Fog, fauna and flora are just a few features to be found on the fringes of Bogotá in one of the rarest and most distinctive types of forests in the world, the cloud forest.
Wedged in the back of a rickety collectivo like contortionists, we journey along the autopista sur in search of serenity. Dodging pot-holes and other buses in the unending battle for supremacy in the cents war, I am relieved to reach Soacha Park in one piece. Here the taxi takes us, via Mondoñedo, past the Indumil, to Chicaque Natural Park. Our destination is only about thirty minutes outside of the city but feels like light years away, in a parallel universe. On the edge of dusty, urban decay, a plush, fertile cloud forest stretches for miles.
Almost permanently enveloped in mist, cloud forests are evergreen mountain forests that contain heavily stemmed trees, complex ecosystems and function as nature’s “water towers”. They are found in tropical and subtropical mountainous regions where cooler temperatures on the mountain’s slopes cause clouds to form. According to Philip Bubb, a cloud forest expert, “A unique feature of these forests is that they can capture moisture through condensation from the clouds,” and, as a result of this, “…are key to abundant, clean and predictable water supplies in many areas.”
Apart from their utilitarian function, cloud forests are veritable storehouses of biodiversity. Chicaque Natural Park, for example, is a paradise for bird watchers, botanists, and animal-lovers alike, consisting of 214 species of birds, 630 species of flora, and 20 species of mammals respectively. Among these species, many are endemic to the region—and can be found virtually nowhere else—including the Black Inca hummingbird.
Like countless other natural areas, however, cloud forests currently top conservation agendas worldwide. Estimates abound that in ten years, cloud forests will cease to exist. In order to prevent the forest from fading into the mist, Chicaque was transformed into a natural park.
Founded in 1990, this 300 hectare private nature reserve is protected by the Special Administrative Unit of National Parks System, a program of the Ministry of Environment. For almost 20 years, Chicaque has attempted to raise awareness among guests “to see nature as something more than a simple inexhaustible pantry that is always open to serve man.” Located in the municipality of Tequendama, Chicaque is a sublime refuge from the chaos of the raucous city.
Open Sunday to Sunday, 8am – 4pm, admission is 9 000 pesos for Colombians, and 20 000 for non-Natives. Upon entry to the park, visitors can choose between adventures on foot or horseback. Traversing the area like veins—all leading to El Refugio, the heart of the park—the ecological trails are a highlight of the nature reserve. Varying in length, dimension and destination, the trails extend for 15 kilometres and each possesses unique attractions such as a waterfall or an incredible panorama of Tequendama.
For those who wish to extend their stay overnight, the park offers accommodations to meet different tastes and budgets. The Refuge, an Eco-Hotel built entirely in wood, serves as the central meeting point for the visitors. With a capacity for 35 people, it is a good option for families, friends and schools. Equipped with bunk-beds, each room can accommodate up to ten people. For those in search of a little more privacy, cabins are located around the Refuge and include a fireplace, balcony and hammock. Lastly, the park offers designated camp sites for those on a budget, or those simply interested in experiencing nature at its finest.
As we exit the gates of the park, after three days of revitalizing tranquillity, my internal battery is recharged and I am ready to return to the rat-race. As we enter our waiting taxi, however, I begin mentally planning our next trip to this misty mountain retreat, a “great meeting place between man and nature.”