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When you visit Colombia you will be traveling through a large number of different climates, from the tropical temperatures in the lowlands (“los llanos”) to the alpine climate in the mountains. These volatile temperature conditions are the reason for the incredible natural variety in Colombia. They will guarantee you breathtaking views in the numerous national parks from Parque Tayrona in the Caribbean to the Amacayacu park located in the Amazon Trapezium.
Colombia has around 60 protected natural areas. They are divided in National Natural Parks (Parque Nacional Natural), Flora and Fauna Sanctuaries (Santuario de Flora y Fauna), Natural Reserves (Reserva Nacional Natural), Unique Natural Areas (Area Natural Única) and Road Parks (Vía Parque) and all have great views to offer. However, not all of the natural parks and protected areas are accessible, some of them are closed to the public. In this post, we will give you an overview over 5 very different and equally beautiful national parks that you can visit to experience all the natural variety in Colombia.
Tayrona National Park
Tayrona National Park is very famous and for a good reason. Some of the most beautiful beaches can be found in the park. The park is located close to the city of Santa Marta, and borders with the Sierra Nevada, the highest coastal mountains in the world, which accounts for a spectacular scenery.
You can either spend the day at the beach relaxing and enjoying the deep-blue Caribbean sea or choose to explore the park further by following one of the many hiking tracks. There are also possibilities to go snorkeling or diving. Another highlight of the park is the visit to the old village of the Tayrona people, a pre-Columbian settlement.
How to get there: You can take a bus from the City of Santa Marta and go by yourself or you can turn to a travel agency. A travel agency will give you the advantage of having a guide to lead you through the park and prevent you from missing out on any of the key activities and sights.
When to go: The park gets closed for a month every year to let it recover. Other than that it’s always possible to pay a visit.
Special requirements: There is a daily limit to the number of visitors so you should make reservations in advance.
El Cocuy National Park
This national park impresses with its beautiful snow-capped mountains with 25 peaks in 2 mountain ranges. The highest ones reach over 5,000 m. There are over 150 lagoons in the park that make your hike even more rewarding with their deep colors and incredible views. One of the most beautiful ones is the Laguna de la Plaza that drops in a little waterfall. El Cocuy national park also gives you the chance to experience the Colombian páramo, a landscape that is unique to the northern Andean mountains and thus presents a combination of peculiar plants that have adapted to the climate in this region.
How to get there: You can enter the park after registration in one of the representing offices. The closest ones to the park are located at the small towns of El Cocuy and Güicán.
When to go: The most favorable weather conditions to visit El Cocuy national park are between December and February.
Special requirements: To enter the national park a rescue and assistance insurance must be bought for the duration of your stay. These insurances can be acquired in El Cocuy and Güicán. A local guide must lead your hike and it is forbidden to step into the glaciers as these areas are sacred for the U’wa indigenous group.
Sierra de la Macarena National Park
The national park Sierra de la Macarena is home to one of the most famous sights in Colombia, Caño Cristales, also known as the rainbow river. When the water level is at the right spot, the sun changes the algae in the river tinting it in an abundance of colors which makes it seem like a liquid rainbow. The best time to see this spectacular show is between June and November. Besides the experience of Caño Cristales, there are many small waterfalls and even some natural swimming pools that will make your trip to the park memorable. As the park is located between the highlands of the mountains and the lowlands of the Amazon it has a very distinguished landscape, that is home to many animal species and eye-catching flowers and plants.
How to get there: To visit Caño Cristales it’s best to start from the village “La Macarena” located South of the National Park. You can get to La Macarena by plane from Bogotá or Medellín with the local airline SATENA.
When to go: The show of colors in Caño Cristales will only be visible between June and November. During the rest of the year, the water level is too low and you won’t be able to enjoy the typical landscape of this park.
Los Nevados National Park
This park attracts nature lovers with its variety of sights along the beautiful hiking tracks that lead you to the snow-capped volcanoes. Widely known is the Nevado Santa Isabel, which can be reached on a one-day hiking adventure. The most active volcano of the park is “Nevado del Ruiz”, but it is currently not possible to hike to the glacier for security reasons. However, you can make a day trip to Valle de las Tumbas, a high-altitude desert covered in volcanic ash. The longest and most challenging hike will lead you to the Nevado del Tolima.
The Los Nevados National Park is located in the Colombian Coffee region and the water that descends from its peaks is responsible for supplying the surrounding regions. The park is another place where you can experience the unique páramo landscape and the with the changes in height during your hike you can also observe how the landscape transforms. This is called the phenomenon of tropical thermal floors.
How to get there: Start from the small cities surrounding the park, for example, Manizales, Salento, Santa Rosa de Cabal and Ibagué (for the Nevado del Tolima). There are bus connections that will take you to both cities but you will still need private 4x4 transportation to access the park as there are no buses or good roads up that far.
When to go: The best time to visit the Los Nevados national park is between December and March or in July and August as the climate is dry and windy during this time which gives you the best views.
Special requirements: You should organize your entrance to the park at least a week in advance if your planning to go by yourself. Nevertheless, it is recommended to visit the park with a specialist guide as they can provide the necessary equipment, know the routes of the park and are familiar with issues related to the altitude. If you want to learn more about how to prepare best for the altitude you can read our blog post on this topic.
Amacayacu National Park is located in the Amazon region and thus differs largely in climate and landscape from all the others. The scenery is characterized by the flooded tropical rainforest. Prepare yourself for high temperatures and humidity and make sure you have the necessary equipment, including mosquito repellent, long-sleeve shirts and pants, and waterproof boots.
The different climate makes the Amacayacu park a place to experience unique flora and fauna. The area inhabits some of the most impressive flowers and plants and is home to a broad variety of animal species such as turtles, dolphins, otters, monkeys and numerous birds. To get an even closer look at the animals, you can also explore the park with a canoe.
How to get there: You can enter the park from the city of Leticia that can be reached by plane from Bogotá with Avianca or LATAM.
When to go: The appearance of the park is dominated by the wet and dry season. The wet season occurs approximately in the first half of every year and the dry seasons starts in August/ September. In the dry season, you will be able to see more animals and partake in more activities.
Special requirements: You should check for recommended vaccinations before traveling to the Amazon as diseases such as yellow fever and dengue fever can be transmitted through mosquito bites.
You can find additional information and access restrictions about all national parks in Colombia on the website of the park management organization: Parques Nacionales Naturales de Colombia | Somos la gente de la conservación (available in English).