OverviewThe mountain range and peak Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is one of the many attractions and sights on the Parque Nacional Natural Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta (A national park). It is a notable park because its terrain ranges from the sea level to perpetual snows and glaciers high in the mountains, this allowing several climates, diversity of flora, fauna, and land. Also, the park includes the remains of the Tairona Culture, with ist well know ancient city of Ciudad Perdida, and nowadays it is the home of many native tribes (Arhuacos, Koguis, Wiwas, etc) which are very characteristic of the caribean culture. The park, located between the cities of Santa Marta, Rioacha and Valledupar, has a total area of almost 17.000 square meters, hosts 36 rivers.
The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is the higest costal independent mountain range in the planet. It is located at about 50 kilometers from the caribean coast in Colombia. It maximun height has been of much discussion, at at least 5700 meters (about 19.000 feet), and many agree that the altitude is 5775 meters. The mountain has two recognized summits, one called Pico Colon, and the other Pico Bolivar.
Getting ThereThere are two main towns from where to begin a trip to the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. One is the city of Santa Marta, located in the caribean coast. The second option is from the city of Valledupar, located in the interior, east side ot the massif. As with the rest of the country, both towns are relatively safe to travel (as of year 2007)
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External LinksIn Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sierra_Nevada_de_Santa_Marta
In The Nature Conservancy: http://parksinperil.org/wherewework/southamerica/colombia/protectedarea/sierra.html
Colombian National Parks System Authority ( Ministry of Envoronment ): http://www.parquesnacionales.gov.co
Access ConsiderationAccess to the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta has been very dificult during the last years, This is due in part because the inhabitants of the Sierra on the normal access path from the south, have banned access to climbers and treckers. Without their aid and assistance, it is quite complicate to access the glaciers and routes to the summit. Other areas of the Sierra (northern side) have been of dificult access during the last 3 or 4 decades because of drug plantations, guerilla activity and self defense armed groups and other armed forces.
It is reported that natives have treated hikers and climbers with suspicion. A few years ago, a japanese climbing party destroyed a ceremonial center and used the wood for fire and camping purposes. Climbers must remember that the customs of native people must be respected, and this is specially true for the Sierra, since the tribes around them (Arhuacos, Koguis, Wiwas, etc) still keep many of their ancient traditions and beliefs.
The area and the Sierra’s foothills and park have been a main focus of drug dealing, illegal plantations and scenery for the Colombian internal conflict. Since the 1970s the region was used for marihuana cultivation, and as the business developed, other illegal crops were introduced, including coca plantations. The economy of the drug industry attracted the guerrillas looking for revenues produced either from the direct exploitation of the plantations or by taxing producers, and utilized mafia type activities, such as kidnappings and mass murders. The government was unable or unwilling to counter the problem, consequently, self defense groups appeared in the region (the so called Autodefensas, or paramilitary groups) that in spite of fighting guerrillas, became an evil on its own and another source of terrible and strong violence. Nowadays (2007) the situation is fairly better, and travelers can adventure in many parts of the region, but it is very advisable to travelers to double check about the political and security situation before engaging on any expedition to the area.
There are also reports that the Colombian Goverment had banned access to the area. While this may be partially true, the autorities have no ability to control a 100 % the access to the mountain: as with the other parks of Colombia, this control is more evident during the high season of tourist, visiting other areas of the park as well as the local communities. Visitors to national parks need to pay an entrance fee and get permit to access with the Unidad Administrativa Especial del Sistema de Parques Naturales (Park Authority) at the Ministry of Environment. However, the autorization to access the Park is not enough to climb the mountain. The help and assitance from the natives and locals is required.
Finally, there are reports about the company called TURCOL, in the city of Santa Marta, that has managed to bring alpinists to the summit in recent years, due to the company's strong relations with autorities and natives. Be aware that TURCOL is more focused on bring people to the arqueological area called Ciudad Perdida.