September 2018 I took my third trip to Suesca, Colombia. Located only 45KL North of Bogota, it is the most developed and “complete” climbing area in the country, with over 400 routes. There is a mix of trad, sport, multi-pitch and bouldering.
This is the birthplace of Colombian climbing, the first routes being said to have been opened in the 1940’s by German climbers looking for a place to train for expeditions to the high mountains in El Cocuy National Park.
Since then, Suesca has not only become Colombia’s climbing center, but the center for other adventure sports as well. Mountain biking is particularly popular here, on weekends the town can get flooded with Rolos (people from Bogota) looking to escape the city.
But there is something about Suesca which keeps drawing me back to it. The rocks have an eerie feel to them and hang with Witch’s Hazel, giving you the sentiment that you’re walking on hallowed grounds. Talking with the locals only adds to this. Campfire stories of ghosts, haunted houses or reports of other supernatural activities are commonplace.
But the climbing here is excellent, and the locals are friendly. Don’t be surprised to be invited to share the fire with your neighbors or invited for a drink. Suesca is a special place which in many ways has to be felt to be truly understood.
Suesca has without a doubt has some of the best climbing in Colombia. The rock is some of the most bomber sandstone I have ever felt in my life, so bomber in fact that I was convinced that the rock was actually limestone until the locals told me different. It certainly climbings like limestone, requiring lots of small smeary feet and body tension.
As I mentioned before, Suesca is the best one stop shop climbing area in Colombia. With over 400 routes, they are split nearly 50/50 between sport climbing and trad. In addition there are both trad and sport multi-pitches as well, though for most of the classics you’re going to need to plug in gear. Most of the multis don’t go past 3 pitches, which makes for a leisurely day out.
Nearly all of the climbing is accessed from the main path following the railroad line, and some of the approaches are almost non-existent, though the paths are at times difficult to find. There is a very old and outdated guidebook, but up-to-date topos can be found here.
However, even this topo can be hard to follow. I would suggest asking some of the friendly locals or stop in at MonoDedo for beta.
Suesca is an “old school” crag. Meaning that the first bolts are sometimes very far off the ground and can be run out. It is also common for routes to require one or two pieces of gear to safely protect the “easy” sections. This coupled with old school sandbagged grading can make for a dangerous combination.
If you don’t have a local giving you advice, use extreme caution while climbing here, especially if it is your first time on a route.
Haztelo Panchito (5.11c, Zone -”Haztelo Panchito”) – A steep and powerful route with a no hands rest in the middle leading to a pumper finish. A good place to show off to the local tourists.
Alta Variante (5.12d, Zone – “Sueños de un Seductor”) – Vertical climbing leads to an technical crux followed by a no hands rest. Stellar.
Betty Blue/ Deep Blue (5.10c or 5.11c, Zone – “Betty Blue”) – Vertical, balancy climbing with a scary finish.
Super Nova (5.12b – Zone “Eucasoluc”) – Starts off slabby and finishes with a powerful crux. Fucking excellent.
*Note, all of the routes in the aforementioned sectors are excellent if you’re looking for more variety. This list in no way gives all the great routes justice.
How To Arrive
It’s quite easy to get to Suesca as it is only about 1hr north of Bogota. If you’re coming by bus, the first step will be to get to El Portal Norte (not to be confused with Terminal del Norte), which is one of the last stops going north on Bogota’s Transmilenio bus system. Now the Transmilenio is arguably the most poorly organized and confusing mass public transport in existence. To save time I would suggesting asking the workers at the station for directions because good luck getting a Rolo to talk to you.
But to get you going in the right direction, you will want to head towards the Portal del Norte Station. If your bus doesn’t terminate there (which most won’t), you will most likely have to transfer at the Alcala station, which is six stops before the terminal.
Keep in mind that Bogota is a huge city with some serious congestion issues. These buses get absolutely packed during peak times. Allow for lots of time to arrive.
Once you arrive at El Portal Norte, do not exit the station, but instead pass through the gate which leads you further inside the station towards the bus lanes passing through the middle of the terminal. You will see signs which read “Buses Intermunicipales”.
Once inside you will see another sign which reads “Suesca”. The fare from here is 7,000COP (at time of writing) and takes about one hour.
The Intermunicipales Station Located Within El Portal Norte
One more thing to keep in mind, the climbing is located about a 20 min walk from the town center. Depending on where you’re staying, I would suggest telling the bus driver to let you off before you arrive in town itself to save the walk. The bus takes you on the main road right by the entrance to the climbing and Nomada.
Where to Stay
As I mentioned before, Suesca is a bit of a tourist town. For that reason accommodation options are plenty. However there are two main spots the climber stay. So if you are looking for partners or like-minded people these are the way to go:
El Nomada is the original climbing hostel in Suesca and they cater most notably towards that clientele. Nomada has two locations, the cafe and the hostel. The Cafe is located on the town’s main road, only a minute walk from the entrance to the climbing. The cafe offers a good selection of food, drink and wifi. Inquire here for staying at the hostel or reservations can be booked online beforehand.
The hostel itself is located about a 5 min walk from the cafe. You will need a key to enter and it is slightly difficult to find if you don’t know where you’re going, so this is why it is better to try the cafe first to make sure that there is someone to let you in. The dorm rooms cost 30,000COP per night, and it is 15,000COP to camp on the front lawn.
The hostel has seen some notable improvements over the past few years since my first trip down to Colombia, and it remains one of the best spots to stay in Suesca. The beds are super cosy and since it’s off of the main road, it is quiet. I have gotten some amazing nights of sleep here.
There is a full kitchen, small refrigerator, bathroom with a hotish shower, TV and wifi. There’s also a great hang out space, table, board games, books, yoga mats, slackline and crash pads to use all free of extra charge.
Campo Base is the only spot located within the park itself, meaning that you’re literally sleeping next to the rocks. The cost is 15,000COP and includes access to the shower and bathrooms. This is also a great spot to meet local climbers. Campfires and nighttime beers are common, so sometimes it can get a bit loud. But you’ll probably need some booze to fight off the cold anyway.
The camping is in a huge field, and though it does get busy during the weekends, it is never “full”. To arrive, walk into the park itself, then follow the train tracks for about 5-10min. It will be located on your left.
When to Go
Similar to everywhere in Colombia, the weather doesn’t vary much during the year. There are two dry seasons (Dec-Feb and June-Aug), however, still expect intermittent rain during these months. The truth is that the climbing season is year round.
Also keep in mind that it gets really cold here at night and can be windy. The elevation of Suesca is nearly 3000m, so make sure to have proper equipment, especially if you’re camping.
Sadly, you can’t climb every day. But Suesca has a good mix of rest day actives to keep you busy when your muscles are aching.
If you haven’t had a chance to play Colombia’s official national sport: tejo, Suesca is good place to try. I would summarize this cornhole-style bar game as as beer, metal disks and explosives (no joke). The game is regional, and can usually only be found outside of major cities. Luckily, there are multiple canchas de tejo (courts) in and around the Town of Suesca.
It’s also very fun to rent a mountain bike and go explore some of the nearby towns. Santa Isabel is quite nice, but there are a lot of trails to choose from.
Another good option is to practice your Spanish skills at the local language school: Green Languages Colombia. Classes are 4hrs a day, meaning that you can still have lots of time for climbing afterwords. I took a few weeks of lessons here back in 2016, it helped me improve my Spanish skills greatly.
Since Suesca is a proper town of nearly 20,000 there are lots of amenities in terms of shops and other stores. There is also an ATM (located near the park in the town’s center), which is good because almost everything here is cash only.
There are a few climbing shops in Suesca. The best and largest being MonoDedo. Though it’s only open on the weekends, it has a small but complete selection of climbing gear, clothes and camping supplies.
There’s a nice selection of restaurants close to the climbing and in the town itself and a few cafes. Restaurante Dona Mar’s is particularly good (the menu of the day is the way forward). It’s located next to El Nomada Cafe.
Suesca has some great things going for it. Its year round climbing season, a big selection of high-quality routes, a great local and expat climbing community, and plenty in terms of accommodation and supplies.
My biggest problem with Suesca is that at times it is hard to locate the specific climbing sectors. Also, occasionally there will be one or two excellent routes mixed in a handful of throw aways. This is common at almost any climbing area, however with the lack of any single, organized resource in terms of route beta, it can be difficult for those new to the area to locate and choose which routes to try.
Multi-pitching at Suesca!
The lack of a guide book also increases the chances of going off route, or accidentally climbing routes which require trad gear to protect.
The sad thing is that all of these “issues” could be fixed relatively easily. An updated guidebook, a few extra bolts and a bit of trail maintenance would go a long way here, elevating this place from a local’s crag to a potential climbing destination.
That being said, I do believe that this is part of Suesca’s charm. It is still raw. If feels like the real Colombia. The prices haven’t been crazy elevated either, and it doesn’t get flooded with Gringos like some of the other popular tourist places do. Suesca isn’t on the normal “backpacker’s loop”, so don’t come here if you’re looking for a party.
I wouldn’t suggest booking an international trip just to climb at Suesca, but if you’re around Colombia, is defiantly worth checking out. You won’t be disappointed.
*This article was originally published in July of 2018, but has since been updated to add more information.