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Puracé volcano from Cruce de la Mina, Puracé Natural Park, Popayán

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South of Cali and close to the white city of Popayán, the ascent of the Puracé volcano is a classic for discovering the fantastic scenery of Colombia's central cordillera. At an altitude of over 4600m, access to the enormous crater is technically uncomplicated, but demanding from an altitude point of view: above 4000m, the effort becomes noticeable and altitude sickness can occur, especially when coming from Cali. The scenery is magnificent, if you hope to benefit from clear weather, which doesn't seem to happen very often. There are superb views of the green foothills and, in the distance, the Cordillera Occidental and, if we're lucky, the Nevado del Huila, which rises to over 5300m. On the way back, following the trail, we pass the sulphur mine, abandoned a few years ago, for a visit worthy of a Blueberry album. The proposed loop is very long and physical. Alternatively, you can be transported directly to the military base and climb only the last 600 m to the volcano.

Vue depuis le cratère du Puracé

Technical summary

■ S tarting point: Pilimbala, Puracé Natural Park, Cauca, Colombia
Type of route: out-and-back high-mountain hike
Distance: 20.5 km
Cumulative elevation gain: +1370 m
Cumulative negative altitude gain: -1370 m
Estimated total time: 8h to 9h
■ Min and max altitude: 3280 m / 4650 m
■ S ignposting: no, but a few signs from time to time, combination of trails and paths
Equipment in place: none
Equipment to bring: useful GPS track, warm clothing and sun protection (unstable weather)

Difficulties: no technical difficulties, a little orientation on the way up before joining the track under the military base, and above all the very high altitude which costs and slows progress. At least one day of acclimatization at 3000m is recommended to avoid altitude sickness.

Access to the place

Not easy if you want to organize it on your own. From Popayán, take a cab to the park entrance just above the village of Puracé (at least 1 hour's drive with long stretches of track, 50,000 pesos). From there, take a motorcycle up to Cruce de la Mina (8,000 pesos) if you want to start from the very bottom. Alternatively, get dropped off at Puente Tierra to gain a little, or at the military base to avoid half the climb. Ask at the park entrance; the tourism managers are very friendly and always find solutions. Officially, however, you need a guide to make the climb.

It's probably best to come the day before and sleep in a small hospedaje at the Cruce de la Mina, as you'll need to leave very early (5 a.m.) to hope for clear skies. Better still, arrive the day before to acclimatize for a day at 3200m before climbing to avoid altitude sickness.

Don't forget to organize the return trip before you leave, as there is little road network along the way. So you'll need motorcycles to get back down and a cab to get back to Popayán.

Itinerary description


1st part: from Cruce de la Mina to the military base (3h to 4h)

From the Cruce de la Mina, the idea is to reach the higher Puente Tierra where the trail to the volcano begins. We tried to take the trail marked on the map, which is supposed to cut directly to Puente Tierra (short cut on the map). Although there's a path at the start of the bend, it's more complicated higher up and we had to jump fences and improvise. It's shorter in distance, but not necessarily faster than the trail.

Pass through Puente Tierra (a small tourist center that was closed when we passed through) and find the path that climbs up the large grassy slopes and across the fields. We pass several fences with small barriers or wooden ladders. Higher up, we pass a large hump and then descend again, crossing flat ground. The volcano is in sight. On the other side, climb up to the right of a rocky jag to cross a path coming up from the right (photo Pilimbala). Climb to the left to reach a ridge overlooking the track below on the west side. Follow the ridge along a fence and further on, follow the path that avoids the next mound by crossing to the right (volcano sign). You finally reach the trail at the level of 2 small high-altitude ponds. We're almost at 4000m. All that's left is to walk a few hairpin bends on the track to reach the military base at the foot of the volcano.
Part 2: from the military base to the crater of the Puracé volcano (1h30 to 3h)

The trail climbs straight up to the crater from the base. It climbs steadily, passing several mineral bumps and reaching the first summit, Paramo Pequeño. Then comes the final ascent to the crater, a huge hole at our feet. The 360° view is splendid. Climbing time can vary greatly depending on individual fitness and weather conditions.
3rd part: from the crater to the sulphur mines and back to Cruce de la Mina (2h30 to 3h30)

From the crater, descend to the military base and then a little further down, at the junction with the trail and 2 small high-altitude ponds. From here, continue on the trail. It's long and winding, but you can pick up a good pace. Further down, the track runs alongside the old sulphur mine and you can visit the abandoned installations in a rather strange atmosphere. There's still some way to go to get back to Cruce de la Mina.

Map & topo

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