Given my late arrival in Popayan i cut short on the sightseeing, mainly a few colonial buildings. In any case it was not the city i was here for, but the nearby national park with its 4,650m Puracé volcano (not 4,750m as often misquoted).
The journey to the park is pretty straightforward. For a day trip you need to grab an early bus from terminal (4.30am / 5am) and asked to be dropped off at Cruce de la Mina. Takes 1h15 or so (and busses hardly leave on time. I paid COP20,000.
Once there just head uphill to the park office at 3500m (takes 35min) where you can acquire a park permit (COP40,000 weekdays, COP50,000 weekends) and get a guide that is supposedly mandatory by now. There is also a cafe with food & drink.
Are you fit enough for this? The ascent is pretty rapid. Most like you arrive unacclimatised from Cali at 900m, stayed a night in Popayan (1,800m) and are about to climb to 4,650m. Invites headaches at the minimum and risks altitude sickness. Consider at staying the night before near the park office (tent or cabin).
I arrived too early for any ranger to be on site and went up by myself. Cost me a little extra walking as i went off trail pretty early on and ended up fighting my way through a jungle of trees back to the path. You should plan for 5h hike up, but keep in mind that weather is often wet in the park and the trail can be very muddy, as was the case for me.
The views of the park are breathtaking as is the vegetation. Happy cows & calves grase all the way up to 4,200m. The often foggy weather only adds mystery.
Half way through the hike and well past the tree line is a weather station (c4,050m) and some shelter in case of need. Weather can get reasonably nasty up there with strong winds, low temperature and snowfall.
From there its another 350m up until you reach the final ascent up to the crater. While walking up, smoke rising from the volcano reminds us you what you are hiking up. The crater is pretty large be it unspectacular if you are looking for red glowing lava. What was spectacular was two extremely loud bangs akin to the thunderstorm last night … just this time i was on 4,600m altitude. Well, it remain two bangs.
Anyway, I didn’t hang about too much. It was 1pm and the last bus from my drop-off leaves 4.30pm. Downhill was fun be it tricky. It had started to rain (well, snow further up) and made for a slippery trail. Very glad i brought both hiking poles.
Past the ranger station a indigenous man gave me a life on his moped. I told him i need to get to popayan and so he took me with him well past my drop off point. I figured there must be some grand plan behind it only to be dropped off somewhere on the road back home. I walked 2-3km until a cab driver offered a ride to Popayan (COP12,000). I gladly accepted. We picked up a woman & child on the way (they got away with COP5,000) and off we went.
Sadly he didn’t take me back to terminal nor my hostel, so i walked with the woman until i had some idea where i was. Mobile was dead. Took another 30min, but was no problem. Back home i was pretty exhausted. No going out for me. Time to sleep. Its been a long and beautiful day out.