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No doubt about it, I’ve made some bad calls, like trying to climb a volcano the morning after a bout of food poisoning.
Or the first time I went backcountry camping in Virginia. It was only a 14.4 mile trail, but I packed twice as much gear as I needed and it was 95 degrees outside. I ended up with such bad heat exhaustion that I completely gave up 100 yards from the end. I couldn’t make it, probably because I never bothered to drink the four liters of water I was carrying. (Actually, that whole weekend is a really good story — remind me to tell it to you sometime).
In Bogota, my bad decision (once again) revolved around hiking. It wasn’t because the Quebrada La Vieja trail isn’t great. Nope, just my own stupidity. *facepalm* At least that means you can learn from my mistakes.
Hiking in Bogota at Elevation
People don’t realize that Bogota sits at 8,600+ feet in elevation. I knew it and can’t claim ignorance, but there was a mountain calling my name. I wanted to hike Quebrada La Vieja in Bogota’s eastern hills. That’s not the problem, but I scheduled it for early into my trip because that’s when it was most convenient for my schedule.
That was a dumb move. It takes time to acclimate, and pushing yourself in strenuous physical activity before your body adjusts is the quickest way to make yourself sick. Going on a Bogota hike the morning after arrival is not exactly acclimating. It would’ve been smarter to spend a day or two sightseeing before going on an uphill hike.
But I’m getting ahead of myself, aren’t I?
Quebrada La Vieja Hike
I teamed up with two Australian expats and another traveler from New York for an early morning hike. We left from a part of the city with tons of tall office buildings and just a few minutes walk took us from urban to a gorgeous natural setting.
Everything went well at first. The path starts with a gradual uphill with tons of greenery. We past a few small waterfalls, breathing air that seems way fresher than the pollutant-filled haze of Bogota.
I was having a great time chatting with everyone in our small group. The only problem was I could feel my heart start to race as we continued along the path.
I’m not a world class athlete, but I hit the gym every other day and I’m in decent health. Twenty minutes of hiking is normally my warm-up, but there was nothing normal about this.
Up, up, up we continued. Every once in awhile I caught a glimpse of a cool bird (did you know Colombia has more species of birds than any other country on earth?). The whole way, I was mesmerized by the scenery.
Halfway through, I didn’t have a choice anymore. I had to stop, catch my breath, let my pulse settle, and put my head between my knees to get some blood and oxygen flowing. Every once in awhile, I tried to sip on some water, knowing full well the rule of thumb is oxygen first, water second. At one point, I wondered if I could wander to a private spot in the woods to throw up before continuing onward.
Stupidly, my thought was never to go back down and try again another day. What can I say — this Bogota hike is gorgeous!
Seeing my despair, my group started stopping more often. There I was, reminding myself the hard way that acclimatization is a necessity, not a luxury.
Eventually, a eucalyptus forest surrounded the Quebrada La Vieja trail. Just like in a spa, the eucalyptus helped me catch my breath. Was it a placebo effect? I don’t know, but it was exactly what I needed to push on.
From there, the trail leveled out through a pine forest. The scent here was familiar from home and kept me at ease. My pulse leveled out and I breathed evenly, but the lingering effects of a massive headache and nausea didn’t go away.
The view from the top was one of the most unimpressive I’ve ever seen (or maybe I couldn’t appreciate it in my condition). Bogota’s normal hazy skies and pollution were further obscured by smoke from a forest fire, but it felt so good to make it to the top.
This is one of the trails where the journey — and not the final destination — is the highlight.
The way down was a cakewalk, given that it was less challenging. Every step helped me get a little closer to a lower elevation and the thought alone helped me relax. But it wasn’t until I was sipping a coffee at Cafe Cultur that I began to recuperate. It took a solid 12 hours for my migraine to subside, though I’m thankful I didn’t have any extreme altitude sickness symptoms.
You better believe that next time I’ll give my body a little longer to adjust before trying to hike!
Tips for Hiking in Bogota
Quebrada La Vieja is one of the most popular Bogota hikes — and one I highly recommend. Please be sure you’ve spent a few days in the city first to get used to the altitude. Then, lace up your shoes and hit the trail!
Previously this hike has been known as a targeted spot for thefts and attacks. Police are posted along the trail for a few hours every morning, so you’ll have to start early to finish before they usher you out at 10am. If you’re worried, you can join a guided tour for extra security. Trips leave first thing in the morning, which leaves you most of the day for other Bogota exploring!
If you prefer to head out on your own, look for the entrance on Calle 71 at Avenida Circunvalar. The trail is well-marked and you’ll be joined by Colombians getting their exercise for the day. You won’t need any special gear other than sneakers, bottled water, and a little bit of perseverance.
Want insider information?
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