Having a huge forest reserve right on the edge of the city makes for some excellent hill walking. Gerald Barr is on hand with a guide to hiking Bogotá mountain trails.
Los Cerros Orientales, is a 14,000 square-kilometre forest reserve east of the city, easily reached by hiking Bogotá trails from downtown areas of the city. There are three main walks which total 14 kilometres. These may not seem very long, but remember they climb from 2,500 metres – more or less street level – up to 3,200 metres at their highest point on the green rocky ridges. There’s everything from a half-hour stroll along leafy creeks to a three-hour burn-out in and out of the páramo.
The views are reward enough for the uphill hikes. On a recent walk, the páramo was coated in thick frost as the first rays of sunlight burst over the range. I turned to see the snow-capped cone of the Tolima volcano looming high on the western horizon with all of Bogotá spread out below.
Entrance to the paths is free, though access times are controlled by local authorities. These restrictions are partly to protect the steep mountainside from erosion (the trails are usually closed after heavy rain) but also for security. There is a history of assaults on walkers, including some murders a few years back, but these risks are receding with the deployment of police guards along popular routes at peak times.
This added security has created a hiking Bogotá boom and on Sundays the most popular routes are filled with lycra-clad selfie-snappers stopping at every moss-covered log for a self-portrait. But you can beat the crowds by hitting the trail very early and heading to the higher trails. And the good news is that new trails are being developed to open up more of the mountain.
A few choice routes:
Monserrate pilgrim walk
The recently re-opened popular walk follows stone steps to arrive at Monserrate (complete with gardens, restaurants and a tourist bazaar). The walk is open from 4am until 1pm, every day except Tuesday. Sundays are the most crowded day with around 20,000 visitors. Small children and dogs are not admitted.
Sendero Las Moyas (also known as Los Horizontes)
Only officially open Saturdays and Sundays and public holidays from 5am.
This is a steep hike up mountain ridges and over the high páramo with open views of the city below, ending at some antennae on a high ridge with large limestone rock formations at 3,287 metres. You can bring dogs on this trail. Allow 90 minutes to ascend and one hour to come down. It is possible to instead continue walking to the Barrio San Luis, which leads to the Bogotá-La Calera road, where there are buses back to the city, but this is not recommended by the police. Other trails link this to the páramo section of the Quebrada de la Vieja route (see map across) forming a circular route, but the top part is usually without police presence. The Las Moyas trail is much less busy than the other routes and potentially less secure, so it is best to join with other hikers for the higher section.
You can start the hike on the séptima with Calle 74, walking east on Calle 74. Cross the Circunvalar, following it east until Calle 77 where you head uphill, bringing you out at the base of the mountain on Carrera 2 Este. Keep walking north (past the Club Metropolitan) until you see some rough wooden steps leading up the hill: this is the trailhead. After 15 minutes climbing you will reach a small concrete hut with the first police post. From here the trail passes through eucalypt forests before reaching the open páramo at around 3,000 metres.
Quebrada La Vieja
Open most days from 5 am, but can close at short notice after rain or for ‘rest days’.
A leafy trail that mostly follows the La Vieja creek, a shady gully with native and eucalypt flora, then splits into three separate routes. This is the busiest trail and can carry thousands of walkers on a Sunday morning, including many children. Dogs are banned. To avoid the crowds set off very early or try mid-week.
You can start the trail on the séptima with Calle 71. Walk east along 71 until you reach a landscaped wooded gully which winds up the hill, then follow the walkway through a tunnel under the Circunvalar. Pass through the entrance gate onto the well-marked trail on Water Board land. After a 30-minute climb the trail reaches a small clearing, Claro de La Luna, where the three trails divide, and where there is always police presence during open hours.
The left-hand trail is the Sendero de La Virgen and leads through pine forests to a small statue of the Virgin at a look-out over the north of the city. This is the easiest trail and most suitable for children, as the round trip from the séptima takes around two hours.
The centre trail is the longest and heads north-east, straight up a steep slippery path to the páramo. The police will usually block this path after 8am to give time for walkers to get back down before the main gate closes. It is the most likely to be closed by rain, so pick a dry day and set off before 6am.
The right-hand path leads to the Cerro de La Cruz – a hill with a cross and more fine views. This path combines a good deal of climbing and traversing but is less steep than the páramo trail.
Quebrada Las Delicias
Open and guarded most days from 5am-10am. It can close earlier, so check with police on the trail.
This is a short gully walk through enchanted forests and crystalline water pools to La Cascada Las Delicias, a waterfall at the head of the trail. The nature trail is great for kids. It’s popular with schools and scout groups, and some hardy ascetics who go to the pools for their wake-up dip. Dogs are not allowed. There is a trail leading into the mountain that links with Quebrada La Vieja at the Cerro de La Cruz, but this ascends very steep terrain so is not very popular.
There are two safe options to start this walk, one beginning in the Barrio Bosque Calderón on Calle 62, the other from the Politecnico Gran Colombia on Diagonal 55.
The first takes you through a working-class barrio, often mistakenly perceived as a ‘land invasion’ but in fact it’s an old traditional suburb of workers making a living from the mountain – fishing, crops, quarrying and charcoal-burning. This community has a strong sense of ownership of the quebrada (for many years it was their water supply) and was closely involved in the rehabilitation of the trail. People are friendly and will stop and give you directions, but you will encounter many aggressive dogs in the barrio (carry a stick to scare them off). The second option is to start at the Politécnico Gran Colombia campus which you can reach by free bus (every day apart from Sundays) from the Carrera 8 with Calle 61.
There’s a thatched hut low on the mountainside at both start-points, which is the first police presence on the trail. Do not enter the trail if no police are present. And do not walk to these start-points from the city: you’re likely to pass through dangerous territory.
Tips for hiking Bogotá trails
– Get to the start points at first light (before 6am) but do not proceed until the police are already on the trails.
– Start points can easily be reached by public transport or taxi.
– Stay on the main trails and get advice from police guards and other hikers on the way.
– On the higher trails it’s best to go in a group, though if you set off alone you will usually be able to join some other hikers along the way.
– Do not carry valuables such as phone, watch, jewellery etc.
– Do bring some ID, some ‘flash-cash’ in case you are robbed, and a transit card for the bus home.
– Pack some snacks, a drink, and a waterproof top.
– Walking boots or tennis shoes with good grip are essential for the slippery paths.
– Stay off the mountain during (or just after heavy rain) and lightning.
– Police presence does not guarantee security, particularly on the higher (páramo) trails. I know of several hikers who some years ago were robbed and tied up, not a pleasant experience.
– If you are confronted do not resist as the attackers can be violent.
There are several websites and blogs with information on the Cerros Orientales, the best by Amigos de La Montaña includes latest information on opening times, events (such as organised hikes if you prefer to go in a group) and an interactive map. The Cerros de Bogotá Fundación has more historical information.