The Puracé National Natural Park (Spanish: Parque Nacional Natural Puracé) is a national park located in the Andean Region of Colombia
Declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1979, the Purace National Natural Park constitutes a strategic area for regional development by virtue of its enormous water resources, its climate regulation capacity, its biological and cultural diversity and its beautiful landscapes. The Park, like the volcano that dominates it from an altitude of 4,650 metres above sea level), have both been christened Purace, which means ‘fire mountain’ in Quechua.
Here we are in the midst of a volcanic area with numerous sulphur springs, presided over by a mountain chain called Los Coconucos, which has eleven volcanoes. At its northern end stands the Purace, the most recent of the volcanoes and the only one still active. In the past, the Ser-ram’a was called the ‘Sierra Nevada’ because even at the beginning of the XX century it was entirely covered by permanent snows. The natives say that Jucas, lord of the snow and hail, took to flight for fear of the white man’s axe. Be that as it may, today not even the 5,000-metre high summit of the Ran de Azucar, in the extreme south of the chain, preserves its former snow cap.
This Park contains an asset of supreme importance and ascendancy over the entire country: river sources. Indeed, it is here that Colombia’s four major rivers are born, which makes it the foremost hydrographical area in the Colombian Massif. The sources and headwaters of the Magdalena, Caqueta, Cauca and Ratfa rivers are all contained in the Park’s paramo and High-Andean forest ecosystems.
The upper valleys of the Magdalena and Cauca rivers, the foothills crossed by the Caqueta on its way to the Amazon and the corridor of paramos that stretches along the Cordillera Central are geographically linked to the protected area and support the regional development of southern Colombia.
The River Magdalena source is in the lake of the same name. For decades this river has been the country’s backbone and is located at the southern end of the Park in the Las Papas paramo. The Caqueta, for its part, rises near Pena Alta and the Penas Blancas paramo, in the middle of a former glacial arc that constituted an extraordinary natural amphitheatre surrounded”by colossal mountains. The Patfa is formed by the confluence of the River Cuachicono and other tributaries that give rise to three small lakes near the San Alfedo and San Ramon peaks. The River Bedon has its source in the north-east of the Park. Its sub-basin contains the San Nicolas waterfall, the Los Guacharos Cave Rark Bedon falls. Also in the Park are the sulphurated, acid thermal waters of the River Vinagre and 30 calm, crystalline lakes, ideal for contemplation in the midst of an idyllic landscape in which the imposing Purace volcano rises up.
The Park’s flora has sufficient water throughout the year. The natural coverage of the protected area comprises the high Andean forest, Andean forest (with over 200 species of orchids) and paramo ecosystems, home to species threatened in the country like the Colombian pine, the wax palm and the oak.
The fauna is abundant and heterogeneous. 26 mammal species have been registered, which account for 5.7% of the mammal population of Colombia. The most common are the spectacled bear, the otter, the sloth, the puma and the red deer. Wildfowl stand out as a representative group of 282 species, some of which are documented in the Libro Rojo de Aves de Colombia (Red List of Birds of Colombia), such as the crested eagle, the Andean condor and the golden-plumed parakeet.
This is an area of great cultural wealth, since it was inhabited by several indigenous cultures of great importance, including the enigmatic culture of San Agustín, with its impressive megalithic statues that have acquired worldwide fame and are located in the hinterland of Purace National Natural Park. Today, sections of the Park overlap with the indigenous reserves of Purace and Paletara, while those of Kokonuko, Poblazon, Quintana and Totoro, among others, lie in its immediate vicinity. These reserves are legally constituted and have their own system of administration. Furthermore, around 5,000 family nuclei live in the Park environs, Andean peasant farmers and colonists who have settled in the focJthills of the Macizo Colombiano (Colombian Massif), who have become valuable allies in the protection of the Park.
- Established: 1961
- Area: 83,000 hectares
- Altitude: Between 3°C and 18°C
- Climate: Cold-paramo
- Average temperature: Between 3°C and 18°C
PLANNING YOUR VISIT
- LOCATION: The Purace National Natural Park extends through the departments of El Cauca (municipalities of Inza, Totoro, Purace, Sotara, La Vega, San Sebastian and Santa Rosa), and El Huila (municipalities of La Argentina, La Plata, Soladoblanco, Isnos and San Agustin).
- HOW TO GET THERE: There are several overland routes to the Park:
- Via Popayan – La Plata: 44 km from Popaydn we reach the point known as El Crucero. Here we take the right fork to the sulphur mine and, after a further 1.5 km, we take the left fork. After travelling 1 km, we come to the headquarters of the Pilimbala Sector of Purace National Natural Park.
- Via Popayan – Valencia: From Popayan, we follow the road that passes through Timbio, Rosas, La Sierra and the village of Valencia, and after 5.4 km we reach the Purace National Natural Park keepers’ hut, where we may obtain information about places to visit, such as La Magdalena Lake (4.5 km away), Santiago (4.5 km away) and Cusiyaco (3.8 km away).
- Via Neiva-San Agustin: From the city of Neiva, and passing through San Agustin, we reach the Qulnchana sector.
- WHERE TO EAT: There is a restaurant at the headquarters of the Pilimbala sector of Purace National Natural Park, and others in nearby villages such as Purace, in the northern area, in the village of Valencia, in the southern area, and in the village of San Agustin.
- WHERE TO STAY: The headquarters of the Pilimbala sector of Purace National Natural Park ha: three cabins with room for seven people each, as well as a camping area for 15 tents Accommodation is also available in nearby villages such as Purace, Valencia and San Agustin.
- WHERE TO GET MEDICAL ATTENTION: If you need medical care you must go to the town : Popayan (Cauca), 1 hour away from the Pilimbala administrative centre.
- HOW LONG TO STAY: Three days and two nights would be ideal.
- WHEN TO GO: TThe best time to visit the Park Is between the months of November and March.
WHAT TO DO IN THE PARK:
The Park has a varied network of inner circuits which allow you to visi several of the most interesting places in the area while you engage In one of the main activities, hiking:
The Volcan Purace trail:
- Length: 7 kilometres
- Degree of difficulty: Moderate
- Itinerary: From the Pilimbala sector to the Purace Volcano crater, which has a diameter: 900 metres and a height of 4,650 metres above sea level. On a clear day, from the summi you may observe the Del Buey Lake, the Nevado del Huila, the valley of Paletara and the lake complex of San Rafael.
The Orquideas trail:
- Length: 800 metres
- Degree of difficulty: Very low
- Itinerary: The trail is stone-paved. On your way, you may observe the variety of species that exist in this ecosystem and reveal the Park’s biological wealth, prominent among which are the over 200 kinds of orchids.
The Termales de San Juan trail:
- Length: 800 metres
- Degree of difficulty: Very low
- Itinerary: The trail is designed so that visiors may fully appreciate the source of thermal waters: salty, sulphurated springs that present a range of different colours in the midst of petrified lava andreach temperatures of up to 36°C. Sometimes the area is frequented by species such as bears and deer that feed on the mineral salts. Bathing is forbidden due to the high acid content of the water, which is harmful to health.
The Cadena Volcanica trail:
- Length: 6.5 kilometres (from the Purace Volcano)
- Degree of difficulty: High (for experts only)
- Itinerary: From the Purace Volcano in a straight line from south to north to the Pan de Azucar Volcano.
The Cascada de San Nicolas trail:
- Length: 2 kilometres
- Degree of difficulty: Moderate
- Itinerary: On the trail you may come across bear prints. The waterfall stands 17 kilometres from the mine junction, from which the 1,2 kilometres route allows you to observe the column of water 30 metres high.
The other main attractions are the cultural heritage, the fauna and the flora. One of the best ways to enjoy the Parks flora is to visit the San Rafael Lake, because on the 2-kilometre-long trail you may appreciate the vegetation typical of the paramo, such as mosses. Access to the lake is at Km 33 on the Popayan – La Plata road, This lake forms part of the historical-cultural values of the Resguardo Indfgena de Purace community, where myths and legends are associated. It is also a place for refreshment and traditional cleansing by medicine men.
To observe fauna we recommend that you visit the Canon del Condor, also called the Refugio del Condor, where you can watch this bird, the emblem of Colombia, gliding to Its feeing grounds on La Piedra del Condor, Another option is to visit the La Magdalena Lake, following the Camino Nacional for several days during which, with luck, you may see rabbits, spectacled bears or deer or, If not, at least their prints in an environment of Andean forest and paramo ecosystems that host a range of landscapes and biodiversity.
Lastly, you may engage in research or environmental education activities and, needless to say you may take photographs or film videos. Any of the above-mentioned sites is ideal for this purpose, although we should add another place of singular beauty: the River Bedon waterfall, 2 kilometres before you reach the thermal springs of San Juan, This is a feature on the river which has its source in the San Rafael Lake and stands 11.5 kilometres from the junction on the road to Pilimbala. The waterfall is 15 metres high. Other places of interest are the San Nicolas lookout post, 3 kilometres after the thermal springs of San Juar the Los Guacharos cave and the ethnographic museum in the San Juan complex.
Practical information about Colombia: Climate – How to get to Colombia – Visa, Customs, Documentation and Taxes – Embassies and consulates in Colombia – Health and vaccination – Emergency numbers – Culture of Colombia – Measures and Electricity – Currency of Colombia
Tourist Information about Colombia: General Information – Practical information about Colombia – Adventure Colombia – Hotels and accommodations in Colombia – How to Get to Colombia – Gastronomy in Colombia – Colombia’s Best Festivals and Carnivals – Tourist Attractions in Colombia – Foreign Embassies and Consulates in Colombia – Tips and advice for travel in Colombia – Top 10 Colombian Travel Destinations – Natural regions of Colombia – Cultural Tourism in Colombia – UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists – UNESCO Heritage Sites in Colombia – Top 10 amazing places to visit in Colombia – Colombian Cuisine – Tourism of Nature
Travel Guide of Colombia: Colombia Travel Guide – Amazonas – Antioquia – Arauca – Atlántico – Bolivar – Boyacá – Caldas – Caquetá – Casanare – Cauca – Cesar – Chocó – Córdoba – Cundinamarca – Guanía – Guaviare – Huila – La Guajira – Magdalena – Meta – Nariño – Norte de Santander – Putumayo – Quindio – Risaralda – San Andrés y Providencia – Santander – Sucre – Tolima – Valle del Cauca – Vaupés – Vichada