After 4 days in Bogotà I was ready for a change. No traffic, no smog, no rain please? I took a 12pm bus to Sogamoso after reading about Lago de Tota in the LP guidebook. Halfway between San Gil and Bogotà in the Boyacà department, Sogamoso is your basic Colombian town minus the throngs of gringos. The four hour bus ride wasn’t the worst bus ride I’ve had in Latin America but the combination of a altitude-induced headache, lack of AC on the bus, and a overly chatty male neighbor definitely didn’t make it the best ride.
Boyacà was definitely the change of pace I was looking for, but unfortunately the rain followed me. Upon arriving at Finca San Pedro in Sogamoso, I got the first scare of my trip due to a psychotic Spaniard. The owner of the Finca invited me to the kitchen for tea which leaving the Spaniard alone, which apparently set him off. While I was waiting in the kitchen I hear two very heated male voices shouting at each other, and since it was all in Spanish I couldn’t understand much of what was being said. At that point I was deciding whether to hide, because I thought for a moment we were being robbed. The owner’s mother ran into the kitchen speaking fast Spanish and locking all of the doors, which didn’t make me feel any better. After ~3-4 minutes of shouting the confrontation ended and I learned that the Spaniard got angry when he wasn’t invited in, and then was asked to leave. I’m glad I didn’t have to share a room with that nutcase!
Of course the only other traveler staying there was a guy named William from San Francisco, I have a knack for meeting San Franciscans abroad. Having 6’4 William staying in the same dorm as I made me sleep much better at night, as I’m pretty sure he’d kick that lunatic’s ass. The next day I woke up bright and early at 9am (I’m on vacation time after all) to do the ~15km hike from the scenic town of Iza to Lago de Tota.
My guide Manuel met me at the bus station in Sogamosa and we headed to the beautiful little town of Iza. We walked to his house so he could grab food and water and were greeting by his sister with some sort of sweet drink. Not wanting to be rude I drank it, crossing my fingers that it wouldn’t come back to haunt me. In rural towns in Colombia Americans are treated like celebrities, and like the buy on the bus I was peppered with questions about my life.
After stocking up on fruit and water, we headed out into the blazing sun. Finally sun I said to Manuel in broken Spanish, but as we looked ahead the forecast didn’t look so bright.
After about an hour of huffing and puffing our way up to ~9,000 feet it began to storm. Thankfully we found a little house on the hill to sit down under and wait out the rain, which we realized 30 minutes later was a lost cause.
After the rain slowed a bit we set off and continued on for 3 more hours throughout the stunning country side. Because he spoke no English I was forced to only speak Spanish for the ~5 hours we hiked together, which was really good for my Spanish progression. I’m also pretty certain my guide thought I was half crazy because I kept taking pictures of everyday things for him like cows, sheep, and dogs along the way.
It was so muddy during a portion of the hike that I slipped and fell onto an electric fence. I’m not one of those people who thought zapping myself with a battery was fun as a kid, and this shock was no bueno. For hours I felt tingling in my left arm and was concerned when I still felt it hours later. Two advils and 8 hours of sleep later and I was good as new, at least I hope so.
After hiking in the rain another few hours we finally made it to Lago de Tota, which was breathtaking. Because Manuel and I were drenched and cold we didn’t hike over to the white sand beach Playa Blanca, and instead headed into Cuitiva for some warming Tinto con Canella.
This hike was DEFINITELY the highlight of my trip thus far, rain and all. Because I was hiking alone I had to pay the flat fee that usually a group would split, but at $28 for an all day it didn’t break the bank.
Other than the first incident, I really enjoyed the two nights I stayed at Finca San Pedro. Juan the owner is very friendly and if they aren’t too busy he will taxi you around and maybe take you Salsa dancing, although something tells me this applies to women only.
For travelers wanting to see beautiful Colonial towns in Colombia, I’d highly suggest skipping the pricier Villa de Leyva and Barichara and instead spending time in the Lago de Tota area at Iza, Mongui, and Cuitiva. The area is completely safe and lacks the touristy vibe of other towns in the area.
Because the “trail” sometimes requires walking through private property I would highly recommend taking a guide. If you don’t stay at Finca San Pedro and opt to stay elsewhere ask one of the locals for the guide Manuel who lives in Iza. Tell him Sarah the crazy gringa sent you :)