A comprehensive guide on how to get to the Laguna Verde, inside the 4000-meter-high volcano Azufral in Colombia
The “Laguna Verde” was surely one of my highlights in Colombia and still definitely off-the-beaten-track, as I was alone during my visit there. This is a green lake located at 4000 meters in the Colombian Andes, on the top of a semi-active volcano named volcano Azufral. It’s best accessed from the town of San Juan de Pasto or Ipiales, both cities are located in the southern region of Nariño, near the border with Ecuador. The last eruption of the volcano dated back from 1000 before Christ, so there is no need to take your magma equipment.
UPDATE: I hiked in 2017, all the info I managed to get on the matter indicates it has been closed ever since.
I did it as a day-trip from Pasto but you also have the option of sleeping in the town of Tuquerres, the starting point of the hike, where you can find multiple cheap options in the center of the city. It’s a good option if you want to avoid backtracking.
So first no matter if you start in Ipiales or Pasto, you will have to take a bus from the terminal (there’s only one in both cities) to the town of Tuquerres. It took me about 1.75 hours from Pasto, but Ipiales is slightly closer, so it should take something like 1.25-1.5 to reach Tuquerres. A taxi ride to the terminal will cost 4000 COP (about 1.33US$) from pretty much anywhere in Pasto, or a bus ticket costs 1500 COP (0.5US$). I was at the Pasto terminal at 7am, and I would recommend you to do the same, you’ll see why later on. From Ipiales or Pasto to Tuquerres, you’ll find buses leaving about every 10 minutes with many options, I chose a mini-bus and paid 7000COP (2.33US$) after bargaining (always bargain the price of the bus in Colombia if you’re on a budget!).
I arrived in the center of Tuquerres at 9am, where the bus will drop you near a giant Alkosto (supermarket). When getting out of the bus, be ready, many taxis will come to offer a ride to the Laguna Verde. In fact they will drop you off 6 kilometers away from the lake and you’ll have to do the rest on foot. They will drive about 10 kilometers uphill from the town on a dirt road to drop you at the ranger’s hut. I did not choose this option, but it will cost you about 35.000 to 50.000 COP (12 to 17US$) for the roundtrip. It depends how good your Spanish and your bargaining skills are. You will have many options so no need to rush for the first driver to fleece you. It takes about 40 minutes from the center to the beginning of the hut.
Another option to get to this hut is to negotiate with locals, I read about someone got dropped there for 7000COP (2.33US$) on a motorbike, you can also try to directly go on this dirt road and hitch a ride or pay someone going up.
The last option and the one I chose is to walk, I just walked from the center of the town to the lake. It took me about 30 minutes to reach the beginning of the dirt road, from there the road starts to elevate, it’s about 9 kilometers to reach the refuge, and 15 to the lake. It’s well indicated with a lot of road signs indicating where the volcano is. It is impossible to lose yourself when you reach this road, even with no Spanish. At 11am I was at the refuge, I do consider myself fit & I didn’t take a single break, so I guess it could take somewhere between 1.30 to 3.30 hours depending on your rhythm. People were really friendly on the way and always greet you with a smile, but I did not see many cars going up though. The last house is about a kilometer before the hut. In this hike the most difficult part is certainly to get from the center to this dirt road, so better prepare it on Google Maps before even though you could just follow the main road and get there.
Then at the hut you’ll need to register and it seems like you have to pay a 1000COP (0.33US$) fee.
From there no more options, everybody has to walk the remaining kilometers to the Lake. Again it’s pretty straightforward, there’s only one road and you just need to follow it. You might see some smaller trails leaving the main road at some points, but just stick to the largest one and you’ll be fine. Every kilometer you have a sign saying how close you are. The trail is well-maintained and not too demanding, even though the last kilometer is the most challenging. It took me an hour from the hut to the viewpoint above the lake.
So finally after all these efforts you will arrive your well-deserved objective, the Laguna Verde! As I mentioned in the previous sentence, you will first arrive on a viewpoint approx. 200 meters above the lake. You can go down the crater if you wish to take more pictures. It’s pretty steep and the trail is much more challenging there. You can see another small lake on the left named Laguna Negra (Black lagoon). Down the shore, you will be overwhelmed by a smell of sulfur and you can even dip your toes in if you don’t mind cold water!
After enjoying the view, you can backtrack the same trail. If you wish to go back with a taxi you’ll have to set up a time before. There’s a possibility to hitch a ride down also, as I mentioned people are very hospitable and I got picked up by a guy selling gas without even asking for it, even though I was only 3 kilometers away from the town. He told me he picked up another French guy the week before. So at 4pm I was back in Tuquerres, and from the same place in the center you can take a bus to Ipiales/Pasto. I paid 6000COP (2$) to go back to Pasto and met some friendly locals in the bus, I even ended up being invited to drink a glass of orange juice and eat some almojábanas (cheese bread) by one of them.
Some recommendations for making your trip to the Laguna Verde memorable :
First I would advise you to start early, simply because of the weather. When I went up there it was sunny and clouds were nowhere to be found. But while I was chilling around the lake I noticed the weather started to change really fast, and I was afraid to catch some rain on the way back.
Remember that the altitude of the volcano is 4.070 meters, I had no problem with this height but some people might do, don’t force it.
Because of the altitude, the temperature can be quite cold. I did the whole hike with a shirt, but I was very lucky. Be prepared with a jacket for the wind and rain.
I was also lucky because the path was in a perfect condition, making it possible to hike with my pair of old trainers. But if it rained the day before you might find a muddy path, it can be a problem for the very last part going down to the crater, the rest of the hike should not be affected.
Sunscreen, don’t forget sunscreen!! And apply it on all the uncovered parts of your body, the sun is no joke at this altitude. I got sunburnt despite using sunscreen (the story of my life).
Rangers seem to forbid people enter after 1pm, be aware!
Lastly I would recommend preparing some food & drinks before the start of the hike. You can buy things in the ranger’s cabana and some “tiendas” (little shops) on the way up though.
Pasto or Ipiales to Tuquerres (1.30-2 hours) -> 6000 to 8000COP (2 to 3$)
Tuquerres to the ranger’s cabana with taxi (30-45 minutes) -> 15.000 to 30.000COP one way (5 to 10$)
Or Tuquerres to the ranger’s cabana by foot (2-4 hours) -> free
Register and pay the entrance fee at the cabana -> 1.000COP (0.30$)
Hike from the ranger’s cabana to the lookout of the lake (1-1.30 hours & 6 kilometers)
Go down the crater to access the shore of the lake (10 – 30 minutes)
Enjoy the lake and follow the same method to get back to your starting point. Arrange before if you want to go down with a taxi. Buses are leaving Tuquerres until late, or possibility to sleep in the town.