Mocoa is a day-hiker’s dream. This lush landscape is streaming with trails waiting to be explored in the mountainous jungle terrain of Colombia’s Amazon. I’ve given Mocoa a little nickname, “jungle-lite”. I gave it the name because I think this is the perfect place for someone to visit who might be a little nervous about diving deep into the wild, but has the curiosity to sense the jungle. The day hikes around Mocoa are a great way to dip your toes into The Amazon and get a feel for it without going “full on Tarzan”. You will surely see colorful butterflies, interesting plant-life, and stunning waterfalls. But beware, It is highly likely you will leave ready for more jungle.
Mocoa Travel Tips:
- Each day, no matter where you plan to go around Mocoa, be sure to have the following with you:
- good hiking shoes
- a bathing suit
- bug repellent
- a positive attitude, sense of humor, and a smile 🙂
- Wear clothing that you don’t mind getting full of mud.
- Plan to stay outside of the town itself. Although there are hotels and hostels in town, you will be far from the hiking trails and will require taxis or “collectivos” each day. Instead, look for housing along the road that leads to Fin Del Mundo so that you will be within walking distance to many of the sights you want to see.
Also, here’s a photo of me after getting “jungle-fied”:
Tragedy Strikes Mocoa, Colombia
Sadly, I have to take a moment to write about the horrific tragedy that struck this town shortly after my visit. I believe it would be doing a huge dishonor to Mocoa to make a post solely about gleeful tourism and ignore the massive natural disaster that devastated the small town at the end of March, less than 2 months after my visit.
If you pay attention to world news at all, you may have heard about horrible flooding throughout the Amazon Rainforest during this year’s rainy season. Mostly, the international news covered Peru, however people living throughout the Amazon River Delta all over South America were effected. Mocoa is one of the places that took the hardest hit.
Severe rains and flooding caused a massive landslide to sweep through the town on March 31st, 2017. Rescue workers fought diligently to rescue around 330 injured people, but sadly an almost equal number were found dead, and around 80 more were never found at all. Many people lost their homes, businesses and loved ones. I was quite shaken up when this news reached me, shortly after I left Colombia.
I urge people to go out of their way to visit this hard-to-reach and not-so-well-known place, now more than ever. Go and stay in their hostels, shop at their small local markets, use their taxi services and pay their park entry fees. By traveling there and having a wonderful time, you can help rebuild and re-spark their wounded economy and broken hearts.
Fin Del Mundo
Mocoa, Colombia is the land of waterfalls nestled into jungle landscapes. This not-so-well-known place is home to “Fin Del Mundo” (The End Of The World), which is the area’s most famous hiking trail. And what do you suppose is at “The End Of The World”? Well, I’ll tell you (^and show you^)!
Fin Del Mundo is a beautiful trail of waterfall after waterfall through Colombia’s southwestern jungle. As you make your way across Fin Del Mundo you will encounter multiple swimming spots that are sure to be much needed refreshers, with cliffs to test your nerves and dive off of, and cool water to rest your feet in.
I spent the day wandering, hiking, swimming, and thoroughly enjoying every minute. But the whole time i wondered, “why is it called the end of the world?”
When I arrived at Fin Del Mundo’s pinnacle there were no more questions. Looking out into the jungle’s expanse over the toppling waterfall streaming down over it’s abrupt cliffside edge, is truly one of those breathtaking moments when you realize you are standing on (what really feels like) the edge of the world.
Hornoyaco and Canalendres
Hornoyaco and Canalendres are two less popular trails that begin at the same point along the the main road of attractions outside of Mocoa. With a myriad of wonderful hiking trails, swimming holes and waterfalls in the area, it was tough deciding which ones to visit. We chose to head in this direction because it was a walkable distance from our hostel (although still a bit far – so picking up a taxi or collectivo along the main road is always an option, especially when you are tired at the end of the day).
Hornoyaco is a relatively short hike that leads you to a small but forceful waterfall situated above a great swimming hole. This is a wonderful place to swim, picnic, or relax with a good book. You can swim across and get right into the waterfall and rest on the rocks beside it. Canalendres is a farther and slightly more challenging uphill hike that takes around 2 hours to reach. It includes a steep decent where you will need to rely on ropes installed along the way to pull you up and steady yourself down. This trail culminates at a very high and beautiful trickling waterfall. Both trails begin at the same point, and both can be done together for a full day of chasing waterfalls. Or you can stay longer in one spot and enjoy one or the other on its own!
Expect to cross a suspension bridge or two.
There is a special little place 15 minutes into the forest in Mocoa, called Paway. It’s a private hostel/tree-house/resort in the middle of the jungle. They raise butterflies, tortoises, and wild flowers. On their expansive property you can also find Macaws and spunky little monkeys. I wanted to volunteer and stay there for a while even before I got there, but Paway is literally a place for lost souls in the forest… so they are quite hard to get ahold of. If I go back, I now know to just show up and talk to the lovely owner directly. But it’s not easy to get to, so you have to really want a jungle getaway where you can spend your days caring for butterflies.
This is probably the nicest place to stay in the area – even if you don’t stay to work. Many seek out Paway for a night or two (or three or four) to test their nerves sleeping in their famous lovely tree house far above the ground. The tree house is a bit more than most backpacker’s budgets for a night, but for quite cheap you can stay down below in their hostel too! On the grounds you can enjoy their animals, take in the lush surroundings, and take a dip in the natural pool created from the running river water.
Be prepared to hike 15-20 minutes into the jungle to find this place, and don’t expect wifi when you get there.
Hostal Portal Fin Del Mundo
We, however, did not stay in the lovely Paway. I had tried to make reservations to stay with them, but seeing as they don’t really have internet, I was not successful. There was only one hostel in the area with an online presence. I found Hostal Portal Fin Del Mundo on booking.com and the reviews were decent enough. It was close to the hiking trails that interested us, had private rooms with private bathrooms, had a communal kitchen we could use, and laundry facilities. Perfect. That’s all we really need.
And so, our first week in Colombia, we stayed at the WORST hostel I think I have ever stayed in (which is a big claim because I’ve stayed in around 50 and some are less than habitable). Luckily there was a little jungle walk and a roaring river just behind to escape to.
*Side note – Part of me feels mildly guilty writing this, because I am not looking to hurt their business in any way. The owner seems like a good enough guy. And honestly, I would give the place a second chance because apparently the hostel has since reopened with entirely new staff (and they are the only hostel in the area with wifi). Being situated on a hill overlooking the mountainous jungle landscape, the hostel also has one of the most spectacular views of any hostel I have been to. But our experience there was bizarre and note-worthy enough that I feel compelled to write about it here.
We arrived around 3 in the afternoon and were greeted by guests of the hostel. Nobody who worked there appeared to be present, but the guests seemed to think “he” would be back soon enough. With nowhere to leave our bags and really no idea where anything was, we sat around on the couch at the entrance and twiddled our thumbs for about an hour and a half waiting for someone to show up. The hostel was relatively small, and in our waiting time I had scoped out the area and became a bit nervous about our accommodations. We had booked a private room with a bathroom, and it appeared there were only 2 of those – both of which seemed occupied. Miguel thought I was being crazy and felt certain there was a room waiting for us.
Sadly, I was right. When the hostel manager finally showed up, he seemed very surprised to see anyone waiting to check-in. I said hello, we introduced ourselves and mentioned our reservation. This guy was completely dumbfounded and unaware of the reservation that we had confirmation emails for. And as I had expected, there was no room available for us. I asked if we could stay in a shared-room at a discount until a room cleared for us the next day. There was actually NO space for us. But luckily, the manager had an idea. “No te preocupes” he said. Although in my experience when a latin american tells you nonchalantly, “not to worry”, it’s usually cause for concern.
The manager walked away. He came back to us 5 minutes later and motioned for us to follow him. He picked up my big bag and carried it above his head. Miguel and I were a bit confused, but we followed. He led us off of the hostel property, next door, where there were two tiny little houses. We passed the first one, and stopped in front of the second. Here, there was a family eating dinner on the front porch, teenagers running around the yard, at least one woman working in the kitchen, and a kid inside watching TV.
The manager of the hostel said something to the group that we couldn’t hear. Immediately the entire family dropped what they were doing (and eating) and starting scrambling to clean everything. They ran the food they were eating to the other house next door. The woman in the kitchen started swiftly cleaning everything she could. I tried to tell them to stop – we would find another option. But nobody seemed to listen. Another woman appeared with clean bed sheets. They scurried us and our bags into what was clearly someone’s private home. Inside the run-down house, we were greeted by an enormous pit-bill in a chain collar. We put our bags down in what was to be our bedroom and we watched as a bed was quickly made up for us.
I pulled Miguel outside to express some concerns I was having at that point. “Are we displacing a family from their home right now?” We were both completely confused and trying not to be rude. Before we knew it, we were being handed a key by a woman who said “We hope you don’t mind, but we need to leave the dog here”. And with that, the family scurried out and disappeared. It all happened so fast, our heads were spinning. What were we supposed to do about the dog? When we walked back inside we took a look around. The bathroom was very dirty and the smell creeped out into the other rooms. I quickly noticed that Miguel was quite fearful of the giant dog that we were holed up with.
“Let’s just go buy some food, make ourselves dinner, and try to make the best of this for one night”. It was already dark. When we walked into the bedroom to grab our wallet, I saw two rat-sized cockroaches running across our bed. “Oh, NO!” That was it. I can’t stay here. Let’s go look for another place to stay. Now. This is gross. This is weird. There’s a giant dog that scares one of us. There’s giant cockroaches in our bed. This is someone’s home. This is awkward. This is uncomfortable.
We spent the next hour running up and down the street (there’s only one) asking at each hotel/hostel for a place to stay, and sadly all were fully booked for the night.
Our next plan was to approach the hostel manager and gently ask him if he could please point us in the direction of a hotel “in town” where we could stay (most tourists stay on the road outside of town), and perhaps call us a taxi. We tried to explain that we felt uncomfortable pulling people from their home and taking care of the dog with no instruction or explanation. He didn’t seem to understand, but was willing to help. So he started making phone calls to a hotel he of knew in the city.
A bit of luck struck us at this moment. A friendly Argentinian staying in a shared room at the hostel approached us and offered us his tent for a night or two while he was staying inside. We were thrilled by this solution. The hostel had an area for pitching tents, and we wouldn’t have to go anywhere. So it was settled.
We were tired, hungry, and grumpy at this point. We were passed ready to go to the little market down the street and make ourselves some food. But by this time it was closed. “Luckily”, the hostel had a “restaurant” (the manager grilling fish for a small price). So Miguel had food. I, the vegetarian, went to bed hungry and grumpy.
But after that things started to look up. We were quite happy in our borrowed tent for two nights. The shared bathroom, however, was too gross for me to use, so I opted to find places to pee outside, and didn’t shower for two days (and you really want to shower when you are in that heat and humidity). But the other guests were very friendly and swapping all of their tips and tricks for what to do and see in the area. A few of us did the Hornoyaco hike together and we had a blast. People were freely using the laundry facilities (which is quite necessary after muddy hikes). The manager was even kind enough to offer us some laundry soap to use so that we didn’t have to buy any. We also got along great in the kitchen making ourselves our meals for a couple of days.
After 2 days we were set to move into a room in the afternoon as soon as it became available. Our Argentinian friend was leaving and needed his tent back. By then, we were looking forward to having a private clean bathroom to shower in. We decided to spend the day in at the hostel in order to wash our clothes, change rooms, shower, and get some work done on the computer.
That morning, the manager’s girlfriend showed up. And that’s when things started to get weird again.
Midday we checked into our room, and disappointingly, the bathroom was dirty, had only a squatter toilet (no seat), and the whole space reeked of mold. We took some time spraying and killing the mosquitos in the room – and despite being disappointed by the room and bathroom, I was desperate for a shower and accepted my surroundings.
We waited patiently all morning and afternoon for the housekeeper to finish the hotel laundry so we could wash our muddy, smelly things. When the machine finally cleared up, we started loading up the washer. And we were approached by The Girlfriend. She informed us that the washing machine is not for guests. Umm… we have already used it. Umm… Everyone has been using it. Your boyfriend gave us soap. It says on your website, as a selling point, that you have laundry facilities. There is literally nowhere within walking distance that we can do laundry otherwise.
She was adamant. We were pissed off. But what could we do? We had to take a taxi into the city to drop off our laundry. We were less than pleased (especially because it was Sunday and when we got to town, we learned all laundry mats were closed and we had to go back again the next day – and then again the next day to pick it up).
We befriended a lovely French girl that was staying with us at Hostal Portal Fin Del Mundo. The following night, she had become quite aggitated and visibly upset. When we asked her what was wrong she told us that she had to leave and look for a different place to stay. She was upset because she really wanted to stay with the friends she had made. Confused, we asked her to explain why she was leaving. Her response was simply shooting The Girlfriend a rather dirty look. “Oh no”. Apparently, while Miguel and I were out, a bit of a catfight had taken place. The Girlfriend had accused our friend of trying to sleep with her boyfriend, simply for being friendly and conversing with him. We were sad to see her go.
That night, as we cooked our dinner in the kitchen, the manager and The Girlfriend had their weird on. It was the kind of silence and stares where you know the couple had just had an annoying fight that you want no part of. It would have been fine if they had kept to themselves. But instead, they decided to clean the kitchen around us while we were cooking. We minded our own business, but you can imagine our irritation as they started cleaning dishes we were still using. At one point, she actually took the cup I was drinking from off the counter, dumped my juice down the sink, washed the glass, put it on the drying rack, and then walked out of the kitchen. Umm… “What. The. Fuck.?!”
It was day 4 of our Mocoa adventures, and we still had to visit the famous, Fin Del Mundo trail. We also really wanted to visit Paway. We had 2 more nights reserved. But we noticed that fewer and fewer people were in the hostel. When we had first arrived the place was overfull to the point we almost stayed in someone’s private home with their pitbull. By this point, the hostel had only a handful of guests.
The morning of our last night, we awoke to The Girlfriend anxiously asking us for money. Their policy was to pay at check-out, but the owner would be paying them a visit and they needed our money now. We didn’t mind, although it was strange. And seeing as there is no ATM nearby, it was a bit presumptuous to assume we had enough on us. Fortunately, we did.
So we took off to enjoy our last day in Mocoa. We visited Paway, played with butterflies, swam in the river, and had a generally lovely time. On our way back to the hostel we stopped at one of the tiny little street markets and bought some veggies and pasta to cook up from the local casera. Fun Fact: Casera in spanish is an endearing term for the local lady-street-vender that you buy your fruits and veggies from.
We arrived at our hostel tired and hungry from a day of walking many kilometers. But we arrived to more weird. This weird was a strange nothingness. Nobody was there. Seriously, nobody. No manager, no The Girlfriend, no housekeeper, none of the last remaining guests… nobody. The power was turned off.
Well, this isn’t normal. “Again, what the fuck?”, we asked ourselves as we scratched our heads and looked around the property. Luckily it was still light out, so we had better cook our dinner in the open air kitchen while there is still daylight. When we got to the kitchen we discovered there was no gas. It was gone. They left and took it with them, along with most of the dishes.
The hostel just closed down while we were out? Nobody bothered to tell us? We still had our room key. Our bags and things were left untouched in the room. We were a bit concerned that we would have no way to call a taxi in the morning, but were honestly too stupefied to worry about it just yet. So we did the only thing we could think of to do at that moment. We went to sleep.
An hour or so later, we were woken up by a knock on our moldy door. It was a man asking us when we were leaving. Oh, yay. More strange. I woke Miguel up to speak with him, because I struggle with the Colombian Spanish accent. This man was the owner of the hotel. We ended up having a lovely conversation with him (although the whole time I was tempted to just air my grievances). He showed Miguel how to set up his new fishing rod that my uncle sent him for christmas, and showed us diagrams of the cable car he wanted to build from the hill of the hostel that would lead straight to the good parts of Fin Del Mundo. We worked a few of our complaints into the conversation, but he didn’t really get it.
When we mentioned that our reservation had been lost and we spent 2 nights in a tent, he asked us, “you paid ‘x’ to set up tent, right?” We had actually spent double. So on top of everything, we had just learned from the friendly owner that we had been overcharged for pitching a tent in their yard. He did not offer us our money back. He did however, call his taxi-driver friend and set up transportation for us in the morning.
That’s all. It was certainly “an experience” staying at Hostal Portal Fin Del Mundo. An experience I do not regret, and also do not recommend. However, it is the only hostel in the area with internet access, has a great view, and is walking distance to almost all the major ports of entry to good sightseeing and hiking.
I sadly, felt it necessary to leave a less-than shiny review on trip-advisor. I know some people think it’s wrong to do that, but I believe if you have a really bad experience it’s good to help other travelers out by letting them know so they can plan their trip and have better experiences. I also think it holds businesses accountable and hopefully sparks change. A couple weeks later, the owner sent us a response to our review informing us that they were making big changes and hired an entirely new staff. So even given the hostel horror story we experienced, I haven’t completely written the place off just yet.