Thinking about doing the trek to Santa Isabel Glaciar? Here you will find all you need to know about the trek to the snow line and to the top of Santa Isabel Glaciar in Los Nevados National Park.
- How long time
- Key Facts
- Trip report
- Weather and Conditions
- Plan your trip to Los Nevados National Park
We have created a trip report with lots of pictures of the way to the Summit of Santa Isabel Glacier, and a summary of our experience day by day, so you know what to expect of this hike.
If you already decided to go, and you are ready to start this adventure, you might find useful the section Plan your trip to Los Nevados National Park. There you will find information about what to pack, how to get there and where to sleep.
The hike to Santa Isabel Glacier (either to the snow line or to the summit) is at high altitude and is strenuous.
You need to be in good shape, and also follow an acclimatization process to avoid altitude sickness. The summit is at 16.240 ft (4.950 m).
How long time
To get to the snow line, you will need 6 hours approximately. 3 Hours and a half going up, half hour enjoying the views and taking a break over the snow line, and 2 hours going down, for a total of 7 Km.
If you want to make it to the summit, plan for 8 hours. 5 hours going up, half hour in the glacier, and 2 hours and a half going down, for a total of 9Km.
The best way to do the hike is hiring in Manizales an expedition of 2 days, spending the night in a farm close to the park, or camping into the Park. This is best way to let your body get adapted to the altitude.
Note: Camping in El Cisne and Arenales area is only permitted when Nevado del Ruiz Volcano is on green alert IV. Currently, the Volcano is under yellow alert III, so the camping services is not available.
Key Facts – Santa Isabel Glacier
Santa Isabel Glacier is a volcano formed by a group of domos created by lava eruptions, from the tertiary and quaternary geologic periods (Antonio Flórez.1992. Los nevados de Colombia, glaciares y glaciaciones. Instituto Geográfico Agustín Codazzi-IGAC)
Is considered a special glacier not just in Colombia but worldwide. Is the shortest snowy mountain in Colombia, and is one of the few equatorial glaciers in the world.
Is extremely rare to have snow in equatorial countries, due to the very specific conditions needed in the environment to snow. If you go Santa Isabel Glacier, have in mind that the ice is hundreds or even thousands of years old.
Unfortunately, Santa Isabel Glacier is going to extinction due to the climate change. The Colombian Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies (IDEAM) estimates 10 years for the snow to completely disappear.
The IDEAM monitors the glacier monthly since 12 years ago, and since 2009 the Conejeras area into the Park is part of the World Glacier Monitoring Service-WGMS.
The ice on Santa Isabel Glacier is very contaminated due to the ashes produced by Nevado del Ruiz Volcano. This contamination accelerates the melting process.
Trip report: Summit of Santa Isabel Glacier
If you doesn’t know what to expect from the trek to Santa Isabel Glacier, we are pretty sure this trip report will clarify your doubts and will inspire you to get to the top. Our adventures Andrea Rincón (@livingwandrea) an Yina Galindo (@Yina.Galindo) share with us their experience on the way up.
Yina and Andrea went on the expedition Mujeres a la Cumbre (Women to the Summit) organized by Kumanday Adventures.
Day 1 – Manizales – Hacienda Potosí
The night previous to the start of the expedition, Yina and I met in Manizales to get to know each other, and also to have the technical briefing with Kumanday’s team. At the briefing we also met the other participants of the expedition. In total we were 15 women with a common dream: to get to the top of Santa Isabel Glacier, Poleka Kasue.
Yina and I arrived from Bogota, like other 2 girls. The rest of the group arrived from different cities, Medellín, Cartagena, Cali, and Manizales. That night we slept at Golden Frog hostel in the downtown.
The next day the journey started at 5:00 am. Our goal was to get to Hacienda Potosí – where we were going to sleep prior to the summit- around 10 am.
The trip from Manizales to the Hacienda was a whole adventure. When were passing by Villa Maria town (30 minutes after we started), one of the cars had a mechanic problem. Fortunately, Kumanday replaced it right away and we were able to continue the trip.
The road became a dirt one soon, and the adventure to the Glacier started. Some parts of the trip were uncomfortable. The road had a lot of bumps, curves, and steep drop-offs. But, more than that, we were amazed by the majestic green mountains, coffee landscapes and multiple waterfalls along the road.
On this same road, you can spot the Andean Condor. To spot it, you can hire a tour through The Condor Route, a Community Tourism initiative created thanks to the work of eight local communities.
During the trip, we did 2 tops, one around 8:00 am in a viewpoint to see the Nevado del Ruiz Volcano and Santa Isabel Glaciar (it was clear and we could see them easily in the distance). The second stop was in hostal-restaurant La Laguna for breakfast.
Once we got to the park, we entered through La Cueva entrance – where we did a short pit stop – and then we continued our journey towards Hacienda Potosí.
The road got complicated, with a lot of deep holes and mud. The car where were got stuck on the mud. Thank god the other car was able to pass and help us with a rope.
Finally we got to the Hacienda, and started setting up the camping tents, following Kumanday instructions. Most of the girls haven’t camped out before, so this was an excellent chance to sleep under the stars.
After the tents were set up, we had a delicious ajiaco (typical colombian soup with 3 kind of potatoes and chicken) to recharge our batteries to continue with the afternoon activities We had to receive a training class about how to use the climbing equipment and we also had to hike to Otun Lagoon to get adapted to the altitude.
For both Yina and I, the training was very helpful. We haven’t used this equipment before.
Regarding the adaptation hike, because we had so many delays on the road, we didn’t get to go to Otun Lagoon. We did a shorter hike that still let us feel the altitude effects on our bodies.
Then, when the sunset over the mountains and the cold weather became strongest, we packed our backpacks for the next day and got all our layers of clothes to get protected from the cold.
Is important to be prepared and have enough layers of clothes to avoid hypothermia.
After the dinner, Yina and I went to sleep. We had to wake around 1 am to start the hike to the summit. The other girls preferred to stay awake to enjoy the milky way.
Day 2 – Hacienda Potosí – Summit Santa Isabel Glacier – Manizales
At 1 am o’clock the alarm went off and one of the guides went over each tent to wake us up.
Thank God, I slept really well and I woke ready for the adventure. But Yina, my room mate wasn’t on the tent.
For Yina, this was her first time camping out. When I went to the main house I noticed she hasn’t slept well and had some symptoms of altitude sickness. But it wasn’t just her, there were other two girls that were even sicker. Kumanday talked to them and suggested for them to not go. Yina, who was feeling better decided to try.
Around 2 am, after having some bread and Aguadepanela (a popular hot cane sugar drink in Colombia), we started our journey towards the summit of Santa ISabel Glacier. We tried to get some sleep on the car, but the road was very bumpy and kind of scary, so it was impossible.
Over 4 am, we started the ascend. Everyone was wearing all their layers and still felt cold. Yina and I started slowly, whereas other girls went ahead and started hiking faster.
The following hours were hard. With each step, it was more difficult to breath well. We felt tired and cold, then hot and cold. We stopped several times to adjust our layers.
One of the unforgettable moments on the way up, was the sunrise. It was just spectacular. The sky was clear and with the first rays of light we could see the Nevado del Ruiz and Santa Isabel Glacier crowned in white snow.
Around 7 am we got to the line of snow of the Glacier. Some of the girls were full of energy and adrenaline ready to continue the ascend, others were tired after hiking for 3 hours in the middle of the dark and the cold weather, and others like Yina, exhausted and having some mild altitude sickness symptoms like headache and extreme fatigue after experiencing one of the most physical and mental challenges of their lives.
Once at the beginning of the glacier, we took a break, had some snacks and put on the crampons, the helmet and the rest of the equipment to start the ascend to the top.
Yina and Maria, another girl who hiked along with us during the night, didn’t feel well and they thought about staying there. But, fortunately after some minutes of thinking about it, they finally decided to try to go to the top.
Don’t give up, if the trail ahead looks long and difficult, just remember the goal that motivated you to start.Autor: desconocido
Finally, the rope teams were ready to start our way to the top. The guides explained to us that it was better to start soon, before the sun started melting the snow. If so, it would be even more difficult.
It took us 1 hour to get to the top. Juan Diego, our team leader, encouraged us to walk, and every 40 steps we stopped to breath and rest. Each step was heavier and the top looked further away.
There were moments when we had to stop suddenly, although we haven’t completed the goal of 40 steps. Some of us felt so hot due to the layers we were wearing and the sun rising up. So, we had to stop to take them off.
From the five rope teams, two were ahead us, and the other were already at the top. We saw the top closer but at the same time far away. We were just exhausted!
Finally, after some steps more, not sure how many…we got to the top. We felt our heart exploding, not just because of the effort, but also because of the emotion. We have made it!
13 Colombian Women at the top of Santa Isabel Glacier.
We stayed at the top for about 30 minutes, while we rested and took some pictures to remember the moment. Afterwards, we started the long descend to the headtrail, and then all the way down to Manizales.
Special thanks to Kumanday’s Adventure team. Thanks for the call, the logistic, and all the profesional job and guidance to the top of Glacier.
Weather and Conditions
The terrain is irregular with steep and rocky hills. Depending on the time of the day, you can find spots of ice, mud and water. The hike starts over 12.795 ft (3900 mts).
It is possible to get to the snow line with hiking boots, but it is totally necessary to use crampons and mountain climbing equipment to get to the top.
The weather is cold, specific of moorland and high altitude areas. The temperature varies along the way, with an average temperature of 15ºC during the day, and between 0 and 5ºC at night.
We strongly suggest to pack all the recommended layers to avoid hipotermia while in the mountain.
When to go
It’s possible to go to Los Nevados National Park and attempt the summit of Santa Isabel Glacier at any time, but have in mind that during the driest months are in the seasons of December-February and July-August. And, between April, May and October-November is the rainy season. Although in the mountain the weather changes suddenly at any time of the year.
Currently, the area is safe and it doesn’t present any threat or safety issues. But, due to the extension of Los Nevados National Park, it is mandatory to go with an authorized tour guide or tour agency. These agencies must complain with the minimum equipment for expeditions in high mountain, first aid kit and radio. They also need to include personal accidents insurance.
The higher the altitude, the less oxygen is available on the air, so the body needs to work harder to get oxygen. One of the most common risks but least serious syndromes while at high altitude, is to suffer from altitude sickness or Acute Mountain sickness (AMS), a condition known in Colombia as “soroche”.
If the body doesn’t have the time to acclimatize to high altitude and doesn’t adjust to the new conditions, there are some dead threat complications like High Altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) and High Altitude cerebral edema (HAPE) that can show up. Although these conditions are not that common, the risk exists.
Also, if you go for the summit and walk over the snow, please don’t forget your goggles or at least pack some UV filter glasses to avoid Ultraviolet keratitis (snow blindness) due to excessive sun exposure that burns the cornea.
- It’s also important to follow the instructions of the guide, walk slowly (no rush!), and drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.
Besides the high altitude illness risks, there are other common risks like falls, twisted ankles, and hipotermia. We suggest using hiking poles for better stability, using the recommended layers, and also packing some high energy food.
In case of emergency, try to find the nearest ranger station, or try to report your situation to the lines 123, 119, 125 y 144.
Good news!. Above the 9800 ft. (3000 msnm), there are not mosquitoes.
There are not restrooms on the trail. Please follow the leave no trace rule.
If you use toilet papel, please use a plastic bag and carry it back with you. Don’t leave it behind!.
Not just it is unrespectful with other visitors, but also it impacts the negatively the environment.
There is not electricity along the trail. If you stay the night before in Hacienda Potosí, you can charge your batteries there, but have in mind that you won’t be the only one.
We suggest packing extra batteries for your camera, and a USB power bank for your cellphone. Also, a solar charger could also be handy.
For the hike you will need at least 2 liters of water. If you stay at Hacienda Potosi or any other farm the night before, you can fill your water bottle without any worries, just make sure to pack enough for the hike. The water is safe to drink.
It is possible to find Claro and Movistar signal at some spots of the park.
Plan your trip
Things you should know?
- You can’t hike in Los Nevados National Park without a guide. You need to hire one that is previously authorized by the Park and you also need to buy ahead personal accidents insurance.
- If you go camping, the minimum equipment required by the park office is: one tent, sleeping bag for 15ºF (10ºC), camping gas, first aid kit, change clothes and hiking poles.
- The trail to Santa Isabel Glacier has a maximum capacity per day. It is necessary to register at the entrances of La Cueva o Potosí before 9:00 am. If you want all the way to the top, you need an special permit and you also need to enter before 4:00 am.
How to get there?
The closest city to Los Nevados National Park is Manizales, Caldas. But you can also start this trip from any other of the near towns, just make sure to hire an authorized tour operator agency.
Nota: The price of the tour should include transportation and all the logistics and permits to get into the Park.
If you want more information about how to get to Los Nevados National Park from other towns, you can visit the section cómo llegar al Parque de Los Nevados at the Colombian National Parks website.
Our suggestion: Arrive to Manizales or Santa María through the highway and then enter the park through La Cueva or Potosí entrances.
What to pack?
If you go on a 2 days trip, you will need a daypack for the ascend on the second day and a backpack to store your other belonging that stay with the tour operator.
Here is our packing list to hike to the top of Santa Isabel Glacier:
- 1 pair of hiking boots with good grip and ankle support
- 1 short sleeve t-shirt
- 1 thermal long sleeve t-shirt
- 1 pair of hiking pants
- 1 change of bras+underwear
- 1 pair of thermal long johns
- 1 fleece
- 1 puffy jacket
- 1 rain jacket
- 1 pair of waterproof pants
- 2 pairs of hiking socks (wool it’s better)
- 1 pair of liners
FIRST AID AND TOILETRIES KIT
- Toilet paper
- 1 small bottle of sunscreen 50 FPS
- 1 ziplock bag to carry garbage out
- 1 daypack with rain cover
- 1 backpack 20-30 lts or duffel
- 1 head lamp
- 1 waterproof bag
- 1 hat
- 1 pair of goggles or sunglasses with UV filter
- 1 beanie
- 1 pair of warm gloves + 1 pair of waterproof gloves
- 1 solar charger
Where to Sleep?
The closest city to Los Nevados National Park is Manizales. You should probably spend a night before and after the trip there. These are our recommended hoteles in Manizales.
If you plan to start this adventure from other towns, don’t worry. Here is our list of recommended hotels in the Coffee Zone.
Regarding where to sleep during the hike, please be aware that the park doesn’t offer lodging. You should spend the night in a farm near to the entrance of the park. The tour operator should include it in the price.