If you’re looking for a great Bogotá, Colombia day trip, look on further than an excursion to Cascada La Chorrera. If you’re willing to rent a car and drive the winding mountain roads of the Andes, it’s a great day trip option. Bogotá is nice, but it was a thrill to get away from the city and into the natural beauty of Colombia. I’ll detail my experience and everything you need to be aware of for making the most of a visit to the waterfalls in this post.
Day Trip to Cascada La Chorrera: Essential Details
Before I launch into my personal account, here are some quick facts on this excellent day trip from Bogotá:
- One-way drive time of approximately 1.5 hours, partially unpaved
- Moderately strenuous hike of 3-3.5 hours
- Parking fee (~$3)
- Entrance fee (less than $5)
- More water during the wet season(s)
- Altitude is a serious issue to consider
- Bring water and sunscreen!
Cascada La Chorrera is located east of Bogotá over the first range of the Andes. It is technically the tallest set of falls in the entire country. You’ll need to rent a car to get to it. Technically, I think you can take a bus. I wouldn’t. Car rental is cheap, and saves you a lot of hassle.
The drive is either exhilarating or nerve-wracking, depending on your views of mountain driving. The drive takes about 90 minutes from downtown Bogotá, and a good chunk of it is on unpaved roads. They are (generally) well graveled, however, and I had no issues with the rental car, although I did go quite slow. There was no way I wanted to puncture a tire that far from a city.
The signage is generally good, but I would definitely use a navigation system, if possible. I downloaded offline Google Maps and used my iPhone to make sure I found the right place. There are a couple places you can park at the end, from where you’ll need to continue on foot to the falls.
The first part of the hike is a steep ascent. It was here that I realized how badly the elevation was affecting me. Cascada La Chorrera is at roughly the same elevation as Bogotá, which is situated at 8,500 feet above sea level. The altitude is no joke! If you’re prone to altitude sickness, make sure you acclimate before attempting the hike.
Once you follow the road over the first hill, you’ll arrive at the Parque Aventura Cascada La Chorrera where you’ll pay the entrance fee. I had no clue there was a fee, but it is minimal. They’ll also give you a small kit of stuff, including toilet paper.
The hike itself is fairly strenuous at times. There is a set of stone stairs at one point that is pretty grueling, and there are few flat areas. Make sure you’re up for this, plus the elevation. There are plenty of places to stop with lovely views of the surrounding Andean countryside, so just plan in extra time if you need.
There wasn’t a lot of water when I visited since I was there during the dry summer season. If you want to see the falls more full, travel when the weather is wetter.
Final quick note: you can have a decent cheap lunch at the Cuban restaurant located just past the Parque Aventura. It was the perfect way to end the adventure.
Now…onto the account of my day.
Renting a Car in Bogota
I’ve rented a car in a foreign country only a handful of times, and my experience at Alamo in Bogotá was probably the best I’ve had. The price was good, the staff were excellent, and they even let me return it late due to the driving restrictions. The car rental is located near El Dorado International Airport and fairly easy to find. My one day rental cost ~$25 USD all-in, which was excellent.
This could have been the perfect day. It was so close. Luckily, it was still a fantastic day, marred by one tiny detail: the guy at Alamo gave me an automatic instead of a manual. This is always what you want for winding mountain roads. All hopes dashed! Sadly, car rental is one time you often don’t quite get what you order. The agent was excellent in every other way that I just couldn’t complain. And maybe I’m being just a little dramatic.
I had from the Alamo lot all the way to the center of Bogotá to get the hang of the vehicle. Then it was up, up and away!
An Exhilarating Mountain Drive
I would say that you should enjoy the view along the Bogotá-Choachí road, but it might be wiser to keep your eyes on the pavement. The lanes aren’t overly narrow, but there isn’t any shoulder to speak of and the curves will hold your constant attention.
The road takes you up out of Bogotá rapidly. You’ll be able to see Monserrate, the hilltop church overlooking the capital as you climb. Soon the roads levels off into a high valley, surrounded by scattered fields and the occasional residence.
After about half an hour you’ll start to drop down into the valley to the east toward Choachí, at which point you’ll experience the best part of this amazing drive. The road cuts down across a section of very sheer cliff face, crossing a narrow bridge called Puente Real. It was at the moment I first got a great view of the valley stretching out below. The cloud cover was just above the road. It was a beautiful moment.
The road continues to snake down the hill into the beautiful valley below. You won’t have far to go until the turnoff onto the unnamed road toward Cascada La Chorrera. The initial section of this road is a mix of pavement and gravel, and I was a bit worried at its state. Was my tiny Kia capable of this drive? My fears were assuaged once the road turned fully to gravel and broke out into a lovely hillside landscape.
Rural Life in the Andes
The drive from this point onward is fantastic. Given how careful I wanted to be with the rental car, I went very slow. This had the benefit of allowing me to soak in the exquisite countryside all around me. With mountains rising sharply on the left and views out over the valley to the right, it was difficult to resist stopping and snapping more than a few photos. The hills are a beautiful patchwork of farms, pastures, and rural residences.
Driving with both windows down and my arm outside the car, I got more than a few stares and waves, especially from kids playing along the road. I have to imagine that tourism has been down due to the pandemic. Dodging chickens, kids, and the occasional other vehicle, I followed the signs toward the falls. Two boys on bicycles nearly crashed into the car, making me thankful the vehicle was covered by my credit card collision damage waiver.
Starting the Trek to the Falls
But this was just the beginning of the adventure. Eventually you’ll come to a restaurant, which is the end of the road. I considered continuing, but a lady ran out and indicated I should park here and continue on foot. Parking cost 10,000 Colombia pesos. You can grab water and snacks at the tiny store, or plan to return for lunch.
The initial part of the hike takes you up and over a steep hill past potato fields. It was here I first realized how much the altitude was affecting me. I found myself out of breath no more than 100 yards up the hill.
But what goes up must go down. The Parque Aventura Cascada La Chorrera is located just over the first hill. It is here that you’ll need to pay the entrance fee to visit the falls. The attendant gave me a a small bag of stuff as well, including water, chocolate, toilet paper, and a bocadillo. I’d not heard the word since we’d used it in Costa Rica, where one of our guides told us bocadillo was sort of an “uppity word for a snack.” That’s at least the gist of what I understood. In Spain, bocadillo means something akin to a sandwich.
In Colombia, bocadillo de guyaba is a specific snack food that is proliferous. It consists of jellied guava and is quite tasty, although super sweet.
The road ends and the trail begins soon after the park kiosk. The first section of the hike is easy, at least until you reach the Waterfall El Chiflón. This waterfall is another you can pay to visit, as it is on a different private parcel. I decided to just continue my hike.
This is the first section of strenuous trail. You essentially have to climb up and around the waterfall, which requires ascending some stone stairs. Some were wet, making things both tricky and dangerous.
I had a good laugh at the next trail sign. Tres cerritos definitely doesn’t mean a small tree. A later sign indicated you could hike all the way from La Chorrera to Bogotá(!). Now that would be a trek.
A little further along the trail you get your first good view of the falls. You could see them in the distance near the park kiosk, but they are still quite a ways off. It was here I first noticed how little water was flowing down the cascade. Later I’d find out that Colombian summer isn’t exactly the best time to visit if you want to see the full majesty and power of Cascada La Chorrera.
The mountain countryside is truly exquisite. I always enjoy hikes in new locales. This was one of my favorites in recent memory.
After walking through a section of open fields, you’ll enter the shade of the forest. There was a hand-washing station set up. No idea why it’s here. I can’t imagine it is specifically for COVID-19?
A little ways before the falls you’ll see an important sign. It’s essentially the end of the loop trails in the park. You will have also hiked just over 2 kilometers at this point.
Following the arrow you’ll head toward both the Cave of the Monkeys and La Chorrera. I highly suggest visiting the Cave of the Monkeys first, as it prevents any backtracking. The cave isn’t really a cave. It’s just an overhanging rock face, which may or may not interest you. You’ll have to hike uphill an additional distance. Once you get close to the actual falls, follow the loop trail which will take you across the upper bridge, under the base of the falls, and then back across the lower bridge. Following the trail toward the exit, you’ll return to the sign pictured above.
Cascada La Chorrera: Bogotá, Colombia Day Trip
Cascada La Chorrera includes multiple waterfalls that span a total height of approximately 590 meters. It’s hard to get a full view of the falls from anywhere along the trail once you get close. If the flow was greater, the distance views from earlier along the trail would be the most impressive. As I got close, I could see just how little water was flowing at this time.
While not as impressive as I’d imagined, Cascada La Chorrera is still beautiful. Bogotá, Colombia experiences two dry seasons: one from December through February and the second from June through September. I would venture a guess that visiting in April or May would be a very different experience.
I enjoyed the loop hike to the falls and back. There are two bridges that cross the small creek flowing along the bottom of the gorge, one of which is this simple cable suspension footbridge. Very fitting for the jungle.
I made a friend partway through the loop hike. He followed me across the bridges and even started to accompany me as I left the falls area. I spent almost 10 minutes backtracking, thinking he belonged to another hiking group. Nope. He is a park dog, free to roam as he wishes.
My last stop was the Cueva de los Monos (Cave of the Monkeys). There really isn’t a cave, from what I can tell, just an overhanging rock face.
Ending the Hike
Satisfied with my view of the falls, I headed back down the trail and out of the lovely Andean gorge that holds Cascada La Chorrera. The hike back is less strenuous, as you’re heading downhill most of the time, but you really need to watch your footing at a few points due to how steep and slippery the trail is. I still ended up out of breath. It may have made more sense to plan this day trip from Bogotá the following day to give myself more time to acclimate to the altitude, but a Monday excursion made sense because so many of the museums are closed that day of the week.
I arrived back at the Cuban restaurant a little before 1:00 PM. I’d made pretty good time, as it was only 2.5 hours after I’d parked the car. And I was starving. The restaurant has an inviting outdoor seating area with lovely views of the mountains.
While not the best Cuban food I’ve had, it was still a good lunch, and a very reasonable price. Ropa vieja and a mojito were the perfect way to celebrate the end of the hike.
Well…there was one hill left to climb between here and the car. I conquered that in another 15 minutes.
Exhaustion Sets in Early
I took the drive back even slower than when I’d headed out to Cascada La Chorrera. With no goal ahead, I was able to enjoy the beautiful drive and be as careful as I could with my rental car. The clouds had lifted even more, allowing wonderful views of the Choachí valley and the mountains rising up to the west.
The drive along the highway was enjoyable for the first 15 minutes or so. It’s even more spectacular driving back up the hill toward Puente Real. You get to see just how crazy the road truly is!
Just after starting the descent into Bogotá, I was overtaken by drowsiness. Pulling into a turnout, I napped for a good half hour. I guess a strenuous 3-mile hike followed by too much lunch will do that to you. There was no way I wanted to drive the winding mountain roads feeling out of it.
I made it back to the hotel around 3:45 PM. All said and done, my day trip from to Cascada La Chorrera took around 7 hours. It’s pretty much an all-day excursion. I thought about heading out to dinner, but I ended up staying in the hotel and eating at the restaurant. If you’re interested in Bogotá day trips that take you away from the city and out into nature, keep Cascada La Chorrera in mind!