We knew better than to show up early at the bus terminal on the day of without first checking if said bus were running. Because, you know, strike. The woman in the office assures us that the bus to Santuario Flora y Fauna Iguaque will be in service. Why, then, do we arrive early the next morning to a ghost town of a bus terminal? We stand perplexed and even more, disappointed, that the hike for which we’d carved an extra day in Villa de Leyva may not happen. The men behind us confirm what we suspect, and one offers to take us to and from Iguaque for a (ridiculous) fee that we should have, in hindsight, bargained down, but we do not think of it at the time. We’re just thankful for the ride (how easily one can trust a stranger). To our surprise, Fernando brushes off our half-payment and instead tells us not to worry – we can pay him later. If he cannot make it back to us in time, he says, he will send someone else.
A park attendant ushers us into the visitor center, where she explains the route and accepts our 42,000 COP (each) entrance fee (~$14.30). She walks no further than the door as she points us into the direction of the hike. It is approximately 8:00 AM. We’re on our own, now, and we will be this way for the entirety of the ascent. It doesn’t take too long for me to tire, and I can see my breath, though we quickly begin to shed our layers. Mud and slippery Earth make this otherwise moderate hike a bit more difficult. The real challenge, though, presents itself 1.5 hours from the start when a hill of rocks that might as well have been at a 90-degree incline (no, it shouldn’t have been, and thank goodness it wasn’t) stands between us and the sacred lake of the Muisca people.
We climb this thing for the next 30 minutes or so hoping not to fall off. It is the scariest part of the hike, and going down is one heartbeat away from a heart attack, one foot-slip away from death. But goodness, the views at the top are breath-taking, and we are the only ones in this vast landscape.
For a while we believe we are headed in the wrong direction and wonder where this lake could possibly be. Do we go straight up? Or to the diagonal right? Neither way seems to be the right way, but we continue to the right and finally spot a bright red trail mark. Thank. goodness. The lake eventually comes into sight and we are relieved and cold. It is 10:30 AM, and we have three hours until Fernando’s return. We spend a little over a half hour resting, refueling (ode to clif bars and bread), and admiring the shrubs before facing, yet again, the wall of rocks. Hello, pain.
A large group of little people and their chaperones pass us on the way down. They ask us how much time they have left, and an older man (not one of the chaperones) decides that he has reached his limit. He turns around (just 30-45 minutes from the lake!) and trails behind us until the end. We cross the finish line at 1:31 PM and minutes later, Fernando’s big, white truck pulls up the narrow path – the 3km path that we do not have to walk down. My wobbly knees rejoice. The older man rides with us to the entrance where he has parked his vehicle, and I don’t blame him. The walk seems rough, and not something one wishes to do after (or even before) a 5-hour hike.
More information about Santuario Flora y Fauna Iguaque, HERE.
The park lies about 30 minutes north of Villa de Leyva by transport, and the hike to Laguna Iguaque reaches an elevation of about 3,800 m. If going by bus, do catch the 7 AM bus to Arcabuco from Villa de Leyva and get off at Casa de Piedra. Expect a 3 km walk from the bus drop-off to the administrative center and start of the hike. Bring food, water, warm layers, and proper hiking shoes. Day visitors may enter between 8 AM – 10 AM, and due to visitor limits, a 24 hour reservation by e-mail is necessary prior to arrival. The last bus back to Villa de Leyva leaves around 4 PM.