The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is the world’s highest coastal mountain range and includes the two highest peaks in Colombia: Cristobal Colon and Simon Bolivar at 5,775 metres above sea level. Its diversity of ecosystems and climates, its exceptional beauty, its historical and natural wealth and its cultural diversity make it unique.
Before becoming established as a National Natural Park, in 1959 it had been declared a Forestry Reserve and subsequently, in 1979, it was designated a Biosphere Reserve by Cnesco. Other regions in the Park are Areas of International Importance for the Conservation of Birds (Areas de Importancia para la Conservacion de Aves AICAS), specifically those in the Rio Frio, San Lorenzo and San Salvador territories.
Water and endemic animal and plant species together constitute the two greatest natural assets of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. The Sierra provides water for over one and a half million people, thereby constituting the main source for the banana, palm, rice, cotton and stock-raising agro-industries as well as for the tourist sector. Furthermore, it is the only irrigation source for the vast arid plains that lie around the massif. The main rivers that bathe the Sierra amount to a ,total of 35, of which 16 rise in the Park. This makes it possible also to supply the coastal plains and the val leys of the rivers Cesar and Ariguanl, and the extensive semi-arid area of La Cuajira, particularly the River Rancherla valley, the backbone of Wayuu culture
The main ecosystems are the warm equatorial rainfores, the sub-Andean forest, the Andean forest, the páramo, the spra-páramo and the snow level. Together they provide habitats for a total of 126 endemic species, notably giant trees such as the wild cashew, th sandbox tree the chupo, the mastre, the Andean wax pal and the Andean royal pal, the latter commonly known as “vegetable ivory”.
44 of the 340 endemic species registered In Colombia are found in the Park. The most important include the Andean condor, The tapir, the jaguar, the Santa Marta parakeet, the bluebilled curassow ande the white-tailed deer. They are all included in one or other of the threatened categories in accordance with the criteria applied by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Indeed, 44 of the 3.057 threatened species registered in the Sierra are found in the Park.
One of The greatest assets of the Park is its population. The Sierra is the birthplace of the Tayronas, the country’s most monumental and unique indigenous civilisation. Here live around 50.000 natives belonging to the Kogul, Arhuaco, Wiwa and Kankuamo ethnic groups. In general terms, Indian territory is governed by the native Inhabitants in accordance with the criteria, rules and natural techniques based on a cosmology that associates life and human activity with the workings of nature. The indigenous peoples who inhabit the Sierra recognize its uniqueness and its ecological values, and regard it as the ‘centre of the universe’ with health-regulating functions on Earth. This close relationship between the land, its settlers and llh’ir ancestral deities makes the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta a living to-lem, a wellspring of history, culture and nature.
Inside the protected area there is a farming population who live mostly in the mid-highland and lowland areas of the Sierra, on the edges of the Park, where greatest competition exists in terms of land occupation and use. This farming population is devoted fundamentally to agriculture and stock raising. The settlements consist mostly of houses either isolated or in groups of three, with an area of cultivated fields delimited by dry branches or stone walls.
- Established: 1964
- Area: 383.000 hectares
- Altitude: Between 0 and 5.775 metres above sea level
- Climate: Warm-freezing
- Average temperature: From 0°C to 28°C
PLANNING YOUR VISIT
- LOCATION: The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta National Natural Park is situated in the departments of Cesar, La Guajira and Magdalena, and within the jurisdiction of the municipalities of Santa Marta, Cienaga, Aracataca, Pueblo Bello, Valledupar, San Juan del Cesar, Riohacha and Dibulla.
- HOW TO GET THERE: From Santa Marta to the San Lorenzo experimental station via La Guajira, there Is a road approximately 42 kilometres long, of which 25 kilometres are paved, which passes through Mlnca, El Campano and Cerro Kennedy, The journey lasts about three hours.
- WHERE TO EAT: There are no restaurants in the Park; consequently you should take your own food with you and plenty to drink, in quantities proportionate to the length of your stay.
- WHERE TO STAY- There is rudimentary accommodation in the San Lorenzo area, but as you climb you have no alternative but to camp where the guides tell you, in order not to disturb the indigenous communities.
- WHERE TO SEEK MEDICAL ATTENTION: The nearest hospitals are in Fonseca, San Juan del Cesar and Santa Marta.
- HOW LONG TO STAY: Ideally, the trip should last eight days, although you must take lodge availability and the conditions of the camping areas into consideration.
- WHEN TO GO: The best time is when there is least rainfall, between December and April. The heaviest rains occur in October and November.
WHAT TO VISIT IN THE PARK
Some areas of the Sierra Nevada are closed to the public, by request of the authorities. Nonetheless, there are other sites of interest that may be visited at different times of the year. Prominent among these are:
- Teyuna (Ciudad Perdida the Lost City): Located In the Buritaca River basin, at an altitude of mound 1 700 metres, this is the most important historical and architectural find in Colombia. It Is regarded as an archaeological heritage asset and is managed by the Instituto Colombiano de antropología e Historia (ICANH).
- The estación Experimental de San Lorenzo: Besides providing visitors with accommodation, this Is the place from which you may watch most of the Sierra Nevada endemic wildfowl species, II Is a natural observation post with views of the beautiful Andean montane forest, the majestic snow-covered peaks, the stunning Santa Marta Bay and the Cienaga Grande (Great Swamp), The station stands on the north-west slope at an altitude of 2,200 metres.
WHAT TO DO IN THE PARK
Among visitors’ greatest pleasures are cultural contact and discovering the cultural heritage, combined with the opportunity ti take pictures of great beauty in the form either of snapshots or videos. Smaller great pleasures include bathing in the waterfall. However, the Park fosters eco-tourism, which means that visitors may engage in a number of different activities:
- Wild fauna and flora observation, wildfowl in particular.
- Other research and environmental education activities.
Hiking: This is the most important, and provides visitors with the opportunity to discover sites such as sacred lakes, waterfalls and different kinds of forest. The Park encompasses a number of circuits, with varying degrees of difficulty for the visitor, on each of which you may engage in different activities:
- Path to La Laguna: Duration: 3 hours, Degree of difficulty: Moderate, Activities: Visiting the Laguna Sagrada (Sacred Lake), watching Sub-Andean forest species and admiring views of Santa Marta, the Cienaga Grande and the snow-covered peaks from the observation posts.
- Path to the Quebrada San Lorenzo: Duration: 1 hour, 20 minutes, Degree of difficulty: Moderate, Activities: Observing Sub-Andean forest species, waterfall 15 metres high, and the local wild fauna.
- Path to the waterfall at the source of the Gaira River: Duration: 5 hours, Degree of difficulty: High, Activities: Discovering the source of the river, contemplating the 30-metre-high waterfall and enjoying a panoramic view of the forest.
- Path to Teyuna: Duration: 5 days (3 days ascent and 2 days descent), Take the main Caribbean highway to La Guajira. As from Machete Pelao, the journey to the Ciudad Perdidaiis made on foot or by mule. Degree of difficulty: High, To make this excursion you must first contact the local firms that provide integrated guidance, food and accommodation services and/or the Instituto Colom-biano de Antropologia e Historia (ICANH).
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