Amazing hike to Laguna de Iguaque

Last week’s post about my stint in Boyacá made me feel a little nostalgic. I have so many amazing memories from living in a small town and teaching my first classes there. Sadly, I haven’t had a chance to visit my former students since then because my work has taken me to other parts of the country. When I was going through my photos from that time, I decided that I should write a post about a magical place that made a great impression on me.

Villa de Leyva is a major tourist destination, which receives lots of visitors from Bogotá every weekend. You can get a direct bus from the terminal, but it doesn’t run that frequently, so it’s easier to travel to Tunja and then catch a local bus to Villa de Leyva instead. There are many things to do in and around the town, and you can find numerous blog posts with good advice. If you like hiking, you shouldn’t miss Mirador El Santo Sagrado Corazón, which offers a nice view of the town. I also enjoyed a hike to Cárcavas de Ritoque, an amazing location full of strange natural formations. Villa de Leyva is usually pretty busy, so it was nice to go to a place that isn’t visited by many people.

Laguna de Iguaque, Colombia

The ultimate hiking trip in the whole area leads to Laguna de Iguaque. Getting there isn’t that easy, though. The national park is called a flora and fauna sanctuary and there are restrictions in terms of number of visitors. You have to make a reservation by e-mail in advance, and apparently you also need to get an insurance policy in advance from one of three companies. You can find more information here. Fortunately, I was taken there by a group of my students who happened to be the park’s employees, so I didn’t have to worry about that stuff.

If you are travelling by car, everything is easy because you can drive right to the entrance. However, there are no direct buses to the park. You need to get up early in the morning, catch a bus from Villa de Leyva to Arcabuco and ask the driver to leave you at casa de piedra (see this helpful map). Then you have to walk around 3 kilometres uphill to the park entrance. This budget option is a bit inconvenient, but it’s perfectly doable. Just don’t forget to plan your return journey in advance! Villa de Leyva is 12 kilometres away from casa de piedra, and you’ll be in no mood to walk that extra distance after an exhausting hike.

Laguna de Iguaque, Colombia

The trail starts in a forest, where you can see various birds and maybe even some other animals if you get lucky. When you climb above the tree line, you will enter an ecosystem called páramo characterised by plants from the Espeletia family. The hike up to the lake and back usually takes around 6 hours and it will provide you with some really impressive views. The whole area is considered to be sacred by the Muisca people, so please treat it with respect if you go there. There are signs describing the legend of Laguna de Iguaque along the trail.

The path is clearly marked and divided into 10 stages, so you always have an idea how far you’ve walked. I really enjoyed the hike, but I have to admit that it wasn’t easy. Páramos are known for unstable weather, so you have to wear proper hiking boots and a warm jacket. It was rainy and foggy during our trip, which explains why I don’t have any good photos of the actual lake! The weather made our descent tricky because of low visibility and uneven slippery ground. If you feel that you are running out of time to reach the lake, you should turn back because getting stuck on the trail when it gets dark can’t be a pleasant experience. It’s crucial to start the hike early so that you can enjoy it in its full beauty.

Laguna de Iguaque, Colombia

It seems visiting Laguna de Iguaque has become a little more complicated since my trip back in 2017. The facilities at the park entrance can’t be used anymore and you have to enter the hiking trail before 10am. There is no possibility of hiring a guide. As you can see, going to the lake requires quite a lot of effort from your side and the trip is challenging for various reasons, so it probably isn’t for everybody. However, If don’t mind a bit of discomfort and decide to go to Laguna de Iguaque, you will be rewarded with an amazing hike in a beautiful location.

Cañón del Combeima provides a good reason to visit Ibagué

The city of Ibagué isn’t known as a major tourist destination and most foreign visitors don’t consider travelling there. To be honest, the city itself isn’t that appealing. There are big shopping centres and some really good restaturants, but most of Ibagué resembles a nondescript small town. The most interesting thing about the capital of Tolima is the fact that there is a square named after Lidice, a village that was destroyed during World War II in Czechoslovakia, with a sculpture commemorating the massacre. I had a chance to meet its author, José Augusto Rivera Castro, who now plans to donate a large version of the sculpture to the Vatican City.

Even if you aren’t a history nerd, there are other good reasons for visiting Ibagué. Its warm weather is really pleasant and there are many green spaces. You can find two impressive places just a short taxi ride from the city centre: Jardín Botánico San Jorge is a great spot for hiking in a beautiful area, and if you like flowers, you shouldn’t miss Orquídeas del Tolima. Ibagué is also used as a starting point for climbing Nevado del Tolima, which is one of the most challenging adventures in Colombia. There is no need to go as far as the volcano, though. The access road via Cañón del Combeima will take you to other amazing sights.

Cañón del Combeima

If you are on a budget, you can simply take bus number 48 to its final stop in Juntas, which is approximately 20 kilometres away from the centre of Ibagué. Most of the road is fine, but there are some bumpy parts as well. You will see numerous restaurants along the way, and that’s where Ibaguereños like spending their weekends.

There isn’t that much to see in Juntas, so when you get off the bus, you can just continue walking down the road. When you cross a bridge, you will see a path to Termalitos through Quebrada Las Perlas. That used to be a popular camping spot, but the whole area is protected, and many activities, including swimming in hot springs, have been banned. It’s still a very nice location for hiking and you are allowed to walk there. Just remember to respect the rules because the river Combeima is Ibagué’s main water source and it needs to be kept pollution-free.

La Rivera, Cañón del Combeima

If you stay on the main road, you will soon reach Mirador Los Sauces, which is worth checking out since it offers very nice views of the canyon. The best sights are found further north, though. You can try to hitch a ride because there are always visitors at the viewpoint, but even if you have to walk the 4-kilometre distance, you won’t regret it. Amazingly, there is a gondola lift ready to take you to La Rivera.

Yes, someone really had the brilliant idea of building facilities for tourists on the other side of the canyon! The cable car looks a bit scary from the outside, but the 5-minute ride is actually quite comfortable. La Rivera is located in a brillant spot and you can even see Nevado del Tolima when the sky is clear. There are various activites that you can do there; I particularly liked the greenhouses with carnivorous plants. La Rivera was accessible to the public when I went there, but it seems that you need to make a reservation now, so make sure to get in touch with them before your trip. Don’t forget to pack a jacket because it can get rainy and chilly in the mountains.

A carnivorous plant, La Rivera, Cañón del Combeima

If you have some spare time, consider adding Ibagué to your travel itinerary. A bus ride from Bogotá usually takes 4 hours, unless you get stuck in a traffic jam in the capital during peak hours. Lesser-known cities may not be among the most popular places to visit in Colombia, but they can offer nice opportunities for interesting trips. Cañón del Combeima is a great example of that because it’s a pretty impressive destination that is definitely worth exploring.