High altitude adventure in Colombia

For years, Colombia was off limits for most travelers. It was a dangerous place filled with warring drug lords, violent guerrilla activity and rampant crime. But that has changed in the past couple of years, and visitors to Colombia are beginning to rediscover its natural wonders, as stability has returned to the country.

As usual, adventure travelers are the first to return, looking for an opportunity to explore a remote region before the word gets out to the rest of the world and once solitary travel experiences become crowded and touristy. That’s the premise behind this story from the New York Times, which sends author Matthew Fishbane to Colombia’s El Cocuy National Park for a hike above the clouds on the 17,749 foot Ritacuba Blanco, the highest mountain in the Cordillera Oriental mountain range, which is part of the Andes.

The article notes that both the national park, and the mountain, remain relatively free of visitors at the moment, unlike other high altitude treks such as Kilimanjaro or Aconcagua, which have become increasingly crowded in recent years. But the region has seen a sharp increase in visitors in 2009, as the word spreads that not only is Columbia a safe place to visit again, but it also holds some hidden gems that will be of interest to the outdoor crowd.

Getting to Ritacuba Bianco isn’t easy. It requires an 11-hour bus ride just to reach El Cocuy, and from there you’ll generally need to hire a guide and a horse, although depending on the trek you choose, they may not be necessary. The trek to the summit is non-technical, but there are rock and ice routes available for those looking for more of a challenge. And when you reach that summit, at least for now, you’ll have blissful solitude and an amazing view of the country below. It seems the view will remain, but the solitude may be fleeting. Get there before it’s all gone.