After a morning visit to Zipa, we found a bus to the small hamlet of Briceño. We did this because we did not want to backtrack to Bogotá to go to Monguí, our next destination. As we were driving into Briceño, we snapped our heads to the side as we thought we caught a glimpse of the Taj Mahal. We looked at each other curiously, and Atlas Obscura revealed that there was indeed, a replica Taj Mahal, as the main feature for the children’s park, Parque Jaime Duque. Unfortunately, we did not have time to visit it, but we are positive that it is likely to be more fun than the salt cathedral in Zipaquirá.
Before we had even set foot in Colombia, we had decided that we wanted to do a high-altitude hike in the Colombian Andes. Our first choice, PNN El Cocuy, had fallen through since we found out that longstanding grievances between local indigenous communities and the tourists/the local government. As a result, that park was 95% restricted for us gringos. No fun. Our second choice was then PNN Los Nevados. Considering that firstly, peaks in this park reach over 5300m and secondly, our lungs were accustomed to just-above-sea-level Amazon altitudes, we decided that a proper warming-up was urgently needed. This was the main reason why we decided to make the ascent from Bogotá to the picturesque village of Monguí. In addition, Monguí is the entry point to Páramo de Oceta, which is considered to be among the most pristine paramos in the world (which is defined by Wikipedia as an alpine tundra ecosystem). An unknown jury has also lauded Monguí with the title of “most beautiful village in Boyacá.” This ultimately created not a bad image in our minds.
To reach Monguí, we jumped on one of the hourly buses that leaves from Bogotá towards Sogamoso in Briceño and from Sogamoso, we were helpfully guided to one of the minibuses that make the last leg to Monguí. Once there, we explored the streets hunting for a hotel. The first one that opened its doors for us, Hospedaje Villa de Monguí, turned out to be the one we would settle for. However, this was not before much huffing and puffing as we explored the (very) steep streets for a better deal. It turned out that all the signs for hospedajes we saw were clearly a seasonal thing. In low season all the doors were properly shut and the lights were off. Our hospedaje asked for COP 35,000 per person per night for a clean bed, a hot shower and an immensely cute balcony, which we determined as a great deal. All settled in, it was time for dinner. Strolling the streets around the town’s main square, we stumbled on the hottest restaurant (and only real sit-down) in town: Cabubara. This cute little restaurantnette served what must be the world’s best hamburger for under a dollar fifty. We would be back the next day.
When we told the otherwise amazing hotel owner, that we were planning to do the Páramo de Oceta hike, we were greeted with the one phrase we have heard one to many times in South America and which gives us recalcitrant tendencies: “you need a guide for that”. We didn’t like the idea of hiking with a guide when GPS co-ordinates were sufficient- after all, we enjoyed walking at our varied fast and slow paces, taking breaks whenever we saw fit, and were budget travellers. So under the cover of the sleepy early morning, we went off the next day off without a guide. To beat the afternoon rain, we left the hostel at the brutally early time of 5:30AM.
Long story short, you really don’t need a guide for this hike. There was a pretty well trodden network of trails that goes east and then steeply uphill, until you reach the highest point at 3800m (starting from 2900m). This route offers a view over Laguna Negra. For the one day hike, this hill top is the final point of the hike. From there we walked back via a different, but parallel and now downhill path than we had come from to Monguí. The Páramo de Oceta hike is famous for its thousands of frailejón trees. These out of proportion sunflower meets palm tree combinations are an interesting sight and apparently they get to be over 300 years old! We were also treated with some good views over the region, a few steep cliffs, beautiful valleys, and a sky full of rain. All in all, it was a great eight hour hike and a good warming-up for the next week.
The only hindrance we faced during the hike was a greedy piss stain of a dimwit farmer who went all out with barbed wire and white paint proclaiming private property of a large part of the Páramo de Oceta. These claims turned out to be far from accepted by local authorities. We were generous with him and accepted that we had to backtrack a bit the first time we came across his barbed wire and propiedad privada graffiti. However, when we came across the same message on the alternative path to the end of the trek, we decided that we did not understand a single word of Spanish and that claiming private property on such a beautiful and famous piece of nature was absolutely disdainful, and a decision that the many communist groups in Colombia would certainly disagree with. We just walked past it, and we survived it. Find the GPS coordinates of our trek here.
We went back to Cabubara, enjoyed the cold night from under our thick blanket, and left towards Manizales the next morning.