Hidden deep into the dense tropical forest of Melgar – Colombia, I found more than a dozen waterfalls completely unexplored.
“How many waterfalls are there in total?”, that was the first question I asked a local guide while securing the anchors before rappelling a single drop 80 meter tall waterfall in my home country, Colombia. After thinking for a second he responded, “No idea, we have to go up one day and explore”. This is how intact and unexplored the region of Melgar is, a place mostly popular for its wild clubbing nights and waterpark resorts.
The natural beauty behind the curtain
Due to its proximity to Colombia’s capital, Bogota and with temperatures over 30° weather full year round, the popularity Melgar as a party destination is undeniable. It’s a place Colombians visit mostly to party in the night, relax at the swimming pool in the day, repeat a couple of times, and leave. And yes, I also went to the city of Melgar expecting to lay on hammocks next to a pool and drink cocktails the full weekend. This was not supposed to be the place to go on adventures and chase waterfalls.
But I should never judge a book by its cover. Surrounded by two three-thousander cordilleras and getting a few periods of monsoon through the year, the region of Melgar has the perfect location for finding green and vibrant tropical forests full of flora and fauna. It’s one of the few regions in the world, that can be considered a cradle for life – something that is decreasing day by day.
After learning more about this huge potential for adventure activities, I knew I would not find the travel experience I wanted by staying in a resort. I gathered information regarding the surrounding nature, researched more about the waterfalls surrounding Melgar and got curious about this idea of exploring untouched forests. I was ready to explore a new waterfall in Colombia.
A city surrounded by waterfalls
There are just a handful of tour operators that focus on adventure activities in Melgar. Furthermore, they are not very easy to find and their websites lack of photos and information. My best bet was going directly to the tourist office at the city center and ask them to help me plan an itinerary.
After gathering a couple of local guides, we set on our way to “La Cajita”, a stream 20km away from Melgar that is very popular by locals and is frequently visited during weekends or hot days. However, or goal was not to set our picnic blankets, open some beers and take a swim, we went all the way up to the mountain and hiked through the stream back into town – an 8 hour trek in which we had to rappel seven different waterfalls from 15 to 80 meters high.
Rappelling a waterfall is a very common activity in Colombia and you can probably do it in almost every region you go to. However, after photographing waterfalls in all 5 continents, there has been only a few places that impressed me as much as the waterfalls in “La Cajita”. It was not just the untouched beauty and size of the falls that caught my attention, but also the idea of exploring an unknown route and how intact natural surroundings are. The sensation of feeling the power of the waterfall hitting your skin and the adrenaline of descending down the side of a cliff with nothing but a rope between you and the void below is a perfect combination for any adventure lover.
After such an expedition, I wanted more of it. I ended up going with the two guides to three more waterfall treks and exploring a canyon. Melgar has not been the same since then.
Conservation, the key for a brighter future
The natural diversity in the region of Melgar was something very special. Since most of the urbanization has been taking place around the central “party” area, unexplored places some minutes away are very common. After talking to local farmers in Melgar, they mentioned the large amount of places they have encountered while being in the wilderness. Hot springs, indigenous cave paintings, pristine clean waterfalls and much more. Places where the only way to access is though hours of trekking and crossing dense forests full of flora and fauna.
Institutions have been seeing the potential of the region as well, as they are starting to plan eco-tourism alternatives for Melgar. However, after exploring many regions around Colombia and noticing how eco-tourism is seen by many private companies, I feel a little bit afraid of how the natural splendor that made me once fall in love from a first sight, might disappear in the future.
I don’t want a waterfall with jumping platforms, zip lines, viewpoints and tourist information desks. I would prefer to get into the wilderness, hear the birds singing around me, be careful of snakes on the ground and getting scared because a tarantula was crawling on my back. That’s the adventure I want to experience and that’s the adventure that makes me want to travel 5000 km away from home and pay for it.