Parque Nacional Natural (PNN) Puracé

Cauca & Huila

PNN Puracé is the only place in Colombia you can see Andean condors in the wild. Nearly a dozen of the great vultures were reintroduced to the park – three remain. In good weather visitors can also summit Volcán Puracé (4750m), the highest of the seven volcanoes in the Coconuco range. To ascend the volcano you'll need to arrive before 9am. Children under 14 are not permitted on the climb. All visitors must hire a guide at the entrance.

It takes about five hours to reach the summit of Volcan Puracé and around three hours to descend along an often muddy trail. The difference in altitude from Popayán makes the last part of the trek quite difficult. December and January are the best months in which to climb; the weather from June to August can be foul. Consider spending the night before in a cabin to get an early start to the day. It's important to wear several layers of clothing as the climate can change rapidly near the summit. Also bring snacks, water, sunscreen and a copy of your passport.

In order to observe the vultures you'll need to be at the park office by 9:20am to register. After registration you'll head to Piedra del Condor, around a 20-minute walk from the park entrance, where guides tempt the birds down with food so you can see them up close. Following the feeding session, the tour usually includes a visit to three lookout points boasting views of a lagoon, a waterfall and the volcanic chain. The final stop is the Termales de San Juan (3200m), thermal waters which bubble up amid an otherworldly páramo (high-mountain plain) setting – spectacular. Unlike at Coconuco, these thermals aren't for bathing. The full trip is around 13km and can be completed on foot, by bike or in your own vehicle – the guide will hop in, however, you can also choose to hike a shorter route.

The pools are outside the indigenous territory and you'll find a ranger station here staffed by officials from Parques Nacionales. They are likely to restrict access if you turn up without an indigenous guide. Ask in Popayán before heading out.

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