Situated in Bogota’s largest and mainly rural locality and less than three hours driving south from the city centre, you’ll reach a landscape hardly found anywhere else on the globe. Sumapaz national park is home to one of the world’s few Paramo climates, that only exist in Colombia, Ecuador and to a lesser extent Peru, Venezuela and Costa Rica. The Paramo of Sumapaz is the biggest, and according to our guide Juan-Carlos, also the most beautiful one.
As we leave the city behind in Usme, the road starts curling itself around the mountains, soon changing the urban sprawl for tree spiked slopes and green meadows dotted with grazing cows. As the bus climbs higher and the temperature drops, the asphalt makes way for a bumpy dirt road. Due to the harsh climate, farming is risky business at these altitudes, as chances are likely that the night frost will destroy the crops.
Gradually, potatoes and carrots make room for typical Paramo vegetation such as the Frailejon, a tough family of desert-like plants that can reach an age of well over one hundred years. Only plants that can adapt themselves to the cold, windy weather and survive the acid soil here. Bad news for the trees, but their inability to root in the higher Paramo provides us with astonishing views on the surrounding mountains, that reach more than 4,000 metres up into the sky.
Besides being a natural park, the Sumapaz Paramo constitutes a very important part of Bogota’s water reserves. A thick layer of humus functions as a sponge that slowly releases its moisture to lower lying slopes. Unfortunately agriculture has already wiped out much of the lower lying Paramo, thereby posing a direct threat to the water supply of millions of people. Farming has also affected the habitats of the eagle, spectacled bear and puma, among others.
High up the area still seems unspoiled. Fields of flowering Frailejones stretch as far as the eye can see, while black lagoons and jaw dropping abysses provide for the necessary variation. As rays of sunlight prick through the clouds and magically paint the landscape a bright yellow, we forget about the fierce wind that has been battering our faces all day.