Exploring Cucunubá and the Ubaté watershed

The bronze sculpture of a coal miner in Cucunubá's central plaza. Photo: Richard Emblin
The bronze sculpture of a coal miner in Cucunubá's central plaza. Photo: Richard Emblin

At the time of the Spanish conquest, the Sutas did not want to convert to Catholicism, even when staring down the barrel of a Royal musket. Their defiant and rebellious stance as the conquistador army pillaged their hamlets in search of gold, salt and precious stones is a local legend for the inhabitants of Tausa, Sutatausa, Ubaté and Cucunubá. These small agricultural and mining towns, once connected by the ancestral paths of the Muisca indigenous peoples, are now part of a well-organized circuit that combine outdoor activities with local gastronomy and community-led tourism.

Located some 100-kilometers northwest of Bogotá, the Ubaté valley is one of Colombia’s most important dairy producing regions, and easily accessible from the capital given that the road to Zipaquira is flat and in good condition. Given frequent bus service from Portal del Norte or the city’s central Terminal de Transportes all buses to “Ubaté” pass through “Zipa” offering passengers a chance to see the western fringes of the Bogotá Sabana, and a town known for its world-famous Catedral de Sal – Salt Cathedral. Even though one could include both Zipaquira and Ubaté in the same day’s outing, the ideal is to leave the Sabana (near the toll booth at Neusa), and enjoy the road as it carves its way through a landscape of brick mills and windswept farms.

Tausa and nearby Sutatausa share a common history of coal mining, yet are separated by an impressive ridge known as Los Farralones de Sutatausa, and from where, in the 16th Century, an estimated 5,000 Sutas jumped to their deaths to avoid forced conversion. The Farallones is the most popular destination for tourists, given the many hiking trails to the top of the ridge and from where one can appreciate the expanse and greenery that is the Ubaté valley and watershed.

Cucunubá is a small town of weavers that can be easily reached from Ubaté in a taxi or microbus. The trip between both places takes 20 minutes and offers stunning views of the marshes that are part of the Fuquene Lagoon, and largest irrigation network for cattle farming and the dairy industry. Bogotanos exploring the region take advantage of the artisanal cheese production to stock up on cuajada, queso campesino and new varieties that have appeared as skilled fromagers have set up shop in the territory.

Other coveted items when strolling through a town that in many ways resembles Villa de Leyva (but with far fewer tourists) are handwoven items, such as a scarfs, sweaters and ruanas. The ruanas range in price between COP$200,000 and COP$500,000 depending on the color of the wool – black the most expensive given the rarity of black sheep grazing in the fields. So, if you feel like you’re “the black sheep of the family” bring extra cash. The town offers visitors plenty of dining alternatives facing the central square, from specialty cafés to high-end cuisine.

If planning a day’s escape from Bogotá, best advice is to start early to avoid the morning traffic along the AutoNorte, and book a guided tour to the visit the impressive Farallones. Most walks only take several hours and the climb to the top of the ridge is challenging, but not exhausting. Take bottled water and shoes with plenty of grip, given that the rugged stone trails of the Muisca do get slippery. And of course, the obligatory wind jacket and well-charged cellphone to the capture the majesty of a region that is quickly becoming a faith-restoring destination for nature-lovers (don’t tell that to the Muisca), and those who appreciate the warm hospitality of the locals.