In the second installment of this two part series, we are going to explain the waterfall tour, and ecological tourism options in and around La Florida. Bird watching, orchid hunting, wildlife watching, hiking, camping and biking are a few of the activities which can be found in the national parks to which La Florida is the jumping off point. Come along and discover Los Frailes Waterfall Tour and Pereira Eco Tourism!
Los Frailes Waterfall Tour and Pereira Eco Tourism
Pereira lies at the foot of a large mountain system called Nevado del Ruiz, also a strata volcano. The national park/conservation areas we are talking about are only one “leg” of the central corridor of the Colombian Andes. The origin of the Rio Barbo and Rio Otun (which flows past Pereira) comes from a mountain lake called “Laguna del Otun” in a Paramo ecosystem zone. A mountaineer/hikers paradise, there are too many different tour options to name, we are going to show you the easy-t0-get to ones that anyone can access.
National/Regional Conservation Areas
There are two designated ecological zones to the east of La Florida.
- Santuario de Fauna y Flora: This is also known as Yarumo Blanco. There’s a lodging option here too. This is an ideal location for birdwatchers because it is quiet and the local conservationists are cultivating desirable conditions through their preservation of the natural environments desirability to the local and migratory bird species. There are 2 self-guided senderos, or trails at Yarumo Blanco for bird and wildlife observation. The self guided trails are 6,000 cop each. The waterfall is the 3rd sendero, and a guided tour. The waterfall belongs to Aguas y Aguas (the local water company) but has handed Yarumo Blanco control over the waterfall conservation and tours as of August 2017. We will talk more about the waterfall tour in a moment. Tip: Rubber boots can be rented in case of wet or muddy conditions for 4,000 cop.
- Parque Nacional Ucumari: Similar in name to Ukumari, the corporate zoo in Pereira, this is a national park with some GREAT places to see. There are a few different tour options. La Pastora. Los Chorros. Laguna del Otun. Ucumari is outside of, apart from and surrounding Santuario de Fauna y Flora (Just so you don’t get confused, they are separate entities). Check with your hotel/hostel for tour information, especially if you aren’t familiar with the terrain, customs and biology of these jungle/rain forest/paramo environments. Local tour operators who can help you with this include Kolibri Hostel, Coffee and Travel Hostal, Hotel Uno and Be Trip, a local tour startup by two bilingual Colombian women.
Things to Do in and Around La Suiza, El Cedral & La Pastora > Nevado del Ruiz
La Florida is the ideal destination for the intelligent traveler, the eco-conscious type who wants to enjoy nature. This is NOT a good destination for people who are looking for a place to party. Cerritos, La Virginia, Salento, Pereira (urban) – are all fun places if you like to rumba, or get your party on. The attractions of this eco-paradise, are based around leaving no footprint and conservation through intelligent tourism and low impact activities.
Here are a few activities we recommend:
- Birdwatching/Wildlife Spotting: The seasoned birdwatcher will have no shortage of places to go for different types of birds and wildlife viewing. Inquire locally on how to reach the various river access points, and for trails which will lead you up into the eco-system you are searching for. One of the best places to plan for birdwatching is Yarumo Blanco lodge and visitor center where you can stay overnight and then go on self-guided hikes in nature.
- Sunbathing/Relaxing by the River: There are access points along most of the road to La Florida, you can pick any you like or walk down to the river from the pueblo. We do not recommend “La Cristalina” near San Jose, for foreign visitors as this is a neutral zone for very poor people to come hang out, but not necessarily safe. You will find rampant drug and alcohol use throughout this zone on the weekend. Be sure to have a local guide or friend with you – if you attempt to enter this area. During the week you can access it, but use caution and don’t carry valuables.
- Laguna del Otun: A cold mountain lake, this is a popular destination for hikers. For this one you will need to take the Chiva all the way to the end of the line, to “el Cedral.” From there you will hike upward on a well-marked trail. a Guide is recommended if you have not been here before.
- Ornamental Gallo Festival, in August. A must-see for locals and visitors alike, you will connect with the country traditions in a pastoral setting. This festival is unique where instead of fighting roosters, they show them for their color, type and general beauty. Part of the festival is a photography competition.
- La Pastora/El Cedral, are the end of the line for the Chiva. From here it is all on foot or bicycle. Be sure to pack some water, high calorie snacks and bring rain gear. Rubber boots are recommended as this is a very wet environment. Travelers who are unfamiliar to this area should bring a guide. From here you can hike to “los chorros” some small waterfalls. You can even walk up to a cold mountain lake called “La Laguna del Otun.” Be sure to pack clothes for cooler wetter temperatures.
How to Get There
The only way to go past La Florida (the pueblo), is by Chiva, jeep or private car. If you have a group of 7-10 – rent a jeep. Smaller or larger groups can go by Chiva. The Chiva passes Plaza Victoria at 9 am – that is your bus. Tell them you want to go to La Suiza – Yarumo Blanco (sounds like Jarumo). Your fare will be 4,000 cop and they will notify you when you arrive. The trip takes about an hour and a half. The return bus due to timing of the tour, won’t be passing until 3:00 pm so plan to pay for lunch, bring your own, or make the 6 km walk to La Florida.
Los Frailes Waterfall Tour and Pereira Eco Tourism
A short hike from the Yarumo Blanco Visitor Center, is a really nice, well-developed waterfall hike. As of October 2017, Aguas y Aguas no longer receives reservations for this hike. You must call Yarumo Blanco visitor center and reserve a private tour, or catch their group tour on Sunday at 10:30 am. Private Tour: 32,000 cop per person Public Tour: 10,000 cop per person – Sundays ONLY!
What to Bring
Water-resistant hiking shoes or rubber boots are recommended. the trail isn’t too bad, and they do try to keep it clean. But this is one of the most rainy regions of the world and at times it can get muddy and soft. Especially in the area around the waterfall the ground can be a bit spongy so use caution.
Bring a water bottle and high protein/caloric snacks. The hike is 6 kilometers total from the visitor center to the waterfall and back. The pace is slow with frequent stops, but be sure to bring something to give you a boost when you make the return trip.
Where to Stay
Options are a bit limited here. There is a hotel, and several small hostels. This destination is ideal for groups of 5 people or less. Bigger groups must book with a hotel/hostel in Pereira. Even so, it is close enough, that you can go out and spend the day and take a bus back to the city in the evening.
Here are a few places we recommend:
Arboloco Guest House – facebook.com/Arboloco-Hospedaje/
Hostal A Shakti – airbnb.com.co/rooms/15741903?preview
Asociación Comunitario Yarumo Blanco waterfall tour reservations & lodging- facebook.com/OtunQuimbaya/
If you own, or know of a place that offers lodging in the La Florida/Rio Otun region, and you think they should be on this list – let us know! Email: PereiraCityGuide@gmail.com
Remember, it is only through our continuing teamwork and cooperation that these local natural wonders endure. Already, due to lack of responsibility the access to the waterfall has become more restricted. You can do your part by remembering to leave the environment better than you found it. What goes in comes out + anything you find. Together we can preserve this magia salvaje for future generations.