El Cocuy National Park is a national park located in the Andes Mountains within the nation of Colombia.
The Sierra Nevada de El Cocuy is a mountain chain of over 25 peaks covered with glaciers and permanent snow in an extension of only 30 kilometres. It stretches along the eastern strand of the great Cordillera de los Andes, opening a way to the eastern Llanos. This is Colombia’s biggest glacier mass, composed of imposing mountains, paramos and forests that occupy the valleys between the snow-capped peaks.
The peaks, which rise to heights of between 4,800 and 5,330 metres, form a majestic range that, seen from the air, resembles a rosary of white pearls that glistens in the sun and merges with the clouds. The Park begins with the Ran de Azucar and continues with the Diamante, Pulpito del Diablo, Tote, Portales, Concavo and Concavito peaks in an awesome chain as far as the Laguna Grande de la Sierra Lake. We are in the presence, therefore, of a veritable paradise of breathtaking beauty that will delight visitors. Furthermore, much of the area may be explored on foot.
The above-mentioned Laguna Grande de la Sierra is just one of the 150 spectacularly beautiful lakes waiting there to be admired. Other noteworthy lakes are La Atravesada, La Cuadra, La Parada and La Pintada, which lie on the Lagunillas River; the Laguna de la Plaza, with its astonishing waterfall; and the Laguna del Avellanal, the Laguna del Rincon and the Laguna Grande de los Verdes, the latter strikingly coloured and occupying an area of over 35 hectares.
Moreover, the Park has over 80 rivers and rivulets. The most voluminous rivers include the Casanare, Cravo Note, Cubugo, Cusay, Mundo Nuevo, Mortinal, Playon, Purare, San Lope and Tame; and among the rivulets, Agua Blanca, Tuneba and Ritambría.
The protected area and its hinterland have a set of 48 micro-basins, of which seven flow into the middle basin of the Chicamocha River (Cuenca del Sogamoso), 21 into the River Casanare (Cuenca del Bajo Meta) and 20 into the Arauca.
The Park is characterised by humid ecosystems, located in the lower belt of the Andean forest, which provide the habitat for the greatest flora diversity in the area. One of the main ecosystems is the humid paramo, which is a strategic conservation area, home to many endemic species and responsible for water production, both on the western (tributaries of the Chicamocha River) and on the eastern watersheds (tributaries of the Casanare and Arauca rivers), in which we find an abundance of flora, two characteristic species of which are the cedar and kinds of mould.
Other ecosystems present in the area are the warm, temperate and cold Andean rainforests, as well as permanent snows.
You may observe birds such as the eagle, the house wren, the Andean condor, the cock-of-the-rock and the yellow-winged parakeet. And if you are especially quiet and respectful, you might even catch sight of the occasional tufted capuchin monkey, spectacled bear, puma or white-tailed deer.
In the Park there are five reserves for the indigenous peoples, the most noteworthy of whom are the U’was, the only still surviving Muisca ethnic group. For this reason, and by virtue of the fact that its members are deeply knowledgeable of the ecological functions of the Andes, this community constitutes one of the region’s greatest assets. Many of its members lead a very traditional lifestyle, while others are undergoing a constant transition towards an indigenous peasantfarming system. Their production systems include intensive shepherding associated with subsistence farming (in the upper areas), stock raising associated with slash-and-burn subsistence farming (in the upper and lower areas) and traditional systems of horticultural production.
Other inhabitants of the Park are high Andean peasant farmers, in the western sector, mostly owners either of small or large estates, and foothill peasant farmers, in the eastern sector, whose land use models are linked mainly to agriculture, forestry exploitation and stock raising.
- Established: 1977
- Area: 306,000 hectares
- Altitude: Between 600 and 5,330 metres above sea level
- Climate: Cold – paramo – temperate
- Average temperature: Between 10°C and and 20°C
PLANNING YOUR VISIT
- LOCATION: The El Cocuy National Natural Park lies in the departments of Boyaca (municipalities of Chiscas, Chrta, Cubara, El Espino, El Cocuy and Guican), Casanare (municipalities of La Salina and Sacama) and Arauca (municipalities of San Lope and Tame).
- HOW TO GET THERE: The 43 kilometres that separate the municipalities of El Cocuy and Guican are covered by the Via Alto de la Cueva road, from which the main entrances branch off: the land route from Bogota (400 km) following the road from Tunja-Duitama, Santa Rosa, Cerinza, Bele’n and Susacon to Soata. From here, two routes lead to the municipalities of El Cocuy and Guican:
- 1.- Tipacoque – Capitanejo – El Espino – Panqueba – Guican or El Cocuy.
- 2.- Boavita – La Uvita – San Mateo – Guacamayas – Panqueba – Guican or El Cocuy
- 3.- By plane: The 20-minute flight takes you from Bucaramanga to Malaga, From Malaga, however, you must take the overland route to El Cocuy or Guican, via Capitanejo and Soata, and from here onwards follow the signposted trails. Climbing up to the snow-covered peaks on horseback is forbidden, and we advise you to hire the services of a guide.
- WHERE TO EAT: You may buy food from the local farmers or guides.
- WHERE TO STAY: National Natural Parks have a cabin for putting up visitors run by the local community groups of Guican and El Cocuy, It stands on the Lagunillas trail, Another option is to camp or stay overnight at the homes of local farmers or guides.
- HOW LONG TO STAY: To make a comprehensive visit to the Park you need to stay for seven days and six nights
- WHEN TO GO: To take advantage of the dry season, you must visit the western side of the Cordillera between December and March or in July and August. The wettest season is between April and November on the eastern side.
- Besides these circuits, the Park has other places where you may engage in the other main activities: hiking, wild fauna and flora observation, photography and video filming and environmental research and education. These places are principally the B Avellanal, La Isla, La Plaza, Los Verdes and Termales de Guican lakes.
- When visibility is poor, wait until it improves to enable you to read the signs.
- The Park offices in Guican and El Cocuy will inform you about places of interest, access routes and obligations and prohibitions regarding activities in the protected area.
- Horse-riding is not allowed in the protected area.
- Spend the night in one of the nearby towns and villages or in the Park accommodation facilities (El Cocuy or Guican) before setting off on a particular route.
- If you get lost on the eastern side of the Sierra (around the Llanos Orientales), climb up towards the paramo, because if you go downhill you will enter the high Andean forest on the eastern side, which is practically impassable and with big rivers impossible to cross.
- Apply for the permit authorising you to engage in a particular activity from accredited mule drivers, officials, environmental educators or guides.
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