Excited to get back to South America and traveling instead of just vacation, Sadie and I took off to Colombia for three weeks. We spent about a week in Medellín, Minca (North Coast) and Salento (Central Coffee Region) respectively. The big thing to know is that Colombia is pretty safe now (aside from a couple specific regions) with a very active tourist industry that seems likely to keep it that way. If you follow basic traveler safety tips for any foreigner who is rich by local standards, you’ll have a fine time.
One of the things we were most excited about in Colombia was a summit attempt on a 17,000+ ft glaciated volcano in the Northern Andes: Nevado del Tolima. The ascent is pretty non-technical and guides don’t require any previous mountaineering knowledge or fitness restriction. There are multiple guide services and itinerary for this trek between 3-5 days, some with a stop over to a natural hot springs, some extending to hit the two other nearby glaciated peaks. We booked a guide for four days with SAWA Travel with 12,000 ft of gain and picked up one extra person on the itinerary for a little lower cost (still $450 pp). We wanted to use a guide to help us navigate logistics, local weather and contribute to the local economy. I think a guide is required to attempt the summit, but I’m not sure.
There is a lot of interesting story about finding this canyon, our guide, getting to San Carlos and about the area. However, if you are here just to know about the canyoneering descent, I’ll get right to that and talk about the rest later. We descended the La Chorrera – Inferior (lower) section of this canyon with many 100+ ft less-than-vertical rappels often involving (but not through) flowing water during what seemed like low-flow conditions (it hadn’t rained in a couple weeks). It was a great, non-touristy canyoneering experience guided by Manuel of Eco Guías Colombia who provided gear and wetsuits (one fit me at 6’6”!) and was exactly the authentic canyoneering experience I was looking for.
While there are over a dozen coffee tours in Salento (and dozens more elsewhere in the county) to choose from that give you the general information on how coffee is grown, harvested and produced… I wanted to specifically try “Coffee Cupping” (i.e. coffee tasting) because I’ve never liked the taste of coffee but wanted to see what ‘good coffee’ tasted like and how it varied. For this reason (and because Ocaso was close to where we were staying) we chose the “Premium Coffee Tour” from Ocaso. This was 100.000 COP ($29) per person in Jan-2024.
When you think of Colombia there are two consumable products that start with “C” that come to mind and one of them is Coffee! Anywhere there is coffee and tourists in Colombia, there are coffee farm tours. We had a great time on some cocoa tours in Costa Rica and love learning about local things while traveling so went on a couple of them. Here is what we learned:
Arequepa (also known as ‘white city’) is a desert city that sits underneath a volcano and on the southern border of Peru with Bolivia. It is about 18 hours from Lima from bus or (2-4x the price) an hour plane ride. The city has some cool architecture but it is far from a city dominated by white buildings. In general I found the city much more touristy and expensive after coming from the adventure basecamp feel of Hauraz.
I never got around talking about my time around Huaraz, Peru near the Cordillera Blanca. This city is known as a mountaineering paradise but also has lots of nearby rock climbing. I wrote previously about how I climbed a few of the hundreds of routes in the rock forest of Hatun Machay a couple hours south. However, I also wanted to share on the three other areas I climbed. There is much more than what I’m talking about here so pick up a copy of the regional climbing guide to get some rock down there!
Hatun Machay is a sport climbing paradise with around 26 bolted walls, lots of bouldering and tons of opportunity for more. However, the decade long proprietor of the hostel here who bolted a lot of these routes, offered climbing rentals, etc. was evicted in July from the area. When his lease was up for renewal he tried to buy the land, but the community refused. He put a lot of investment in this area so he tried to go straight to the government, but failed and eventually was forcibly removed.
The Cordillera Huayhuash is regarded by some as the second best trek in the world. It brings you through remote, majestic 20,000+ ft peaks capped by large gleaming glaciers rushing into the turquoise alpine lakes. Then at night you camp in alpine basins, losing yourself in awe of the high andes landscape.
Most people complete this 8-14 day trek using a guide and donkeys, but spiritually I believe (like these people) self-sufficiency is an important part of the wilderness experience so I went solo and unsupported. Not content with the already difficult Huayhuash circuit, I pushed this trip further, driving myself to spend most days off trail or on the alpine circuit using a quality map and guide book. As a result, I spent my 73 mile route constantly above 14,000 ft, climbing over five 16,000 ft passes, and racking up 28,000 ft of elevation by the end of my eight days.