by Jan Brelih
PUBLISHED JULY 30, 2022 | LOS NEVADOS NATIONAL PARK, COLOMBIA
Los Nevados is a large national park in Colombia’s central Andean mountain region. Here, you will find 4,760m peaks, snow-capped volcanoes, glaciers, lagoons, forests, and a wide range of wildlife. The most known is the continuously active Nevado del Ruiz volcano. This is a bikepacking adventure through the park’s east side, from Libano to Manizales, across a mountain pass road. The route rises to 4,200 meters while passing across stunning landscape views, waterfalls, lagoons, and Páramo ecosystems. This is my bikepacking adventure to Los Nevados.
The route led me from Bogota into the countryside and along the Magdalena River to Armero, a village north of Los Nevados. From there, I found a jeep ride up the mountain to Libano, which is quite a big town. Until here, there was still the main road with much traffic, so I wanted to avoid cycling here. In Libano, I stayed at “Hostal La Casa De La Abuelita,” a really charming and welcoming family hostel. There, I met the owners and their son, who told me about his hostel in Murillo town, which was my next stop anyway. It is a peaceful mountain town at about 3000m nearby the Los Nevados National Park and the Nevado Del Ruiz volcano. After crossing the mountains, Manizales was my destination.
I arrived in Murillo two days later. It is a charming mountain town located about 3000m being a last settlement before the Los Nevados National Park. I spent a few days in this safe and friendly town hanging out with locals, and having delicious soups. There are several restaurants, markets, and hostels in the area. The town is well known among Colombian tourists, but not among foreign travelers. I stayed at a hostel run by a Colombian buddy. He took me on a day trip to a hidden thermal springs. We took his motorbike following the rough mountain pass route.
We were passing some beautiful panoramic views, waterfalls and local farmers transporting their products to nearby towns. You could see some of them going with old 4×4 Russian indestructible jeeps and others still with the horses. It was a very nice authentic local experience. I met such friendly people and was never harassed or felt in any danger.I felt overjoyed to have made the decision to travel here. After our motorbike trip, we arrived at a point where we hiked down a mountain trail to the thermal springs. There was also a remote house serving as a tavern, with one incredibly nice and humble man living there alone. We had one drink (he delivers everything by horse), and then he offered to take us to some hidden waterfalls via forest trails. We followed him up and down the mountainside going so fast that I had to really use my hiking abilities.
A bikepacking trip to the mountains means that i had my bicycle with me while taking local transport ^^. Just kidding, that was just one part of the main road leading towards Los Nevados National Park. I wanted to avoid busy traffic roads leading up the mountain.
After visiting a few hidden waterfalls, jumping inside the cold water we head back to Murillo. I enjoyed the last day before my trip to the proper mountains with good, warm food, some beers while meeting beautiful local girls and cowboys with horses. After a night out, it was time to get some rest. Except for the weather, Murillo was one of my favorite towns in Colombia during my 6-month journey. It was the first time when i started to learn how friendly Colombians can really be.
The Quindío wax palms are not only found in Salento, Cocora Valley. This exact location is also marked on the GPS map which you can purchase here.
Now it was time to get serious and finally go to a place for which I came for – Los Nevados. It was still a few kilometers to a true remoteness and undistrubed natural habitat. First I was planning to start alone on my bicycle then my Colombian friend say he wants to join me, until a certain point. I was glad to have come company and so we packed everything, went for the last warm soup and start our way from Murillo. Or course, he had a motorbike and me a bicycle so, I did cheat a bit connecting my paracord rope from my bicycle to his motorbike. We did complete successfully 5 kilometers like this. Except for me falling once while holding handlebars with one hand and with the other record with my phone. It was a good adventure and we had a great time.
Is this called cheating? Oops. My Colombian friend has gave me a lift closer to Los Nevados. Still, it was not easy to hold on and keep balance without falling over.
In the moment when I set my eyes on Frajilones, the unique ancient plants, I knew we finally reached the Páramo natural habitat. Here is where the true ancient beauty starts. I said goodbye to my friend and went our own way. He was still baffled about how am i going to wild camp in this wet and cold environment. Now, after days of travel, I was all by myself continuing cycling on the mountain pass road coming closer and closer to Los Nevados National Park. I was free, excited and ready for whatever this vast mountains will throw at me.
Crossing the mountain pass under an active volcano. I encountered wet days which can be still enjoyable if you have suitable rain gear. Otherwise, i would suggest going here in a better weather period. Without too many clouds, you will be able to see more of this incredible landscape and the peak of Nevado Del Ruiz.
Upon entry, the scenery here was absolutely breathtaking with surrounding paramo ecosystems and distant wild landscapes. Now, I could really feel the lack of air while cycling uphill. It was an intense physical fitness. With my bicycle packed with all sorts of equipment, each push was demanding yet i accepted the challenge and kept on going. There was still long distance ahead of me on this mountain road. After a few kilometers uphill, the view has opened up to a lagoon named “La Lorona”. Here, I have made my first stop.
Laguna La Llorona sits right under East side of an active volcano Nevado Del Ruiz. It belongs to the Parque de Los Nevados territory. From its calm waters La Llorona comes out on full moon nights looking for her baby, according to Tolimense legend.
It was getting late, and nightfall was approaching (6 p.m.), so I set up camp above the lagoon for the night. It was challenging to set up my hammock and tarp with a lack of trees, but I’d done it before. One very important thing to consider is to cause as little damage to the surrounding vegetation as possible. After setting up my camp, I descended via a small trail down to the lagoon.
My shelter above the lagoon. Once inside it was a great protection from the mountain elements.
The feeling here was very moody and primeval, with clouds flowing over the lagoon positioned on the edge of a cliff. I set up my microphones and captured the sounds of this unique natural habitat. It was the first true place of complete calm and serenity after Bogota and days of traveling to Colombia. It was a striking contrast between human chaos and the complete solitude of the mountains. A subtle ambience has put me on another level of consciousness. I’ve had a feeling of traveling back in time into the ancient world. After a long day, i have fallen asleep like a baby in this mysterious place.
Rec 01/ Laguna La lorona Evening time
Just under the mountain pass road and above the mystic lagoon, there was my cosy camp base.
I awoke to the complete tranquillity of the mountain. At such altitude, it gets pretty cold and wet. Paramos are the sponges and main distributors of fresh water to most of Colombia. After soaking in the beauty and energy of this mystic place, I slowly packed my camp, make sure to leave no trace behind and continued my bicycle journey to Los Nevados.
Cycling uphill on about 4200m high mountain pass while getting showered by the rain. At this time, i was still adjusting to such a high altitude so there was a strong lack of air feeling.
Now, I have really reached the deep mountains with a landscape being absolutely mesmerizing. For some moments, It appeared that there will be some sun today, but conditions in this environment change all the time. The rain has soon started to fall and it just kept on going. Luckily, I had my new waterproof pants and jacket! Keeping dry is pretty essential and enjoyable. Getting wet here is not a good situation. Little did i know that, later, I will find out all about this.
I kept on cycling North in the direction of Manizales. The road was pretty good and the scenery was just amazing. Surprisingly, there were some locals passing by in their cars via this road. I think that makes travel to this remote place a bit more safe, knowing that there are other, friendly locals passing quite regularly. The rain kept on going and i gave up the idea of some sun for today. After some time of strong rain, i could sense some wetness on my shoulders. Yes, my new “Leatt DBX 5.0 All Mountain Jacket” waterproof jacket has started to leak. I kept on going and after a while, the water started to properly make its way onto my upper body.
Shelter made for the second night at the mountains. It is time like this that i wished for a tent. Nevertheless, i managed to set up everything. I tighten the ropes with rocks and used a tripod to hold up the tarp. Under there was my hammock that can be used also on the gorund and a warm sleeping bag.
After hours of cycling up steep slopes and near cliffs, the more flat terrain has revealed itself. I was nearly completely wet and cold by this point. When you move, your body generates heat, but when you stop, you get cold. I was so grateful to still have my waterproof pants and warm merino beanie. Now, I just wanted to set up camp, get warm, eat, and rest. I was looking for a suitable location, but it was a challenging environment for a tarp and hammock, unlike the jungle. Eventually, i found a decent spot and successfully set up my cozy shelter by also keeping my bicycle under shelter. I changed into a dry and comfortable merino underlayer and snuggled into my warm sleeping bag. That felt like heaven, and I was so pleased and fortunate having an opportunity to be here in this majestic place.
This day was a day to reach Manizales. I have planned to stay for more days in Los Nevados but the current rain conditions and lack of properly tested rain jacket has made me postpone more exploration for another time. The gravel mountain was was coming to an end but before going away, i have found, after two days a first house with the restaurant and a place to sleep. Here, i had a warm meal which gave me a strong will to continue.
After some more time going over these incredible mountains, I was looking forward for a fully downhill descend from 4000m to the valley. Well, if it can be called valley – Manizales sits still at 2,160 m alltidude. After two days, I have reached an asphalt road that was still leading through some berauitful paramo habitats and lagoons. One of them was “Laguna Negra”, a pretty accesible lagoon from the road. After an super enjoyable ride downhill, it got warmer by the minute and soon, I have reached yet anther new place to discover.