We had been toying with the idea of hiking with a groups since I arrived in Colombia. Organised tours, on the whole tend to be expensive here and can be a little hard to find. So we have tended to hike solo, which is something I would always recommend, but sometimes its not possible and sometimes its good to enjoy the company of others. It’s impossible to hike in Chingaza, which is on our wish list, without a guide when you don’t have our own transport. Angela found out about a hiking group, which is exclusively on WhatsApp. Their next hike was to Chichilla El Tablazo costing $5000 and the price of transport.
This hike wasn’t on my radar but it involved hiking from a ridge of 3500 metres down to 1800 metres over a distance of 14km. I really like these kinds of hikes as you pass through so many different landscapes and the vegetation changes rapidly which makes things more interesting. We had also done our fair share of uphill hikes recently and I wanted to try something differently. There is one tricky descent towards the beginning of the hike but if you are experienced then you should be fine. Scroll to the bottom for the details of the hike and information about the equipment to take – I can’t really stress this enough and its not something I’ve really covered so far but after seeing the people on this hike I’m going to expand the information I provide.
It turned out that the group was largely a group of friends who go hiking regularly and the guide organises the trips for fun. Which is nice as he could easily charge $80,000 or more per person just for the hike. Its nice that there are some people who enjoy doing things for the love. If you are interested contact Felipe on +57 311 882 6358 and he can add you to the group.
Angela had instructions to turn up at Portal de la 80, so named because it is located on calle 80 on the western edge of Bogotá, for 7am, but we were told that we had until 7:30am to arrive. Being British I was there at 7am and after taking an Uber direct to the station – I had given up with the pre-hike Transmileno rides. It often takes us longer than an hour to get to each main portal for leaving the city. Ubers tend to be pretty cheap before 7am on a Sunday morning and the ease far outweighs the cost. Besides I loath the Transmileno.
When we arrived at Portal 80 and approached a couple of groups, all we had was our guides name Felipe, and Felipe was currently nowhere to be found. So we waited around tentatively until another woman approached us also looking for Felipe, I guess our clothes gave us away, and together we saw a slowly expanding group of people where at least some of them looked ready to hike. I worried about those who were dangerously under equipped for the hike, and you can ready about my day hike equipment list which details what I would advise you to take, especially when you are in places like The Andes, as these mountains are no joke, and you will find out the perils of not being equipped later. So people showed up wearing various forms of shoes, from trainers to hiking boots, jeans, shell suits, jackets to leggings and waterproofs to puffer jackets. We waited until 7:30 am and the group ended up being pretty large, at 23.
The first destination was Subachoque, $5400. Take the bus from the calle 80 outside the terminal – you will see the busses stop and the ticket collects will get out to get you on. Somehow we were all able to fit on board and most managed to grab seats. A few of the group were left to stand and the guy, who unsurprisingly would be come my least favourite person of the day, played reggaeton on his phone and sat on my feet. It took us just over an hour to arrive at the town and we were told we had 30 minutes to grab some breakfast.
There were a lot of cyclists on this route all the way form Bogotá and I think this town is one place they stop to eat food and take a break. There are several food stalls around the main plaza, so if you haven’t brought any food this is likely to be the last place you will be able to get something (on our hike there were people selling snacks form the back of their car up on the mountain but this is not guaranteed). We always bring lunch and breakfast, just in case, and normally eat more on the road.
After our 30 minutes were up we headed to the main church, Iglisia de Subchoque, on the north-eastern side of the plaza and then headed up Via El Plantano to the top of the cliffs. There is a bus stop marked around the corner on maps.me but the bus doesn’t seem to pass that stop. If in doubt ask the locals and you want to look for the bus which says Laguna de Arce, and do ask people where to find the bus – I didn’t actually get a change to look at the front but that is the last stop. Its due to leave at around 9am and there seems to be a regular service.
From the dropoff by the laguna it was a 2km walk to the top. Make sure you walk on the right of the road as there are cyclists coming down the gravel road really fast. One person in our group nearly managed to come close to causing an accident but luckily the rider had good breaks and reactions. The hike started off easy but the altitude did kick in pretty quickly. Angela started to feel a little sick and said I looked pale. There was no blue sky in sight and we were at times walking amongst the clouds. I knew I was definitely back hiking with Angela and she had brought the clouds with her that day.
After around 40 minutes you will see the radar towers, on this day they were covered in clouds but Felipe had told us that last time he was here the sky had been clear. I can only imagine the view which I could glimpse through the clouds. The reason the towers are here is due to the number of plane that have crashed into the mountains. On clear days you can spot some of the wreckage but there was nothing to see today.
Just ahead of the towers take a right and walk along the top of the cliff edge. Here the you can get spectacular views over the edge of the cliff. Just don’t stroll to close unless you want to join the planes.
And you get an idea of the views through the clouds. We stayed around on the top for around 40 minutes, enough time for the clouds to clear a little for photographs.
And here you can see some of the clouds clearing a little. Its actually fascinating to see the clouds moving so quickly across the landscape, revealing the world through small holes in the cloud and quickly covering them up again.
There were a few birds flying around and you can see the different sheets of clouds, blowing around in the wind.
Felipe told us it was time to move on and as it would tun out the hikers of the group left with him. Some of the groups members were much slower and it took them a while to catch-up so I took advantage and took more photos and when they had finally caught up with us we moved on. There was also a couple of women selling food, coffee and water from the back of their car. If they are here and you don’t have enough food or water make sure that you stock up! There is no where to buy anything for the next 14 kilometres until you reach Supatá .
We walked past the towers and then followed the trail further along the top of the ridge, around the fences of radar complex and a very aggressive dog, luckily inside the fence, kept barking and I’m sure just wanted to say hello.
Initially the trail led across the grasses following the ridge. The trail was really wet and muddy and it was easy to slip. I was immediately happy about my waterproof boots and not having to skirt around puddles unlike my trainer wearing friends. If I could have vocalised this in Spanish I would have annoyed everyone.
If you are hiking solo then make sure you have maps me and follow the path down from the mirador. We took a detour from the path, which I will come to later, but don’t. Stay on it. When you leave the forest make sure you follow the main road – Maps.e offers lots of shortcuts but I didn’t actually see them so you will end up walking across farmers fields. Instead stick to the main road and follow that. One key area you need to watch out for is a farm with a house. I think its the first farm you will come to, and there will be photos later on. There were several dogs and there is a T junction. Take the right path, its longer but it will take you to your destination.
The path led into the bushes and although we were near to the front it was hard to see why everyone was moving so slowly. When I did reach the front of the line I could see that the path dropped vertically by 4-5 meters and it was necessary to climb down the wet slippery mud.
This is where my “friend” decided to step up. It was my turn to go down when the guy in the shell suit pushed past. I didn’t understand the rudeness but Angela told me to let him go and later she told me he said “let me go first I need to help”. He was wearing white trainers with zero grip and I started my descent just in time to see him tumble down the last few metres, which was pretty scary. It looked like a bad fall, and I hasted to get to the bottom without pancaking and thus falling myself. Another guy wanted to go first so I let him and he quickly reached the bottom and started dealing with the situation. When I arrived I realised he was lucky to have stopped on the path and not tumbled further down the mountain.
As you can see in the photo below it was a steep climb, essentially it involved climbing down clinging on to branches and roots. One wrong move and you could face the same fate as my friend who was still lying on the path. But if you go slowly and carefully and have decent boots you should be fairly safe. He was okay but had hurt his foot but didn’t have any broken bones or a concussion.
At this point the some in the group who felt more confident with climbing formed a human chain to help everyone else down safety. It was slow going and took a long time to get everyone down, including the two dogs, but it was worth it.
What I didn’t know is that our friend who fell down had hurt his foot quite badly and was refusing to go back. He insisted that he could continue but in front of us was about 14 kilometres of trekking and less then a kilometre and a climb were people with cars who could have taken him to safety.
Straight away after this point was another slightly tricky climb. It wasn’t anywhere near as high but there is a rock you have to cross and to the left is a steep drop down the mountain. There is a bit of a tricky climb down and if you do see some wood to step on then just be careful as it wasn’t as study as it had appeared.
After this the next one hundred metres or so is fairly steep down into the forest it levels out and the path treks through the forest. But for the next few kilometres you will be heading down through the trees.
Very soon you will appear in a clearing which after the hardest part of the hike completed you can relax here for a time. We stopped to regroup and you could see the clouds moving around here as they did above. Its a nice place to relax for a time but don’t stop for too long as there is a long way to go yet.
Once we had regrouped we headed back into the forest and everything is down for the next few hours. Just continue to follow the path on maps.me. We made slow progress for a time and I wondered why we kept stopping. Everyone spoke Spanish and I realised how bad my listening skills were, although a girl said she thought she could speak English but didn’t understand a word that I spoke to Angela, it seems that still can’t listen into conversations. The longer we kept walking the longer we were waiting and eventually I realised it was the guy with the hurt foot. Most people didn’t realise the distance we still has to travel as especially when you are on a forest trail you go so much slower and the scenery changes so quickly you don’t realise that the distance is much shorter. The views however were spectacular and it was beautiful to walk through the forest in the mist.
We hadn’t gone stupidly far and were already far behind schedule when all the hungry people stopped for lunch. It was already about 12pm by this stage and I was left wondering where all the time had gone. I couldn’t believe it when I found out that some people hadn’t brought food with them. I don’t know what they were thinking but I suppose they thought there would be somewhere to stop. Obviously people have not been out in the mountains before.
After lunch we continued down and progress was even slower. The guy was obviously in a lot of pain but for each 20 minutes that we walked we had to then wait a further 30 minutes for the last of the group to catch-up. I calculated by the time we exited the forest we had lost over 2 hours just waiting. But it was fascinating to see the foliage change. This is one reason I like hiking in mountains over other terrain, especially when you deal in large changes in altitude, as everything changes so quickly.
And here is one of our little doggy friends. Still happy at this stage.
Soon we started seeing the end of the forest and the beginning of the Savannah but there was still a long way to go down. Also looking at my map I could see that we had left the trail. Don’t do this as the main trail down is better. Felipe didn’t tell us until late but he took this decision as our friend with the bad foot was walking so slowly at this stage we were waiting nearly half an hour for him to catch-up each time. So Felipe took the decision to take the most direct route down with the hope that we would find some help. We didn’t and I think the main path down is more direct but if you have a guide you need to trust them.
When we left the forest the sky had turned blue, well mostly blue. We took the direct path down to those buildings, climbing over a couple of fences and walking through fields. I was beginning to worry as the guy with the foot was in a lot of pain. I suggested to Angela that we should give him some pain killers but I was also annoyed to learn that he didn’t turn back when he should have.
We were then in the grasslands and still had a long way in altitude to go down. It was now around 3pm and our last bus from the town of Supatá left at 5pm and I knew we had at least 7km to go. It turned out it was further.
As we walked I was finally able to see the mountain and for a time the sky cleared giving us some beautiful views and allowing us to see all of the mountains around. I took a lot of photos.
We waited by a dairy farm for him to catch-up, everyone sat around and then started taking group photos. When we had regrouped we waled with speed up the road to the nearest farm to ask for help.
Some of the group powered ahead, including Felipe, who no doubt was aware of the time. It was at this point that we rejoined the main path Luckily the farmers returned and they informed us that they could take him to the nearest town on a moto.
Again we had to wait at the farm for everything to arrive and as soon as we were all sure everyone was accounted for we were told to follow the road to the town. It was 4:10 pm and according to the map it was 6.5 km which is over an hours walk. Although it was more like 8 km by the end. We all walked off at speed to the town. It felt a little like every-man for himself but actually Felipe rushed ahead to try and make sure we would get transport. There was no way that we were going to catch the 5pm bus so it was a case of hoping we could arrange something when we got there.
The final part of the journey was long and challenging. We had also run out of water by this point and I wished that I had brought my water filer with us. It wasn’t helped by the fact that we had to rush half of the hike in a few hours when we were tired. Then is started to rain and I was thankful for the waterproof coat and trouser we had brought – Angelas was a new addition. For a time it felt like we were in a cloud but then we came out below it. It was all downhill which made it easier and along the road made it faster. There were a lot of large puddles crossing the entire road and a couple of streams to traverse. I really did not envy anyone is trainers who must have had huge blisters by this stage of the hike.
The road was largely stones which makes it more challenging to walk but we kept up a fast pace. Soon the faster members were out of sight and had raced ahead on the road as it twisted downwards around fields and mountains. Occasionally there were switchbacks and I was more concerned about the half of the group that ended up behind us. Although later on I realised some of the better walkers had stayed behind to support the slower.
I knew that we would not reach the town before dark and was worried about ht eight – we only had our phones as I hadn’t anticipated needing a torch. This might be something that I pack in future as there have been a couple of times where I’ve worried about the night drawing in.
There wasn’t much in the way of houses or shops or passing traffic. About a third of the way into the journey the guy with the foot passed us on a motorbike waving and smiling to everyone. I resisted the urge to punch him realising that we were all in this situation because of his stupidity and on we marched. Eventually I realised that the road we were on took us along the longest path on Maps.me. As I said above there are shorter paths but I didn’t see any obvious ones while walking. Then again we just wanted to get to the end of the road as we were pretty much alone by this point.
With about 1.5km to go it turned dark enough to require the torch so I used my phone as a light, and then a lot of motorbikes appeared leaving town. The closer we got the more houses appeared and then I realised we needed to take a left turn to get into the town. If you stay on the road it will take you out again.
There was no one waiting for us and we caught up with a few others at this stage, so as a group we headed for the Plaza and found Felipe and the rest of the group. It was just after 6pm. If you do arrive before the last bus for Bogotá has left then you catch it from here. I’m not quite sure where but ask around.
I went to get some water and crisps and while I did some transport had been arranged. it was for half the group and Angela volunteered to wait for the others. It turned out that our friend was asked to arrange transport for everyone when he arrived but instead he turned off his phone leaving Felipe in the dark. A nice way to pay everyone back.
The second half of the group arrived around 20 minutes later and we were soon in the back of a pickup transport to the main road. This was as far as it was going to take us. I jumped in the back and we spent an hour in the dark heading to the main road to Bogotá. Very soon a bus passed and we were on it taking us a further hour to get to Portal 80. It went further but at this stage we jumped out and took and Uber back to the house. It was around 9:30pm at this stage and I didn’t want to mess around on the Transmileno.
It was a fun hike and I would really recommend it if you are in Bogotá for sometime. Just if we had fined around 2 hours before we did ti would have been a more fun and relaxing experience.
How to Hike Cuchilla El Tablazo Solo
Arrival: You need to get two busses from Bogotá to the beginning of the trail, assuming that you are going downhill. You can hike the other way around which I would recommend considering but remember that you will be adding on 9km to the hike and the vast majority will be uphill.
Go to Portal 80 on Calle 80, you can take the Transmileno here. Once at the portal take a bus to Subachoque $5400, a small town, you can take the bus from the main road. From here you need to get to Laguna del Arce $5000. Its a 9km walk or you can take a bus from the plaza. There is one that leaves close to 9am and I believe that there is a regular service. I would not aim to leave any later than 9am as its a long hike.
When you are dropped off by the laguna take the road to the left, uphill, until you reach the radio towers at the top. From here you can get an amazing view from the top towards the right of the towers. Walk past the last fenced off complex, which is basically walking along a path which takes you parallel, to the road you have just walked along. When you are finished head back to the car park at the top. Follow the road to the end and then walk around the remaining complex. At this point you should be on the trail that leads to Supatá. From here allow 6 hours to reach the town.
Departure: At Supatá head to the main Palza, its not on the map but you can’t miss it as you can see the church. From here you will be able to take a bus direct to Bogotá $10000 and will take at least 2 hours.
In total the busses will cost you around $20000 per person. There are no entry fees on the trail.
If you have read this you will know that you need to take the correct equipment on a hike. What you should take varies on the terrain that you are hiking in but I will list what I would bring on a hike around Bogotá.
- Gortex hiking boots, if you don’t bring anything else make sure you wear decent shoes. Boots are better as they offer ankle protection.
- Waterproof jacket
- Waterproof trousers (you could live without these on most day hikes but once you have them you won’t want to hike without them)
- Dry bag or packback cover (I take both)
- Cell phone
- Cell phone battery
- Charger cable
- Sun Cream
- Blister plasters (better if you have a small first aid kit)
- Hand soap
- Water filer
- Sun hat
Again make sure you take decent clothes. I might go a little over the top as I brought all my equipment for Patagonia but you can’t go wrong with the following. I don’t always bring all the layers listed below but the layers will keep you warm.
- Base layer
- Down Jacket
- Hiking trousers
- Hiking underwear (trust me it stops the chafing)
- Hiking socks
- Food (make sure you bring high calorie and this is also your change to binge on sugar – you are going to burn in)
- Water 2 litres minimum