Colombia really is a place of diversity and contrasts.
From the crystal clear waters of the Caribbean, to the windswept rugged beaches of the Pacific, to the jungles of the Amazon, to the sprawling plains of Los LLanos, there are some fascinating landscapes in the country.
However, one of the most fascinating is the páramo. A landscape and ecosystem almost entirely unique to the Andes, it is akin to a mix of grassland and tundra at high altitudes.
It’s a sort of eery and quiet but not totally barren place.
There are also some really neat plants that grow here, called Frailejones that add an extra unique touch to the landscape. Of course, you are also high in the mountains, and can enjoy some lovely views.
There are a number of páramos in Colombia, including several that have nice hikes and offer opportunities to see the Frailejon.
However, the best is the Páramo de Ocetá, located in the department of Boyacá outside the town of Monguí. This is one of the neatest day hikes you can do in Colombia.
If you’d like to learn more about hiking the Páramo de Ocetá, read on to learn all about our experience and how you can do it yourself.
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Páramo de Ocetá Guide – Contents
- Is Including the Páramo de Ocetá on my Colombia Trip Worth it?
- What are Frailejones?
- What to Expect on a Hike in the Páramo de Ocetá
- Getting There
- Places to Stay Nearby
Is the Páramo de Ocetá Worth it?
If you have the interest in seeing or hiking a paramo and the time to include this during a Colombia trip, it is definitely worth it.
It is not for everyone, and there are things I would prioritize over it, but if you will be traveling through Boyacá and hitting smaller towns besides the better known Villa de Leyva, you should absolutely consider including a few nights in the nearby towns of Monguí or Sogamoso in your itinerary and doing a day hike in the Páramo de Ocetá.
To be honest, this surprised me as something that I enjoyed more than I expected.
Susana and I did it in early 2022 as part of a leg of a trip from Bogotá through Boyacá to Los Llanos. There is surprisingly a lot to do in this area of Boyacá, so if you have time to slow travel through Colombia, I definitely recommend it.
This and the Laguna Tota were probably the two top things we did in this area.
If you ever had any desire to see this landscape and/or the Frailejones, or just enjoy a good hike, definitely consider doing this.
Is the Páramo de Ocetá hike difficult?
I’d say it is of moderate to medium high difficulty.
The hike itself is not that bad in the sense that there aren’t really any super steep or difficult to traverse sections.
However, the altitude really makes it hard!
We definitely found ourselves needing to stop and catch our breath more than we would have expected.
Susana also had a minor bout with altitude sickness too, although our guide had some cocoa leaves that helped.
It is also a long day, so keep those two things in mind when deciding if you want to do it.
What Are Frailejones?
I’ve mentioned these fascinating plants a few times as one of the main reasons to go on the hike in the Páramo de Ocetá.
Their English name is Espeletia.
They sort of look like a mix between an agave and palm shrub. These curious plants acquired their common colloquial Spanish name because they look like monks or friars marching from a distance.
Actually, according to legend, during the wars for independence, Simón Bolívar’s men sometimes put uniforms on them to trick Spanish scouts.
They are actually very important for the ecosystem.
They capture moisture from passing clouds and release it into the soil from their roots, helping to provide a water source in this mostly dry area.
They are unique to the páramo ecosystem of the Andes in Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela. More than half of the worldwide population are in Colombia.
In fact their scientific name of Espeletia is derived from the name of a viceroy of the colonies, José Manual de Ezpeleta.
Oh, and if you’re wondering, what is the páramo, it is an ecosystem in the Andes between 3,000 and 4,000 meters above sea level.
There are some other páramos that can be hiked where you can see frailejones too. The most popular and well known is probably La Chingaza National Park, closer to Bogotá.
However, they are much more plentiful in the Páramo de Ocetá and the hike itself is better. Ocetá is usually considered to be the most beautiful paramo in the world.
So, if you have the time and really want to see the neatest possible example of this unique ecosystem, plan a visit to the Páramo de Ocetá.
What to Expect on a Hike in the Paramo de Ocetá
The hike is really, really impressive.
Here, I’ll share a bit on our experience of the hike. But first, a let’s address one of the most common questions that comes up about hikes like this.
Can You Do the Páramo de Ocetá without a Guide?
No, you cannot.
Apparently you used to be able to go without a guide, and you may find some outdated information online that you do not need a guide. However, now you are not allowed to enter the park without a guide.
While there was not anyone at the entrance, I wouldn’t recommend trying to break the rules. Our guide said they do occasionally check and fine people.
And frankly, I wouldn’t want to do this hike without a guide. After the initial hike up, the path isn’t really that clear and the area is immense and not an environment I’d want to get lost in.
Apparently it used to be possible to do multi-day treks and even camp in the páramo. At the time of our visit, they weren’t allowing that, but it could change, so it’s worth asking local guides and agencies.
Speaking of that, we went with the agency Monguí Travel. We thought our guide Anyer was great and would definitely recommend them.
They are located just near the main plaza in Monguí and you have the option of having the restaurant that they have their offices beside prepare a sandwich for lunch for you if you like. They also sent us a Google Drive with some group photos taken by the guide on the hike, which is a nice touch.
The cost of the tour when we went in January 2022 varied between $50-70,000 pesos per person depending on group size.
The sandwich cost $14,000 COP and included a chicken or veggie sandwich, some fruit, a small pack of peanuts, a piece of bocadillo, and a small water.
If you want something you can book ahead online, Monguí Travels offers this tour on Viator.
Our Experience Hiking in the Ocetá Paramo
We started off by taking a jeep up the hill out of town to the trail head. This cost a bit more, $40,000 pesos, but honestly, it was totally worth it.
I’d say it would take 90 minutes plus to make this walk on your own and up lots of steep hills, so saving some time and breath for the hike itself is totally worth the money, especially since we could split it with the entire group going with us, so it was only like $7 or $8,000 pesos a person.
Once at the trail head, you head up a rocky path and get some neat views of an interesting looking rock formation known as the Peña do Otí, or Rock of Otí.
During the colonial era, the Spanish mined this rock extensively and used the stone for construction.
The main colonial era church in Monguí is supposedly built of rock from here.
It has a sort of dark blackish color to it, and looks really neat with the sun shining on it in the distance.
According to Wikipedia, legend has it the scratches on the mountain were made when the devil, riding a donkey, fell down the mountain, with the donkey’s hooves scratching the rock face.
After taking in those views, we continued on a narrow path up some hills covered by shrubs before entering into a small bit of forest and hiking along a tiny, rocky brook.
Eventually, we came out on the paramo itself. It’s mostly open space that almost looks like a meadow but less green.
The views of the surrounding mountains and hills are really spectacular though!
And, of course, you can see tons of frailejones!
We eventually came to an area known as the Playa de Frailejones, where you can see them up close and get some neat photos.
They are pretty fascinating looking plants and fit in the eery landscape pretty well.
This area was great for some photos and a short rest while Anyer explained more about the plants, their importance for the ecosystem, and how they grow.
From there, we headed up further into the paramo, stopping for lunch along the way.
Monguí sits at about 3,000 m above sea level. I’d imagine the trail head is around 3,400 or so, and the hike takes you up to just under 4,000 m above sea level.
It was this stretch where we were really feeling that altitude.
We thought we had built up some stamina, but man, we got winded quick going up the steeper sections here!
As we headed up, we were treated to some neat views of a neat rock formation and ridge up above.
It rises up above the paramo with what almost looks like rocky walls cut into the rock. It’s a sort of imposing site as you hike alongside it.
Finally, we caught our breath and headed up a steep final ascent to one of the highest parts of the paramo, trudging up a narrow path between frailejones.
The view at the top of the hike, at the rocky peak known as the Mirador del Condor, is spectacular!
Totally worth the effort!
We huddled under a small outcropping in the rock to escape the biting cold of the wind while catching our breaths and enjoying that view.
To the right you can see the very neat looking hill and formation known as the Cerro de Aguilas, where supposedly eagles like to hang out. We did see some birds circling.
Imagine the view they must get to enjoy!
To try to get a little bit closer to that view I headed up the narrow little paths to the top of the mirador, fighting against the breeze to get even more amazing views from the top.
Susana was too worn out, cold, and nervous to come up here at first.
However, it really wasn’t a very difficult path up, so I convinced her to come back up there with me.
After snapping some photos and marveling at the view a bit more, we headed down.
On the path down, we stopped at several other miradores that gave neat views of the hills and valleys. In some places you could even see nearby towns in the distance.
We finally came to a big almost square shaped rock formation known as La Caja del Rey, or the King’s Box.
According to legend, there was a king that hid treasure in this box.
Anyone who found it would be cursed, and the only way to remove the curse was to sacrifice a virgin princess by throwing her into the box at midnight.
After stopping here for some photos and the story of the legend, we headed down on the final leg of the hike, eventually recounting our steps along the tiny brook and down the rocky path to the trailhead.
All in all, the hike took about 8 hours, including jeep ride to and from Monguí.
I imagine if you walked between town and the trail head both ways, it’d be more like 10 hours.
Despite a few parts where we were out of breath, we really enjoyed this hike, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys nature hikes and being in the mountains or anyone who just wants to see the frailejones up close.
Some Tips on What to Bring
You will definitely want a good pair of hiking boots or shoes.
There were a few sections that were a bit wet and muddy, so something waterproof would be helpful, as cold feet would be no fun in this environment.
Speaking of cold, while there were a few stretches of the hike where the sun shine was a bit warm, generally it was pretty chilly at this altitude, and the wind was particularly biting the higher we got. So you’ll want a good jacket, preferably something that breaks the wind like a down or puffer jacket.
A good hat, beanie, or hood also helps.
And for those sections where the sunshine is bright, it’s probably not the worse idea to have along some sunscreen.
You will definitely want plenty of water too, and some snacks like peanuts, chocolate, or protein bars are always helpful for a quick pick me up on longer hikes.
If you know you struggle with altitude sickness bringing along some coca leaves or other remedy for that isn’t a bad idea either.
Getting to Monguí
You will have to get to Monguí to head to the Páramo de Ocetá.
We took the bus from Sogamoso where we were staying (and thought made a great home base for exploring the surrounding area). It ran every 20 minutes or so from the terminal, cost $5,000 pesos, and took about 45 minutes to get to Monguí.
I would also think it would be possible to bus here from Duitama, Paipa, or maybe even Tunja as a day trip. I’m not 100% sure if there are direct buses to Monguí from those places, but you could certainly route through Sogamoso.
Villa de Leyva might be pushing the distance you can reasonably do in a day trip, but you could also look into what times buses start to make sure you get into Monguí early enough to catch a group headed out.
And, by the way, Monguí is totally worth checking out on its own too. You could opt to spend a night or two here, or if you’re staying in Sogamoso or one of the other nearby towns just come back for a half to full day.
It’s a pretty little town, with some neat architecture and buildings. You can head up the stairs behind the plaza to the Puerta de la Otra Vida (literally the door to another life!), cross the quaint bridge known as the Puente Elicanto, and head up to a mirador on the edge of town. We enjoyed the pizza and pasta at a little place just by the Puente that had a nice little garden seating area.
There are also a bunch of cottage industry soccer ball makers here, and many of them do little tours where they show you how they make them. We even got to make little mini ones. They sell some neat replica balls too.
Staying in Monguí
If you do decide to stay in Monguí, there aren’t a ton of hotels, but here are a few suggestions:
- Hotel Portón de Ocetá – Probably the best hotel in Monguí, located right in the heart of town.
- Glamping Hakuna Matata – Neat cabins with views just outside of town.
- De la Villa Pa Sumercé – A humble bed and breakfast spot that has good reviews and looks to be a good value.
- Portal de la Cascada – Another good value.
Staying in Sogamoso
As I said, we stayed in Sogamoso for 6 nights to explore the surrounding area.
In addition to the day hike in the Paramo Ocetá and a second half day exploring Monguí, we also spent a day at the Laguna de Tota, a half day going to Duitama, and a day in Paipa where we saw the nearby monument to an important battle at Pantana Vargas and visited some pools containing water from nearby natural hot springs.
Sogamoso was a decent big town or tiny city, and there were some reasonably priced restaurants in town. We especially liked JuanCa Punta de Anca and Pizza Nostra.
I definitely thought this was worth spending 4-6 days checking out the area and it was the perfect stop over on the way between Bogotá and Yopal to go on a safari in Los Llanos.
We stayed at Sueños Vividos, a family run guest room style hotel on the outskirts of town. The lady Olga was very nice and super accommodating. The room was nice and cozy, and buses could be taken to some of the nearby towns just a short walk away and taxis were only 5-6,000 from the main plaza in town where restaurants were to the hotel. It was also a terrific value.
Here are some other suggestions for places to stay in Sogamoso:
- Hotel H53 – Located right in the heart of town. Rooms look nice here.
- Finca San Pedro – A pretty property on the edge of town.
- Hotel Abadia – No frills hotel in the center of town that is a pretty good value.
Ready to hike the most beautiful páramo in the world?
There you have it, a complete guide to the Páramo de Ocetá, considered the most beautiful example of this unique ecosystem in the world. It really is a terrific hike, and the best place to see the frailejones in Colombia. Plus, there are several other neat things to see in the surrounding area that are off the beaten path.
I hope this guide helped you plan your own hike in the Ocetá Páramo, and, most importantly, I hope you have a great experience when you go!
Cheers and Happy Exploring!
Did you like this post?
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Guide to Tayrona National Park
Guide to Punta Gallinas the Desert of La Guajira
Guide to the Lush Mountain Town of Minca
Guide to Lake Guatavita near Bogotá
Guide to Leticia in Colombia’s Amazon
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