Domenic Bonuccelli travelled to Colombia on assignment for Lonely Planet. You can follow his adventures on Lonely Planet: Roads Less Travelled, screening internationally on National Geographic. He took a trip from La Esperanza to Laguna Grande de la Sierra and up into the heights of Cocuy National park, where these images were taken.
A gently sloping waterfall courses melted glacial water into the páramo full of thirsty frailejones. Global warming has nearly eradicated the park’s glaciers, threatening the survival of the fragile páramo from above, as clear-cutting for grazing pastures methodically decimates it from below.
A vaquero tends to the pack animals that bear our gear up the steep slopes as we cross into the moraine near Laguna Grande de la Sierra (4500 meters).
Near Laguna Grande camp on the alpine moraine, stars spin in the moonlit night above the glaciers atop Pan de Azucar (5200 meters) and the Devil’s Pulpit.
Painstakingly piled rock cairns (mojones) demarcate our route as we ascend in a rainstorm past sandstone cliffs above the Valley of the Frailejones.
In our camp at Laguna Grande, sunrise sets ablaze the tent which frames the glaciers on Pan de Azucar (5200 meters) and the Devil’s Pulpit.
Mules munch frailejones in a rare moment of respite between the páramo and moraine as we descend in harsh sunlight and wind.
Colombian army troops hike the trail downwards as we ascend, patrolling the ranges from their alpine battalion within park grounds.
Sunrise over Laguna Grande de la Sierra, with the glaciers atop Pan de Azucar (5200 meters) and the Devil’s Pulpit visible.
A guide prepares our gear for the ascent in the central plaza of guesthouse / horse ranch La Esperanza.
Sunrise lights the glacier atop Pan de Azucar (5200 meters) above the Laguna Grande de la Sierra.
The páramo ecosystem is home to the Valley of the Frailejones (a composite plant whose name means “big monks”). This Dr. Seussian relative of the sunflower sports leaves as soft as wool, and when shrouded in mist is said to resemble a hooded Capuchin holyman.