Yet another bus zipped passed despite our outstretched arms – this was the third bus that whizzed by our group that evening, too full of passengers headed back to Bogotá to pick up four stray backpackers on the side of the road near the La Chorrera Waterfall, trying to get back to their hostel before dark.
“If only someone was driving back to Bogotá right now with an empty car! It’d be just nice, room for all 4 of us,” I said idly as we sat on the kerb, pondering what we would have to do if we couldn’t get back to Bogotá in the daylight.
But you know what, ask and sometimes the universe actually delivers. This is a story about how sometimes unplanned, unexpected things can go your way. And of course how we found our way to Bogotá and Colombia’s highest waterfall known as the La Chorrera Waterfall.
How I ended up at La Chorrera
I’d only spent a few days in Colombia at this point – Bogotá was my very first South American destination on my Career Break. At this point I barely spoke Spanish, and wasn’t familiar or comfortable enough yet with the foreign terrain to want to wander around on my own. One of the guys from my hostel mentioned taking a day trip out to La Chorrera Waterfall – I’d never even heard of it before, but it turned out to be Colombia’s tallest waterfall at 590m high, and a local favourite that hadn’t quite made it to the tourist radar.
So of course I said yes, why not? What was meant to be a bigger group ended up just being me and the original guy N, an English dude who was pretty fluent in Spanish, but we decided to go ahead on our adventure.
Getting to La Chorrera Waterfall from Bogotá
First we had to find our way to the bus station which was a bit of an adventure in itself. We walked from our hostel in La Candelaria over to the bus station through some crowded street markets and busy streets, and though we got a little confused by which bus station it was exactly (not the public bus service with fare gates!), we eventually found it thanks to the N who can actually communicate effectively in Spanish. I was mostly just moral support and smiling on the side.
My advice: Start your day early to give yourself more hiking time and time to get back, more on that below.
Check out this post by Colombia Travel Blog for more info on how to get there, and I’ve marked major landmarks on this Google Map as well:
- Find the Transoriente Bus Station along Calle 6 and Carerra 14 (the building has a big Transoriente sign on it). Note this is NOT the Transmilenio Bus Station with faregates in the middle of Avenida Carerra 14 which is a block away.
- Buy a ticket from the counter – tell them you are headed to Cascada La Chorrera – we paid the fare to La Victoria for 7,500 COP (S$3.60) 1-way
- Hop on to your little 17-seater bus and away you go! Tell the bus driver that you want to drop at La Chorrera and they’ll drop you off in what seems like the middle of a mountain road. Don’t panic, just look for the road signs pointing you to La Chorrera waterfall.
Actually getting to the starting point
What we soon realised after we were dropped off in the middle of nowhere is that there is a fair hike to even just get to the park where La Chorrera Waterfall is. It’s a pretty scenic walk, lots of hill views and farmland, but at a pretty high altitude of around 2,000+m (for me at least, I’m a sea-level person) so I was panting pretty hard at points, but the route isn’t completely deserted – we did come across a mini market and a food stall or two to grab some drinks and food along the way.
These guys from the Line Trek took about 50 minutes for this portion – I don’t have exact timestamps but I’m estimating it took me something more than an hour to walk in from the road to the main park entrance.
El Chiflon Waterfall
The first sign of waterfalls comes when you enter the La Chorrera Adventure Park – we paid 12,000 COP per person to enter the park, and stopped over to check out the smaller El Chiflon Waterfall first. There’s a wooden lodge of sorts built here where you can grab food at the restaurant and rest, or walk down to the little pool where you can see El Chiflon up close.
La Chorrera Waterfall… from a distance
After a break at El Chiflon, we decided to press on and see if we would be able to make it to La Chorrera. N wanted to make sure that we would have enough time to get back to Bogotá hopefully before it got dark, so we needed to leave enough time for the trip back out to the main road.
The paths here are pretty shaded by the trees with a cloud forest climate. It’s not crazy hard to walk but at this point I was pretty tired after all that hiking and the altitude, so when we finally caught sight of La Chorrera Waterfall at the Mirador (lookout point) and saw how far it looked, we both decided that the waterfall was best admired from afar and after the requisite pictures and admiring, turned back to figure out how to get back to the main road.
A strangely serendipitous ending
We traced our route back past El Chiflon, and while the scenery was pretty, I was not looking forward to having to hike out to the main road again, especially because we encountered more downhills walking in so I knew walking out would be a pain.
Along the way out, we ran into a man with a jeep who offered us a ride out to the main road for 30,000 COP. Another couple had just emerged from the waterfalls at about the same time, so we roped them in (paying 7,500 COP each instead of 15,000 COP) and hitched a much quicker ride back out to the main road in the jeep.
But our journey wasn’t quite over yet – it was about 430-5pm when we found ourselves along the winding main road trying to hail a bus to get back to Bogotá, but all the buses were full and just so you know, these buses don’t bother stopping if they don’t have room for passengers, so we could only watch futilely as bus after bus zipped on by.
That’s when I said the magic words and wished for an empty car headed to Bogotá to appear, and lo and behold a lady pops right out from the lane behind us, hops into an empty car and asks us if we wanted a lift back to Bogotá. Whee! Spanish speaking N quickly makes friends and rides shotgun while the rest of us squeeze in the back and have our own conversation as the lovely chica unfortunately doesn’t speak any English at all.
Along the way back, N tells us that the lady has offered to show us an interesting pond, and we make a stop by the road side where she bring us to something that resembles a quarry of sorts and climb some rocks to see a vaguely heart-shaped pond. I never did find out the significance this pond, but I still think it was really kind of this lady to fetch 4 complete strangers and show them around even if it seemed a bit random.
And we made it back to Bogotá safely, and the kind Chica drops us off back at the La Candelaria area and we walked back to our hostel safe and sound. N told us after she dropped us off that the lady was telling him (in Spanish) about her pet dog that got poisoned and died (?!) throughout the trip — I don’t know if he was having me on but he did say it was a pretty bizarre conversation…
It also got me thinking about hitchhiking on the road – I know many people who are happy to hitchhike around a new country, but if I had been completely my own I doubt I would have taken up the offer to hitch a ride. I think I’ve watched too many CSI shows and have become overly wary of getting into a complete stranger’s car on my own – the whole ‘shared bus/taxi’ system in many countries is something I’m still getting used to because I’ve always known fixed schedules and routes in public transport and I’d rather pay for a ticket and expected service than be completely dependent on the whim and kindness of other people.
All in all it was a pretty adventurous day and I was pretty relieved just to sit down and relax for a bit that evening. I had to prep to leave for Medellín very early the next morning (now that’s another travel mishap story involving Vivacolombia hating my credit card for some reason) so I was just glad we didn’t get back too late and that I ended up with a great story to tell.
Have you been to La Chorrera Waterfall in Colombia? Tell me about your experience! If you are looking for more unusual things to do in Colombia, why not check out the most beautiful church in Colombia Las Lajas Sanctuary?