Two people exploring the world, seeking adventure & unique experiences.
Salento to Popayan
This was a slightly different style for us; we stayed late in Salento and then took a bus to the nearby town of Armenia. We arrived around 8pm and setup camp at the bus station waiting for a midnight departure to Popayan (35,000 / $17.50ea). During the day this would take 7-9 hours and at night it took less than 7 hours as we were in Popayan around 6.30am after leaving later than midnight. Toby survived the trip fairly well, but Rodora didn’t get much sleep at all.
Our first stop was checking into Parklife Hostel right on the central park literally next to the cathedral. A simple private was 44,000 ($22) and quite cosy. The hostel itself is really nice and very well organised. There’s a number of good area’s to hang out and relax and the rooftop terrace doubles as the movie cinema at night. We were given lots of great information and their website has a number of good information sheets for the local and surrounding areas that anyone can download. There is also a big supermarket about a 5 minute walk away.
The town itself didn’t seem to offer all that much for tourists. There are a couple of things to quickly take some photos of which might take a few hours at most. There are some cheap places to eat, a place by the name of Gourmet is about 3 blocks east of the hostel and offers a soup, meal, fruit drink for 3,000 ($1.50). An absolute bargain for that much food.
The city is known for all of its buildings being painted white on the outside. It does create quite an interesting architectural view, but the colour of Guatape definitely beats the plain white. One of the main things to go see is the Puente del Humilladero, built around 1870, it is still in use today for pedestrians.
Purace National Park
We started the day late and took the 10.30am bus to Purace National Park and exited at the Termales San Juan (13,000 / $6.50ea – 2hrs). The bus ride is very bumpy at times, so be prepared, you won’t get to sleep on the bus. The hostel said it would be best to spend the night at the Cabana next to the volcano entrance so we could do both the park and volcano. The day trip for the volcano needs you to catch the 4.30am bus.
Upon arriving at Termales San Juan, it was raining so we stopped to talk to the ranger. This is when we were told the national park was closed (since Dec 23, 2013), due to a conflict with the indigenous that lived there wanting more money.
The ranger also told us the Volcano and the cabana and restaurant at the volcano was closed. Our only option was to start our hike and get back to where the volcano entry was 15km away.
We put our rain gear and started walking down the gravel road. After around 45 minutes of walking we reached the Bedón waterfall. It was beautiful even though it was raining.
For what seemed like hours we kept walking in the rain along the road with no traffic passing in either direction. One of the things Rodora hates most is walking on a road and the fact it was raining made it 10 times worse.
Finally a covered pick up truck was heading in our direction. Unfortunately it was full so we both had to stand on the back step and hold on along with one other stranger. We only needed about 10 minutes to reach the turn off for the volcano entry luckily not falling off at the numerous pot holes and bumps. We stopped for coffee and asked the girl that served us if she knew if the Cabanas and the Volcano was open. She said yes straight away and was sure it was open. It was 4.30pm and a 30-45 minute walk up but the last bus was at 5.30pm. We decided to risk it as we figured someone would take pity on us and let us sleep somewhere. We made it to the top where the ranger greeted us and showed us to the cabanas. Thank goodness, as we were getting a bit worried about being stranded mainly because we knew it could get to below zero at night.
The cabana was an awesome rustic cabin with multiple rooms. We had the whole place to ourselves and also had access to a TV – which only had four channels which were barely visible through the static. When the sun went down, it got to around 12C inside the cabana, which is quite cold without any heating. However, since we had the whole place to ourselves we could use all the blankets in the room. It felt like we were in our grandmother’s house.
The ranger was beyond friendly and told us everything (in Spanish) we needed to know about our hike for tomorrow. We could tell he loved his job, telling us how many different nationalities had visited the park and other random facts. We told him how the other rangers near the thermals told us that the volcano was closed and he said they were lying and there is a dispute on that side of the park not this side that’s why the other rangers didn’t want us to go to the volcano.
We ordered dinner from the restaurant for 7.00pm. To our surprise the food was ready exactly on time which is rare for these countries. The workers are lovely and make you feel very welcome. The food is also amazing for 7,000 pesos / $3.50ea we ordered the trout which also came with our new favourite hot drink of Aguapanela (tasty honey/sugar water. It was so delicious that even though we brought our breakfast with us we also ordered breakfast for 5.30am.
The family that live in the restaurant also have a pet dog called Conga. Only 4 months old, it was one of the cutest puppies we had seen on the entire trip.
The next morning we woke up at 5am and debated the night of sleep over breakfast. Rodora didn’t sleep well as it was cold (around 10C in the room) but Toby said it was fine and probably the quietest night of sleep he’s ever had. You couldn’t hear any sounds; not animals, insects, humans, cars, not a thing.
Time to get hiking
Then it was time for the hike to begin. Unfortunately we got lost after the first 10 minutes, not paying attention to the yellow markings we ended up at a farmer’s house and had to back track. The trail is really well marked, so if you go more than maybe 5 minutes without a marker, you may want to double check you’re going the right way. We found where we went wrong and got going again. Along the way we jumped over numerous farming fences via ladders or large rocks and crossed creeks via bridges made of tiny planks of wood.
This really was a beautiful hike in the country side with amazing views of the valley below.
We did keep an eye on the fast approaching clouds which were rising out of the valley and catching up to us, so we had to move fast.
The trail then got very muddy slowing us down significantly as every step we took was a hop and skip to avoid getting stuck in the thick mud. Rodora, due to her little legs was not good at this game so ended up covered in mud.
We then got to a service road for the communication tower on a high hill near the volcano making the trail a lot easier. There were also two beautiful blue lagoons in front of us
Along the way, we were also lucky to see condors flying in the air above us. We got one blurry photo but were able to watch it for a couple of minutes.
The scenery going up was very diverse due to it being high altitude. It reminded us of Ireland and Scotland with the contrasts between the blue and green.
We then got to where the communications towers were. This is also where the road (the nice trail) ended. To our surprise there were cows living up there almost as unofficial gatekeepers.
This then signalled the start of some steep and rocky trail, as we scramble over rocks to reach the top.
We had our eyes on a white cross which we thought was the top, but we found out the hard way it was not. We both were thinking some fairly bad words at this point as we looked ahead to the final path going up. We were already at around 4,400m (14,400ft) and this final push was going to be tough.
Rodora many times during the hike thought she wasn’t going to make it. We both came up with the same strategy of targeting the next painted yellow rock and taking a short break before continuing on.
On the way we passed a sulphur vent which reminded us we were on a still active volcano that could erupt or do something odd at any minute.
We were finally at the top; Wohoo!! Unfortunately the clouds had risen quite quickly in the last 20 minutes of hiking so most of our view was clouds, plus it was bitterly cold at 6C/43F.
We were so glad we made it and it was such an achievement. This was up there as one of the hardest hikes on the trip due to the high altitude. It took us about 3.5 hours to get to the top at 4585m/15,000ft.
We basically ran the whole way back in about 2 hours as we both wanted to get back to Popayan as soon as possible for a hot shower and relaxation.
When we finally got back into Popayan, our reward was a deep fried rice ball from the bus station for 1500 pesos / 75c.
The thing we enjoyed most about this hike was the diversity in the scenery, from the farming countryside, the muddy creeks and streams, the blue lagoons and green marshlands, the rocky hills to the black ash volcano.
Plenty more to explore. Keep following the blog and our Flickr account for updates. http://www.flickr.com/photos/toraadventure/