Cerro Kennedy offers breathtaking views of Santa Marta’s extensive Sierra Nevada Mountain range. With a summit of 3,100 metres, the views at the top stretch for miles and showcase Colombia’s two highest peaks: Pico Cristóbal Colón and Pico Simón Bolívar.
The mountain itself is covered by cloud forest, making this a beautiful and adventurous trek. Although many tour companies offer guided hikes up Cerro Kennedy, you can make the journey independently. The majority of travellers choose to do this route on foot but for mountain bike fanatics, there is a cycling route up the mountain, as well as the option to ascend on a motorbike.
Cerro Kennedy Hike Stats
- Starting Point: Minca
- Difficulty Level: Moderate
- Duration: Two days
- Highest Point Reached: 2,700m
- Elevation Gain: 2,100m
- Hike Type: Out and back
- Length: around 50km (inc. return)
Useful Information for Hiking Cerro Kennedy
- The hike up takes around 8 hours and 7 hours all the way back to Minca, if you are in decent shape.
- The track is not marked so make sure you stick to the main path.
- The nights are cold so come prepared!
- Travel light as you will be carrying all your gear with you.
- Make sure you bring enough clothes, food and water as there is only one shop early on along the trail.
- Allow yourself time to acclimatise and bring altitude sickness medication if you think that the altitude could be an issue for you.
- Taking a motorbike taxi for half an hour to the next little town is highly recommended and saved us an hour of hiking, but you can also hire a local driver for the whole way up and back.
- Make sure you leave early because you can only get clear views of the peaks in the morning and the evenings.
- Sunrise is around 4.30am. It’s early but well worth it!
- The Sierra Nevada mountains are home to more than 30,000 natives from four different unique Colombian tribes. Make sure to treat this place well and respect the ‘Elder Brothers’ that take care of the area.
What to bring:
- Hiking boots/shoes
- Cool hiking clothes
- Waterproof jacket
- Warm clothes for sleeping
- Camping equipment
- Insect repellent
- Filtered water bottle – we recommend the Grayl Geopress which you can fill up on the go!
- Cash (in case you’re camping at Moncho’s Place)
Hiking Cerro Kennedy
We were staying in Minca, a wonderful small town in the Sierra Nevada mountains of Colombia when we first heard about the hike. A local at Casa Loma Hostel gave us the tip to trek to Cerro Kennedy, also known as ‘La Cuchillo de San Lorenzo’. It’s a remote spot that provides amazing views of the highest mountains in the country on one side and the Caribbean coast on the other. If you love hiking, mountains and camping, this is the perfect two-day backpacking adventure.
Day 1: Minca to Cerro Kennedy
We left Minca around six in the morning to arrive at the top of Cerro Kennedy in the afternoon. This would allow us enough time to set up camp once we got there, as well as giving us time to admire the views.
Since most of the Sierra Nevada has not yet been exploited by tourism, our hike felt like a big adventure into the unknown. Besides members of the Kogi tribe, a unique spiritual indigenous community which inhabit amongst other tribes in the Sierra Nevada of Colombia, we did not meet anyone along the way, so we basically had the views for ourselves.
The stunning mountain range of the Sierra Nevada is the largest seaside mountain system in the world and possesses Colombia’s two largest mountains, Pico Cristóbal Colón and Pico Simón Bolívar. Ranging 5,700m above sea level, Pico Cristobal Colon is not only Colombia’s highest mountain, but also the world’s tallest coastal mountain.
Halfway through the hike up, the clouds began to roll in and totally changed the set up. As we were on our own, a slightly eerie feeling came up. Despite this, we hiked on, taking in the amazing biodiversity, large palm trees and many waterfalls along the route.
During the hike, we took some steep shortcuts through the rainforest, which saved us a bit of time to set up our camp before sunset. And what a sunset it was.
Camping at Cerro Kennedy
Once you reach the ‘Primera Antena’ which is a large tower, you will see a small house known as Moncho’s Place. Many choose to stay here, either in the basic refuge which can accommodate up to six people or in the camping area. Please note that you must bring your own camping equipment as there is no rental. Camping costs approximately $15 here, although you’ll want to pull out your haggling skills to see whether you can negotiate!
If you don’t own a tent, there is also the possibility of stopping in San Lorenzo, which is not (as the name implies) a town, but a refuge that provides accommodation. Estacion San Lorenzo is run by the National Parks office and must be booked in advance. It is a good choice for groups doing the hike. To reserve a space at the refuge, we recommend asking at your hostel in Minca. All of the locals are very familiar with the hike and refuge.
Cerro Kennedy is an operating military base and once you see this place, you can be sure you have taken the right route. The soldiers we met there were super friendly and let us camp close to their base without any charge.
Having left early in the morning, we had some time to relax before setting up our camp. By the afternoon, the clouds were rolling in, so it was an amazing feeling to lie in the grass in the middle of nowhere, absorbing the sun amongst the clouds and enjoying the enormous view of the Caribbean coast.
Luckily we picked a clear day, which resulted in a stunning sunset. The views spanned all the way from Barranquilla to Parque de Tayrona.
Day 2: Cerro Kennedy to Minca
It was a cold night but the sunrise view the next morning made it all worth it. Keep an eye out for the many endemic birds that call this area home as you take in your surroundings – seeing them in the wild is a wonderful feeling.
The hike back to Minca provides consistently stunning views of Colombia’s Caribbean Coast and mountains.
On our journey back to Minca, we stopped by at a local organic coffee farm to finally get a taste of the famous Colombian coffee. This was a great treat after a long hike! For $2.50 (USD) you can get a full tour of the farm and see how the coffee is made. Of course, there is an endless supply of coffee for drinking too!
Biking Cerro Kennedy
Minca Bikes offer both independent bike hire and guided cycling tours up to Cerro Kennedy. Expect to pay around 350,000 COP ($100USD) for a tour which includes accommodation, food, bicycle and helmet.
If you want to hire a bicycle for the day, you will be paying around 80,000 COP ($23USD) from Minca Bikes. The track up Cerro Kennedy is steep and rocky so the ride is a little bit challenging! However, this is a magical adventure for those looking to get off the beaten track.
There is also the option to do a motorbike trip up Cerro Kennedy – great if you like your adventures with a bit more adrenaline! If you’d prefer to do the trip independently, the cost to rent a motorbike from Minca Bikes is around 150,000 COP ($44USD) per day.