I'd like to start this off by letting you know (if you didn't already) that I love being out in nature, especially for a hike since Florida is hella flat. I'd also like to add that Florida is basically at sea level. I've said this before, but I don't tend to do great research ahead of traveling somewhere new.
When I got to Bogota I realized that this place was at a much higher altitude than I expected because the temperature was cooler and I found myself taking longer, deeper breaths. It turns out that Bogota is 8,675 feet above sea level... Good to know before you arrive! OK, I got that out the way.
When I travel to a new destination, I usually look for three types of experiences.
Culture & History: this usually consists of a tour of some historic places.
Food & Beverage: sometimes I book formal tours that take you around but this also consists of personal research looking for places to enjoy on my own.
Nature-Focused: getting out of the city center and exploring the natural beauty of the region.
The "cloud forest", formally known as Parque Natural Chicaque, was one of my nature experiences in Bogota.
I met my guide at a rendevous point near Aeropuerto Internacional El Dorado which was about a 20-minute drive from where I was staying; a couple also met up with us there. We drove off in the guide's small car (fortunately I got the front seat) for about an hour.
As we got closer to the park the roads we no longer paved and the scenery quickly turned into family farms. Along the way, we encountered a small herd of cattle being shepherd by a couple of dogs.
We reached the park around 8 A.M., which is when the facilities should have been opening, but no one was there... Our guide stalled a bit and we warmed up with a good stretch (I'm sure glad we did this!). Someone lazily showed up around 20 minutes later and our guide paid for our admission into the park. We were off!
The trail started off with a nicely maintained path surrounded by a mix of purposely placed flowering plants and palms, and the wild brush just beyond. The path led to a gorgeous overlook that I can imagine some visit the park just for this view. From here you could see small farms below and a majestic mountain in the distance with clouds crashing onto its steep face. This was a wonderful preview for the sights ahead!
The path quickly changed from brick, to rough stone, to just clearings where people walk most regularly. While the paths were not always easily spotted, there were signs along the way telling you when you probably shouldn't go somewhere and where there are specific points of interest. You could tell by the vegetation that the forest is continually wet, reminiscent of a rain forest, however, the altitude change along the hike showed a variety of plant life.
We made our way to the first part of the hike that really required some effort. The air was already quite thin for my sea-level lungs but to get to the lookout we were headed to next required a bit of vertical climbing.
To get to the lookout we had to climb up a few rock walls and some narrow passageways. The landscape reminded me of the movie Up! when they were on top of the plateau. Once we reached Pico del Aguila we could really see why this place was known as the "cloud forest".
The remainder of the hike was mostly downhill so I knew what was in store for the return. We stopped at a historic point that used to be a settlement of natives from long ago. Afterward we enjoyed a wonderful lunch at a remote lodge (I chose fried plantains with shredded chicken) as well as some warm coffee and an arepa; it was cold and rainy at this point.
After this welcomed break and meal we began our ascent back to the entrance of the park. This turned out to be way more challenging physically than anything I have ever done because of the thin air. Our guide gave us plenty of resting points along the way but being out of shape and living at near sea level really made this more difficult.
The journey back wasn't as enjoyable as the way down and I just thought I would never make it. We were received with a treat as we ascended as more clouds rolled in, which really transformed the forest into the cloudy place that gives it its name.
If you have an opportunity to go to Bogota, definitely make it a point to come to the place that is off the beaten path. It was interesting to discover that many of the residents of the city don't even know about the place! Definitely come with a guide, definitely spend a few days in Bogota acclimating to the altitude difference before doing the hike, and definitely bring a poncho because it will most likely rain.
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