salento via What’s App and they promptly provided us with detailed trek info about a variety of 3-day treks. With their help, we opted for the “Cocora – Otun Quimbaya” trek and since there were four of us, they started a group for us for the dates we requested. The trek cost 980,000 COP/person (about $210 USD) although the cost is a sliding scale depending on how many trekkers are in your group. The trekking is difficult due to the terrain, elevation and distances travelled, so we would recommend it for people with some experience hiking.
On the day before your trek, there is a mandatory pre-trek meeting at the Paramo Trek office where they review the route, packing checklist, trek details and altitude safety. This gave us time to rent some of the gear we needed at Kilometer 0, a small outfitting shop in Salento. We have a full packing list below and explain what Paramo provides and what you may need to rent.
We had two others sign up for our trek, leaving us with a group of 6 trekkers and 2 guides. We would depart from the Paramo Trek office in Salento and finish in Pereira, a large regional city 1 hour from Salento.
Day 1 – Cocora Valley to Finca Argentina
12 km, 1150 m (7.5 miles, 3770 ft) elevation gain
Our trek started at 7 am on day 1 at Paramo Trek’s offices in Salento. Since our trek finished in a different city, they would send the bags we weren’t taking to Pereira for us. So we had our trekking backpacks and other bags with us. From there we met our fabulous guides, Estevan and Fabian and headed to a nearby cafe for a traditional Colombian breakfast together. This was a nice opportunity to meet our fellow trekkers and get to know the guides. Both guides brought different skills to the trek. Fabian was a wildlife biologist who had worked for years as a ranger in Colombia’s National Parks. Throughout the trek he pointed out and explained various flora, fauna and wildlife. Estefan was incredibly passionate about the outdoors, trekking, conservation and we loved his enthusiasm.
After breakfast, we took a private transport to the Cocora Valley, 25 minutes away. The Cocora Valley is breathtakingly beautiful with the massive wax palms rising up out of the forest and fields. While this is the starting point of the trek, you quickly enter the forest, so we would suggest visiting the Cocora Valley on its own before.
There is no question about it, the first day is an uphill slog. But, the lush forest is beautiful and the guides showed us a variety of medicinal plants and native birds. Since it rains almost every day in this region and since the trails are used by horses as well, the trails are very muddy. Although hiking in rain boots was a first for us, we felt really good about that recommendation.
Shortly after starting to hike, it started raining and we donned our rain jackets or ponchos and rain pants and continued our upward path. Luckily our group moved at a similar speed, but we always had a guide leading and at the rear. We would stop every 30-60 minutes for a rest, drink and snack. Paramo provides you with three snack bags (one for each day of the trek), each filled with different snacks to power you thoughout the day. Around noon we stopped to eat our packed lunches under the protection of a large tree.
After lunch we made good time, and arrived at our home for the night, Finca Argentina at about 3 pm. We had covered 12 km (7.5 miles) and gained 1,150m (3770 ft) in elevation, bringing us to 3,400m (11,150 ft) and we started to notice the thinner air. The fincas (farms) are simple structures with rustic bunk beds for trekkers. There was a Western toilet (minus the seat), a hot shower and Paramo filtered water for us to refill out bottles. Finca Argentina looked out over the valley and we had beautiful views of the surrounding mountains shrouded in clouds.
We spent the afternoon enjoying hot drinks, including the new-to-us, agua panela (hot sugar cane drink), relaxing and taking in the view of the countryside and farm animals. There was only one other trekking group spending the night at Finca Argentina with us – a group of 4. We enjoyed a beautiful sunset and a simple dinner of hot soup, rice, and bacon or egg (for vegetarians) before an early and exhausted bedtime. Before bed, the guides briefed us on the plan for the next day and instructed us to drink water throughout the night to help with the altitude. Some of us had minor headaches and it was definitely chilly, but the finca provided us each with three thick blankets, so we were cozy.
Day 2 – Finca Argentina to Finca Jordan
15 km, 750m (9.3 miles, 2,460ft) elevation gain
Day 2 saw us wake at 6 am, have a simple breakfast and start trekking under clear skies by 7 am. This was the day we were most excited about as we would be trekking in the paramo ecosystem for most of the day. We had wonderful views of the surrounding mountains and down the valley and spotted danta (mountain tapir) tracks in the mud on the trail. The guide spotted him on the trail up ahead and we raced along the trail, but only a few of us were able to see him before he was scared off.
We continued to feel the effects of the altitude and the thinner air as we hiked. We entered the transition zone between the high Andean forest and the paramo and started to see our first espeletia plants, which are the main vegetation of the paramo. These unique shrubs reminded us of the Dr. Seuss book, “The Lorax” and we learned how important they are to the paramo and storing water for the cities and towns nearby.
As we reached the highest point of our trek, 4200m (13,780 ft), the clouds had moved in. Our youngest son was feeling very ill, likely due to the altitude and it was a struggle to make much progress. We gave him medicine and the guides were very helpful and even made him coco tea on the trail, but he struggled for a few hours and Paul even had to carry him for sections.
We crested a ridge and the skies cleared and we were surrounded by espeletias and views into the valley we would be descending. We rested here, taking in the view, enjoying snacks and a chocolate present from the guides. Miles had perked up as we descended and we were all releived to see him feeling better.
We descended to Finca Berlin for a late lunch. All of the fincas in Los Nevados have funny names, after places all over the world. Finca Berlin was beautiful with rising cliffs surrounding it on two sides. We were invited into the kitchen for hot drinks, soup and a really good meal.
We couldn’t stay too long though because we had to continue on to our home for the night, Finca Jordan. As we descended out of the paramo and into another valley, we had beautiful views of massive waterfalls and a few farms dotting the mountainside. We continued to descend to the lovely Finca Jordan with a massive waterfall view right from the front porch. We really enjoyed this finca as well – the views were fantastic and the food delicious.
We couldn’t help marvelling at the challenges these farmers face living in these harsh and remote conditions. In talking with the guides, we learned that the National Park is trying to encourage them to move more towards tourism and reducing the livestock they are allowed to have in the National Park. Our guides think tourism is a very positive thing for the National Park and a more sustainable way for the farmers to support themselves.
It was another early bedtime, after a hearty dinner, hot showers, some wine and some time relaxing in the cozy kitchen.
Day 3 – Finca Jordan to Pereira
14 km, 1000m downhill (8.8 miles, 3,280 ft) downhill
As we were having breakfast on the third day, our host received a telephone call alerting her that Nevado del Ruiz, the active volcano in Los Nevados was measuring increased seismic activity and since we were in the red zone, we were to evacuate. This was a bit disconcerting to hear, especially since this had not happened since 1985! We finished our breakfast and quickly set out downwards towards the finishing point of our trek.
We moved quickly, but still had time to appreciate the lush forest and see a variety of birds, plants and even a giant worm. Luckily we hadn’t had any rain since the first day, even if we were threatened with dark clouds, and thunder and lightning everyday. The last day was walking mostly on rocks and even though our rubber boots had been great up until then, we were excited to put on our hikers for the rocky trail.
We made really good time and arrived at our ending point and a small restaurant, where we had lunch. The guides received updates and photos of the volcano erupting, although we were happy that we were out of the red zone now. After a delicious lunch, we sorted through our gear and waited for our transport that would take us the hour and a half to Pereira. The road out of the protected area was really bumpy and required a 4WD truck. It was strange to arrive in busy Pereira, a large city of 500,000 after so many days in nature. The truck took us all to the bus station where our other bags had been shipped. After exchanging contact info and thanking our guides, our trek was officially over.
Paramo Trek Review
We paid in full for our Paramo Trek and we can truly say that we are so happy we chose Paramo Trek. From the minute we contacted them through Whats App, they were super responsive, helpful and professional. They have a calendar with the treks they are offering, but often a trek is started once there is a group formed.
We found the trek information they provided really helpful and the pre-trek meeting really informative to get us prepared for the trek. The guides were fantastic – really knowledgeable about the National Park and ecosystem and very focused on safety. They travelled with a lot of safety gear from radios to a portable stove to water filters. The Paramo Trek staff that works in the office had the trek really well organized with our snack bags, route planning and bookings. They also lent us trekking poles and rain pants at no cost.
If you don’t want to do a multi-day trek, they offer one-day hikes and activities as well.
We loved the town of Salento and you should definitely plan for some time in Salento before your trek (minimum 2 days). This will also give you a chance to get acclimatized since Salento sits at 1900m (6,200 ft). We hope to have a full post coming soon all about Salento, but make sure you visit the Cocora Valley, wander Calle Real and the central Plaza, visit a coffee farm and enjoy the wonderful cafes and restaurants in the town. We also think hiking in Los Nevados is one of the best things to do in Salento.
We stayed at Coffee Tree Boutique Hostel in Salento, which was amazing. They have dorms, private rooms and even a family room. The views are incredible from the hostel, they organize free activities daily and are so helpful in planning your time in Salento. We loved hanging out in the communal areas, sipping free coffee and tea and eating homemade cake.
The various treks that Paramo Trek offers end in different places. Our trek ended in Pereira, the nearest city from our exit point. Pereira is a large city and not one we would recommend spending a lot of time in. We stayed one night in Pereira after the trek, before heading to our next destination, Jardin.
Casa Azul is the best budget option in Pereira with its central location and full hostel amenities. Click here to get the best price.
Colombia Trekking Packing List
Paramo Trek will provide you with a packing checklist when you book your trek and will go over it at the pre-trek meeting. This trek is difficult and since you are at elevation in cold and wet conditions, it is important that you are well prepared.
Paramo Trek loans you good hiking poles, which are really important in the mud. They also lent us rain pants, which were very useful on the first day when we hiked in the rain for hours. In Salento, there is a small outfitting shop called Kilometer 0 where you can rent or buy various outdoor gear.
What to bring on your Lost Nevados trek?
- 40 L Backpack, ideally with a rain cover – we are big Osprey fans
- Trekking poles – these are the most economical, but we borrowed for this trip
- Rubber boots – rent these from Kilometer 0 for 5,000 COP/day
- Hiking Shoes/Boots – wear these in the evenings and possibly on the third day
- Sleeping bag liner – no need for a sleeping bag, there are warm blankets at each finca
- Rain Jacket – this is what we travel with, but you can also rent them
- Rain pants – we borrowed
- Poncho – even if you have a rain jacket, these are helpful to stay dry and can go over your pack too. You can buy these everywhere in Salento, including Kilometer 0.
- 4 pairs of Socks – good hiking socks (we prefer merino) – one for each day and one for night
- 1 Shorts to hike in
- 2 pairs of Pants – one to hike in and one for evenings
- 2 quick-dry T-shirts
- 1 longsleeve shirt for the evenings
- 1 mid-weight layer
- 1 warm jacket/fleece
- Sun hat
- Head lamp – some of the farms have solar electricity, but better to have your own light source
- Travel Towel
- 1.5 L of water/person – we love our bladders, but you can also use Nalgenes
- Sunscreen and toiletries
- Battery Bank – to charge your phone
Pack all of your clothes in a plastic bag for extra protection from the rain. No need to bring any food or snacks – plenty is provided.