The Colombian Ecohabs: A hidden paradise

Imagine a remote paradise where the ocean meets a tropical wildlife teeming rainforest and you have Tayrona National Natural Park, a lesser known side of Colombia. Within this naturally stunning setting sit a group of luxurious eco-cabins known as Ecohabs. Sweeping beaches, vibrant butterflies and views to take your breath away are commonplace here. Spending a night here is a big highlight on our brand new trip, Colombia's Coast and Craters.

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Coca Tea and Glacier trekking in Colombia

Think Colombia and popular imagination suggests steamy jungles, golden beaches, heady nightlife and cobbled colonial strongholds. All that exists, but Colombia also contains the northernmost climes of the High Andes – there are icy peaks, glaciers and snowfields too. A steep 4WD ascent from Manizales – with plenty of acclimatisation stops accompanied by coca tea – will get you amongst some of the most striking scenery in all the Andes.

The grand, lunar-like landscape is covered by the Los Nevados National Park and straddles a section of the Central Cordillera Mountain Range. There are five main peaks and our journey ventures to the highest and most renowned – Nevado El Ruiz (5325m). Rug up on the way there though, your equatorial T-shirt-and-shorts combo won’t cut it even half way up.

We wind through lesser snow-covered volcanic peaks and rustic villages on the way to Olleta Crater, stopping to pop ears, stretch and ward off the onset of altitude sickness. Like the locals, you can drink coca tea to overcome or prevent the symptoms and get you geared up for some walking. We stop plenty of times to make sure your body adjusts to the altitude.

At Olleta, there’s time to slowly descend into the crater or amble to the top of a hill with magnificent views of snowy Ruiz. For those who would like to walk on the ice, jump back into the 4WD and continue on to ‘El Refugio’ shelter, and make the rest of the spectacular two hour journey to Glacier del Ruiz on foot (5125m).

Here is an exhilarating experience of one of the earth’s great processes in a breathtaking landscape – the perfect way to earn a dip in the hot springs after a comfortable lodge stay at El Cisne, 1000 metres below.


LosNevados National Park

The place for equatorial trekking, the park covers 58,300 hectares of the Central Mountain Range in the Colombian Andes. The 5325 metre high peak of Nevado del Ruiz dominates the park, though it is home to seven other, often glacier-topped, volcanoes: Nevado del Tolima, Santa Isabel, Nevado del Quindío, Páramo de Santa Rosa, Cerro Bravo, Cerro Machín and Nevado El Cisne.

The park is home to a huge diversity of flora: 1250 species of vascular plants, 200 bryophytes, 300 lichens and 180 macroscopic fungi. The lower climes are dominated by Andean wax palms, though these have long petered out by the time the snowline is reached. Mountain tapir, cougar and spectacled bear live here too, as well as a resplendent array of birdlife, including hummingbirds, parrots and the Andean Condor.

Los Nevados was historically populated by two main groups – the Quimbayas in the west, known for their elaborate gold work, and the Pijaos, Panches and Putímaes in the East. The Pijao were known to use wooden slats to modify baby skull shapes, encouraging a look of strength and ferocity. They were once accused by a Spanish captain of cannibalizing thousands of Spaniards over a 50 year period. It’s likely the Spanish killed many more Pijao.

 

Coca tea

Mate de coca is a herbal tea made by dunking the raw or dried leaves of the coca plant Erythroxylum coca in hot water. The tea is drunk all over the Andes, from Colombia to Chile but particularly in Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru. The leaves contain several stimulant alkaloids, including cocaine. The tea has been used for centuries to overcome fatigue and altitude sickness, and as a general drink. Coca leaves are the source for cocaine’s chemical production, though the amount contained in the leaves is small, around 0.4%. Owing to the presence of the alkaloids, the tea, of course, provides a stimulant effect, one similar to coffee. There are four main varieties of the coca plant Erythroxylum coca. All are native to South America.

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