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Hiking in Chingaza National Park

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Last week I had the amazing opportunity to join a tour to Chingaza National Park. The reserve is one of Colombia’s hauntingly beautiful páramos and also one of the most protected natural areas in the country because it provides water for so many people. Páramos are some of the most unique ecosystems in the world. These ‘water factories’ are only present in a handful of countries and Colombia is lucky enough to be home to about half of the earth’s supply. Chingaza alone provides about 80% of the drinking water in Bogota.

Our Chingaza experience started by traveling north through La Calera and climbing to an altitude of about 3.200 meters. I was a little nervous about the altitude because it has not been so kind to me in the past, but any concern I might have had vanished as soon as I got a look at the stunning, desolate landscape.

Before officially entering the park, we met with a ranger to learn a bit about the park and its significance, and also confirm our permits. I’ve never seen a national park so heavily regulated. We were told to fill out a variety of information in their sign-in book, including blood type! I thought this was a bit odd, but apparently this is very common information for Colombians.

We began our hike heading uphill. As we gained altitude we saw a huge variety of páramo plants. Blooming frailejones and colorful mosses lined our steep walk over the ridge. The views were incredible. I kept stopping to take in the gorgeous vistas over the valley below us. The nature was truly unspoiled and breathtaking (although that might have been the altitude). We even saw a frog soaking up the sun along the path. I had no idea frogs lived at such high altitudes, but it seems logical given the soggy ecosystem.

Once we ascended the hill, we passed into an alien landscape. Giant frailejones dotted the rolling land and mountains. I felt as though I had been transported into a Dr. Suess book. These ancient plants were so soft, healthy, and unused to human contact. Their rabbit like ears glistened in the sunlight as though they were coated in silver. The thick mud and marshy land of the páramo felt like no problem at all on this splendid day. We were lucky to have some truly spectacular weather.

The clear day meant that we could fully enjoy the jagged mountains hugging all three sacred Siecha lagoons as their waters reflected true blue skies. Sitting and reflecting by the third and largest lagoon was one of the best memories I have made in Colombia thus far. Our guide explained that the harsh páramo landscape is typically blanketed by dense gray clouds. Despite the day being so clear, we had a little difficulty finding the trail on our way back. This gave us a great opportunity to do some trailblazing of our own and encounter some really spectacular plant life. I could see how easy it would be to get lost in this park if it were cloudier.

As we made it back to the ranger station we took one last look at the unbelievable view. When we looked at the páramo behind us, we noticed rain and clouds starting to move in, reminding us of how lucky we were for a few magical hours. On our way back to Bogota, sitting in the crazy rush hour traffic, all I could think about was what a dream it was to experience such pure nature on a perfect day.

- Sarah

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