Hiking the Quebrada la Vija in the Cerros Orientales, Bogotá

Set in the Cerros Orientales, the mountains to the east of Bogotá, the great thing about Quebrada La Vieja is that it is 4 hikes in one. The hikes are short, well maintained, not too challenging and at the end you get a stunning view of Bogotá as your reward. Best of all they are completly free! Anyone who has been to Bogotá will know that surrounding the valley are lush green Cerros Orientales mountains often topping 3000 metres. The best known is Monserrate with its Church and market, but increasingly the other cerros hills are opening up to hikers and walkers of all abilities. One is Mirador Aguadora, in Usaquen, and in November 2019 the Quebrada La Vieja reopened its doors to hikers.

The path was previously closed due to safety reasons and the number of hikers, over 2000 each day, causing damage. The government sensibly stepped in, have spend time re-cutting the paths, protecting the area and after ecological survey there is now limited access. You will need to make a reservation on the website and from there you can select a date and time to hike. The paths are open all year, except on Mondays for maintenance, or if a holiday falls on a Monday they will be closed on the Tuesday. It’s not a complex as it sounds.

If you enjoyed this hike read about the Mirador Aguador hike, which is a shirt walk to the cerros from the main plaza in Usaquen and can be combined with Camino del Indio. Or escape the city on a sunny afternoon and take the short walk up to Guadalupe.

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Information

  1. Our Experience
  2. How to book and hike Quebrada La Vieja
  3. Equipment to take

Our Experience

After the Laguna de Iguaque hike I was hungry for more, even though Christmas was close and we had two weeks to pack, move twice and one of those was to Argentina. I was pushing Angela to go again the week after Christmas but after we started packing I realised that the “afternoon” I thought it would take turned out to take three whole days. I had given up on the idea entirely, as obviously packing took preference, when suddenly in the new year Bogotá was hit by a freak weather condition of cloudless skies. After three solid days of blue skies Angela suggested we go out and take advantage, so we looked for hikes that we could take Lorenzo on. I had wanted to hike Las Moyas, but it turns out this is still closed, but I also had Quebrada La Vieja on my list which had recently opened.

After a little research I was confused as there are four different hikes that are possible and we were only going to have time to do one. I was torn between a Cerro with a view over Bogotá and Páramo. In the end we opted for a Cerro as it appeared that the páramo hike was harder and I wanted to see the city when there were blue skies. I reserved three spaces for the Alto de la Cruz hike. To book you need to go to the website and select a hike, then a date and a time. You will then be sent an email confirmation which is scanned at the entrance, you don’t have to print despite the instructions. If you miss your time then you will not be let in, so make sure you are on-time.

I booked us on a 7am slotas it felt a more realistic achievement over 6am. We later found out that if you want to see the Los Nevados then you need to start at 6am or event better 5amon a weekday. These clear days were the perfect time to view but sadly for us we couldn’t rush as it wouldn’t be fair on Lorenzo.

We jumped into an Uber and were soon as the starting location Avenida Circunvalar with Calle 71. There is a short road with a stream to the south and residential buildings to the north and there should be people ready to check your tickets as you arrive. Once inside we saw more stewards and police and started walking uphill. Before long we came to the final steward position. Here one of the stewards was doing a presentation while the others scanned the tickets and issued all the hikers with numbers. Make sure you don’t lose the sticker as they will want to take it back to know you have checked out and its probably easier if you don’t fold it away in your coats in a bag. Bogotá is generally pretty chilly at this time in the morning but soon after we were warm from walking and packing the additional clothes away.

The first part of the path, Claro de Luna which is also bookable in its own right, is where all of the hikers have to walk until the three trails split off. I did wonder why anyone would just want to walk the first part but on the way back we saw several families with toddlers so it might be something to consider if you are unsure and a great starter hike for anyone with young children.

After being checked in we started walking up the trail. Much of the land is located on the water companies property and this trail is also used for access. Lorenzo was tired and after a Christmas and New Year of random bedtimes he wasn’t best pleased to be up and about hiking at this time. Soon after I gave him some trail mix he perked up and step by step was more enthused about the hike as he discovered new sounds, smells and challenges.

After a few hundred metres you leave the road for a well maintained path, that crosses some small streams several times and starts climbing a little more steeply. There is nothing really challenging in this section other than is can be a little muddy and slippery on some of the rocks. It also gets quite busy as everyone has to hike this section of the path.

As you can see above Lorenzo was having great fun climbing over all the rocks and running ahead. This part of the trail lasts for around 1km and after this you will reach a small clearing with more police and stewards. They will once again check your tickets and will send you onward for your chosen hike, or back if you only selected to hike Claro de Luna.

We had a quick break before continuing and walked further into the forest along the path close to a stream which became a little waterlogged at times.

There are clear signs to make sure that you can’t get lost. Some of the paths have been closed, for good reason, and you can clearly see the tape that has been used. If you look on maps.me, and you may see a sign on the trail, but it is possible to hike to Monserrate from here. I would not advise as the paths were not only closed for preservation reasons but also they come close to some of the poorer neighbourhoods in Bogotá which puts you at risk of robbery. Hence the heavy police presence during these times. It’s completly safe but if you decided to wonder off piste then you might find yourselves in trouble in more than one way.

There was another much larger clearing and we found a farm as well as being able to look at all the animals. We also had our first look at Bogotá from above.

The path keeps climbing steadily through the forest. Nothing crazy but you will work lots of muscles with the constant up.

It was a really beautiful day and the sun shining through the trees made it a little magical. Soon the trees start to change and as you get closer to the top you end up walking through a pine forest.

Soon after you start to see the surrounding mountains.

And then you come out of the forests into the bushes for that last push. This part is the steepest and we were not helped by the strong sun and lack of cloud, oh the irony of all my complaining in previous blogs, is that the sun, even at this early time of around 8am, was really strong and made climbing to the top a little more thirsty work than it might otherwise have been.

Still the scenery was beautiful and once we arrived on the ridge line we were teased with these views. As you can see by this time the sun has warmed up Bogotá and a combination of either clouds in the distance or pollution has made it impossible to see the Los Nevados.

A shot of Angela climbing the final stretch.

Another view of the city just before the top.

The cross in the photos below marks the top of the cerro.

And then just over the ridge above is the Mirador, which I think provides a much better view of Bogota than Monserrate. At the top there were around 40 people and a couple of police officers recovering and enjoying the view. There was a trail that led straight on into one of the more dangerous neighbourhoods and you can see why the police presence is necessary. Honesty, if I lived in those conditions I would probably see it as fair game to take money and phones from richer hikers too. But we are not here to discuss politics, we just want to hike in safety. We overheard an interesting conversation where people were discussing that the hike starts in one of the richest neighbourhoods in the city and in just a few kilometres ends in one of the poorest. Something worth considering.

We rested at the top for a good 30 minutes as we were in no rush. It had taken us a little more over an hour to get here, but we stopped many times for photos, for Lorenzo to discover things and to play. It was a beautiful day and had been fun. We left as we were not sure how long the police would be staying, but were told the police made sure no one was left behind when they returned. Angela was joking with the officer about how fit he must be getting coming up here each day.

We returned via the same way and checked out, jumped in a taxi and were back in the house by 11am, at which point Angela’s brother and his family were still asleep. I smiled as I realised I had turned into one of those people. All in all I really enjoyed the hike and if I had more time in Bogotá I would take on the others. As I’ve said they are short and perfect for children of all ages. Also it doesn’t take long to get out of the city and onto the fresh air, which really is amazing. The paths are aimed at everyone and are free, they are not congested with sellers so they really are a perfect family outing.

How to book and hike Quebrada La Vieja

You will need to book tickets to all of the hikes at least 24 hours in advance and the space on each hike is limited for each time slot. Entrance is free for all but you will not be permitted to enter if you have not booked. Head to the booking website and using the Google Map select the hike you want. Then you will need to enter a date. Remember that the park is closed every Monday, or the Tuesday if the Monday is a holiday. Choose a time, 5 – 9am on weekdays and 6 – 10am at weekends, making sure there are enough spaces on the hike for everyone you are booking for and then you will need to enter the information for each person indivudally. They are all grouped together for the tickets which will be emailed and there is no need to print them as they will scan form your phone.

It is possible to see the Los Nevados from the miradors on the hikes, providing the day is clear, but you will need to be there early, ideally starting at 5am and make you way quickly to the top. If you do start this early it will be dark so bring a light.

There are several other bookable hikes listed on this map and at this stage I don’t have any information about the others. I will update this section if I can find more information but for now the four hikes that make up Quebrada La Vieja are:

  1. Claro de Luna (1.6km 1 hour) – Is a hike that you will need to complete if you are hiking any of the other hikes listed below but it is also bookable in its own right. Its pretty easy, the first third is along a service road and then it follows a well cut, clear path that has a gentle incline. I’d recommend this for small children and those who are not looking for too much of a challenge. This path can get a little busy as all hikers must walk along to reach the starting point of the longer hikes.
  2. Alto de la Cruz (3.2km 2.5 hours) – Is the longest hike and we were told that is was the hardest, although Páramo Piedra Ballena goes higher and is further away from the city. This is the hike that we attempted, see above. It begins in the forest and is uphill for the duration. The last part is the steepest and there are a few small challenges along the way, but nothing taxing. The forest changes to soft pine about halfway and the final stretch takes up out of the trees and up to the top of the cerro where you can get a panoramic view of Bogotá and the surrounding mountains.
  3. La Virgen (2.9km 2 hours) – Is a slightly shorter and lower trail than Alto de la Cruz, which ends at a different Cerro offering views of Bogotá and the surrounding mountains.
  4. Páramo Piedra Ballena (2.6km 3 hours) – Takes you to a páramo close to Bogotá but up to one of the much higher ridges overlooking the city. Instead of circling back you keep heading east up into the higher ridges. I imagine this path is much steeper than the others as it is higher and its advisable to bring warm clothing.

If you do hike either La Virgen or Páramo please do leave a comment as I would like to provide more information.

How to Arrive

You can begin the walk from Avenida Septima with Calle 72, but the checkpoint is at Avenida Circunvalar with Calle 71. We started form the check point taking an Uber to arrive, but you can also take a taxi or Transmileno busses.

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Equipment to take

There is no food or water available on the trial itself, but the hikes are so short you don’t need to plan for the day. I would not advice trying this without water. I’ve seen some comments that you should not take expensive equipment on this hike, even with the police presence, but I felt really safe and will never hike without my camera and phone for maps.me. Although the hike is sort and is done by trail runners and day walkers I always take the following on a hike:

  1. Gortex hiking boots
  2. Waterproof jacket
  3. Waterproof trousers
  4. Dry bag or backpack cover (I take both)
  5. Cell phone
  6. Cell phone battery
  7. Charger cable
  8. Sunglasses
  9. Sun Cream
  10. Painkillers
  11. Blister plasters (better if you have a small first aid kit)
  12. Hand soap
  13. Tissues
  14. Water filer
  15. Sun hat
  16. Food – you can never have too much and you will need it on this hike so pack appropriately.
  17. Water 1 litre minimum

Clothes

The hike is not high altitude and I found we brought too many layers getting warm quickly. Having said that is can always get cold in the eastern hills so its best to come prepared.

  1. Base layer
  2. Fleece
  3. Hiking trousers
  4. Hiking underwear
  5. Hiking socks

If you enjoyed this hike read about the Mirador Aguador hike, which is a shirt walk to the cerros from the main plaza in Usaquen and can be combined with Camino del Indio. Or escape the city on a sunny afternoon and take the short walk up to Guadalupe.

8 thoughts on “Hiking the Quebrada la Vija in the Cerros Orientales, Bogotá

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