Paramo de Oceta travel guide: one of the best hikes in Colombia

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It’s 6:30 am in Monguí, a small heritage village we’ve already talked to you about. We head for the café in the village square to grab breakfast and energy for our trek to paramo de Oceta, our program for the day.

The day before, we’d stopped by the café to let them know we’d be arriving early – no problem, the café opens at 6:00 am every morning. On the advice of Maria, our guide, we had also ordered sandwiches from the little restaurant on the corner. Perfectly organized!

We meet Maria at 7:00 am to take the car towards Mongüa and the paramo de Oceta.

Disclaimer: we apologize in advance for any grammatical or syntactic errors, as our native language is not English (we're a Colombian-French couple), so we hope you'll forgive us and still enjoy the information we share with you! Please note that all the information on our blog is based on our own experience, and is checked and updated regularly.

Dispute at Paramo de Oceta

A problem found all over Colombia

Paramo de Oceta travel guide: one of the best hikes in Colombia

For our visit, the path leading to paramo de Oceta from the village of Mongui is closed to the public. The official version speaks of a closure to let the ecosystems breathe, but in reality it’s a conflict with the landowners and cattle breeders.

The paramo de Oceta is at the heart of a complex and recurring problem in Colombia: how to combine the development of tourism, the protection of natural areas, the historical complexity of land distribution, the permanence of local agricultural activity, respect for the local peasant and indigenous populations…

Although the paramo de Oceta is part of a “Regional Natural Parkprotected area, this denomination offers very little protection, since most of the land in this park is privately owned and does not belong to the state.

For several years now, the paramo de Oceta has lived with the rhythm of openings and closures dictated by landowners seeking to defend their peasant activity and obtain compensation, while environmentalists and tourist guides seek to reduce the impact of pastoralism on ecosystems.

In short, the situation is complex. Before pandemia, a new agreement was signed between the breeders, the municipalities, the mountain guides and the corporation that manages the regional natural park, to allow tourist activity once again, until the next episode! Which is 2023… and the problem is still not resolved.

But anyway, you can still hike in the Paramo de Oceta with a local guide begining from Mongua and the Laguna Negra as we did.

SISCUNSÍ – Oceta REGIONAL NATURE PARK

The Siscunsí – Oceta Regional Nature Park offers a typical high-mountain tropical ecosystem, composed mainly of paramo areas, grasslands and high Andean forest. It is located in the eastern part of Boyacá department, between Lago de Tota and Pisba national park. This natural park is a major water reserve for the departments of Boyacá and Casanare.

  • Ecosystem: high Andean forest and paramo
  • Surface area : 50.000 hectares
  • Altitude: 2250 – 4000 m
  • Main towns: Sogamoso, Aquitania, Mogui, Mongüa

Trek to Paramo de Oceta from Mongua

One of the best hikes in Colombia

Paramo de Oceta travel guide: one of the best hikes in Colombia

If there’s one thing we’ve learned from this conflict on the Mongui side, it’s that the paramo de Oceta is not only accessible from Mongui, but also from Aquitania, Sogamoso and Mongüa.

Mongüa is just 1 hour’s drive from Mongui, and it ‘s to these mountains that we head on this misty early morning. The trailhead can be reached by car without any particular problem, you just need to know the road and the presence of a guide is compulsory.

Our hike begins at the Laguna Negra above the village of Mongüa. This lake, with its calm, dark waters, reflects the surrounding landscape like a deep, mysterious mirror. The charm is already working.

Maria talks to us about the landscape around us and the different plant species that can be seen along the trail: succulents, lichens and, of course, frailejones (espeletia). In a way, they are the protagonists of the paramos.

Paramo de Oceta travel guide: one of the best hikes in Colombia

Breathtaking landscapes

Four of the six existing species of frailejonescan be admired at paramo de Oceta! For us, who thought there was only one variety of frailejones, this is a totally new piece of information.

The effort soon became more substantial and the altitude began to take its toll. But this time, there’s no mountain sickness for Sam, who seems to have got used to the high Colombian mountains over the years. No mountain sickness, but the sensation of having to make a lot of effort to breathe. So we walk at our own pace, without hurrying..

The higher we climb, the more impressive the number of frailejones and the more imposing the paramo. The grey clouds threaten, the sunny spells illuminate the ochre and green moorland – these landscapes are literally breathtaking.

Before we reach the ridge, Maria performs a magic trick from ancient times. Her Muisca origins have given her a special knowledge of plants. She asks us to wait, and we watch as she picks up an innocuous plant stem, rubs it into the earth, then takes Angelica’s arm and presses the stem against her skin to imprint her skin with a tattoo of plant shapes. Maria tells us that the Muiscas used this technique to create tattoos with gold dust… magic, we tell you!

Paramo de Oceta travel guide: one of the best hikes in Colombia

The importance of being accompanied

The path becomes less and less precise, on a ridge between two slopes, we arrive at the summit where we’re approaching 4000 m altitude when the mist appears.Visibility quicklydiminishes to the point where it completely obscures the landscape. We can only see a few metres, and the importance of being accompanied by a guide who knows these mountains like the back of his hand comes into its own.

Paramo de Oceta travel guide: one of the best hikes in Colombia

Barely had we turned our heads to take a photo, and the group was completely out of sight. Within seconds, a feeling of vertigo immediately takes hold of my brain. My heart races, scenarios unfold and my legs speed up until I catch sight of a silhouette a few metres ahead. Maria has stopped to wait for the group to reunite, all is well.

Tragic mountain stories were part of my childhood and I know how important they were in my learning and relationship with nature. I know the violence of the mountains, just as I know the violence of the ocean. I love and respect it. I know that anything can happen and that you have to be prepared for it. In concrete terms, what does that mean: never set off unprepared, know your potential, be accompanied by a local guide, have equipment, adapt, good shoes, clothing against the cold and rain, water and food..

Maria, our guide

Maria is a strong, beautiful woman with a passion for the mountains and nature. She proudly tells us her story of indigenous roots and peasant life in the mountains. A hard and beautiful life, like the poetry that has accompanied her since childhood.

At the age of 13, Maria didn’t do very well at school… and repeated a year… to “punish” her, her mother sent her to the mountains to look after the cows for a whole year. Away from it all, spending her days alone in the mountains, Maria walks a lot, roaming the mountains, and Maria reads a lot, discovering literature and poetry. Exploring a natural environment and an inner world, between mountains and poetry, two passions that would never leave her.

So you can imagine that when Maria looks back on this story today, on the “punishment” inflicted on her by her mother, she ultimately sees it more as a blessing, an opportunity that made her the woman she is today!

Paramo de Oceta travel guide: one of the best hikes in Colombia

A sea of Frailejones

We begin our descent, gradually breaking through the cloud barrier and regaining normal visibility. The landscape we see on our retinas is unforgettable: thousands of frailejones as far as the eye can see. I confess I’ve never witnessed such a landscape. Even in the Los Nevados Natural Park, the number of frailejones wasn’t quite as impressive, or maybe my altitude sickness had blinded me at the time.

In any case, we’re now enjoying every step of the way home. The experience is magical. We pass a few cows grazing peacefully in the middle of the paramo, and then reality catches up with us. We finish the descent and settle down to eat in this valley that flows like a living body before us. In the distance, below, the Laguna Negra takes on an entirely different dimension, that of two clasped hands gathering the water offered by the kings of the mountain.

Paramo de Oceta travel guide: one of the best hikes in Colombia

As is often the case here, the afternoon brings rain. We end our day’s walk with a few drops reminding us how lucky we’ve been. The day before, Maria had ended her day soaked to the skin after a torrential downpour!

Doing this trek from Mongui also gave us another view of this magnificent paramo, and we can’t recommend it enough!

We return to Mongui happy with our fatigue, the stories we’ve told and the landscapes we’ve crossed. Thank you, Maria!

What is a paramo?

Hiking to Paramo de Oceta

Paramo de Oceta travel guide: one of the best hikes in Colombia

Paramos are fountains of life. They are magical ecosystems made up of peat, lichen, moss and frailejones. All these plants play an essential role in life: they are responsible for the production of most of Colombia’s fresh water .

Frailejones are the kings of the paramo, and can grow to be hundreds of years old! Their scientific name is Espeletia, and they grow very slowly, between 1 cm a year and 1 cm every 10years, depending on the variety!

Their crowned head of hairy leaves is capable of capturing water droplets in the clouds. The frailejon then stores this water, releasing it slowly through its roots into the soil. Moss, peat and gravity do the rest, forming the streams that feed Colombia’s lakes and rivers.

Paramo de Oceta travel guide: one of the best hikes in Colombia

Yet access to water in Colombia is particularly problematic, and it’s not getting any better.

In 1990, Colombia ranked 4th in the world for water resources. Since then, the country’s water stocks have plummeted over the past 30 years, and it now ranks 25th in the world. Deforestation, mining, industrialization, urbanization and climate change have all taken their toll on one of the country’s greatest resources. A water crisis that could be catastrophic in the years to come if no action is taken.

Hiking to Paramo de Oceta

Mongui is located at an altitude of 3.000 m, so don’t forget to bring your woollies, as it gets very cold in the evenings. There are no ATMs in Mongui or Mongüa , and very few shops accept credit cards, so be sure to withdraw enough cash before you come.

It is possible to make several one-day treks to paramo de Oceta. To get the most out of them, we really recommend using Maria’s guiding services. She’ll know how to adapt to your desires in terms of scenery and effort. In our opinion, she’s the best guide in Mongui!

Maria ToursMountain guide

  • Whatsapp : 57 313 479 8492
  • Email: mariasosi1004@gmail.com
  • Address: Carrera 3a No 1-57 vía al puente de Calicanto, Mongui

Where to stay in Mongui

In Mongui, we stayed in a nice, inexpensive little house that served its purpose perfectly. Located a little way from the center, the walk to the main square was always a nice way to enjoy the village.

Mongui, the best hotels

Las Cabañas Hospedaje

Eco Lodge

Las Cabañas Hospedaje

Double room : $0 to $100.000 COP

Individual wooden cabins for this unusual accommodation at the entrance to the village of Mongui

Mongui, the best hotels

Los recuerdos de Florito y Leo Hotel

Finca

Los recuerdos de Florito y Leo Hotel

Double room : $100.000 to $150.000 COP

An accommodation recommended by our readers, offering comfortable rooms with mountain views and a warm welcome.

Mongui, the best hotels

Hotel Mongui Plaza

Hotel

Hotel Mongui Plaza

Double room : $100.000 to $150.000 COP

This is certainly the best-located hotel in Mongui, opening directly onto the village’s main square, opposite the cathedral. Beautiful colonial house, heating, hot water, breakfast, everything you need for a pleasant stay.

Mongui, the best hotels

Hotel Otti Colonial

Hotel

Hotel Otti Colonial

Double room : $150.000 to $200.000 COP

The Hotel Otti Colonial is one of Mongui’s best-known hotels, located in the historic center just a stone’s throw from the Puente Calicanto, offering attractive rooms and a warm welcome from the owners.

Restaurants in Mongui

There are several restaurants in Mongui, all open at lunchtime. However, there seems to be less on offer in the evening, with some restaurants closed. The large café in the main square opens at 6:30 in the morning.

Amuysyn Magüe

  • Pizza, crepes and local produce
  • Address: Carrera 3 #2-65, Monguí
  • A friendly address run by young people who work with good local produce

La Casona

  • Colombian cuisine
  • Address: Carrera 4 #3-41, Mongui
  • Traditional cuisine of superlative quality, with a magnificent view from the terrace.

Cafe Amor

  • Coffee, tea, sandwiches, crepes, salad, hamburgers
  • Address: Calle 5 # 3-02, Mongui
  • Nice little café on the main square, with simple food made from good ingredients.

La Cascada

  • Café and bakery
  • Address: Carrera 3 & Calle 4 #31, Mongui
  • Local-style café for traditional breakfast in the main square or lunch.

How to get to Mongui

The small village of Mongui is located in the Boyacá department, a few kilometers from the town of Sogamoso. To get to Mongui by bus, first go to the Sogamoso bus terminal, then take a bus in the direction of Mongui. By car, the journey is very easy from Bogotá on a road in good condition.

BUS | Bogotá <> Sogamoso

  • Duration: approx. 4 hours
  • Departures: every 30 minutes from 4 a.m. to 8 p.m
  • Fare: approx. $30.000 COP

BUS | Sogamoso <> Mongui

  • Duration: approx. 45 min
  • Departures: every 15 minutes
  • Fare: about $5.000 COP

BUS | Tunja <> Sogamoso

  • Duration: about 1h30
  • Departures : 10 departures between 7am and 8pm
  • Fare: approx. $8.000 COP

CAR | Bogota <> Mongui

  • Duration: about 3 hours
  • Tolls: 3 x $8.300 COP
  • Road: good

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Authors

Angélica & Samuel

We are Angélica and Samuel, a French-Colombian couple, professional photographers and web editors specializing in travel to Colombia. We created this blog to change the image of the country, help you prepare your trip and inspire you to discover Colombia in a different way!

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10 thoughts on “Paramo de Oceta travel guide: one of the best hikes in Colombia”

  1. Hello Angélica and Samuel,

    Thank you for your blog, I’m in the process of preparing my trip to Colombia and I find it full of valuable advice (and many new ideas for stages, far too many even for the time I have 😅)

    Right from the start I had this Páramo de Ocetá trek on my list, but now I’m having big doubts. I’d also like to do one or two day treks in the Parque Nacional Natural El Cocuy, and I’m wondering if in terms of scenery, the hikes in El Cocuy don’t include portions “similar” to the one in Páramo de Ocetá (especially as far as frailejones are concerned)

    Like many travellers I imagine, I’m going to have to make quite a few choices in my stages, so as not to “overdo it” and enjoy myself, and I have the impression that the Páramo de Ocetá is “duplicating” if I go to El Cocuy, especially as in Colombia the starting points for treks/trails seem difficult to access, so for a day’s hike, you sometimes have to add a day’s transport to get there and back

    Thanks in advance for your reply 🙂

    Reply
    • Hello Gael and thank you for your message! 🙂 So to answer your difficult question, let’s say that yes, these are mountain landscapes with paramos, but as always in the mountains, no two landscapes are the same. The big difference is that PNN El Cocuy is much higher than Oceta, so you have glaciers. El Cocuy is also more physically demanding than Oceta, as all the starts are above 4000m and you’re approaching or exceeding 5000m at the finish, whereas at Oceta 4000m is the maximum altitude. As for the frailejones, you’ll find them in both places, but you’ll never get tired of them… Finally, Oceta is much easier to get to than El Cocuy, and easier to fit into an itinerary. If you’re in a hurry, you can arrive in Oceta the evening before, go hiking the next day and leave the same evening. El Cocuy takes longer (transport, acclimatization, etc.). All in all, it’s quite different 😉

      Reply
  2. Thank you for this excellent blog!
    We did the PÁRAMO DE OCETÁ trek with Maria in 2019 from Mongui. A wonderful route and a great guide. In 2022, we’d like to visit another páramo further south Could you point me to some equally interesting parks? Thanks in advance
    Nicole

    Reply
  3. I have great memories of it! I also did the trek with Maria but it lasted 9 hours! :-O
    It was really great and magnificent! A word of advice: take trekking poles for those who aren’t used to hills 😉

    Reply
  4. Hello,

    Is it any possibility to visit the Paramo without guide? Did you meet someone whe chceked that you go with a guide? We would like to visit the paramo but if a guide is absolutely mndatory then we will skip the whole region
    Thank you.

    Reply
  5. Hello
    First of all, many thanks for your blog, which is a mine of valuable information.
    We would like to visit the paramo de oceta within the next week. Does the guide Maria speak English or French, as our level of Spanish will not be sufficient to understand everything.
    Thank you in advance for your reply.
    Marion.

    Reply