The selva (jungle) at the foothill of the Andes is friendlier and kinder than the dark, wet, sweltering guts of Amazonas, or so they say. Mocoa, the capital of the Putumayo district, is surrounded by it and in it, you can find many waterfalls and other hidden gems of nature.
While Putumayo is not such a common destination for travelers to Colombia, it is certainly a place worth adding to your Colombian itinerary when planning your big trip. Instead of hordes of tourists and hyped up prices, you will encounter unspoiled nature, relaxed locals and a first-hand experience of living in the jungle, with monkeys hanging out in your yard. And a whole lot of coffee too!
If you are convinced by now, let me introduce you to and give you tips on how to find, hike to and enjoy three stunning waterfalls in Mocoa, Colombia, along with tips on how to get there and back, what drink to try and where to stay and eat cheaply.
To help you find exactly the information you need, click on the links below to jump to the respective part of the article.
- Transport options
- How to get from San Agustín to Mocoa National Park?
- How to get from Mocoa to Bogotá
- Three amazing waterfalls in Mocoa, Putumayo
- Fin del Mundo
- Ojo de Dios
- Getting around: Practical information for visiting Mocoa, Putumayo
- What to wear to the jungle?
- Where to eat in Mocoa on a budget?
- Try the typical local drink – chicha
- Where to stay in Mocoa and Fin del Mundo PN
- Why I read Marquez in Mocoa: My experience in Putumayo
- Pin me!
- Follow Girl Astray on social media
First things first. The most common and cheap way to get anywhere in Colombia is usually by bus. Always ask for prices of the same destination tickets in several agencies, as some are cheaper (and less comfortable) than others.
How to get from San Agustín to Mocoa National Park?
You can get to San Agustín with a bus from Bogotá (San Agustín is worth a visit because of its ancient statues so don´t miss it!) and from there, you just ask at the station for the next bus to Pitalito and on to Mocoa.
It is possible to take a truck from Mocoa which will cheaply get you to the nearby National Park – and once you are there, everything is about the waterfalls in the jungle. It is a short ride to the entrance, but you must walk further, first cross a bridge and then continue on the stone path until you get to the houses where it is possible to find accommodation. There they will charge you the night, or perhaps you can get a better deal and work for your stay. That was possible in the “goblin´s house”. However, you cannot escape the entrance to the NP payment which they love to charge in this part of the world.
How to get from Mocoa to Bogotá
– you can take a direct Cootransmayo night bus for 45 000 pesos. (Low season price though – the prices usually double in the high season, but it´s quite a long ride for that price. Updated 2015.)
Three amazing waterfalls in Mocoa, Putumayo
The locals will probably tell you to hire a guided tour as “you cannot walk in the jungle on your own” – we didn´t take it, walked alone and survived. But I have to admit there are not many signs on the paths pointing towards the places you are probably going, such as the Fin del Mundo or Ojo de Dios so you might want to reconsider your ability to get there and back safely; especially if you don´t speak fluent Spanish. A local guide will surely be helpful for you if you are not feeling too extreme. And now on to the waterfalls themselves:
Fin del Mundo
“The End of the World” waterfall is impressively towering above the surrounding woods. In august, two streams of water join at the rim of the rock and fall to the depths together. It is not clever to stand too close to the edge as your head can easily spin and nothing will save you from the arms of an unfortunate free fall. Well, the Colombian ambulance car will never get there anyway, so be cautious..
As Fin del Mundo gets its fair share of tourists (those who make it here are mostly Suramericanos), you can walk to it rather easily, thanks to the wooden way. I still don´t advice you to wear sandals. I did and I regretted every minute of it. Well, not literally, just when I had to walk across some red ants paths.
You will walk from the National Park entrance and pass three resting places; when you reach the third one, you will see a wooden path, to the left, marked with green color. This is the one to take if you wish to get to the Fin del Mundo. It is actually a series of waterfalls and it must be a great spot to take a bath there on a sunny day. (Yes, it can get cold in the jungle.)
Ojo de Dios
From the third resting place mentioned above you can also take to the right and in that case, you will whether get lost and scared (did you know you can never see a puma before it sees you?), OR you will be a smart cookie (because you read my guide) and mark the way as you go. I recommend you taking some colorful string and attach it to the trees every once in a while, especially when you take a turn, or even unwinding it as you go. To get to the Ojo de Dios (“God´s eye”), you should turn twice to the left.
This waterfall is special – you should plan to visit it around noon because that is when the sunlight passes exactly through the hole in the rock where the water flows and you might get to see it shining through in a single ray. If you´re asking me, we got there at one and it was cloudy. Fortuna is a bitch sometimes, but she wasn´t our bitch on that particular day.
You can manage to visit both Fin del Mundo and Ojo de Dios in one day if you want to and are used to hiking.
Reserve enough time – a full day to explore this waterfall. To get to Hornoyaco, you have to:
- walk towards the village (as if back to Mocoa)
- ask in the shops to be sure you didn´t miss the turn
- finally turn right; it is a dirtroad that will seemingly take you back in the direction where you came from and you will walk past a wood factory (or whatever it is. They cut the lungs of the Earth and work the wood here.)
Then you will cross a hanging bridge (again) and follow the wooden road used by men with horses to bring down the wood. You will cross two more bridges (real bridges, not just small benches) and you will see a big blue Welcome to Hornoyaco sign. Don´t take to the left – you will end up in the middle of nowhere. Just use your common sense, go straight ahead and you will hear the waterfall´s roar.
However, the wooden staircases have fallen apart so you must climb and in the steep parts, there is only a rope to help you get down. Don´t let the adventure die inside of your heart though – the waterfall is huge, it has like 70 meters and is worth every scratch and ant-bite. You can swim there (or skinny dip) and it might be possible to camp under a natural rock shelter. Of course it is forbidden, but you know, just saying. There is even a fireplace.
If you don´t plan to camp in this magical spot (mind the puma), try to get back early enough as the sunsets are quick as can be. The wooden path is wet and slippery and tricky all in all.
Getting around: Practical information for visitng Mocoa, Putumayo
Before you run off to see the waterfalls, here is some useful stuff to help you navigate in the Putumayo jungle and keeping full, well rested and happy.
What to wear to the jungle?
Be sure to wear closed shoes with a good grip – there is a lot of mud and slippery terrain and also red ants – you should know this – nobody in the jungle messes with the ants, so be careful not to make them angry. While the weather is hot and humid most of the time, you might want to protect your skin from insects by wearing long pants and sleeves. Apply enough insect repellent too.
Where to eat in Mocoa on a budget?
If you are in a Colombian town, looking for a cheap lunch, then the market place should be your dining hall of choice. We paid 3000 pesos each (currently less than one euro) in San Agustín and filled our stomachs with thick soups and big chunks of meat. If you are a happy vegan looking for a lunch, forget about that market place thing. Just don´t bother. However, getting to Mocoa, the capital of the Putumayo district, requires you to eat first; it is a long way. Anyhow, if you want to spend some days in the jungle , it is cheaper to bring your own food and ask to use the kitchen. Unless they rip you off at the shop, oops.
Read more: Women who hike naked (and why they do it)
Try the typical local drink – chicha
I almost forgot to tell you, but hey, nobody´s expecting you to walk around thirsty! When in Colombia, you must drink chicha, of course. It is a slightly fermented fruit juice, sweet, delicious and usually not too strong. Before the beer company managed to lobby its way to forbidding it, it used to be the national drink n°1. It still is, along with the (beetroot-cheated) beer. Look for the house of doña María who has the best chicha around. Ask the people, they will point you to the right house which is a green one on the main road. Doña María makes chicha out of maize, she boils it twice, filters, adds cinnamon, anise and cloves. It is mind-blowing. Besides of extinguishing your thirst, it also feeds you. Plus obviously, chicha gets you a little tipsy and sleepy, as it contains alcohol. We sat a good couple of hours at the table in doña María´s yard, drinking, watching the coffee beans drying in the sun and a chicken tied by its leg attempting escapes. On our last day, we drank five liters of chicha and agreed on one thing: the life is good.
Where to stay in Mocoa or in Fin del Mundo – Parque Nacional
As mentioned above, there are several guesthouses where you can rent a simple room, a hammock or build your tent on the floor. As is usual in Colombia, bringing your own hammock (don´t forget the mosquito net!) or tent will be the cheapest option and you can ask for a discount from the price. In 2015 when we visited, we paid 5000 pesos per night to build our tent on the first floor – you cannot really camp on the ground in the jungle due to humidity, mud and wild animals.
Another tourist we met told us it was possible to work in exchange for your stay in a so called Goblin´s House (Casa del duende).
You can easily stay in a hotel or guesthouse in Mocoa too and take the bus in the morning to explore the jungle, but I preferred to stay in the nature and listen to the sounds of the forest at night. Leave a time reserve to get out of the jungle before dark – the pathways are slippery and there are animals too. Inform yourself on the (approximate) bus schedule – it might be that the last bus leaves rather early in the rural areas.
Why I read Marquez in Mocoa: My experience in Putumayo
A local van took us from San Agustín to Pitalito, where we said goodbye to our San Agustín friends – a couple of students whose backpacks contained a whole load of books and musical instruments. Then a driver (who could make a career acting in a Latino remake of Fast&Furious) got us all the way to Mocoa. We spent the night in a cheap hotel and got more of those 3000 pesos lunches for dinner. In the morning, we bumped into the students again; once you´re on the road, you keep meeting the same people, right?
While having a lunch, they told us they have spent the night in the bus station and got kicked out before the dawn. They ate slowly and talked slowly; not for the sake of conversation – they were just giving me the chance to finish one of their books (Hojarasca by Gabriel García Márquez) which I somehow managed. The Hojarasca will forever be bound with the dust of Mocoa in my mind, just as Cien años de soledad is connected with the Caribbean coast where I have read it during several rainy October evenings.
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We are hitchhiking from Europe to India, but I just broke my backbone – stick around to see if we can make it! You can cheer us on if you think we´ll get there, or cry with us if we don´t.