Wedged in the back of a rickety collectivo like contortionists, we journey along the Autopista Sur in search of serenity. Dodging potholes and buses in the unending battle for road supremacy, I am relieved to reach Soacha in one piece. Here, a taxi takes us via Mondoñedo, past the Indumil military factory to the entrance of the Chicaque Natural Park. Our destination is only thirty minutes outside of the city but feels light years away, in a parallel universe. On the edge of the 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 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 store-houses of biodiversity. The Chicaque Park is a paradise for bird watchers, botanists, and animal-lovers with some 214 birds, 630 plants and 20 mammals. Many of these species are endemic to the region and can be found virtually nowhere else, including the Black Inca hummingbird.
Like countless other natural areas, cloud forests currently top conservation agendas worldwide. Estimates abound that in ten years, these delicate eco-systems 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, the 300 hectare privately-owned nature reserve is protected by a special administrative unit of country’s National Parks System (PNN).
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. Open to visitors every day of the week (8am to 4pm), admission costs $15,000 pesos. It’s also advisable to check www.chicaque.com as prices fluctuate between high and low season.
Upon entry to the park, visitors can choose between adventures on foot or horseback. Traversing the area like veins – all leading to Refugio, the heart of the park – the ecological trails are a highlight of the nature reserve. Varying in length, dimension and destination, these footpaths extend 15 kilometers and possess unique attractions such as a waterfall and a breathtaking view of the Tequendama Falls gorge.
For those who wish to extend their stay overnight, the park offers accommodations to meet different tastes and budgets. The Refugio eco-hotel built entirely in wood serves as the central meeting point. 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 tranquility, my internal battery is recharged and I am ready to return to the raucous city. Entering a waiting taxi, I begin mentally planning my next escape to this misty mountain retreat, which above all else is a great meeting place, between man and nature.