Covering 519 km² of area of Colombia’s western Andes Mountains is Parque Nacional Natural Tatamá. This lesser-known park is spread out over the departments of Risaralda, Chocó, and Valle del Cauca and is one of the more inaccessible national parks in the country.
Tatamá is a very diverse park with a cloud forest, waterfalls, lakes, indigenous villages, and a wide variety of flora and fauna, of which many are endangered. Hiking is pretty much the only way to see the park, and to get to the most interesting parts and back involves a few days of difficult hiking and camping with a qualified local guide.
I went on an excursion to Tatamá with a group of three friends one Saturday for what was supposed to be a six hour hike. We based ourselves in the town of Santuario, which is not too far from one of the entrances of the park. We also hired a private guide for the day at a rate of COP$50,000. The guide was arranged a few days in advance just by asking a few locals in town.
After a hearty breakfast and packing our lunches, we took a 7am jeep to the village of San Rafael, about a half hour away up in the mountains. There is one jeep every morning at 7am to San Rafael with a return trip around 4pm. The cost is COP$4,000 per person for the ride.
We were dropped off at a small lodge, Planes de San Rafael. The lodge is a large colorful building located right next to the entrance of the park. For visitors, they can provide lodging and food for up to 40 people as long as it is scheduled five days in advance. For information on staying at the lodge, email email@example.com.
Our guide arrived around 9am and we started our hike. The rain was coming down pretty hard and the trail was muddy and slippery at times, but it was still very beautiful.
The guide showed us many different types of plants and flowers along the way and explained how they survived in the forest. He also found many different seeds and told us how they were spread.
We encountered a small tarantula along the way as well as several beautiful flowers.
One of the most interesting plants was a species that has been on earth for over 150 million years. It is now endangered and conservationists often come to the park to study it and try to protect it from extinction.
About two hours into the hike we came to a river that had to be crossed. Because of the rain, the river was flowing dangerously fast and with a much higher volume of water than usual. The guide said we could attempt to cross it but was worried about our safety. In the end, we decided to turn back and walk on another trail.
Our planned destination was a waterfall called Cascada Escondido, about an hour from that point, but we had to cross the river a total of seven times to reach the waterfall. Below is a picture of the waterfall we were supposed to visit.
After walking down the trail for a good 90 minutes, the guide took us to Truchera San Rafael, a small trout farm and fishing pond near the lodge. We stopped and ate our packed lunch there and ordered some drinks from the restaurant. The restaurant also offers a few trout dishes.
The owner of the farm showed us the trout tanks where the fish grow up in fresh water that flows directly from the mountain.
For visitors, it is a recreation area with opportunities to camp, stay in a fully furnished lodge, fish in a pond, or go horseback riding. The same jeep from Santuario to the lodge can get you to Truchera San Rafael. For reservations and information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
While the rain may have ruined our hike to the waterfall and turned our six hour hike into four hours, we were very happy for the chance to see this unique part of the world.
A few tips before your one day hike to Cascada Escondido:
- Pack enough water and bring some extra food to offer to the guide.
- Bring a rain jacket. It will most likely rain for even just a short part of the hike.
- Wear waterproof boots. You will have to cross a small river several times on the way to the waterfall. If you don’t have them, you can buy them for about COP$23,000 in one of the supermarkets on the plaza in Santuario.