Backroads of Colombia's Cordillera Oriental

A trip thru the highlands of Colombia’s Cordillera Oriental. The village of Barichara – 1 of the country’s best-preserved colonial towns. Up to Parque Nacional El Cocuy. Endless roads winding up and down, but great views on the way to the villages of Güicán and El Cocuy

Mesa de Santos 2 El Cocuy

Barichara, 14th March

Still remember our last post? Probably not.

Ok, we’re on the Mesa de los Santos on the way to our splurge at the escarpment to the Cañon de Chichamocha.

Late afternoon we arrive. It’s on a farm – and really on the edge of the canyon, some 800m above its bottom.

We get an igloo with a fully equipped kitchen, a bathroom, and last but not least a jacuzzi with a magnificent view.

Can you imagine what you would pay for that in Europe or in the States?

Anyway, we simply enjoy!

Next morning. We’re on the way to Barichara. Thru Cañon de Chichamocha. Some 100km, just 3h.

A last glimpse from Mesa de los Santos near the cable car, …

… then down to the canyon’s bottom and soon later again some 1000m uphill. Mostly behind huge trucks transporting whatever is needed in the country. Hence, enough time to admire the landscape.

Later we pass Saint Gil – a really ugly town. Nevertheless, on the bucket list of most backpackies due to the numerous adrenaline experiences the guys created for them and the extended backpacky infrastructure.

1/2h later we arrive in Barichara. Said to be Colombia’s most beautiful and intact colonial town. Let’s see.

A short walk to the Parque Principal.  It’s true, at least in the evening the place looks mystical. 

Quickly we discover a nice bar next to the church. Quite a lot of people. We order our well-deserved beer. And learn, that we’re 10′ late to get 1. We know there will be no alcohol available the whole weekend.

We think that’s a very reasonable decision of the Government because on Sunday there are parliamentary elections. And can you imagine what stupid results the country might suffer from if all Colombies vote completely drunk. We see that negative impact in every election in Swizzyland where people suddenly opt for the weirdest populists after having had a few (dozens) of beers. Of course, Colombia has learned from this experience.

Finally, we sip our fruit juices.

Next morning a stroll thru the alleys, the plazas, and …

… a look at the old-fashioned shops.

In Barichara also starts the famous Camino Real to the north.  It’s a historic commercial route established by the old conquistadores. Restored several times; today a hiking trail to the nearby village of Guane and for heatstroke addicted hikers on to Los Santos.

We consider heatstrokes not too sexy. Thus, we opt for the 2h hike to Guane.

No doubt, you cannot compare Guane to Paris, New York, or Tokyo. Still, it has an incredible advantage over all these cities: you can’t get lost.

Some 15′ to see it all.

A little later a bus brings us back to Barichara.

The last evening. By now, they’re serving beer again. The elections are history. 

Güicán, 17th March

We’re on our way to the Sierra Nevada del Cocuy. To the highest mountains in the Cordillera Oriental and to the country’s largest glaciers.

Güicán, the village we head for, is less than 100km from Barichara as the crow flies. And more than 300km as Prado drives. And nearly 10h to reach considering the road conditions.

A last glimpse of Barichara, …

… we drive thru San Gil and take the small mountain road crossing the western branch of the Cordillera Oriental

The 1st 30km are pretty ok. Paved.

Then we arrive at the nice village of  Mogotes.

After Mogotes the road converts into a gravel track. Not too bad, but often pretty rough with slightly too large rocks for Prado’s taste.  But no problem if we drive at about 20 km/h.

Over a pass of about 2700m with a fantastic view of the Cordillera Oriental.

Thru some tiny villages, thru some creeks, a lot more up’n’down to finally reach Onzaga. A village slightly bigger than the others. Still remains the impression of a really remote place nestled between mountains well over 3500m. 

Then the last leg until we reach again the paved highway.

The road climbs up again.  Up to 3200m. In the lower parts thru green pasture land. Further up bushland.

In the upper part, a grader is about to maintain the road. Maybe you think that’s a great idea. Definitely, Prado’s view is slightly different. By now it not only fights the altitude, but also the mud on the road which makes it extremely slippery.

Whatever, finally we reach the pass and enter a valley full of Freilejones. A plant only growing in the Andean highlands.

Soon later we’re back on the tarmac. Another 30′ and we reach Susacón. A tiny village at an elevation of a reasonable 2500m. The place to spend the night.

There’s definitely not much to do:

  1. admire the Plaza Central (1 minute), 
  2. drink some beer at the plaza (5 hours). 

And that’s it.

Early next morning we’re on the road again. To Güicán, some 110km, roughly a 5h drive. 

The 1st km high above Rio Chichamocha. A perfectly good road up to the small town of Soata.

There, some murals to admire and some larger shops to buy the necessary stuff for the next few days.

Then the road degrades slightly. A mix of pretty old pavement and stretches where it converts into a series of potholes. And of course, some parts just gravel. Thus, it takes time. Time to marvel at the landscape.

We cross Rio Chichamocha some 800m below Soata, then Prado just climbs up some 800m on the other side.

After some time, we reach the village of La Uvita.

At least in the church, they’re pretty clear about the accessories not too appreciated in the building.

The road most of the time high above the valleys. Nevertheless, a few times we have to drive down to their bottom, just to climb again on the other side. 

We pass several villages – remote places, all with huge churches  – and just a few houses around them.

In 1 village even a market. Mainly household goods and hardware are sold.

Traffic – next to none. A few worn-out trucks, some even more decrepit buses.

The road ascends to nearly 3000m. On the top a viewpoint where we see for the 1st time the mountains of Parque Nacional El Cocuy. Mountains well above 5000m.

Late afternoon we arrive in Güicán.

Rather small. Nowhere the colonial charm of other villages. 

Nevertheless, worth a stroll thru the alleys, observing life in a remote place high up in the mountains at an elevation of 2800m.

And later – a wonderful place to sip a beer or 2. Even with the luxury of free power just in front of you, should you need to quick-charge your cellphone.

About a half an hour drive from the village is the ultimate viewpoint to see the summits of the whole Sierra Nevada range.

True, the road is not perfect and quite steep. But Prado loves to climb up. Well, considering its age, maybe a little slow.

El Cocuy, 18th March

On to the next village: El Cocuy. You can drive the paved direct road – some 15 km, 20 minutes – or the slightly rough circular road high up in the mountains – some 45km, 4 hours.

We decide on the latter. More challenging for Prado and beautiful views on the mountains and the valleys for us.

A last glimpse of Güicán. And soon later we can already adore the mountains. Especially the famous rock El Púlpito.

The road ascents further. On the way some more glaciers to see. 

After 2h we finally reach at 3600m altitude the famous Finca La Esperanza. A sleepery and the starting point to a hike into Parque Nacional El Cocuy. Currently, everything looks closed at the finca.

On to La Lagunillas park entrance. The road gets steeper and worse. But it ascents even higher to over 4000m.

Prado enjoys climbing up – even if it starts producing some black smoke towards the end. And we enjoy the incredible view at the top.

Then we already descend to El Cocuy. A descent of about 1500m to reach the village well known for its unique colonial architecture.

We find a beautiful sleepery: Casa Museo la Posada del Molino. A great name in an even greater 300-year-old house. 

Unfortunately, their formerly well-appreciated restaurant became a victim of the Corona pandemic. And there are not too many eateries in the village.

Late afternoon – the perfect time to visit the place.

Hey guys, that’s it for this post. Enough is enough. 

Still, there will be more. Soon.

Most important: remain jealous and wait impatiently for the next post.



Colonial Towns in Eastern Colombia
On the way to Medellin